By Peter Fairhurst
When I was asked to write this article by our editor at the end of the Windmill End POC anniversary rally, I thought that it would be a fairly simple task to write a few words about a subject that forms a significant part of our lives as a source of holidays and social pleasure. It is very easy to think about the issues and irritations that you do not like about your boat but in order to produce a balanced article you must also consider features that you do enjoy that are so easily taken for granted (because they always work and this also includes visual pleasure) and therefore hardly merit a second thought.
As we had the boat built from new it is useful to start at the very beginning; why did we choose to have a new boat built in 1999 by Pipers? Well, we had seen Piper boats around the system and subjectively they looked the part so that from an appearance point of view there would be no problems. In 1998 I happened by chance to speak to Liz Allcock (although I did not know who she was then – lady playing mouth organ on towpath) when they were moored at Minshull lock (I think it was) on the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union. Liz was very enthusiastic about their boat and offered to show me inside but due to time constraints (we were on a hire boat with friends) I could not take up the offer. The other builder that we had considered was Steve Hudson but in the end considering value for money, appearance, established builder and resale value we opted for a Piper boat.
Dealing with Simon was fairly straight forward and we were encouraged to visit the yard, discuss the build and clarify any issues that arose. This was a good positive sign as it meant that Simon had nothing to hide and we became involved in the construction detail, as we had requested certain features that were not Piper standard. Unfortunately due to close family illness and eventual bereavement we could not maintain the regularity of these visits but kept in touch by phone. The final result was an excellent steel shell that was straight and ripple free. A minor downside here was that the steelwork fabrication was started in February and visits to the yard and steelwork building resulted in near hypothermia, without the offer of a hot drink to ward off the cold; however the Red Bull did lots of additional trade during that period.
The next stage was the fitting out by Bernard who was enthusiastic about the fit-out as it was the first near complete fitted boat that he had worked on for some time. As the fit-out continued we were able to discuss and agree additional requirements with Dot and David that were to be incorporated as the work progressed without major disruption to existing work or any abortive work. These requests were accepted without too many objections and some alternatives were suggested that improved the final result. Again this was a welcome sign as it meant that Pipers were concerned about the finished article and their reputation. As the time progressed David actually encouraged (yes really!) the use of the fit-out bay at the week end to carry out work that was for me to complete such as ceramic tiling, bathroom fitments, central heating, carpet tiles etc. As the boat was to be delivered in late August (holidays booked) we were keen to ensure that as much as possible was complete and fully working. As it transpired some minor work was still outstanding but fortunately our first cruise was to Wigan and we were able to call back at the yard at a pre-arranged time for this work to be completed on our return journey to Barrow on Soar.
So far so good? – Well not altogether, we did have some problems with ballasting and trim and a propeller noise that was damned annoying at cruising speed. On our return to the yard some ballast was removed and some shifted to produce a more acceptable trim and we were asked to live with the propeller noise to see if it would settle down. It did not and the boat was returned to the yard in late October that same year for a complete repaint (those who know the boat and it’s paint history will understand – not Pipers’ fault), some additional cupboards to be fitted and the propeller noise to be rectified. The boat was collected from the yard on millennium New Year’s eve, the first two items were completed but the propeller noise still persisted.
The following year (2000) after living with the ‘noise’ for some nine months Simon agreed to fit new engine mounts and later to fit a new and larger propeller plus some missing welding at a boatyard local to where the boat is moored. Is this a gripe? No, it shows that even when the boat has left the yard there is still a level of commitment. Did this work? – unfortunately no and so the boat was returned to the yard and slipped yet again in August 2001 when we were ready to cruise the Caldon Canal . This time Simon instructed Tony to fit a new Vetus propeller, shaft, and Volvo seal FOC, and Tony also modified the leading edge rudder profile. The result was a distinct improvement but not a complete success. The final upshot of this saga is that I have since discovered that the ‘noise’ can be eliminated by ensuring that the weed hatch cover is absolutely air (vacuum) tight so that the propeller cannot suck in any air and precipitate cavitation. I have fitted a new and thicker (10mm) steel cover to ensure that this does not distort when the screw is tightened. In this respect the cover flanging and sealing arrangement could be improved.
The measure of a good company is not whether their products are sometimes problematical but how they react when a complaint is made; in this respect I have no complaints against Simon.
Another plus point for the Piper boat is that the handling is superb, when you want it to turn it does, and in the direction that you point it, unlike some of the hire boats that we have used that had a mind of their own. The owner of the local boatyard describes the construction of the boat (when he sees it out of the water) as being built like a brick khasi – or words to that effect. The BSS examiner also commented upon the build quality and details when he issued a pass certificate at the first attempt (his first for eight weeks) last year.
To date the boat has been absolutely reliable and after a complete repaint in June 2003 now looks as it should have done when new. The proportions and appearance of the boat have also attracted favourable comments from many others over the last four years. The use of good woods and materials for the fitting out also provides a feeling of long term solidity and durability as compared with other builders products that we have seen at boat shows over the years. The quality of the exterior welding (and finishing off) when compared with others is also a big plus. David’s ‘sumps’ in the engine tray and the stern seal areas are also very welcome details.
What didn’t I like about the Piper boat? Well, there were a number of items such as the small bore water plumbing that limits the flow of water, the noisy water pump and the lack of a hydraulic accumulator (when the boat left the yard) that resulted in the water pump sounding like a machine gun at cut-off. Also a minus point was the corridor floor that flexed and squeaked whenever you walked on it - but these are only minor irritations in what is otherwise a good product. I have since upgraded most of these items to eliminate the irritations and increase the long term durability. More serious problems concerned rapid corrosion creeping out from behind the wooden panels of the hatches, doors and the steel hinge sockets welded to the cabin sides. The corrosion problem has now been eliminated by replacing all the door plates and hatches with stainless steel fabrications; a bit drastic, but not too costly and 100% guaranteed. This was completed before the boat was repainted in June 2003.
Would I buy another Piper boat? Certainly YES because the basic product is excellent and with the benefit of experience and 20/20 hindsight I would know what additional questions to ask and to be more specific about what materials, equipment and fittings were used in the construction and fit-out. Membership of the POC is also a big plus point as we can enjoy the company of like minded people, share problems and solutions to the mutual benefit of all members.
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