Star Class

New take on a work­ing boat with all mod cons


When you’re hav­ing a boat built, your level of in­volve­ment in the process is really up to you. We’ve met peo­ple who’ve made all their choices on lay­out, equip­ment and fit­tings and then left it pretty much up to the builder to get on with it.

At the other end of the spec­trum are Alis­tair and Ge­orgina Hodg­son. They wanted a boat based on the shape of a work­ing boat with a vin­tage en­gine, but a com­fort­able mod­ern in­te­rior. So they chose their shell builder, sourced an en­gine with real history, and com­mis­sioned Sand­hills to fit it out.

In ad­di­tion, they trav­elled hun­dreds of miles up and down the coun­try look­ing for just the right wood for part of the fit-out, scoured the In­ter­net for equip­ment sup­pli­ers and even de­signed some of their own fur­ni­ture.

In short, they took a very hands-on ap­proach from start to fin­ish. And the ben­e­fits are clear to see, be­cause is really rather spe­cial.


When you’re build­ing a shell that’s a replica of a work­ing boat you need

some­one who really knows what they’re do­ing. The Hodg­sons com­mis­sioned Roger Far­ring­ton and his son Michael of Ivy­bridge Marine at the bot­tom lock in Braun­ston who used the orig­i­nal plans of a small North­wich Star Class (the slightly shal­lower version of the boats built by Yar­woods) to make sure the shape and mea­sure­ments were all just right – just a bit shorter at 57ft long – and he’s un­doubt­edly suc­ceeded.

There’s a recog­nis­ably small North­wich bow, a sub­tle lift to the cabin at the stern and three tun­nel bands. There is also plenty of nice de­tail­ing too, such as the slight pro­tru­sion at the top of the back cabin, which also has a flat handrail, while the T-stud at the bow is prob­a­bly one of the big­gest you’ll ever see.

In fact, the whole boat is ex­cep­tion­ally solidly built, us­ing thicker steel than is nor­mal th­ese days. The base­plate is 12mm rather than 10, the hull sides are 8mm in­stead of 6 and the cabin sides and roof are both 5mm. The qual­ity of the work­man­ship is ex­cel­lent, with smooth cabin sides and crisp edges. It really is a very well built boat.

Of course, a real North­wich boat would have had an open hold not a cabin, so it was im­por­tant to make sure the cabin looked right.

Alis­tair and Ge­orgina would ideally have liked the for­ward bulk­head to be a lit­tle fur­ther for­ward to give more liv­ing space, but Roger Far­ring­ton knew ex­actly where it should be in re­la­tion to the curves of the bow and wouldn’t let them move it. He did al­low one change though, mov­ing the cratch board for­ward by two inches to give a slightly big­ger well deck.

The fact that a work­ing boat wouldn’t have had a full-length cabin played a part in the colour scheme. Alis­tair

wanted the cabin to dis­ap­pear as much as pos­si­ble, so he opted for a grey paint in a satin fin­ish. This con­trasts with the scheme on the back cabin, which is the red and blue Corona­tion liv­ery of the Grand Union Canal Car­ry­ing Com­pany, dat­ing from 1937. Purists might no­tice that the phone num­ber painted on the side is in­cor­rect – 3107 is ac­tu­ally Alis­tair and Ge­orgina’s wed­ding an­niver­sary.

The couple have tried to dis­guise other mod­ern ac­ces­sories, too. There are three so­lar pan­els on the roof, but you’d hardly no­tice be­cause they’re self-ad­he­sive and flat, with the wiring hid­den un­derneath. A black ob­long the same size and shape, has been painted on the roof un­derneath the plank and pole stand, re­in­forc­ing the sug­ges­tion that the pan­els are just part of the paint scheme.

The cratch cover has an ex­tra panel to cover the cratch board and its tri­an­gu­lar win­dows, and there’s a flap ei­ther side for the shore power ca­ble and hose pipe to pass through. There are wa­ter fill­ing points each side com­plete with hose fix­ings (much more hy­gienic than pok­ing the end of a hose pipe down a filler).

This is a gas-free boat, but there’s still a locker in the nose. The well deck gives ac­cess to an­other locker which houses the bow thruster and its bat­ter­ies. This locker is sep­a­rated by bulk­heads from the rest of the boat, so even if the tube failed, the wa­ter would be con­tained.

The deck it­self has lock­ers ei­ther side for stor­age and seat­ing, and there’s a handy drop-down ta­ble that opens up to a good size, and even has a curved ex­ten­sion to com­plete the shape. Un­der gun­wale and over­head light­ing make this a great space for al fresco din­ing.

All the ex­posed wood­work, such as the locker tops, door lin­ings and side hatch lin­ings, is made from iroko, a hard­wood that’s re­sis­tant to wa­ter.

A small black dome mounted dis­creetly on the roof is a GPS tracker of the sort used by lor­ries. It means fam­ily mem­bers can log-on to a web­site to see where Alis­tair and Ge­orgina are; in­side the boat there’s a but­ton that can pro­vide lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion to the emer­gency ser­vices if nec­es­sary.


Spica has a tra­di­tional lay­out with a back cabin and en­gine room at the stern. Next comes a walk-through shower room and the cabin, with the gal­ley and sa­loon at the bow.

The fit-out of the for­ward part of the boat uses oak and is typ­i­cal of the high qual­ity and style Sand­hills are known for. There’s shadow gap tongue and groove ver­ti­cally be­low the gun­wales, and di­ag­o­nal above, for plenty of tex­ture. The floor in the for­ward part of the boat is Karn­dean in an oak fin­ish.

The en­gine room and back cabin, though, are fit­ted out in pitch pine, re­claimed from a chapel in Wales. It came in huge and heavy beams which had to be cut down into planks and looks beau­ti­ful.


Stable doors lead from the well deck and they’re fit­ted with very neat open­ing oval port­holes. In­side, there’s a neat Hob­bit stove on a raised hearth with smart glass tiles be­hind to one side, while on the op­po­site side, there’s a curved cup­board, com­plete with a beau­ti­fully made door.

In fact, the join­ery through­out the boat is of the high­est qual­ity; all the doors are sub­stan­tial and there’s great de­tail­ing,

‘A small black dome on the roof is a GPS tracker, so the fam­ily can log-on to a web­site to see where Alis­tair and Ge­orgina are’

such as the in­laid string­ing which has be­come some­thing of a Sand­hills trade­mark.

Ven­ti­la­tion from out­side is routed into the boat un­der the stove and the cup­board. Th­ese spa­ces also have fin­rads fit­ted, so the fresh air is warmed be­fore it comes into the boat.

A run of cup­boards, one con­tain­ing a flatscreen TV, goes down one side of the boat. Op­po­site this is per­haps the high­light of the sa­loon – the sofa. Alis­tair wasn’t sat­is­fied with any of the con­vert­ible so­fas on the mar­ket, so he de­signed his own. As well as look­ing very stylish with beau­ti­fully shaped arms and rounded cor­ners to match the rest of the wood­work, it’s very clever. Each side can be ex­tended to a lounger, us­ing a pull-out sec­tion and an ex­tra cush­ion stored in­side; the back­rest can be moved to con­vert it into a bed and there are flip-up ta­bles at each end.

There isn’t room for a full dinette, but Alis­tair still wanted to be able to sit at a ta­ble to eat. So there’s a flip-up ta­ble un­der the gun­wale, with a couple of fold­ing chairs stowed be­hind the sofa.


The gal­ley is dom­i­nated by a diesel-fired range by Sandy­ford which, as well as the two hot plates and oven, pro­vides hot wa­ter and heat­ing. It was cho­sen be­cause it has two burn­ers, so you can cook with­out hav­ing to have the heat­ing on, and vice versa.

Ge­orgina says it heats up very quickly and is ready to use in about ten min­utes. There’s a hood with a light above which also hides a dog leg in the flue to en­sure the chim­ney is in the cen­tre of the roof. Tiles be­hind add an el­e­ment of colour.

The gal­ley is compact, but has all you need. There’s enough stor­age, and a clever pull out can unit. The fridge is a 240-volt model by Lec, in black. The sparkly gran­ite work­top has a stain­less steel sink with a milled drainer, and the tap in­cludes a fil­tered wa­ter sup­ply. There are LED lights in the kick-boards.


The bed is in­line and has three big draw­ers in the base. The calori­fier is also hid­den in the space. Above the bed, high level cup­boards in­clude some clever read­ing lights; they’re dimmable LEDs and click­ing the switch twice turns them red which pro­vides to enough light to see by if you get up in the night, with­out wak­ing up your part­ner. Talk­ing of red, the ra­di­a­tor colour has been matched to the gal­ley range.

Set into the ceil­ing there’s a flip-down TV screen. Right at the foot of the bed a wardrobe has plenty of hang­ing space. The door to the shower room is re­cessed into the side of the unit; when it’s open, it re­veals a chest of draw­ers in the lower half of the unit and a ra­dio which is zoned through­out the boat. The door also has a full-length mir­ror on the back.


The first thing that strikes you here is a sense of glam­our, thanks to sparkly black tiles on the floor, with LED lights set into them. The 800mm quad­rant shower has black and white lam­i­nate walls and a smart shower unit. Along­side there are shelves and cup­boards, with the lower one giv­ing ac­cess to the shower pump.

The basin unit has been de­signed to take up as lit­tle space as pos­si­ble, so the basin is a black glass bowl, mounted on a curved grey Co­rian shelf. There’s a mir­ror above. Along­side is a cup­board in­clud­ing a shaver point, while an­other one be­low (which gains its depth by bor­row­ing some space from the bed­room wardrobe) houses a small Candy wash­ing ma­chine.

The loo is a John­son Pumps mac­er­at­ing unit. The hold­ing tank is un­der the floor of the back cabin.


The style of the boat changes when you go through to the en­gine room. Here, the walls are lined with the re­claimed pitch pine from the Welsh chapel, which has been given a waxed fin­ish. There are also splashes of colour, such as the red trim on some pan­els, which give just the right amount of dec­o­ra­tion.

Ev­ery­thing mod­ern is hid­den away, so the fuse panel, in­verter and switches are in cup­boards un­der the gun­wale. The bat­ter­ies are un­der the floor. It makes sense, be­cause noth­ing should dis­tract from the star of the show, the vin­tage Kromhout en­gine. It’s the Dutch version of a Gard­ner, built by Kromhout un­der li­cence. It car­ries its pro­duc­tion num­ber

‘The style changes when you go through to the en­gine room. Here the walls are lined with re­claimed pitch pine from the Welsh chapel’

so Alis­tair was able to con­tact the Kromhout mu­seum in Rot­ter­dam where the cu­ra­tor, Han Man­naert, pro­vided him with plenty of history, in­clud­ing copies of the orig­i­nal pa­per­work.

The en­gine was built in 1942 and went to the Dutch East Indies as a gen­er­a­tor. At the end of the war it was in­stalled in a lifeboat in the Dutch naval ship Abra­ham Cri­jnssen, which had been the last ship to es­cape the re­gion af­ter a Ja­panese at­tack, dis­guised as a trop­i­cal is­land!

Af­ter the ship was de­com­mis­sioned in the 1960s, the en­gine found its way into a Dutch barge. An owner of that boat even­tu­ally wanted a more pow­er­ful en­gine, so it was swapped by Tony Red­shaw who re­con­di­tioned it.


The back cabin is built to the mea­sure­ments of the orig­i­nal small North­wich, so has ev­ery­thing you’d ex­pect, such as a drop-down ta­ble, a knife drawer and a bed hole (which pro­vides the boat’s third sleep­ing area). There’s also an Ep­ping stove and a gim­bal lamp. But there’s plenty you wouldn’t ex­pect, such as LED light­ing over­head and un­der the gun­wales, and a built-in self pump-out kit hid­den in one of the cup­boards. Alis­tair also has a clever at­tach­ment to the stern stairs to hold a vice for wood and met­al­work.

Set into the steerer’s step are two gold crowns. One is from 1937, the other from 2014, mark­ing the boat’s her­itage and moder­nity.

The pitch pine is lovely, and works well with the tra­di­tional dec­o­ra­tion. The qual­ity of the join­ery by Sand­hills is fan­tas­tic. For an ex­am­ple, just look at the lin­ing of the bullseye in the ceil­ing, made from lit­tle blocks of wood.


Aside from the Kromhout en­gine, the tech­ni­cal side of this boat is rea­son­ably straight­for­ward. One thing an orig­i­nal work­ing boat wouldn’t have had is a bow thruster; this one is a 95kgf elec­tric model by Ve­tus. Do­mes­tic elec­tri­cal power is pro­vided by four 160Ah bat­ter­ies, and there’s a 2.2kW Master­volt Mass Combi in­verter.

One ad­di­tion, which stems from Alis­tair’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the haulage in­dus­try, is the pro­vi­sion of a couple of An­der­son con­nec­tors, so ex­ter­nal items can be pow­ered from the boat.


It would be hard to think of a more plea­sur­able way of be­ing out on the wa­ter than us­ing this boat. The en­gine sounds great and the view from the helm

Ver­dict: ‘We like it. It’s un­usual, in­di­vid­ual and very well con­structed’

is su­perb. The tra­di­tional con­trols, made by Tony Bate who’s based at Nor­ton Canes, work well (and look great too).

But per­haps even more im­por­tant is that this boat han­dles ex­cep­tion­ally well. It’s a deep, heavy boat, but is re­mark­ably nim­ble. Push the tiller over and (as­sum­ing you’ve got enough wa­ter un­derneath you) it turns on a six­pence. This is one of the best han­dling boats we’ve steered.


Spica is a re­mark­able. It has a su­perb shell that really does look like the small North­wich it’s based on. It has an en­gine drip­ping in history and a top-drawer fit-out. There’s de­sign flair every­where.

Of course, a boat with such a high spec isn’t go­ing to be cheap. The shell cost in ex­cess of £40,000 and the Sand­hills fit-out was in the re­gion of £ 90,000. The vin­tage en­gine cost £15,000. In to­tal, the Hodg­sons say they’ve spent around £170,000 with a few more bills to set­tle; the boat has an in­sur­ance value of £195,000. But it’s a boat worth ev­ery penny. In short, Spica is a real star.

The sofa is a high­light of the sa­loon, de­signed by Alis­tair him­self

The diesel-fired range is fab­u­lous and sur­pris­ingly prac­ti­cal for a boat

Gal­ley is compact but has all you need with some clever so­lu­tions

Just look at that won­der­ful wood­work

Neat way to fit the sink and use lit­tle space

Pass the Brasso – now that’s what you call an en­gine

Pretty good take on the back cabin;

lovely bullseye in the ceil­ing

Drop-down ta­ble in the

cratch is a neat idea

Gold crowns mark the boat’s her­itage

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