Bowman believed the time was right for the Starlight range to take another step forward, this time into a much bigger boat, the Bowman Starlight 46.
The Bowman Starlight name made a big impact on the performance cruising scene in the Eighties, particularly with the Bowman Starlight 35, of which 102 have been built to date. Now, the new Bowman Starlight 46 joins those previous yachts. But it does come at a cost, is the Starlight 46 worth the extra money as compared to some of her European counterparts.
The mission in creating the Starlight 46 was clear: to create a performance cruiser that would be equally at home bluewater cruising, doing the odd race round the cans or offshore.
These are precisely the qualities that had held the Starlight 35 and Starlight 39 in such good stead. A simple goal on the face of it but the competition in this league is fierce.
Clearly Bowman had to be shrewd to stand any chance. Top of their list were quality and performance, two factors that don’t always go together as the demands of quality often pile the weight on, reducing performance.
But Stephen Jones recognised the opportunity to produce a good yet manageable performer by using modern and well-balanced lines. The result is that the new Bowman Starlight 46 is one of the sleekest looking cruisers around.
Like the First she’s a beamy boat but the Starlight carries her beam well aft, providing a wide and powerful transom as well as a spacious cockpit, two significant advantages.
The downside is that such delta shapes tend to cause the boat to pitch down by the bow when heeled as the beamy after sections lift the rear out of the water.
This in turn can cause steering problems as well as a propensity to create weather helm. However, none is in evidence when you sail the Starlight.
Jones has managed to balance her waterlines by adding volume to the bow sections but without compromising her line entry forward.
On deck the first thing you notice is just how spacious and practical the cockpit is. Twin wheels dominate and provide plenty of advantages.
The walk-through access to the fold-out transom and boarding ladder is one. The position of the primary winches, inboard and close to the helmsman, is another. Halyard winches flank the companionway and all control lines are led back to clutches.
On the face of it, then, a conventionally laid out deck with a few clever details such as the easy access to all under-deck control lines.
But look a little closer and the detail starts to shine through.
Twin (switchable) engine controls for each wheel, two completely independent steering linkages and an independent link for the auto pilot provide four separate means or steering the boat if you include the emergency steering system.
She also has huge aft lockers, provision for several different control line layouts, she can be rigged as a cutter and can take a self-tacking staysail if required.
This is a boat that has been well thought out for most eventualities and configurations.
Below deck and construction
Doing battle in the production market has never been an option for Bowman, who have preferred instead to stick with their reputation for semi-custom building.
The new Bowman Starlight 46 is no different and is a good example of how the company have managed to combine their wealth of experience in bluewater detailing with a modern performance hull form.
Although the performance aspect is new territory for them, when it comes to the basic build, there is little difference between this new model and the build of a rugged Bowman 48DS.
Bowman may always produce their own plugs, but all their hulls are moulded by Northshore to a very high standard.
Not even the dark blue hull and a low winter sun could highlight any unevenness in the hull; this is quality right from the start.
During the fit-out the only areas to utilise any additional moulding are the heads, beyond this every bulkhead, longitudinal and transverse member is glassed into the hull.
This method of construction takes time, but Bowman insist on sticking to their principles. And there are plenty of other examples of such high standards.
The rudder shaft has stainless Edson bearings, the prop shaft is supported in a full-length moulded-in shaft log to provide the best possible support – this is a shaft that is aligned for life, no matter what the prop might encounter.
The rudder is mounted on a half-skeg, with a solid-looking and beautifully built bronze unit providing the bottom bearings for the rudder blade.
The keel is bolted to a moulded stub with 11 bolts and the cockpit drains exit below the waterline to avoid streaks on the hull topsides.
Whether you look at the heavy-duty engineering or the fine detailed design work, both are impressive, as is the consistently high quality of build.
As far as accommodation layout is concerned, you can have whatever you like.
According to Bowman boss Charles Maunder, a healthy chunk of the time at the beginning of the build process is tied up with developing the layout and specification with the owner.
The result on boat No I was a beautifully built, robust layout finished in American cherry.
This boat was designed for two families to share, with the option to sail together from time to time, so four cabins were required.
On the other hand, boat No 2 has just two double cabins and a completely different layout for the galley and navigation station.
The bottom line is that building to these standards takes time and Bowman plan to build around six or these boats a year.
Unlike the current crop of popular deck saloon cruisers of a similar length, the Bowman Starlight 46 does not have a dedicated engine room, preferring instead to position the engine beneath the lower companionway step. The result was that it was noisier under engine than you might expect.
The Bowman Starlight 46 is fitted with a two-bladed MaxProp which was thought to be over-pitched which contributed to the vibrations.
Setting this aside and given that the Startlight 46 did not have bow thrusters, it was easy to handle under engine. And Light enough to respond quickly to the throttle ahead and astern and having tight enough turning circles to get you out or trouble. Little cause for complaint here.
Under sail, the Bowman Starlight 46 was well balanced, responsive and gave the impression of being able to be pushed hard without causing the helmsman too much stress.
Not only can you sit further and more comfortably to weather (or leeward) thanks to the twin wheels, but the helm feels direct and crisp without being too lively.
This is no mean achievement – in my experience, the complexity of such an arrangement means there are more builders who get it wrong than get it right.
But there’s more to praise than the feel on the helm. We tested the Bowman Starlight 46 in 17-32 knots true and even in the strong gusts she remained surefooted and easy to keep on track.
Most of the time she seemed happy to cruise effortlessly at 9-10 knots, making her a fast and easy passage maker.
First published in the February 2001 issue of YW.
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