Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Ones That Got Away - Number 2 "Ajax" (TWICE!)

(Posted by Alan)

So "Rufford" was not to be, but we were alerted to a rather different boat, although this time it was not yet being actively marketed, but owner had indicated they were ready to sell it.

"Ajax" is a "Railway Boat" built in the early 1930s for the London Midland and Scottish Railway.  As it happens the builder was again W J Yarwood and Sons, the same as "Sickle".  Originally these boats were horse drawn boats built for short distance traffic between railway interchange depots, and other canal served locations.  My understanding is that like the majority of these boats built for the LMS, "Ajax" would originally have had no back cabin whatsoever, (although a much smaller number of these boats were originally built with them).

As an aside some people call all LMS boats of this type "Station Boats", whereas others say this only applies to those of the type that were much later converted to butty boats, to be paired with a motor boat, and which were given names of railway stations when this was done.  I have no idea which of these claims is correct!

"Ajax" - an earlier view taken when passing the mooring.
Initially we arranged to view "Ajax" in late September 2013. A very attractive boat from outside, with a very long fore-deck, even more so than a Josher, I would say.  Although I love the bluff lines of the "Grand Union" boats, "Ajax" is undoubtedly a "looker".  It would have course originally had a butty style back end, with a wooden 'elum, so the current counter and rudder arrangements are all down to its conversion to a "motor", only done when it became a leisure boat.  None the less, the feeling is very much of what a "Railway Boat" motor might have originally been built like, had such things existed.  The fully lettered livery in elaborate LMS maroon undoubtedly owes almost everything to LMS railway locomotives, and probably nothing to their Railway Boats.  It is not known how these were originally painted, (and "Ajax" had no cabin to paint anyway!), although something based on a simple grey scheme is probably likely.  That said the LMS maroon sits well on the converted boat, and as an admirer of Stanier's massive LMS pacific locomotives, it was a compromise we could live with.

There is much about "Ajax" to like.  For a start we really wanted a boat with a twin cylinder engine, so "Ajax's" Russell Newbery hit the mark there, (although it is actually quite a modern build from the 1980s).  The back cabin had a more generous, and hence rather more useful, cross bed than the norm, (most in genuine motor boats are actually what would be considered only a single in a house).  It also has a walk through engine room with safe access right through the boat, with most moving parts covered, so as not to suck up the dog's tail! (In our experience, it is rare to find converted boats that started life as motors that are fully walk through).  There is also a useful small bedroom in the middle that can double as an office or hobbies area, and a particularly pleasant and well arranged sitting out area at the front.

From saloon, looking rearwards to kitchen.
There were downsides too.  Parts were quite run down, and the actual saloon space not that generous, largely because of having an extra bedroom over many boats.  Also nothing actually seemed to be fully working, (fridge, water heating etc), and the owner seemed to rely more on kettles on stoves and a Porta Potti in the engine room than any built in services - there were also an ominous amount of containers clearly catching rainwater leaks at points like side hatches that were not fully keeping the weather out!

None the less we were very taken with "Ajax", which in many ways had a layout we could really exploit, given how we use a boat, and who tends to be aboard.  The owner had a fixed idea of what he wanted for it, which seemed a lot, given how much needed fixing, but he was not up for negotiation.  and we agreed we would pay it, because the boat suited so well.  However he would need some time before he could let the boat go, so no final deal was struck on the day.

After this, he proved impossible to get hold of, despite us having three different contact methods - his phones would either not accept a message, or when they did, he did not reply to them.  Emails went unanswered.  Eventually after a long while we did get him on the phone - he was sorry, but he had decided he no longer wished to sell "Ajax", after all.  There was not a lot to say in the circumstances, and we thought that was the end of it.

1980s build of Russell Newbery DM2 - a design dating from the 1930s
Except it wasn't the end of it, because after some time, the owner contacted us again saying he now wanted to sell "Ajax".  However due to his commitments, and various other issues such as the weather, and how far away he lived, it was many, many weeks before we went to see "Ajax" again, and this did not actually happen until March, getting on for half a year after we first saw it.

We were already fairly convinced we wanted "Ajax", and the owner was happy to take us out on her.  We went armed with a suitable cash deposit!  The trip was nearly cancelled when he rang saying the engine wouldn't start, but we took our own starter battery with us, and that did the trick.  The boat went along very well, and once back on his mooring, we were ready to do a deal, without haggling over the owners chosen price.

However when we started talking deposits, he told us he urgently had to be elsewhere and please come back and finalise everything tomorrow.  I suppose given our previous experiences we should have guessed, but when we did finally get hold of him the next day, far from being ready to meet us to complete a deal, he was on his way back to his home, hundreds of miles away!  Clearly he had changed his mind again.

Out for a test run - March 2014.
The bizarre thing is that only months later he ostensibly put the boat on brokerage at the Warwickshire Fly Boat Company, (although curiously only advertised as going to be available in September).  Having previously told us he was keen to do a private deal, and avoid brokers charges, this seemed decidedly odd.  In practice he made some limited use of the boat in the summer, (we actually met it twice whilst boating, including after he had just delivered it to Warwickshire Fly, where it did turn up for a short period only).  However I'm not sure it was ever really offered for sale, and the last few times we have seen it, it has been back languishing on it's home mooring.

So "Ajax" is the boat we agreed to buy, (twice), but which the owner ultimately decided he did not after all want to sell to us, (twice).  Had it been just the once that our hopes were dashed, I think I wouldn't be bothering to tell the tale.  As we got drawn into it a second time, and lost virtually 6 months over it, I think it not unreasonable to publicly tell the tale that in this game things do not always go as you expect.  This was a considerable time waster, and ultimately the whole experience quite stressful.

Should you in future see the rather lovely "Ajax" offered for sale, and be interested in buying, I hope you have more success than we did!

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