Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article More than a Mooring - Nantwich Canal Centre is the copyright of Jim Shead - The fourteenth of a regular series of articles on marinas and boatyards. First published in Waterways World November 2004.
Nantwich Canal Centre
Nantwich Canal Centre is situated in Nantwich Basin which formed the terminus of the Chester Canal when it was opened in 1779 and is now part of the Shropshire Union main line. The business is run by Bill and Sheila Saner who took over the site in 1994. The basin had not been used for 2 years and before that was a BW hire base. Both Bill and Sheila had been involved in a company based at Middlewich which fitted out narrowboats and provided share boats. They brought 4 or 5 people with them from Middlewich to start Nantwich Canal Centre and now have 14 full-time employees and 2 part-time.
Their main activity at that time was boat building and after about 5 years they had a 3 year order book for new boats gathered by advertising and attending various boat shows. At that point they decided to stop promoting their Navigation Narrowboat Company and to concentrate on clearing their order backlog. By the time this was done public awareness of them as a boat builder had considerably declined. Rather than restarting the process of promoting the boat building side and getting back to a point where they had a large order book they decided to build "spec boats". Using their previous experience of all the different features they had put into their customers boats they picked out the best aspects and tried to combine them into a boat that would appeal to a wide range of customers.
They took one of these boats to the Crick Boat Show and immediately got a 12 month order book. They decided not to extend their order book beyond a year but to produce 3 or 4 of these standard boats each year in two sizes. The basic layout is standard but customers can opt for various extras and choose alternative colours and finishes.
This has enabled them to concentrate on repair work and they have a skilled team covering all aspects; joinery, gas, electrical, welding, engines, etc. The dry dock is used for bottom blacking and paint work. They also do steelwork repairs and re-plating.
Running a boatyard that takes on a wide range of work requires a skilled workforce and when new staff are needed there is often a problem in finding well trained people. They approached a local training organisation about a suitable course for young people entering the business and found there was nothing on offer so together with the tutors they selected various parts of existing courses to give a range of skills leading to NVQ awards.
These courses can be adapted to the needs of the company and the interests of the trainee. The training organisation now offer this type of course to other marinas and boatyards and Nantwich Canal Centre has gained two apprentices, one of whom has just qualified as an engineer.
They now have a lot of contract work from British Waterways to refurbish their workboats, replacing engines, electrical systems, sanitation and converting them to floating workshops. This work led to the contract to build the Anderton Lift trip boat Edwin Clarke on-site at Northwich. This was based on an old Leeds & Liverpool boat hull on which they built and fitted out a new cabin structure and installed a new engine. They are also building a river launch for BW which will be called Colonel Saner named after Colonel John Saner who electrified the Anderton Lift in 1908 and who is Bill's Great Great Uncle. They now have a contract to maintain all the BW workboats in the NW region.
The boatyard is busier in the "off season" due to their BW contract work, maintenance work and refurbishments for Challenger shareboats based there and for private owners. In the summer there is less planned work which gives them time to deal with boaters immediate needs - they provide a 24 hour call out service for gas leaks, engine breakdowns and other problems. This level of service may not be available for boaters at some other marinas where priorities may be on other things. They also have moorings for up to 40 boats, pumpout, Elsan disposal, gas sales, toilets, chandlery, a launderette and a café which are both open 7 days a week. The launderette and café are run by sub-tenants. In the last year a new company has been set up to deal with boat sales, called Harral Brokerage Services (Nantwich) Ltd with Steve Harral and Bill Saner both as directors.
Development of Nantwich Canal Centre has continued with money invested in business systems and now stock control and accounting is all controlled through an integrated network. They also run Dek-Tec a company that is the sole authorised importer of Dri-Dek seen on the decks of many narrowboats but also used on sea-going craft, in industry, swimming pools and many other applications.
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