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Vintage Narrowboat Goes Electric Thanks to Curtis

June 9, 2017

Reflecting its global leadership for electronic integrated systems and the flexibility and resources to support any size and type of enterprise, Curtis Instruments has recently completed a very pleasing project with a charity who wished to convert a 1938 Iron Narrow Boat to an environmentally friendly Electric drive.

The boat, Birdswood, named after the nearby Bird’s Wood railway bridge, was originally built as an engineless, cabinless butty in 1938 and worked around Birmingham towed by a horse or motor boat. It has an interesting hull made of Iron that is pointed at both ends to enable easy running in either direction.

Around 1955 the boat was modified and fitted with a cabin which allowed the boatman and his family to live on board to make longer journeys, all still without an engine. In 1995 the cabin was extended and a diesel hydraulic propulsion unit was added and the boat was used on the Caldon canal as a trip boat serving food. The unusual conversion was partly due to the pointed stern which does not easily permit a direct drive shaft through the centre point, so a small hydraulic motor was fitted into the rudder to which a propeller is attached. Hydraulic hoses run over the back of the boat to the hydraulic pump which was powered by the diesel engine.

In 2013 Birdswood was purchased by the charity, to work on the Cromford canal in the Derwent Valley world heritage site which is also a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).  As such, zero emission propulsion was required and after evaluating different ideas it was decided that although the hydraulic drive would remain, the diesel engine would be replaced by a CFR Induction motor controlled by a Curtis Instruments 1238 Vector Controller.

48V 820Ah batteries were supplied and Curtis commissioned the system.  Interestingly, Curtis fitted Acuity, their battery monitoring system, to monitor the battery data, state of health, total power used and operating temperatures. 

Now, almost two years later, interesting and useful data is coming through from Acuity.  As the hydraulic system is very low pressure, Acuity proves the efficiency to be very good with the boat easily managing 4 pleasure cruises before an overnight recharge is needed. It was a great team collaboration which is what Curtis likes to promote with all customers and colleagues.

Needless to say, Kerry Green – European Support Manager at Curtis Instruments - became so involved with the project he has since joined the FCC and regularly volunteers with them, assisting with the maintenance and running of the 72ft long narrowboat and delivering historical commentaries on-board.  His interest in the historic canals and waterways of England has continued to grow, seeing him undertake and pass his MCA Boat masters exam in June 2017.  This Exam is quite intense and includes drills on man overboard recovery, fires and medical emergencies.  Passing this exam means Kerry is now able to Captain the Birdswood, taking 45 passengers on board at a time, up and down the beautiful Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, England. 

If anyone would like more information, would like to view the boat, take trip or volunteer for a day or more per month please contact the FCC via their web site www.cromfordcanal.info as more volunteers are always welcome to assist with running this lovely boat.


For more information on the systems and services Curtis Instruments can provide call 01604 885201 or email: info@curtisinst.co.uk  or visit www.curtisinst.co.uk