A semi-cruiser with a reverse layout built to the owner’s specification.

Words by Adam Porters | Pictures by Andy Annable

The old saying about there being nothing new under the sun clearly isn’t strictly true, because the world is a very different place from what it was like 50 years ago. But when it comes to narrowboats, new ideas are perhaps not as important as putting together the right collection of existing ideas to meet your needs.

And that’s where the bespoke boat builder comes in. If you’ve seen lots of things you like, you need someone who can help you make sense of them, arrange them, and bring them to reality. A builder of bespoke boats will advise you what will work and what won’t, and come up with a finished product that combines as many of your ideas as possible.

And that’s certainly the case with this boat, Stargazer. The owners, who are new to boating, had been to shows, looked at boats, and studied articles like this one. And they’d seen plenty of things they liked. The problem was, that some builders produce just one design of boat, and while they’ll make tweaks they won’t do anything radically different. So finding a builder who could bring all their wants and needs together was key.

That builder was Knights Narrowboats, based in Cheshire, who have a good reputation for quality builds, and are very willing to listen to customers’ requirements and build accordingly. So in this case we have a semi-cruiser boat with a reverse layout and a huge skylight in the saloon. But at the bow there’s an extended cabin to give an extra-large bedroom.

This boat is built on a 60ft shell by Cauldon Boats, a well established firm based in the Stoke area. The steelwork all looks good.

The stern is a square semi-cruiser, which is a very popular style at the moment. This square design maximises outside space, but there’s little doubt that the corners will get bashed; the rounded stern didn’t come about by accident! The stern is enclosed by a metal dodger, and there are lockers both sides which have locking lids for security, and one of which has a charging point for electric folding bikes. These lockers also mean there’s plenty of space here to sit down. Either side of the central door into the boat are lockers, one of which is the gas locker while the other provides space for a spare bottle. With the gas at the stern, the large locker in the nose is available for storage.

The bow is a nice shape, and the extended cabin curves in enough that it shouldn’t get caught on bridge arches. There’s a square window in the forward bulkhead, which like the other windows and portholes has black glass bonded frames by Caldwell’s, and dark privacy glass. They give the boat a striking look, but it looks perhaps a little stark from the front. The windows and portholes are all double glazed, and have a thermal break to help counter condensation.

The colour scheme is a single colour, which is also very popular these days, with relatively little decoration. The green paintwork is broken up only by a black coachline top and bottom, and black handrails. The roof is also black, which could get very hot in summer. The signwriting is by Andy Russell and features a telescope over the Stargazer name. He’s also painted a clever star motif on the bow flashes, with an ‘S’ worked into it.

The boat has a huge pram cover over the semi-cruiser stern, but we took it down before starting our test. Fortunately, the process is fairly quick and easy. When it’s up, the cover creates an extra room – although it does nothing for the lines of the boat.

This is a reverse layout boat with the galley at the stern. It’s divided from the rest of the boat by a bulkhead. Forward of the galley comes a Pullman dinette, which is open plan to the saloon. Next comes a walk-through shower room, with the cabin at the bow.

The fitout uses oak faced panels throughout, lacquered below the gunwales and painted white above – but you can still see the wood grain in the painted panels, giving some nice texture. All the trim is solid oak, and there’s an engineered oak floor in the public areas. (It’s vinyl in the shower room, and carpet in the cabin). A central ceiling feature has both downlights and hidden LED strip lights which wash the ceiling with light.

All the furniture is built from oak veneered blockboard and has been finished to a very high standard. Throughout the boat, everything fits together really well and is solidly constructed.

Steps lead down from the stern deck into the galley and have lifting treads for storage. The risers are angled back, so the whole step unit can take up slightly less space. To one side there’s the electrical cupboard, while opposite is a cupboard for storage.

Knights usually build their own galley units, but the owners of this boat wanted grey cabinets and doors, so they bought these ones in from Howden’s. The worktops are Corian with a matching splashback, with a stainless steel Smeg sink and a routed drainer. On the opposite side of the boat is a three burner gas hob by Thetford.

Other equipment is impressive, with a full size fridge and a separate full size freezer. The oven, a full size gas unit by Belling is mounted at eye level in the centre of the boat, on the forward bulkhead. A washing machine is in the cupboard below. There’s also a microwave and a wine cooler.

The whole space looks cool and contemporary, and is flooded with light from large windows both sides. The stern doors are also glazed for extra light. It may be separate from the rest of the boat because of the bulkhead, but it feels self-contained rather than cut off.

The raised Pullman dinette seats four and converts into a double bed for guests. There’s storage in the bench seat bases, and under the raised floor, where there’s also a pull-out wine rack. There are glazed side doors both sides, making this a very pleasant place to sit. An illuminated alcove with some glass shelves cleverly borrows a bit of space from the galley behind. The smart grey column radiator here is probably one of the longest we’ve ever seen.

In the saloon, there’s a display unit with a glazed door on the dinette bulkhead, and a Refleks diesel stove in the corner. This sits in a steel hearth with a lip, to catch any potential diesel spill, and has a tiled surround in a very complicated lattice design. Fortunately, these mosaic tiles come on a sheet (although even fitting those together and getting the edges right can be a challenge) but the effect is extraordinary. An under-gunwale unit continues, with open shelving and a flat screen tv. There’s a large sofa bed, providing more guest sleeping accommodation.

But the crowning glory of the saloon is the massive skylight. It’s a full two metres long, and 800cm wide. It’s triple glazed so shouldn’t get too cold in the winter or hot in the summer, and doesn’t open – mostly because the owners didn’t want to see an opening mechanism. On a more mundane and practical level, it also means it’s much less likely to leak. The skylight was the inspiration for the name, Stargazer, and you can imagine sitting on the sofa in the middle of nowhere looking up at the stars. But as yet, there is no way of covering it, because the owners also didn’t want to spoil the lines with a blind – so I can also imagine being moored in the centre of Birmingham or other cities, and people living on the upper floors of canalside flats being able to look right in!

This walk-through shower room is a very generous space. The rectangular shower cubicle is also a generous size, at 900x760mm. It’s lined with marble-style shower board and has thermostatic shower fittings. The space between the cubicle and the cabin side has room for some shelves and access to the shower pump.

The loo is a Thetford cassette, but it’s the model with the ceramic bowl. There’s also a smart grey towel rail.

The basin unit is particularly nice as it floats off the floor. The basin itself is white ceramic and has a waterfall tap. Incidentally, the handles on all the cupboards and drawers throughout the boat are lovely; they’re curvy yet discreet and work both horizontally and vertically.

There are more of those handles on display as you go into the cabin, because you enter through a canyon of wardrobes. On a practical level they offer a combination of shelves and hanging space and a light comes on as you open the door, so you can see what’s inside; but in design terms they act to give a bit a separation from the rest of the boat, so entering the cabin feels as though you’re getting away from it all. Beyond the wardrobes are low level drawer units both sides, and there’s a tv mounted on a bracket above one of them.

The big benefit of the extended cabin is obvious when you’re in this room. Because of this design, the bed can take up the entire width of the boat; it’s a full king size, at 5ft wide. The water tank takes up about two-thirds of the space under the bed, but there are also some cupboards in the forward end giving more storage space. And there’s more storage behind the black velvet headboard, which drops down. A reading light mounted on the cabin side each side of the bed.

The square forward window makes much more sense from the inside than it does from the outside. It’s needed as an escape hatch, given that the other openings in this room are portholes rather than windows. The whole room feels very calm and welcoming, just as a bedroom should.

It’s a while since we’ve tested a boat with a normal diesel engine (which perhaps shows you how hybrid drives of one variety or another are becoming more and more popular). Stargazer has a Beta 43, the engine that every boat yard in the country is familiar with. It’s teamed with a PRM-150 gearbox, which is also typical. The bow thruster is a 75kgf model by Vetus.

There are four 125Ah AGM batteries in the domestic bank, with a 110Ah battery for the engine start and a further one for the bow thruster. A 240-volt supply comes from a 3kw Victron inverter charger. There’s a shoreline socket at the stern. Three 400 watt solar panels are mounted on the roof to help keep the batteries topped up. They’re the rigid variety, which tend to be more efficient than the semi-flexible ones, but of course can’t follow the curve of the roof. In this case, the black roof helps the black panels to disappear. A Victron MPPT controller manages the charging, and there’s a solar dump so that any excess solar power is diverted to the immersion heater. The boat has the Victron Cerbo GX system, which monitors the batteries, the power consumption, and the solar generation – and keeps an eye on the fuel and water tank levels. There’s a colour display inside showing what’s going on, or you can check remotely on the smartphone app. Central heating comes from a Webasto diesel boiler. The calorifier is in the engine bay.

As is often the case with our tests, we really put the boat through its paces as far as manoeuvring is concerned. And we can report that it handles really well. The boat responds promptly to the tiller, and if you push the tiller over and apply some power the bow moves over very nicely. If you need the bow thruster, for example when getting into an awkward marina berth, it has enough grunt to help you out.

The Morse control is on a column on the stern deck, which in spite of being slightly taller than the rest of the dodger, still leaves the lever quite low down (something that is common to many semi-cruiser boats). The instrument panel is mounted on top of the column, under a protective steel flap. This means, though, that you can’t see the dials unless the flap is open – and when it’s open it sticks out more than you might want.

This is an unashamedly contemporary boat, with modern looks inside and out. The owners, who plan to divide their time between the boat over here and their camper van in Europe, have done their research, gathered the ideas they like, and put them together in an intelligent and coherent way. It’s set up for long term cruising, and should serve them well.

And Knights Narrowboats has built what they wanted with professionalism, quality, and style. And the price isn’t bad either – with this boat coming in at around £193,000. Admittedly that’s significantly more than it would have been a few years ago, but as we’ve repeatedly said, the cost of raw materials and components has sky rocketed. While some prices are now coming down, they’re still much higher than pre-pandemic levels.

There may not be any radical new ideas in Stargazer, but that doesn’t really matter. What is important is that you know what you want, and find a builder who’s capable of bringing it to fruition.

We last tested a boat from Knights Narrowboats back in 2020, and the firm has been quietly building four or five boats a year since then. Stargazer is number 36. When you visit Aqueduct Marina at Church Minshull on the Middlewich Arm, where the firm is based, you notice that quite a few previous builds still moor there.

Also in that time, the firm has expanded, taking extra space in the big sheds at the marina, and now employing five staff. Everything is done in-house, from joinery to engineering, as well as painting. In fact, as part of the expansion, Knights now does all the marina’s repaint jobs.

Glenn Knight has been around boats since he was a child. One of his uncles worked at the British Waterways yard at Nantwich Basin for nearly 20 years, and Glenn and other family members got roped in to do odd jobs, including handling boats. Another of his uncles has not long retired from working with him.


Length: 60ft
Beam: 6ft 10in
Shell: Cauldon Boats / 07557 515145
Style: Semi-cruiser
Layout: Reverse
Berths: 2+2+2
Fit-out: Painted panels and oak
Engine: Beta 43 / www.betamarine.co.uk
Bow thrusters: Vetus 75kgf / www.vetus.com
Inverter: Victron 3kw / www.victronenergy.com
Cupboard door handles: Noma by Hafele from £6 / www.hafele.co.uk
Stove: Refleks from £1500 / www.lockgate.com


Knights Narrowboats
Unit 4-5 Aqueduct Marina, Church Minshull,
Nantwich, Cheshire, CW56DX
07825 817444

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