Kingsground 63ft



Dennis Walstad is the man who really did invent a better mousetrap. The retired engineer did so as one of several retirement projects – another being the meticulous planning of Nb Bluestem. “A boat is a great thing for an engineer to play with,” he smiles.Dennis and wife Diane are from Chicago, the bluestem of the boat’s name being the prairie grass that is the symbol of their home state of Illinois. Long time lovers of the outdoors, the couple discovered Britain’s canals some years ago and eventually had a boat built in which to explore them in spring and autumn extended vacations.As is often the case, increasing familiarity with the first boat gradually turned into a growing wish list for the next one until eventually the couple took the plunge, began visiting boatbuilders and shows, and finally plumped for the Oxfordshire based Kingsground Narrowboats as their builder of choice.Having chosen a builder, some customers are content to agree a rough layout and leave the rest to the experts. Not so with Dennis, who began drawing up detailed computer models of their desired layout – right down to the size and style of the magazine rack in the saloon.It could have been a recipe for disaster – a top-end boatbuilder working with a pernickety customer based on the other side of the world – but it’s a tribute to the professionalism of both sides that the result is a cracker of a boat. It combines Kingsground’s top quality craftsmanship with Dennis and Diane’s eye for style and well considered attention to engineering detail.DESIGN & LAYOUTThe couple plan to cruise for extended periods of up to two months so they wanted a boat that would be comfort-able, practical, manageable and well equipped for everyday needs. Hence it’s fully equipped both domestically and technically and has generous storage.In addition there are those mousetraps to consider. Dennis is the design and engineering partner in a business that develops a range of innovative products from mousetraps to paintbrushes so he needed his own workspaces on the boat.The 63ft long Bluestem is built on an Alexander hull (Kingsground use these or Probuild). It has a semi-trad rear and a nine feet front deck with cratch.The couple wanted a boat of under-stated class. Outside, it is a restrained and conservative looking craft, finished in very high quality dark blue two-pack paintwork with cream coach lines.Kingsground have their bare hulls shot blasted and treated with the Zinga product which gives them a protective zinc-based coating very similar to galvanising. This will minimise surface corrosion in the event of a scrape or scratch because the sacrificial corrosion of the zinc prevents rust spreading beyond the immediate damage. Kingsground says it has been very impressed with the long term results.The exterior also has sensible amounts of anti-slip coating along the roof and gunwales and discreet grab rails on the front of the cabin sides which make access in and out of the front deck easier.Small details insisted on by Dennis were hidden low level vents at front and rear so there are no visible grilles. There’s even an outside tap on the rear deck so no there’s no going into the kitchen for a bucket of water to wash mud off boots.The interior layout is of the rear galley design that seems to be becoming increasingly popular. In front of the rear deck is a small work area for Dennis, then comes the galley, leading into a dinette with freestanding table and chairs, the saloon with a sofa-bed, bathroom and finally the forward cabin with cross double bed which opens out to the front deck.The couple wanted their interior to echo the ‘prairie’ style of design pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright – an uncluttered, open look with strong connecting lines between the spaces. To that end the boat is fitted out with beech linings and panels contrasting with darker cherrywood joinery, together with a cherry floor.GALLEYSteps down from the rear deck lead to a small workbench for Derek on one side with a clothes closet, shelving and a full height pantry style storage cupboard opposite. A central door then opens into the galley and gives an impressive view forwards through the open plan dinette and on into the saloon.The dark lines of cherrywood contrast stylishly with the surrounding beech and in the roof cross ribs of cherry define the boundaries between spaces in a thought-ful piece of detailing.The galley has a simple layout, with solid cherrywood units either side of the central gangway. Simple but oozing elegance. The joinery work is absolutely first class: joint lines are razor cut thin, grains have been carefully matched and the units all have a feeling of solidity and quality.Notable details are the neatly dove-tailed drawers, working the traditional way on wooden runners and the stylishly cherry clad extractor unit.The port side has a Stoves four burner cooker set between two drawer units. Above are wall units, with the cooker extractor unit that is ducted to one of the central mushroom vents. Opposite along the starboard side a similar sized floor unit carries the sink and has a full size washer-drier and compact micro-wave both built in as well as a pull-out waste bin under the sink.A large window behind the sink and a sizeable roof window provide plenty of natural light for the galley area.SALOONImmediately forwards of the galley area a free-standing table and chairs provide a dining area on the edge of the saloon. (“We didn’t want to eat on our laps,” explains Diane.)Opposite is a Lock Gate diesel stove and forwards of this a bookshelf unit encloses a radiator and in turn leads on to a handsome cabinet behind whose doors are a variety of clever storage features. The central tv is actually an Apple computer with an Elgato EyeTV unit that effectively turns it into a digital television with the facility to record, pause and playback via the computer’s hard-drive. To this Luddite it looked like a couple of hundred quid’s worth of magic.A deep bulkhead between the saloon and bathroom creates space for more of the boat’s many sensible storage cupboards, provides internal adjustment for the tv’s roof aerial and also carries a classy magazine rack.Seating is provided by an Elite two-seater sofa that converts to a double bed for secondary accommodation. (A curtain divides off the saloon from the front half of the boat for extra privacy if it is being used in this way.)BATHROOMThe two-tone beech and cherry theme continues into the bathroom where there is a corner vanity unit, Tecma pump-out toilet and a good size shower unit, with custom made double-doors for easy access and a notably deep tray to conserve the drainage pump. Another large storage cupboard sits alongside.The shower room also shows off more of Dennis’s attention to detail: the mirror is kept de-misted by running a hot water pipe loop behind it, the towel rail is electrically as well as centrally heated for all year round warmth and the hot water line to the taps is kept pre-heated by running it alongside with the central heating pipes avoiding having to run through a dead leg of cold water.CABINBy opting for a cross-double bed – which the couple say they can slide out into position in a handful of seconds – the Walstads have maximised available space in the cabin and created a useful office corner with a desk comfortably big enough for a laptop, printer and email/internet connection via mobile phone.Around this are yet more of the storage cupboards that are so sensibly designed into the boat. In addition there are wall cupboards above the bed and a wardrobe at the far end of the bed. Under the end of the bed is a pull-out filing drawer for paperwork.The cabin has porthole windows for privacy with additional daylight via the roof’s Houdini hatch, for which the inventive Dennis devised his own black-out screens.As a final touch Dennis had the central heating control located on the underside of the wall cupboard above the bed so the heating can be switched on before you get up!Steps on the starboard side lead up through a wide single door onto the front deck. Here there is drop down table and a single side locker. (The gas locker ahead of the cratch offers yet more stowage as the gas bottles are located under the side seating on the rear deck of the boat.)TECHNICALBluestem’s Beta Marine BV1903S looks like one of those engines you see when you lift the bonnet of a modern car. The 43hp diesel is fully enclosed in a sound reducing housing, though unlike most cars, unclipping some catches reveals a familiar engine that is accessible for maintenance.The all-enclosed engine gives an even more tidy look to an already immacu-lately turned out engine room. There’s not a wire out of place there or in the electrical cupboard on the starboard side of the steps to the rear deck.The BV Beta comes equipped with a 3kVA Travelpower engine-driven AC generator as well as a 95 amp alternator to charge the four 110Ah leisure batteries and a third to charge the engine and two Vetus bow thruster batteries.Being a former electrical engineer, Dennis had a sizeable hand in planning the boat’s electrics. Notably he and Kingsground persuaded Beta to re-gear the Travelpower generator to increase its output at engine idling speed to 2kW – belt wear is a possible concern but he will monitor this closely.He also devised two separate AC systems for the boat. One, switchable between shoreline or the Victron Phoenix Multi 1.6kW inverter, is for light or accurate sine loads while the second, using shoreline or the AC generator is a heavy duty supply for washer, vacuum and so on: the logic being that (with the re-geared generator) these items can be used while underway or idling at a lock. It’s possibly a somewhat complicated system but Dennis enjoys its complexity and the options it offers.Bluestem has a great many of these examples of attention to technical detail. The base plywood floor, for instance, is laid (at his insistence) so that all joints are over cross bearers, regardless of wood wastage, and thus obviating any chance of floor flex.As the boat is left unattended for long periods, he devised a means of easily de-watering the plumbing via system pump. He also specified two layers of 19mm Thinsulate insulation throughout.ON THE WATERA run down a stretch of the South Oxford from Kingsground’s on-water base at Enslow Wharf confirmed the exceptional quietness of Bluestem’s cocooned engine, especially given that it is underfoot in the semi-trad design.The boat is also very easy to manoeuvre thanks to the electric bow thrusters: Derek is an experienced helmsman but prefers his vacation trips to be relaxing rather than offering challenges of skill!CONCLUSIONSAs we said at the start Bluestem is the product of a unique and potentially tricky collaboration between an American inventor/engineer and a top-end boatbuilder over here. But a very impressive product it turns out to be.It has been carefully planned down to the last detail by owners Dennis and Diane and proves that good planning certainly counts. It brims with thoughtful details and sensible touches: storage in particular (always an issue) is exceptional.It is also executed superbly. Thanks to Kingsground’s high quality craftsmanship – some of the very best we have seen – the understated ‘prairie style’ interior is a real success story.The man who invented a better mousetrap has got himself a better canal boat, too.Length: 63ft 0inBeam: 6ft 10inDraught: 2ft 11inSteelwork: 10:6:4Weight: 16.6 tons approx.Engine: Beta BV1903SElectrical: 12v DC, 220v AC via Victron Multi 1.6kW inverter/charger & landline +3kw Travelpower generator Kingsground Narrowboats Ltd103 Heyford Business ParkUpper HeyfordBicesterOxon OX25 5HA Tel: 01869 233444 Price: £125,000 inc

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