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Navvies Ark - the lifeboat that brings luxury to Lancashire’s waterways

PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 August 2015 | UPDATED: 16:29 13 January 2018

Julie was responsible for the interior design

Julie was responsible for the interior design

not Archant

People stop in their tracks when they see this old lifeboat transformed by a Lancashire couple, writes Roger Borrell. Photography by Glynn Ward

Martin Hodson and Julie Knott planned lazy days floating down the canals, soaking up the peace and quiet of Lancashire’s rural backwaters.

It didn’t quite work out like that when they launched their pride and joy, Navvies Ark, onto the Lancaster Canal. ‘Everywhere we have gone, people have stopped and talked to us about the boat,’ said Martin, a builder from Fulwood in Preston.

‘When we first went past The Tithe Barn in Garstang just about everyone came out of the pub and started taking pictures. That’s pretty typical, people think it’s fantastic.’

They’re not wrong. The vessel started life as a lifeboat hanging from the side of an oil rig in the North Sea. When it was declared redundant

The couple bought it from a yard in Aberdeen and had it shipped to Garstang Marina.

They worked through winter weekends and days off to transform it into one of the most striking vessels on the canal system, complete with a wood-effect paint job by local artist David Crossley. It is so effective several admirers have asked Martin who put the wood cladding on the exterior.

‘We thought the lifeboat was ark shaped so we wanted it to look wooden and, as the canals were dug by navvies, the name Navvies Ark seemed right,’ he said.

Martin and Julie had previous experience transforming a couple of narrow boats, a shabby chic caravan and a retro motor-home but the lifeboat was probably their biggest challenge.

The Ark is 24ft long and nine feet wide, weighing in at approximately five tonnes. It came fitted with seat-belts for 50 passengers, breathable air tanks and a sprinkler system in case of fire on the oil rig.

Thankfully, it never saw active service and rarely – if ever – made it into the water. This, and the fact it was so well maintained, meant it was in pristine condition.

‘We made a plan of the boat and how we wanted it to look,’ said Martin. ‘With space being limited, we wanted to optimise what we had. The first task was taking out all the seatbelts, then work began cutting out the bulkheads.

‘We completed all the work ourselves, from the cutting out to fitting the boiler, shower, oven and wood burner as well as tiling and painting. The final exterior paintwork and the carpet-fitting were the only things we didn’t do.’

The boat is fully equipped to live aboard with a kitchen, fridge, small double bed, shower and living area and there is a solar panel to power the television, lighting and water pumps.

They also put their own personal stamp on the inside, using Julie’s eye for interior design. Its quirkiness is summed up by the mounted deer’s head they found in a carboot sale.

‘Navvies Ark has been lots of fun and we cannot wait for our next project,’ said Martin. ‘In fact we’ve already bought another narrowboat to do up and our longer term aim is to buy a Dutch barge and run it on the French canals.’ w

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