Thursday 12 February 2009

The £25 Cratch Cover

12th February 2009
A cratch cover on the cheap

The cratch cover on Wand'ring Bark is somewhat unique being home made and costing a mere £25! Is often elicits remarks from other boaters and therefore deserves a mention in the blog.

The cratch has something of a history. If you look at the early photos you will notice the the boat came without a cratch, and it was one of my earlier construction projects. The brief was a conventional glazed cratch, but one which could be easily disassembled in fine weather. The end result is something of a work of art, with glazed panels which can be removed, leaving the central post and top plank in place with the tunnel light attached. In addition, the front post can split, with part folding down into the well of the front deck and the top plate with the light section folding back flat onto the cabin roof.

But it's no good having a cratch without a cover. The plan was to commission a cover from Wilsons of Kinver, who make the Rolls Royce of covers. However, before they came to measure up we were hit with a very large and unexpected legal bill and something had to give. A £500 cratch cover is not one of life's essentials so the plan was abandoned.

A few weeks later we were on the boat and Belle was poorly leaving the Captain at a loose end. During some rummaging around I came across a three metre square of camouflage tarpaulin which I had bought for £10 from Machine Mart, together with a roll of Duck Tape. I positioned the tarpaulin over the cratch and, with some cutting folding and one largish join I fashioned cratch cover Mk 1. I added some eyelets and elasticated hooks and bobs your uncle - the very first stealth cover on a narrowboat.

Stealth cover Mk1 was only supposed to be temporary, till financial solvency returned. In the event, everyone became rather attached to it and it survived storms and gales for two years, before the constant rubbing on the top plank finally reduced its water resistance to nil.

A replacement was needed but not before we had a great laugh at the expense of some unruly urban kids. A pack of dodgey looking individuals were eyeing the boat and, seeing the camouflage cover asked if we were an Army boat. We had to see where this conversation would take us so we answered "yes, we are on patrol securing the canal". "So, whats under the cover?" they asked. "Well, I shouldn't really tell you this, but that's where we keep the machine gun, but we have to keep is hidden up cos all the other boaters get a bit scared if they know we have a gun with live ammo on the canal". It worked a treat, the kids were dead impressed and skulked off, dropping the stones they had been planning to use in an ariel assault on WB.

So that takes up onto cratch cover Mk2.
  • With No 1 failing badly I bought a huge (10 m x 10m) sheet of heavy gauge woven polyurethane tarpaulin off the Internet, together with a couple of rolls of high tack adhesive tape - the sort market traders use to stop their stall covers blowing away. Cost £40.

  • Using the old cover as a template I marked out and cut a new cover. If I started again I would buy a big plastic dustsheet (99p from Wilkinsons) and use it to create a template.

  • I attached two strips of 15mm copper water pipe to the leading edge and folded the flap back on itself thus forming a rigid edge, fixing it all together with the tape.

  • The front is held onto the cratch plate using cup hooks and elastic straps.

  • The back end of the cover is held in place with more elastic straps (50p per metre from Homebase) which stretch from some reinforced eyelets to some some chrome hooks pop riveted onto the side of the boat (£2.50 from Midland Chandlers)

  • Finally, to give it a better shape I cut some narrow pvc water pipe (the sort used for the overflow on a toilet) and stuck this to the inside of the cover between the front corner of the cabin roof and the top of the triangular glazed panels.

Whilst the end result is clearly not a professional job, it is 100% effective. The key factor for me is that in addition to the cratch cover I had enough material and tape left over to fashion a stern cover and have enough in reserve to make yet another cover as and when this one fails. Given its lack of deterioration so far, I am confident that it will last me 5 years, probably more. In addition, I have no worries about tearing it if I hit the cabin room on a low bridge.

All in all I have 100% of the effectiveness for about 5% of the price of a professional version. Ok, its not quite as beautiful as the one Wislons could make, but I can think of lots of things I would rather spend my £450 on.

So, as I sit and home in front of my new £450 widescreen TV in the sure and certain knowledge that WB's front deck is as dry as a bone, I toast you.


belle said...

so that's how we ended up with the new tele ... hmmm, had I but known I'm sure I could have better used the £450 ... ;o)

MortimerBones said...

I like the sound of this enormously! What did you make the wooden bits out of and was it easy?

D Baynham said...

I think you should go in to business as a side line cratchcovers r us.

Andy Tidy said...

Mortimer B
I used a range of softwoods, which were then well primed and painted. The triangular glazed sections were tricky given all the odd angles, but started off at 2x2 a shaped using a bandsaw and a router.
I have plans to do a blog entry on it when I get round to taking some photos. A picture is worth more than a 1000 words...
If you are thinking of something like it have my e-mail address on your blogsite.Happy to share tips.

Anonymous said...

ok. Two years on, how is the Cratch cover holding out.

Andy Tidy said...

The cratch cover is now three years old and still going strong. Some of the duck tape cold do with replacement and one corner has been punched through on Ashted Tunnel (justifying the cheap approach). I guess it will last another year or so - and i have plenty of material to make another.

Andy Tidy said...

Quick update - the cover finally gave up the ghost in the storms of early 2015 so we bit the bullet and bought a super super cover from Kinver Canopies. bank balance depleted but we now have a waterproof cratch, cushioned seats and a drop down table from an authentic working boat. Not a bad run for £25!

Andreas said...

Thanks for sharing. Just wondering was it the induatrial strencth duck tape used to secure the cover to the boat itself??? prodominently the hull part? thanks

Andy Tidy said...

I used regular high tack duct tape to secure the folds / joints in the PVC - which will last about 2 to 3 years and then need replacing. The cover was not stuck to the boat in any way with gaffer tape but instead I used elasticated rope in loops which went over hooks which were pop riveted to the hull plus a couple of string ties on the roof attached to the grab rails.

Andreas said...

Oh, ok. Thanks

Jerome said...

Hi there! I have been thinking about making myself a cratch for a few months now and I've stumbled upon your blog. Do you have any pictures of just the frame? Or any tips/lessons learned? Did you use regular treated timber and then give it a good few coats of marine paint?

Andy Tidy said...

Jerome. I have to admit that I am now on a mark three which was professionally made a couple of years ago but mark two lasted over 5 years. That frame was made out of soft wood and was planned as a prototype for a hardwood version but because I painted it before assembly it has never become rotten and is fine after 10 years. I basicallly built it to fit the space on our boat and keeping the top close to the profile of the roof to avoid problems with low bridges and tunnels. The odd shapes of the removable windows called for some creative carpentry but there are no exotic construction techniques. Start with the upright post at the front and the plank to the roof and go from there.