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Why the quaint-looking narrowboats of Britain are being built in Poland


The bottle-green narrowboat belonging to Howard and Barbara Sutton
cuts a quintessentially English image as she glides along the
Gloucestershire canals.

With traditional round windows and the obligatory dog on board, she
offers the peculiar, slow-paced charm that has enchanted British
holiday-makers for years. The only difference is that this floating
holiday home was made in Gdansk.

Canal boat companies and their customers are increasingly turning to
Poland, where a world-famous shipbuilding heritage provides the
skills that have become a rare commodity in Britain. Particularly
appealing is that Polish factories can produce boats of a higher
quality, in a fraction of the time and up to £30,000 cheaper.

The couple began exploring the waterways aboard a small, secondhand,
British-built boat four years ago. Then they decided to upgrade. Mr
Sutton, 61, said: "I'm a coach builder by trade but I just couldn't
find the quality I was looking for, at the right price."

Eventually, they found a 60ft Aqualine model by the New Boat
Company, one of a handful of British companies with bases in Poland.
The Ourone cost the Suttons £71,250.

"I was impressed by the quality of the carpentry, of the finish on
the cupboards. There was no MDF. It was all solid wood," Mr Sutton
said. "We looked at lots of different British manufacturers but we
kept coming back to the Polish design. A boat builder I knew told me
he could do exactly the same thing. The only difference would be my
bank balance."

The company's factory in Gdansk employs about 75 carpenters,
mechanics, designers and engineers, many of whom learned their
trades during the heavy industry heyday of the Soviet Union. It
produces 70 boats a year for the British market.

The prefabricated parts are made and assembled under the shadow of
cranes and rusting tankers at the Gdansk shipyards. The complete
boats are delivered by lorry to Britain, where only the curtains and
carpets are fitted.

A British builder can take up to a year to build one bespoke boat
but the Polish factories can mass-produce 12 boats at a time and
complete an order in 14 weeks.

Jon Corker, head of operations at the Aqualine factory in Gdansk,
said that his workforce was at first puzzled by the quaint canal
craft that had little in common with the industrial ships once
exported from the yards when the Baltic port formed the engine room
of the Eastern bloc.

He said: "They couldn't understand how we could sell so many of
these strange, flat-bottomed boats. But once they visited England,
and they saw the countryside around the canal, they came around."

The number of people taking to the water in canal boats rose to
450,000 last year. Companies are struggling to find enough builders
to satisfy demand.

Mr Corker said: "I understand that people think that canal boats are
traditionally British made products and that we are taking [the
work] elsewhere. But we just cannot get enough people here to meet
our skills requirement.

"We have got a whole workshop of carpenters in Gdansk who we would
be stuck to recruit in the UK. Years ago people were a little bit
sceptical, but as they see the quality of the boats coming from
there, it has gone from strength to strength."

Noel Creary, sales manager for Amber Boats, based at Evesham,
Worcestershire, with a factory in Malbork, near Gdansk, said that it
expected to sell about a hundred boats this year, compared with 40 a
couple of years ago.

The price of an Amber boat ranges from £57,000 for a 50ft narrow
boat to £97,000 for a 60ft beam. Mr Creary said: "Polish builder can
provide granite tabletops, quality carpentry.

"If a British builder were to do it at that rate, they would have to
use chipwood from B&Q. You just have to do the maths." The Suttons
now want to upgrade their holiday home to a 60ft widebeam boat. This
time their commission will go straight from Gloucestershire to

Re: Why the quaint-looking narrowboats of Britain are being built in Poland

Fantastic, EU is working

Re: Why the quaint-looking narrowboats of Britain are being built in Poland

for a 60ft beam

A 60ft beam? I think the author of this peice needs to brush up on their marine vocabulary, as beam refers to width. You don't see many 60ft wide narrow boats on our 14ft wide canals...