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Queen of the sailboat show was a princess

Hank Hinckley and his daughter, Sarah, were at the sailboat show with their elegant Great Harbor 26.Through many decades of tramping about the annual sailboat show in Annapolis, I always made it a point after entering to immediately pay my respects at the large, elegant Hinckley yacht on exhibit. That way, I’d get that fantasy out of my system before seeking reality elsewhere among lesser floating examples of the boatbuilder’s art. (Incidentally, I have never had the pleasure of sailing a Hinckley.) Even way back in the early 1970s, shoes-off for boarding was a given at Hinckley, and special “passes” were not yet required for Everyman to enter such a hallowed shrine of yachting luxury. I would wait patiently in humble silence with other barefoot folks to be ushered aboard to browse, knowing it would be a once-a-year opportunity for me to lust over woodwork and varnish at the highest level of craftsmanship.

This October, however, there was no big Hinckley queen from Southwest Harbor, Maine, at the show — for the first time, as I recall — where “holes in the water” were more evident than ever because of a faltering economy. But if one looked hard enough, one encountered a much smaller princess of a Hinckley from Hank Rose Hinckley III, 62, of Southwest Harbor. He is the last boatbuilding family member of his generation and was showing his cruising Great Harbor 26 for the first time at the U.S. Sailboat Show. He learned the trade from the bottom up and is the author of “The Hinckley Guide to Yacht Care.”
Now a father-and-daughter team — freckled Sarah is 25 and gaining experience — Hank Hinckley Boat Builders has hand-crafted four of these traditional designs in 15 years of slow-motion production by Maine craftsmen (www.hank hinckley.com). Two of the boats are in Maine, one is in Lake Norman N.C., and one is in Annapolis. This October was supposed to be the unveiling of his GH26 Daysailer, but the boat wasn’t ready. In its place was a standard GH26, which I automatically supposed was brand-new since it was in such impeccable condition.
I was wrong. Much to my surprise, this blue-hulled beauty with lovely, traditional lines is 13 years old — hull No. 2 — but looks no older than 13 days. Berthed at Chesapeake Harbour in nearby Eastport, Wild Moose actually changed hands right after the show. Original owner Mike Hanf, a “CFO bean counter” of MacLean, Va., is looking for a 40-footer and sold Moose to sailor/kayaker Heather East, also of Chesapeake Harbour. One explanation for the boat’s flawless condition is that she lies protected most of the time under a vented, zippered custom cover from stem to stern. This explains my never sighting her under sail. I go by this condo development very often on my frequent Bay outings and would have spotted her immediately and made inquiries.
An outstanding feature of hull No. 2 is her high teak coamings lovingly varnished many times over. This alone makes a covering necessary. It is something I must also think about to protect my quarter-inch-thick mahogany finished with 10 coats of Pettit Flagship varnish, which I used to cosmetically cover my somewhat tired 50-year-old coamings inside. I think I’m going to rig tan Sunbrella covers that will flap over and protect the varnish when the boat is idle. I do not have the patience to deal with a full boat cover since I sail so often.
The boat was originally delivered by Hank Hinckley and son from Maine to San Francisco in 1998, where she was actively raced. Later he trailered her to Denver for the owner and last year delivered her to the lower Bay. There, in Virginia, she was dismasted while under power by a careless crabber operating under a full load of crab pots that restricted his vision. Her two crewmembers and the boat came out of the collision in fine shape, and Wild Moose got a new carbon-fiber mast out of it.
Back to the daysailer that was missing from the show. Bill Cook’s drawings show a traditional Down Easter with sweet lines, a cabin top with a pair of small portholes and a huge cockpit that seats eight. All 26s can be customized to suit the buyer, with a fixed keel or a ballasted daggerboard, which can compromise the interior of the Daysailer, although the cruising version has quarter berths. “These are handcrafted, not mass-produced yachts of the highest quality from a small shop with low overhead and competitively priced,” says Hinckley, who hires older Maine craftsmen as needed. He is trying to keep the Daysailer priced at $125,000.
The composite hull is polyester with a vinylester skin and cored with Core-Cell. The epoxied deck is made up of three layers of thin plywood over laminated fir deck frames. The cabin sides, cockpit coamings and toe rails are mahogany, and the boat is finished with traditional buff paint or Dynel applied with epoxy.
Immediately, I began thinking about how I would customize this vessel for my solo cruising and daysailing on the Chesapeake. The idea of eight people in a 26-footer is horrifying, so I would prefer less cockpit and a larger cabin. Four large opening hatches on a daysailer are overkill, and I would scrap two hatches and open up the cabin with quarter berths. Hinckley tends to agree.
An open V-berth on the Daysailer is without an obstructing mast center post. A clever seating arrangement positions two comfortable “easy chairs” side by side at an angle centered immediately abaft the forward part of the cabin. The backs of the chairs fold down out of the way for happy little campers to climb over and get out of the way. On the port and starboard sides are counters suitable for galley use. A portable head is under one of the seats. A cooler with a wood top also serves as a step into the cabin. Power is by outboard or a 26DS Nanni 10-hp diesel (converted Kubota 2-cylinder tractor engine) with SailDrive.
If I had to live with such a large cockpit, at least I could control all the running rigging and a mainsheet rig abaft the tiller, and guests could lolly about and fetch me cold beer when so ordered. It would make for comfortable sleeping under the stars on hot, humid nights, too.
“Who knows? I may just build the one and use it myself,” says Hinckley, an easygoing fellow who seems to handle pressure well.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.


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