Loving life in the slow lane
Posted on 31 January 2012
Written by Rich Armstrong
A cruising couple has it their way with a lobster yacht built in Maine and finished off in Connecticut
Jim Long maneuvers past a partially submerged log, one of the hazards that Tropical Storm Irene left last summer in the lower Connecticut River. The retired project engineer is on a late-season afternoon run to show off Nancy Ann.
Nancy Ann is a 32-foot diesel-powered Osmond Beal lobster yacht, and her semidisplacement, round-chine hull has a full keel and an integral skeg. Long had the hull, cabin and pilothouse built in Maine, and then finished in a Connecticut yard closer to his home in Ellington, Conn. Long, 67, says he has finally gotten his last boat.
After five seasons, he and wife, Nancy, have settled into the boating lifestyle they prefer. “We don’t shy away. If we have quarter-mile, half-mile visibility in fog, we go,” says Long, explaining that he and Nancy are cruisers who enjoy life in the slow lane.
Nancy Ann was built and powered by H&H Marine (207-546-7477) in Steuben, Maine. The unfinished boat was then shipped to Salmon River Boat Works at Midway Marina (www.damarltd.0pi.com) in Haddam, Conn., for completion. The interior is clean and simple, with the galley up in the pilothouse and a forward V-berth below in the cabin.
“We chose practicality over style points,” Long says. “We don’t care if there’s a teak deck or walls. What’s the point? Life’s too short to worry about varnishing wood trim.”
Nancy notes that they were campers, not boaters, while raising their now-grown son and daughter, and she sees the boat as an extension of that lifestyle. “It’s nothing fancy; it’s a nice, simple boat,” she says. “We have friends with production boats who love all the amenities on their boats, but this suits us.”
The couple typically cruises at 12 knots, which makes for a leisurely 10-mile run from their marina at the Pattaconk Yacht Club in Chester, Conn., to Long Island Sound. The 370-hp Yanmar burns about 5.5 gph at 10 knots and 7.5 gph at 12 knots. They log about 50 hours a season on the boat, a far cry from the 100 to 150 hours they put on their previous boat, a Rosborough RF-246 pocket cruiser with a 115-hp Yamaha 4-stroke. That’s because the lawn chairs on deck are a fine setting for a weekend of chatting with slip neighbors. “As we get older, we get out less, but we still want to be on the boat,” Long says. “When we were deciding to move up in size, my wife said, ‘It becomes a cottage,’ which I didn’t like hearing, but I liked hearing about getting a bigger boat.”
Now they’re both comfortable aboard Nancy Ann, whether or not it leaves the slip. “If it doesn’t rain, we’re here on the weekend,” he says.
Last fall they installed a canvas top aft on welded stainless-steel frames with zip-up screens, furthering the “camping afloat” feel.
On the water
The engine hours may be down with the bigger boat, but the cruising range is up. The two longest cruises they’ve taken were into New York Harbor and then up the Hudson River to Albany and Troy, N.Y., and a trip to Boston for a July fireworks display. They overnighted at marinas on both trips. “Maybe staying at marinas is a concession to getting older, but it’s nice to have electricity and other amenities,” Nancy says.
Jim Long is a member of the Meriden Power Squadron, and the couple cruised to Block Island, R.I., last summer in the company of fellow members. They would like to cruise the New York canal system and Lake Champlain is an appealing option.
Long touts the benefits of the boat’s relatively shallow draft (4 feet while running), and the 6 feet, 4 inches of headroom is plenty for the 5-foot, 11-inch skipper. The boat weighs about 16,000 pounds. “She’s a real roller, which we expected,” says Long of the round-bilge hull. “And our previous boat showed us how well the semidisplacement hull handles the water.”
In retrospect, Long wishes he had made a few different choices during the project. The 370-hp Yanmar is probably a little larger than he needed. He invested $5,000 to move the engine exhaust from the transom to the aft port side, to prevent exhaust from flowing back into the pilothouse. He went into the project wanting a single 100-gallon fuel tank, but was advised that it would be a negative selling point, so they opted for twin 125-gallon tanks. “The single 100-gallon tank would have been a better option for us because we would have turned the fuel over faster, but now I look at having two tanks as a plus in case one tank of fuel gets fouled,” he says.
All boats involve compromises. But after five seasons, Long says with pride, “We love the boat.”
Long was born in Springfield, Mass., and grew up in South Hadley, Mass., on the Connecticut River. His family didn’t own a boat, but his father started renting them when they vacationed at such places as Lake Congamond in Southwick, Mass. “That’s when I really got wet because I was out every day in the boat,” he says. “I went solo on a boat for the first time at about 12 years old.”
At 15, Long bought a flat-bottomed utility boat, a 7-1/2-footer with a 7.5-hp Scott-Atwater outboard. “It kind of looked like a racing boat, but it had a small front compartment where I kept the spare gas tank,” he recalls. “I kneeled on a cushion to drive.”
After high school, in 1962 at age 18, he took a summer job as a dishwasher at Blue Water Manor on Lake George, but he also occasionally drove a boat for the resort. There were two boats for water skiing, one for sightseeing and a float boat. He loved the job and had a great summer on the lake in upstate New York. As so often happens, life intervened. “That was the end of my boating until Nancy and I got married,” he says.
He forged a career as a project engineer at Pratt & Whitney. He met Nancy, an administrative assistant in the finance office for the town of Ellington, and they were married. Vacationing with his wife in 1993 at Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, Long was relaxing and looking out at the water, recounting his earlier boating experiences, when he decided that the time was right to get a boat.
He bought a used 18-foot Sea Ray that year, and three years later the Longs moved up to a 20-foot Bayliner Trophy with a cuddy and a 150-hp Mercury outboard. “That was a nice step up because we could cross Long Island Sound for a day trip to Greenport or Coecles Harbor on Long Island,” he says. But he really wanted a bigger boat, something to use when he retired, which he did in 2005.
“When I bought the Trophy in 1996 I was already looking for my next boat, which I know is sick but typical of boat owners,” he says. “While walking a boat show in Clinton, Conn., I saw a 25-foot Rosborough pocket cruiser with a 115-hp Yamaha 4-stroke.” He was taken by its lines.
In 2000, the Longs sold the Trophy and bought a Rosborough 246. They loved the boat’s “fantastic ride” and praised the Nova Scotia builder for “exceptional workmanship and customer follow-up.” Long says that’s the boat that sold them on the semidisplacement hull form. “I was reading about the semidisplacement hulls and how they handled,” he says. “As a couple, we wanted to get away from planing hulls. We sacrificed speed, but it was OK for the trade-off of comfort rather than pounding across the Sound.”
They also liked that the Rosborough has foam flotation and is unsinkable. “We initially were going to retire in the Rosborough, but five years later we put down the keel of our lobster boat,” Long says. The reason was simple: They wanted more room and the 246 is Rosborough’s largest boat.
The ‘last boat’
The Longs knew they wanted a galley-up semidisplacement boat. “Our initial goal was 30 feet LOA with at least a 10-foot beam,” he says.
They first looked for used fishing boats to see whether they could rebuild one into a cruising boat, but they weren’t comfortable with the thought of a used engine and decided that the interiors didn’t offer enough space. They turned their search to several traditional builders of the Down East pleasure boats they admired. “We immediately had problems for two reasons,” Long says. “They had no experience, or desire, to build a galley-up boat, and they would not build a boat with a plain interior. Pride in their workmanship presses them to build showcase boats. These boats are beautiful but were too expensive for what we were looking for.”
They wanted to reproduce the simplicity of the Rosborough. “We decided we needed to match a hull and engine with a small builder who would fit the boat out the way we wanted it and at a reasonable price,” Long says. After hunting for about 18 months, and many discussions with and visits to H&H Marine, they settled on the builder’s 32-foot hull. H&H builds about eight to 10 boats a year — some finished, some unfinished — which is down from the prerecession years, when 20 to 30 hulls were molded annually. Ninety percent of its boats are commercial.
The solid fiberglass hull is hand-laid with vinylester resin and ranges in thickness from a half-inch to an inch. The skeg is 4 inches of solid fiberglass. “We don’t slight on the glass,” vice president Bruce Grindal says. The molded top unit — consisting of the foredeck, wash rails, stern deck, pilothouse and cuddy cabin — is vacuum-bagged with Divinycell polymer closed-cell foam core. H&H uses Cook CCP gelcoat.
After about three weeks of production, the Longs’ hull and top were joined. Three to four months later, the unfinished boat and pilothouse was ready for sea trials and shipping south for finishing off. Throughout the process, Long made regular visits to the shop and worked with the H&H crew to get the boat he wanted. “Most of these [recreational] guys know exactly what they want and it’s our job to get them there,” Grindal says.
Finding a builder to fit out the boat was more difficult. He spoke to Midway co-owner Scott Davidson, who founded the marina and boatyard with his brother in 1981, at a boat show. The company was displaying a Down East-style Salmon River 36 it had built from a bare hull also prepared by a Maine yard. “There are many small builders who would have done the job, but Midway combined an attractive price and a close location,” Long says.
During the six-month finishing phase of the project, Long visited Midway a couple of times a week and worked with the carpenter on the design elements he wanted from the Rosborough. “That was one of the advantages,” he says. “I could drive down at lunch and check on how it was progressing.”
Midway “fine-finished” the boat, adding the furniture, V-berth, shower and water system, deck, hardware, rubrails and headliner. “It was a good project, and everybody came away happy,” Davidson says. “When we build out boats, we make everything totally serviceable and accessible, and that was one of his requests.”
Long estimates that the project cost more than $150,000 for the basic boat and another $100,000 to fit it out — about the same as a 32-foot production boat at the time. But it’s laid out as the Longs wanted it: galley up, a table aft and open storage under the bunks.
For electronics, Nancy Ann has a Furuno 1623 radar, a Standard Horizon GPS Chart CP 500, a Furuno LS 4100 sounder and a Uniden ES UM525 VHF with an external speaker, which he says offers superior audio quality. Mermaid Marine air conditioning keeps the cabin cool when needed, and a mounted fan blows into the pilothouse. The alcohol/electric stove is most often used when the Longs are at anchor.
A brass bell cast in Maine and emblazoned with the boat’s name adds a nice touch, he says, and he’s proud of the windshield washer he salvaged from a 1996 Jeep. “Neither of us is hesitant to spend money on what we want, but we’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to afford what we want,” he says.
“The point of our boat, to me, is you don’t have to spend a fortune for a boat you see in magazine ads or articles,” he says. “If you can’t afford what you want, don’t give up. There’s a boat out there for you that’s a better value than a production boat, and it will have in it what you want.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.