A 57-foot reverse layout cruiser by Andy Dence – a builder of boats for the past 12 years.

Words by Adam Porters | Pictures by Andy Annable

Boat building firms come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the smaller ones perhaps don’t get as much coverage as they deserve. That’s why in these boat tests we try to mix things up a bit. We feature boats from well-established companies but also those fairly new on the scene, and from one-man-bands as well as firms with quite a few staff who might be producing ten or a dozen boats a year.

Andy Dence falls into the category of a one-man-band, who’s been building boats pretty much under the radar for the past 12 years. He gets his customers through recommendation and word of mouth, rather than exhibiting at shows. And his experience as a builder is enhanced by the fact that he lived on board a boat himself for many years – and is soon to build himself another one, so he can return to the water. Andy builds a combination of stock boats and bespoke ones for customers – it just depends what’s going on at the time. He also works closely with the shell builders, XR&D, providing their customers with sailaways or partly fitted boats, and he does boat painting too.

This boat is one of Andy’s stock boats, which he calls his Swift class; XR&D had a shell without an owner, and Andy and a friend were between bigger jobs so they built this boat to go up for sale. His friend, Mark Winstanley, did much of the woodwork in this boat.

Building a stock boat is always a little bit of a risk for a builder, because you never quite know what the market is going to be like when you’ve finished it. But they can be great value for customers. They also mean there’s no waiting around for a build slot – you just pay your money and cruise off into the sunset.

This 57ft boat is built on a shell by XR&D, who have a great reputation for their steelwork. The firm has an interesting story, because the owners, Garry Summerfield and Lee Wolosiuk, worked for R&D Fabrications in the late 80s and 90s. That firm was sold in 2002, and in 2006 work was moved to Poland meaning Garry and Lee were facing redundancy. They decided to set up business together, and as many people in the boating world already referred to them as the ex-R&D lads, they decided to call themselves XR&D.

As you might expect from an XR&D shell, the steelwork all looks good. The bow is a nice shape, with a substantial stem post. The gas locker is in the nose, while the well deck has lockers both sides, with a scalloped shape to enable the bow doors to open fully. The lids have a strip of grippy rubber on them, so you won’t worry about slipping when using the lockers as a step. There’s also an anchor point on the bulkhead between the well deck and the gas locker, which would be handy for anyone who wanted to make sure their dog didn’t jump ship. The water tank is stainless steel and is underneath the deck.

There are some really nice touches to the steelwork, such as grab handles worked into the ends of the cabin sides at both the bow and the stern, so you have something to hold on to while stepping on or off the boat. And there’s a neat lockable cover over the diesel filler on the back deck. It seems a shame, then, that the rail around the stern deck is a very simple affair. It’s functional, but angular – but it could have a hardwood rail put on top, or a canvas dodger to enclose the deck.

The colour scheme is classic grey panels with a cream border, separated by a red coachline. The decks and roof are traditional raddle red, and so are the gunwale tops which adds to the classic feel. Andy Dence does a lot of boat painting, and the quality of this work is excellent. He uses durable two pack paint.
All the trim is in chrome, which goes well with the colour scheme and won’t need cleaning in the way brass does. The frames of the windows and portholes are a similar colour.

This is a reverse layout boat, with the galley at the stern. There’s a breakfast bar rather than a dinette, followed by a saloon which has been left open for freestanding furniture. A walk-through shower room comes next, with the cabin at the bow. The fitout uses ash below the gunwales, with painted panels above. This gives a very light, airy feel to the interior. The fitout is well done, with nicely constructed furniture throughout. But we found that because of the temperature fluctuations around the time of our test, some of the internal doors would need some adjustment to fit exactly. All the trim is also ash, while the floor is lovely engineered oak.

A set of ladder steps leads down from the back deck into the galley. On one side is an open hanging space ideal for coats; the cupboard below houses the calorifier, and the shelf between the two spaces has holes in it, allowing warm air to rise and help dry damp gear. On the opposite side is the electrical cupboard, with open storage below. The steps can be lifted out to make access to this area easier. We particularly liked a small cubbyhole built below the electrical panels, with 240 and 12 volt sockets – meaning you can have a phone on charge close by while you’re at the helm.

The galley itself has units with pale grey Shaker style doors, and a stylishly thin laminate worktop above. On one side of the boat is a round stainless steel sink with a matching drainer, and on the opposite side is a three-burner Thetford gas hob. The oven is a full size one by Belling, while the fridge is a 12 volt Inlander. There’s also a washing machine by Logic.

Cupboards and drawers mean there’s plenty of storage space. The dead corner under the breakfast bar isn’t the easiest to access, though, so this might become somewhere to put things you only need once in a while.

The breakfast bar itself is generously proportioned, and has a set of glazed side doors alongside. This means you have light and a view even when the doors are closed. There are also a couple of smart pendant lights hanging from the ceiling, providing a bit of wow factor, and undoubtedly creating a nice ambience in the evening – especially in combination with the LED under-gunwale lighting. A couple of stylish red stools are provided.

This area has been largely left empty for freestanding furniture, so there’s not a great deal to say about it. It’s a generous space though, so could take either a couple of captain’s chairs, or a sofa bed if you wanted to provide a spare bed for guests.The once piece of built in furniture is a combined under-gunwale shelving unit and a corner cupboard, designed to hold a tv on top. Inside the cupboard are power and ariel sockets, so all the cables will be out of the way. In the centre of the boat is a small Arada stove. The hearth has a slate base and a surround featuring bevelled tiles set in a brick pattern. The flue is double insulated so it meets installation guidelines, and should provide a greater draw while not getting hot.

All the windows have check curtains held back by simple rails, and there’s a good sized radiator.

The shower on this boat is a generous quadrant unit, lined with grey slate effect shower board which provides a good match to the galley worktops. Between the cubicle and the hull side is a small cupboard, with some open shelving above.

On the opposite side is a corner cupboard with a smart white oval basin on top, and a freestanding tap behind. The loo is a Thetford cassette; the wall behind has more slate-effect shower board, meaning it should be easy to keep clean. Access to the cassette is under the bed in the cabin. Under the porthole is a heated towel rail, which runs from either the central heating or 240 volts when on shore power or when the engine is running.

The bed is inline and has plenty of storage in the base. There are drop-down doors along the length of the bed. As we’ve already mentioned, the first door gives access to the loo cassette, and here would be a good place to store a spare. Above the head of the bed is a high-level cupboard.

At the foot of the bed is a huge double wardrobe fitted with a mixture of shelves and hanging space. On the opposite side is a low corner unit. The step up to the well deck has a lifting tread for storage, and moves out of the way to give access to the water pump. The doors out to the bow are glazed.

This boat is fairly straightforward technically, which is in no way a criticism. It’s powered by a Canaline 42 engine; these are often used in hire fleets so should be reliable, and will be familiar to boat yards around the country. The installation looks neat and tidy.

Electrical power comes from four 110Ah domestic batteries (and there’s one for the engine). A Victron 3kw Multiplus inverter charger gives a 240-volt supply. There’s a 175-watt solar panel on the roof to help keep the batteries charged, and it’s mounted on brackets meaning it can be angled to the sun to maximise output. It has a Victron MPPT controller, which is big enough to cope with an extra couple of panels, should the new owner want them.
Central heating comes from an Eberspacher diesel boiler.


The thing you notice when out on this boat is how solid it feels. It’s a sign of a quality shell that it sits nicely in the water and swims beautifully. Even on a relatively blustery day, you don’t feel as though you’re going to be blown around. This boat also handles well – another sign of a good shell. It goes exactly where you point it, and we turned around a couple of times with ease, even though it doesn’t have a bow thruster. It really is a lovely boat to steer.

We often complain that on cruiser stern boats, the Morse control is too low down. That’s not true on this boat, as the control column is separate from the stern rail, and extends well above it. The control isn’t as high as it would be on a trad or semi-trad, but you certainly don’t find yourself having to crouch down to reach it.

There’s plenty of room on the back deck for crew to keep the helm company. But that open stern rail means there’s no protection from the elements on a bad weather day.

There’s a great deal to like about this boat. The shell is really good, both in terms of looks and handling; if you want to see how good, try steering other boats on the same day, and you’ll realise just how solid and secure this one feels. And the external paintwork is also excellent. Inside, the fitout is bright and breezy – exactly the sort of thing people are looking for these days. And with the saloon ready to accept your own choice of furniture, it would be easy to put your mark on it and make it feel your own.

At the time of our test, the boat was up for sale at £154,950. That’s a good price in the current market; and Andy Dence says, the price of everything has gone up so much in the past few years that you really can’t build a boat for much less these days. Indeed, it’s clear that while pre-pandemic we’d have been delighted to find a boat to test at around the £100,000 mark, now we seldom see anything anywhere near £150,000.

What this boat proves is that the boat builders you’ve probably never heard of are quite capable of turning out good boats at reasonable prices. When you’re looking for a boat, don’t rule out the one man bands.


Andy Dence became a boat builder almost by accident. His background is in car mechanics and painting, but in 2003 he bought a boat to live on with his partner. “There was so much wrong with it, that the builder didn’t seem to be able to sort out, I ended up ripping out quite of lot of the interior and re-doing it myself,” he says. “And I realised it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be.”

It wasn’t until 2012 that he started fitting out boats professionally. He does a combination of stock boats like this one and boats for customers who want something specific. He’s been getting his shells from XR&D for a decade, and the two firms also work closely together; Andy is one of their recommended businesses, so if a customer wants a sailaway or a partly fitted boat (they might for example want the boat lined, or also have the bulkheads put in), then he frequently gets the job. He has a workshop at Stenson on the Trent and Mersey, but also often ends up working at XR&D’s site at Ollerton near Newark.
Andy moved back to land a while back, but is now planning to build himself another boat to live on. “There aren’t many boat builders who actually live on board,” he says. “But when you do, you really get to know what works.”


Length: 57ft
Beam: 6ft 10in
Shell: XR&D / www.xrandd.co.uk
Style: Cruiser
Layout: Reverse
Berths: 2
Fit-out: Ash and painted panels
Engine: Canaline 42 / www.canaline-engines.co.uk
Inverter: Victron 3kw / www.victronenergy.com
Stove: Hamlet by Arada / www.aradastoves.com / £749


Andy Dence Narrowboats
07801 847218


As featured in the April 2024 issue of Canal Boat. Buy the issue here