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The Building of "Keeping Up"

How our 67-foot dream became a steel reality

Keeping Up

For the four years 1987-1991 we'd been searching for a boat builder who could turn our dreams into reality. Over and over again we'd been told either:

"Yes that's our standard design. If you like it we'll build you one; if you don't like it then I'm sorry we can't help you"


"Yes we'll build your boat, exactly as you want it. Just bring us the plans"

Then we met Mike Adkins of Stoke-on-Trent Boat Building. who immediately understood our dilemma. We knew exactly what we wanted from our boat, but we weren't boat designers; he had the skills and experience to understand our requirements, and to interpret them into a complete boat - adapting them where necessary so that they would actually work or sometimes explaining to us why we were asking for the impossible.

We'd been very impressed by the trad-style boats that we'd seen from SoTBB, but "Keeping Up" was to have a cruiser stern so we wanted to see an example. This was easier than we expected as SoTBB had recently replaced the fleet of ageing Harborough boats for English County Cruises at Wrenbury, and after an afternoon at their base we knew that we would like SoTBB to replace our ageing Harborough boat "Thistle" as well.

SoTBB contacted us to say that they'd just had a cancellation which meant they had a spare slot from August to November that year, otherwise as with all quality boat builders they had a very long waiting list. We made a provisional booking - and then the hard work began, to get everything ready. A few days later was the first of many design sessions in Mike Adkins' office. We had some ideas in our head; Mike had some sheets of squared paper and a pencil. Gradually the two came together, and Mike started to draw up the plans for our new 65-foot boat.

Throughout the week, Debbie and I spent the evenings in our local pub, discussing the fine details and making little sketches on beer mats. A week later we were back in Mike's office with a stack of beer mats, to hear the good news "Yes we can do it" and the bad news "but it won't fit in 65 feet, it will have to be 66 feet". It was the same the next week; we had another stack of beer mats, and the boat grew to be 67 feet long. Realising that if this happened many more times the boat would be too long to fit through the locks (and also realising that the price was being quoted in " per foot") we finalised the basic design at 67 feet and agreed the terms of a contract.

Two things we liked; firstly, the contract gave us immediate title to all partially-completed work which protected us in the unlikely event that SoTBB were to go broke; secondly if their associated company Longport Brokerage had been unable to sell "Thistle" by the time "Keeping Up" they would purchase her themselves as the final stage payment. So we signed the contract, and construction on "Job number 177" began at the beginning of August (Thistle had already been sold by then too)


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10 August 10 August 31 August 31 August 31 August
A flat sheet of steel, and two sides waiting to be attached
The bows, waiting to be bent into shape
The bows, after being bent into shape
Straightening the sides with jacks and chains
The cruiser stern takes shape

Our first sight of our new boat was just a flat of steel on the workshop floor, with the basic shape marked out in chalk. It looked like an enormous piece of metal. We'd specified a half-inch thick baseplate, which would last a long time and give the boat a low centre of gravity. There would be no need for any additional ballast, so the floor could be very close to the bottom giving good internal headroom.

We were encouraged to visit Stoke-on-Trent about once a fortnight. That way we could agree any necessary changes on the spot, and if there were any problems they could be fixed before it was too late (there were only two such problems; the tiller had been made too high and the Squirrel Stove didn't fit very well into the available space so the slightly smaller Little Wenlock was substituted). This also meant that we could have confidence that SoTBB weren't trying to hide anything from us behind the trim!


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14 September 14 September 14 September 5 October 5 October
The cabin top has been fitted
Fine detail a at the corner of the roof
Almost ready to start work on the interior
The same view, 3 weeks later
The water tank fitted under the front deck

Work progressed at a rapid pace. The advantages of having a single contractor were clear; if the wood didn't fit the steel, for example, we wouldn't get caught in argument as to whether it was the carpenter's fault or the welder's fault; we just left them to get on with it. And in reality, their steelwork was excellent, their woodwork was excellent, in fact everything was excellent with the possible exception of the electrics (as an electrical engineer I knew exactly what I wanted, which at times seemed to be a little beyond SoTBB's understanding). This was an exhilarating period; it was just wonderful to watch "Keeping Up" taking shape before our eyes!

Sometimes SoTBB just amazed us at the extent they were determined to see that we were happy with the result. For example, when we first saw the beautiful hand-made kitchen we were awe-struck, but they immediately noticed that as Debbie is only 5'2" tall the work surface was a little high for her. When we returned a fortnight later, all the units had been cut down to lower the work surface by an inch!


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5 October 5 October 19 October 19 October 2 November
The internal bulkheads have started going in
A collection of bits and pieces in the carpentry shop, waiting to be fitted to the boat
One idea that didn't work - a cupboard door with a right-angle. It wouldn't open properly and was replaced with a piano hinge)
Bathroom pipes. Note the route of the shower pump outlet pipe on left, to minimise the risk of water entering
Most of the woodwork in the lounge is finished (this will be the dinette area)

The planned completion date was 1st December, but as has often been said the only boat builder ever to finish on time was called Noah, and he had one heck of a strong incentive! But the launch was only 3 days late, which was pretty good. Our son David shook an open bottle of beer over the bows as we weren't going to risk damaging the immaculate paintwork by smashing a bottle, and our daughter Vicki officially named our new boat "Oh Dad I'm too shy" (but she got it right after a little bit of prompting).


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23 November 23 November 3 December 3 December 7 December 1991
The painter achieved a perfect mirror finish to the black cabin sides
The problems of painting a 67 foot boat in a 65 foot painting shed
Our son David performs the launching ceremony
Launching with a forklift truck (the cloud of dust is because the boat has just hit the deck after lifting the truck's rear wheel off the ground!)
Finished, warm and cosy.

We went back to Stoke-on-Trent on 7th December, for the maiden voyage, but the canal had frozen over so we went nowhere. At least we were able to verify that he heating worked well. Then we had the Christmas window in the stoppages to bring her back to Milton Keynes - a voyage which had more than its share of problems. You will enjoy reading all about that voyage ...


The interior layout

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Click on this thumbnail for a larger image


The final spec of "Keeping Up"

Length 67', beam 6'10", draught 2', air draught 5'10", loaded weight approx 20 ton

Steel: half-inch baseplate, 6mm hull sides, 4mm cabin sides and roof. Cruiser stern.

Gas cooking and Central Heating (Ellis boiler) - 2*13kg in lockers at stern

Coalbrookdale Little Wenlock solid fuel stove

8 berths (1 fixed double, 1 double converts to sofa dinette, 4 single bunks convert to 2 sofas)

Engine: Beta 43 (originally Duffields Perkins MC42) 4 cylinder diesel, 43 hp at 2800 rpm

Gearbox: PRM150 (originally Borg-Warner velvet-drive) 3:1 ratio

Propellor: 18*14 (originally 19*13) Crowthers High-efficiency

Electrical system: see here for wiring diagram

Batteries: 90 Ah starter, 4*110Ah domestic (originally 2*110 Ah)

240v: 1800 watt pure sine (originally Rediline rotary inverter)

Radios: 2* entertainment, 1*CB, 1*marine VHF

200 gallons fresh water, 35 gallon sewage, 60 gallons diesel


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