A fond return to bright Maine waters
Posted on 09 March 2011
Written by Eric Sorensen
Here's a look at four projects that were in various stages of completion when we first wrote about them
Spending a week last October on Peaks Island, Maine, proved eventful on two counts. First, I was there with my family for some quality time. Big mistake. We got there on Sunday, and by Monday morning my wife, Sarah, was asking when could we move to this charming but isolated and breathtakingly priced Eden - and we're going back next summer. So much for the wisdom of combining business and pleasure.
I was also there to revisit four boats featured in past On Powerboats columns: the plank-on-frame John's Bay 24, The Landing School's student-built wood-epoxy Flyfisher 22, the strip-planked Pulsifer Hampton 22, and the glass-sheathed mahogany 1954 Huckins 45 repowered by Yachting Solutions with IPS pod drives. What these boats have in common is that they were all built or rebuilt in Maine, and they are all made of wood, though each is distinctly crafted. The Flyfisher 22 and the Huckins 45 are hard-chine planing hulls, and the John's Bay 24 and the Pulsifer Hampton 22 are round-bilge semidisplacement boats, these last two being true "Sons of Maine" with their commercial lobster boat pedigrees.
John's Bay 24
Let's start with Peter Kass' John's Bay 24. Until the Great Recession took hold in 2008, the John's Bay Boat Co. in South Bristol had a three- to four-year backlog of orders for its highly regarded plank-on-frame commercial fishing boats and lobster yachts. Then things slowed - a lot - though there was a silver lining. Having fewer orders gave Peter, who owns the company, a chance to build a boat for himself.
This 24-footer, named Joanna A after his daughter, is powered with a 50-hp Perkins diesel. Peter, his wife, Nina, and daughter Annie take the boat out in local waters to catch a few lobsters or just tool around. Although this is the smallest boat he has built in years, it's a big improvement over the 15-foot skiff from which his family used to fish.
"The old skiff could handle a dozen traps, and that was pushing it," Peter says. "Now we can handle upward of 30 traps comfortably, and this is about perfect since we're working 100 traps total now. The boat actually likes the extra weight, as it puts the transom in the water when she settles down."
Harkening back to yesteryear's more subtle proportions, Joanna A has only an 8-foot beam, and Peter was originally going to make her narrower still on account of the modest horsepower. He also wanted to make the boat look as if it had been built in the 1950s or '60s, not like the over-beamed boats being built today. A narrower boat with its lower resistance would go 1 or 2 knots faster, and it would ride much better in a chop.
But once he did the math, factoring in the pot hauler, steering wheel and cabin companionway, to say nothing of the size of the traps in the cockpit, a beam of 8 feet was as low as he could go. The Perkins is not quiet, but Peter got a great deal on it. And with the engine firewalled it burns less than 3 gallons an hour, so what's a little noise?
Peter carved a half model, a traditional, tried-and-true way to develop a Maine lobster boat's lines by eye that you don't often see these days. He made the sections fuller than they would be in a larger boat to make it more resistant buoyancy-wise to changes in trim and, of course, to compensate for the moderate beam. Having to compensate for moderation is an interesting idea, a gentle reminder of much of the rest of the industry having somehow gotten off the beaten path.
"Designing a 24-footer is trickier than a 38 or 44 since it's so much more sensitive to weight change, but I'm very happy with how she turned out," Peter notes. With the Perkins running flat out, the 5,000-pound (he figures) boat would scream down the bay at 9 knots before the propeller cage was installed, and 8 knots flat out, 7 knots cruise afterward.
The boat would be faster with the right size propeller - the engine would only turn up to 2,700 rpm, rather than its rated 4,000 rpm, and was only developing about 30 hp at that speed. "I've got my eye on a 75-hp Yanmar, which would give us a few extra knots, and Nina won't have to wear earplugs anymore if we end up buying it," Peter says. The boat's 30-inch draft lets him fish three local bays - nooks and crannies that are out of reach of the bigger boats.
On our mid-October cove trial (versus a sea trial), the boat handled like a champ, turning in pretty much its own length, especially when turning to starboard with its left-hand 15-by-14-inch prop. Once you get a little sternway on, the boat will back in either direction, thanks to a rudder of adequate size and an ability to attain sufficient angle. The African iroko cockpit deck - a poor man's teak, at one-third the price - is as hard as nails, a good feature in a workboat such as this one. It also looks good even after hard use.
The washboards and forward cabin are covered with fiberglass to reduce maintenance and to keep her tight. This nod to practicality is evidence that although Peter is a master of his craft, he's no wooden-boat fanatic. He likes working with wood, and he's considered by many I've talked with to be the best in the business, but he readily uses fiberglass and other modern materials where it's appropriate. Lobstermen (and a few lobster yachters) with thousands of hours on the water swear by the comfort and seakindly motion of these beautifully wrought wooden hulls, which accounts for the demand for his craft, in both senses of the word.
Peter is very pleased with his little 24. "She starts right up, handles well and gets the job done, and we fished her right up until Thanksgiving," he notes. "It's a challenge to make a 24 as pretty as a 44, but she gets the job done, and she has her charms. She's quite a boat."
Happily, as of this writing in mid-January, Nina reports that Peter and his crew are hunkered down building a 44-footer bound for Australia, an elaborately equipped boat that will ship out in the fall. Two more boats have recently been ordered, and he just hired another worker.
Contact John's Bay Boat Co. at (207) 644-8261. www.johnsbayboat.com
Next up is the Flyfisher 22 from our friends at The Landing School, a gem of an institution in Arundel. Unlike our round-bilge, seakindly semidisplacement John's Bay inboard lobster boat, the Flyfisher is a hard-chine, wood-epoxy, outboard-powered center console carefully built by students in the school's wood composite construction course.
As the name implies, this bay boat is intended for inshore, light-tackle fishing, fly or otherwise. But on a nice, calm day there's no reason not to head 5 or 10 miles offshore to catch a school tuna once in a while, as long as you keep an ear to the weather forecast.
The limiting factors with this boat are the modest deadrise and freeboard. As I've said, the Flyfisher is a bay boat at heart, so don't expect to keep up with a well-designed deeper-vee hull when the wind picks up. The boat runs very nicely in a light chop, thank you, with just a 150-hp outboard. So if you fish or just bum around inshore, especially with gas prices not likely to take a dive anytime soon, that's an attribute you can take to the bank.
On our test ride off Kennebunk, the Flyfisher 22 was clearly not in its comfort zone, with the wind blowing a steady 20 knots out of the southeast that kicked up a steep and sometimes confused 2- to 4-foot chop. She could make maybe 14 or 16 knots well enough running upwind, though things were admittedly on the wet side, but then again it was blowing out of the southeast, with the nearest shore to the northwest.
If you haven't been to Maine lately, the shore is made of rock. Waves ricochet off those rocks with a will, creating the choppy mess we were running around in. A lot of small-boat operators would have cried "uncle" and headed for more protected waters. I could name a dozen well-known center consoles marketed as offshore fishing boats that would have fared no better in those test conditions than this otherwise fine craft.
About the only direction we could open her up in was with the seas off the beam. At full tilt with a Yamaha F150, we clocked 40.2 mph on the GPS, a good clip for a 150 on a 22-footer, made possible by the modest deadrise. The boat was loaded with two-thirds of its total fuel capacity and two medium-size passengers, plus me.
The boat's wood-epoxy construction held up without a squeak. This is a solidly built boat that should give many years of good service with little maintenance. It is stable at rest, and it gets on plane easily at 12 knots. The cockpit deck is worth mentioning. The deck slopes inboard with a reverse camber, the idea being that if you are standing on one side of the boat all by yourself, with the boat listing to the side you're standing on, the deck will end up roughly level underfoot. I suppose it's something one either likes or doesn't. It might grow on me, and it might not, but it's at least a novelty showing a creative impulse on the part of the designer.
I do like the large rectangular scuppers that promise to drain the deck quickly and completely, and from a number of angles, especially abaft the beam with its curvaceous transom, the Flyfisher has some sweet lines. Stick to calm waters, and this boat should treat you well.
Contact The Landing School at (207) 985-7976. www.landingschool.edu
Pulsifer Hampton 22
Now it's up to Brunswick for a visit and an enjoyable boat ride with Maine denizen Dick Pulsifer. Dick has been building his strip-planked 22-foot Pulsifer Hampton since Noah was a mess cook (1969, actually), and he has gotten the procedure pretty well ironed out. These are narrow, efficient, full-keel semidisplacement launches that feature a solid oak keel, strip planking and steam-bent ribs with secret concoctions liberally applied during construction to help keep all that wood sound on a long-term basis.
My time on the Pulsifer was spent in what was basically a mill pond in the upper reaches of Penobscot Bay. That was too bad because the Pulsifer Hampton has the kind of hull - slim, round-bilged and sharp-bowed - that will slice and dice its way through a steep chop. The boat has a 17-by-16-inch four-blade prop mounted on a 1.25-inch shaft, which is a lot of wheel for a boat with only 29 hp, and we climbed up, sans hump, to 11 knots in short order. The boat just glided along, accelerating (if that's the word for an 11-knot boat) from idle to full tilt like a pontoon boat, just sliding up to what passes for semiplaning speed on this boat. The flat wake pointed to the hull's slippery lines. Take a close look and you'll see that the transom is immersed just two inches, which hints at her easy planing ability and light bottom loading.
Four turns of the wheel from lock-to-lock produced nimble handling, and the Pulsifer's wheel was big enough and turned far enough so she'd back down in either direction once we gained a little sternway. That big prop really digs in, too. You'd think you were at the wheel of a small tug, based on the way it takes charge of the proceedings, brooking no dissent from the boat's modest mass and inertia.
The boat apparently has its issues, though. For example, Dick tells of a customer complaining of not being able to read his Sunday paper at anchor because of the steady stream of passersby stopping to gawk and murmur in toadying tones. That sounds suspiciously like the problem Sam Rowse has with his Huckins 45, as you'll see shortly. In any event, methinks thou protest too much. Out on the water at 3,200 rpm, I recorded just 81 dBA from our carry-on-sized Yanmar, and noise levels dropped to a hush of 74 dBA at an easy 2,000 rpm gait. The Vetus waterlock muffler just burbles and burps along almost inaudibly.
I also like the vibrations I get from this boat, which is to say hardly any. A combination of outsized engine beds, Yanmar's apparently well-tuned engine mounts and the quiet exhaust system make being on board at speed feel and nearly sound much like being on a sailboat.
I like the simplicity and economy of the Pulsifer a lot. It's just shot through with a satisfyingly minimalist philosophy. You can get a lot of enjoyment out of this boat in a brief Maine season, and a big part of the fun, for me at least, would be bombing around the bay at 9 or 10 knots while burning 1 gph. Screw OPEC, so to speak. Who'd have thought it would come to this, but the Pulsifer makes the John's Bay 24 seem like a fuel hog.
Then there's the extensive maintenance required. To winterize the engine, you loosen the hose clamp, stick the raw-water hose into a bucket of antifreeze and crank the engine over for a few seconds. Just keep the boat hosed off with salt water and pay Dick Pulsifer or someone who knows what they're doing to keep her up every year, or do it yourself, and you'll have a boat that will last as long as you care to be puttering around.
If it's back to basics that you're looking for, it will be tough to beat the Pulsifer Hampton. It's a great boat to use to teach the grandkids boat handling, and also to turn them loose on once they get the hang of it. I suppose it's possible to get into trouble at 9 to 11 knots, but you'd have to work at it.
Plus, there's no place to plug in an iPod or recharge a video game, and certainly that's reason enough to give Dick a call. Owning this boat is also a great way to teach your progeny, and maybe remind yourself, that less complicated is more fun.
Contact Richard S. Pulsifer Boat Builder at (207) 725-5457. www.pulsiferhampton.com
Our last trip down memory lane took place aboard Northern Spy, Sam Rowse's 1954 45-foot Huckins that he had stripped down to parade rest, lovingly restored to better-than-ever condition and repowered with Volvo Penta IPS pod propulsion. What a great combination. The boat now has a whole new bottom, and she's stronger than ever with epoxy and fiberglass sheathing and a heavily laminated bottom around the engine room built to Volvo's specs, tying the hull together into a single unit.
The boat originally had a pair of Cummins V-drives in her, but they'd gotten tired over the years and were shakers as well as movers. Sam wanted a boat that his kids could run easily, and a cruise speed in the mid-20-knot range - an 8-knot improvement - was just the ticket.
Like most rebuilding projects, whether it's a house or a boat, this one was a lot more extensive than Sam had counted on, but the end result was a delightful cruiser that handles like a baby carriage. A child could dock the boat in a stiff crosswind after an hour of tutelage at most.
I'd seen the Huckins in its snow-covered shed last winter, where Bill Morong's Yachting Solutions crew in Rockport had torn her apart, and all the king's men were getting ready to put her together again. When I saw her down at the dock in October, she'd been in the water for a month and was hot to trot and back in operation. The boat was Awlgripped from top to bottom in a beautiful shade of haze gray that makes you wonder why every boat isn't painted the same color, and she was looking just peachy, ready for a gallop around the bay.
The proportions on this 57-year-old Huckins are just right, too. The deckhouse is small, and the hull is big, just the way it should be, not the other way around, as is the case with 70 percent of the boats being produced today. The interior is flooded with sunlight through all those big windows, and the master stateroom aft and guest stateroom forward are separated by the pilothouse, or saloon if you must, lending a degree of privacy, simplicity and comfort not seen on many boats built today.
We had maybe a 1-foot chop on Penobscot Bay, so the sea conditions didn't challenge the boat. The twin 300-hp Volvo D4 diesels driving IPS pods through short jackshafts pushed the Huckins to 28 knots at 3,500 rpm, and she did an easy 22 knots at 3,000 rpm, burning 21 gph, which translates to slightly more than 1 nautical mile a gallon. If you're not up on this kind of thing, that's really good for a 26,000-pound boat, 20 to 30 percent better than many similar size boats today.
The boat handled nimbly, with just 3.5 turns lock to lock, though it also turned flatter than other IPS boats I've run, a result of the boat's shallow keel resisting transverse slip in a turn and the hull's flat sections aft, which orient the pods at a correspondingly vertical angle. On a planing boat with 20 degrees of deadrise, which is more the norm for an IPS installation, the pods are 20 degrees from vertical, normal to the hull bottom, and thrust oriented at this angle makes the boat heel more in a turn. When centrifugal force goes right down through your feet or seat, as it does in a banking airplane, rather than throwing you off to the side, it makes for a safer boat. This angle, which Volvo calls a true turn, is more nearly achieved by a boat with 15 or 20 degrees of deadrise. The Huckins' flatter turn is the only fault I could find with this IPS installation, not that I came in looking for it. But because this diagonal-planked mahogany boat needs a healthy blocking keel to keep her back straight, I'll just deal with it.
This is one quiet boat, inside and out. Even at 3,000 rpm in the master stateroom, just forward of the engine room, I measured only 79 dBA. In the wheelhouse, it was just 75 dBA, which is as quiet as it gets on any Alden or Riviera, the two quietest diesel-powered boats I've been on.
As with any IPS boat, the joystick control takes all the fun out of boat handling. That is to say, there is no challenge whatsoever in docking it. Driving this boat competently after some perfunctory instruction is akin to being able to play a Scriabin etude on the piano competently after 20 minutes of practice. (Someone needs to make a joystick for the piano!)
This 1950s-era Huckins (www.huckinsyacht.com) has many features that contemporary boatbuilders trumpet as new discoveries - marvels, really, in their own boats - such as a full-beam master stateroom, cabins flooded with light from big windows, great engine room access (although nothing out there even approaches this boat in the latter two categories) and, of course, pod power.
Hats off to Sam for his vision and resolve, and to Bill and his crew for pulling off the rebuild, which was an unqualified success. This beauty is a first cousin of the World War II PT boat, and like recharging a battery, she has at least that many more years built back into her, given reasonable care at Yachting Solutions, according to Bill.
Contact Yachting Solutions at (207) 236-8100. www.yachtingsolutions.com
* * *
So we're all over the map with our visit to Maine. Each boat was built or rebuilt with her own specific mission in mind, and each has her own capabilities and limitations. Each was made or remade in Maine of wood and carefully crafted. None of these boats are like the others; they are unique, quirky and eager to get out on the water. Just like us.
Eric Sorensen is a consultant to boat- and shipbuilders and to the government. He was founding director of the J.D. Power and Associates marine practice and is the author of "Sorensen's Guide to Powerboats: How to Evaluate Design, Construction and Performance." A longtime licensed captain, he can be reached at
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue.