How do you turn an antique desk into a boat?
You auction off one and buy the other. That's what Rhode Island retiree Charles Lewis did eight years ago, "trading" a rare Newport-style kneehole desk he'd inherited for a Blue Seas 31, a Royal Lowell-designed, Canadian-built Down East powerboat that he couldn't be happier with.
Home-ported in Point Judith, R.I., the capable single-engine, full-keel cruiser - named Cousin Jean, after his benefactor - has proved perfect for Lewis' local waters, which include some of the East Coast's finest cruising grounds, as well as some notoriously rough patches. Watch Hill, R.I., is nearby, Block Island just 13 miles away, and Montauk, N.Y., is within easy reach.
In between are some areas known for their rough waters, such as The Race. So when Lewis started looking for a boat to replace his 26-footer, he wanted something that would handle the various conditions he faces. "I had owned a canvas-topped boat, similar in Down East style [and] also designed by Royal Lowell, which I found highly satisfactory and speedy," says Lewis, 79, who lives in Wakefield, R.I., with his wife, Cornelia. "But it was too small and wet to handle the sometimes rough waters around Point Judith."
Lewis was working the New England waterfronts, looking for candidates, when he spotted a Blue Seas 31 docked at a local boatyard. "The owner was aboard, showed me around, told me how she handled in all weather patterns," says Lewis. He says he was "presold" by the time Annie Gray, of brokerage Gray & Gray in York, Maine, found him a sister boat.
It was a 1989 Blue Seas 31 with just two previous owners. "I paid $127,000, a price reduced to that level to recognize the need for a few replacements, such as hot-water and holding tanks," says Lewis. She also needed new bottom paint and her brightwork refreshed, but was "essentially in excellent shape."
Bill and Scott Rocknak of Rocknak's Yacht Sales (www.rocknaks.com) in Rockport, Maine, agents for the now-defunct builder, helped complete the sale. "With such depth of experience with this boat, my brokers were all most helpful," says Lewis.
There is a lot to like in the layout, which Lewis thinks is well-suited to New England waters. "I was attracted to her twin helm, her roominess in the main cabin, which is equipped with a pull-out double bunk, and the propane stove and refrigerator," he says. "Below, she had a generously sized private head, two bunks and room for yet a third bunk."
The 210-hp Cummins diesel had just 750 hours on it and it's proved to be a reliable, capable power plant, well-matched to the full-keel semidisplacement hull with protected prop. Cruising speed is a comfortable 10 or 11 knots.
As for handling, Lewis has only plaudits for the Royal Lowell hull. Lewis calls it the "built tough" element. "I recognize [it] every time the weather gets nasty," he says. "I can be alone on her with complete confidence and I get a kick out of the way her speed can rise to 14-1/2 knots on a plane before a following sea. Her high, flared bow provides powerful buoyancy to prevent submarining into the forward swell and her raised transom negates any following-sea problems."
Lewis has installed a bow thruster, remote-control windlass and added navigational instruments to complement the original-equipment radar and radiotelephone. He is having fun with his sturdy Blue Seas 31 - just as someone, he hopes, is enjoying that kneehole desk.
"As I told Scott [Rocknak] when I saw him at his yard on a pleasure trip to Maine, 'This boat is not for sale, Scott,' " says Lewis. "I've got many years to go before I need start thinking about closing down the summer fun of owning Cousin Jean."
The Blue Seas 31 rides a semidisplacement Down East hull with a tall, moderately flared bow and unbroken sheer. It has a sharp entry and flat run aft, with a full keel and skeg-hung rudder protecting the single prop.
The Out Island cruising model features a large main cabin/saloon and both galley-up and galley-down layouts. The galley-down is to port, leaving room in the saloon for a chair and table. The galley-up is abaft the lower helm station and leaves room for a small cabin with bunks below. With the large settee in the saloon, which converts to a berth for two, the galley-up model can sleep six. The flybridge supplies a second helm station. The Palm Beach model has a smaller pilothouse and more cockpit space for fishing.
With a single diesel of around 200 hp, the Blue Seas 31 cruises at 11 to 12 mph and burns around 5 gph.
Designed by Maine icon Royal Lowell, two Blue Seas 31 models were introduced by builder Blue Seas Boat Co., of Clinton, Ontario, in the late 1980s. The Out Island cruising model has a longer pilothouse to extend cabin space, while the Palm Beach model, intended for sportfishing, offered more cockpit room and a smaller house. Options included a flybridge and choice of gas or diesel engine. Hinterhoeller Yachts, the Canadian builder of Nonsuch sailboats and other well-known boats, took over production in the 1990s and a 33-footer came out in the late '90s. The Blue Seas 31 can be found on the used-boat market for around $100,000.
LOA: 31 feet
BEAM: 11 feet, 6 inches
DRAFT: 3 feet, 5 inches
WEIGHT: 11,500 pounds
PROPULSION: single diesel
TANKAGE: 200 gallons fuel, 80 gallons water
BUILDER: Blue Seas Boat Co., Ontario
DESIGNER: Royal Lowell