Saturday, 3 May 2014

A trip on a widebeam

I was invited to go on a trip on QEF Jubilee as the guest of a journalist who was writing an article on the boat for the magazine Towpath Talk.

QEF - Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for Disabled People have recently done a major refurbishment of a widebeam boat which is now based in Hemel Hempstead and is available for hire to disabled people and their families and groups.  The boat is 12' 6" wide and 55' long.

QEF Jubilee at Fishery Lock, Hemel Hempstead
It is very stable, with eight berths including facilities for three wheelchair users.

There were representatives from QEF as well as my journalist friend; a journalist from Able magazine (Sophie Partridge - herself a wheelchair user); and a journalist from the local Hemel Hempstead Gazette, who was taking photos and videoing interviews. Additionally there were two crew for the boat, one of whom, Alan, trains hirers in steering and use of the boat.

Obviously, the boat has a great deal more space internally than a narrowboat, and is very stable. Clutter is kept to a minimum, but it is well appointed and comfortable.

Lift area at the rear of the boat - the steps lift out
There are two wheelchair lifts, one at the back, allowing access to the boat from the very large cruiser stern and another at the front, which raises the wheelchair giving a good view forward and allowing access to wheel steering or steering via a joystick.  I was impressed at how quick these lifts were, without being too fast for comfort.
Wheel and joystick steering at the front of the boat

This photo shows the seating area at the front of the boat, with the wheelchair lift. As at the back of the boat the steps lift out. The boat can be steered from front or back.

At the front there is also a roof slide immediately above the wheel steering.

Bedroom with hoist
The ceiling of the boat has hoists to assist wheelchair users to get into bed, or onto the sofas during the day, and for those with greater need there is a hospital bed and hoist.


Wet room/toilet
There is a disabled toilet and wet room, as well as a separate toilet.
Bunk room with two bunks

Accommodation also includes two bunk rooms.

The large cruiser stern, with additional seating

I was even allowed to try steering for a while.

The QEF Jubilee is particularly designed for families or for small groups of disabled people to travel with able bodied carers or friends. It is based just north of Hemel Hempstead on the Grand Union Canal.

You can find out more about it, and how to book at VASD

Pricing currently starts at £700 per week (Saturday to Friday) for low season, rising to £850 for high season. The boat is also available for day hire (including skipper if required). 

Thanks to QEF (and my journalist friend) for the opportunity to see this boat, and for a really interesting day out.

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