Downeast Dream

A competitive sailboat racer now enjoys coastal cruising in his AJ 28
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20201002_-(1)

When you grow up in Newport, Rhode Island, you grow up around boats.

“Dad had a J/24 when I was born,” says Josh Parks, a 34-year-old lawyer and Newport native. “So, I started out on that.”

The young sailor went on to compete in dinghy racing in college, and later campaigned a trimaran around New England with his father. “I did a lot of sailing,” says Parks, who owned and raced a Hobie 16, Vanguard 15 and Laser-class racing dinghies.

But when Parks and his wife, Amy, a nonprofit and political consultant, started looking for their first “big” vessel, they had a powerboat in mind. “We wanted something to go cruising on,” says Parks. “I have plenty of sail racing opportunities, so the idea was to get something both of us would enjoy playing on. And, as a performance sailor, cruising sailboats hold no interest for me.”

They narrowed their sights on a lobster-style model. “Downeast boats look cool. They’re a proven concept, and they’re pretty efficient,” says Parks. “As a lawyer, I research everything, so we came down to a few builders, and Alan Johnson was one of them.”

Johnson builds boats in Winter Harbor, Maine, and is well known for his lobstering boats, including winners in the state’s annual lobster boat racing series. Parks called the builder to ask about used models. “He said he had just the boat in mind,” Parks says.

It was a 1997 AJ 28, a single-engine 28-footer that Johnson offers in several different styles, from workboat to cruising lobster yacht. Parks bought it used in June 2019 for around $30,000, named it Snark, and then drove it home to Newport on its own bottom. “I brought my father along with a bunch of tools and spare parts,” Parks says. They left Winter Harbor at noon on a Saturday, spent the night in Boothbay and reached Newport at midnight on Sunday. “And I made it to work on Monday morning,” he adds.

These days, Parks and his wife use their boat to run to Martha’s Vineyard or cruise around Buzzards Bay when they’re not off on a day trip or sunset ride on Narragansett Bay.

Or, you might see the couple and their Portuguese water dog, Genny, at Cuttyhunk, one of their favorite spots. “We go there as much as possible. It’s an easy run,” says Parks. “We get there early, get a spot inside and go for a sail in our Dyer dinghy around the island. It’s not far from Newport, but it’s a world away.”

Amy Parks and the couple’s Portuguese Water Dog, Gennaker (Genny for short), sitting on the bow

Amy Parks and the couple’s Portuguese Water Dog, Gennaker (Genny for short), sitting on the bow

The AJ 28 perfectly fits the couple’s cruising needs, which involve day trips, weekending and four-day coastal trips. The layout includes a V-berth, an enclosed head and a freshwater sink. Parks removed the alcohol stove and uses a Jet-boil for making coffee. There is also a grill mounted in a rod holder. “It’s all really simple, which is a big part of the attraction. The fewer systems, the better,” Parks says. “And the boat just looks good. I love the lines.”

For navigating, Parks uses the radar that came with the boat, Navionics charts on an iPad and local knowledge. He also does time-and-distance calculations using his compass and a timepiece. “It’s a fun exercise when it’s foggy,” he says. “And it’s a good way to stay sharp.” An AIS receiver and a VHF radio complete the slate of electronics.

Snark is powered by its original gas engine, a 350-hp Chevrolet powerplant marinized for marine use. Cruising speed is around 13 to 14 knots and, according to Parks, the boat is pretty economical. “It might cost $100 for fuel for a weekend,” he says.

The boat is well-equipped to tackle the coastal and bay waters of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “It handles the seas really well,” says Parks. “When it’s blowing 18 knots out of the southwest and I’m going right into it heading home, Snark seems happy and I feel confident.”

As the 2021 boating season opens around New England, the couple once again looks to Cape Cod and the nearby islands as destinations. “We’ll try and go to Block Island and eastern Long Island,” Parks says. “We went to Watch Hill [Rhode Island] last year, and that was fun.” But, when the world really starts turning again, as Parks put it, his goal is to bring Snark up to Winter Harbor where it was built, and go to the lobster boat races.

Anything seems possible with the AJ 28. “People love these boats,” Parks says. “And now that I’ve owned it for a couple of years, it’s easy to see why.”

WALKTHROUGH

The AJ 28 has a decidedly Downeast look, with its upright wheelhouse, high bow and an even sheer sweeping aft to an open cockpit. The trunk cabin, eyebrow trim and sturdy bowrail are a nod to the Maine-built lobster boat. AJ 28s also have opening side ports, safety-glass windows and come in long- and short-top versions.

The basic cabin layout consists of a V-berth and enclosed head, but this is a semi-custom interior that can include a full galley and luxury touches such as varnished trim and a teak-and-holly cabin sole. Air conditioning and a generator are also available.

The builder recommends Volvo diesel engines from 150 to 350 hp, including the D4 and D6 models. The latter delivers a 28- to 30-knot cruise speed. Gas
engine options from Chevrolet include the 6.0L Marine Power model, as well as the older 350 and 454 powerplants. 

Specifications:

LOA: 28’6”
Beam: 10’4”
Draft: 3’0”
Power: (1) diesel or gas engine

BACKGROUND

Founded in 1985, AJ Enterprises built commercial fishing and lobstering boats before developing its basic 28-footer into the current line of recreational models, including the Lobster Yacht, Economy Cruiser and Basic versions. 

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.

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