Gracious plenty … and then some

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Life is too short to own an ugly boat.

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I have been drawn to that evocative phrase since childhood. When the time came recently for me to find what will likely be my last boat, I realized that what I wanted was even more than the simple beauty this phrase conjures. I wanted to be captivated.

I was raised on the coast of Maine, in a family that included several owners and builders of wooden boats. My grandfather owned a 30-foot wooden lobster boat, built on Matinicus Island and purchased from the heirs of its builder, and the image of her graceful sheer line stays with me still. When I was growing up, my uncle Jack worked in East Boothbay, first for Paul Luke’s boatyard and later at Goudy & Stevens. The market for wooden boats was fading, and a curious nephew was allowed to roam freely throughout the shops, lofts and yards.

Ted Horton and Pemetic Pemetic was completed in 1974, one of two JN36 hulls finished by Jarvis Newman. Ted Horton, the current and third owner, purchased her in Miami in the fall of 2012 and brought her to Newport, Rhode Island. Several long-term projects were apparent to Horton when he purchased her, but his initial intention was to tackle them over time while enjoying the boat. It soon became clear that a larger restoration was in order, including replacing the fuel tanks. Horton was familiar with the Newman & Gray yard, and its reputation with Jarvis Newman hulls made it his choice for the work despite the distance from his home base in New York and Rhode Island. Although Pemetic was very simple systems-wise, when she was opened up it was obvious there were other upgrades that should be done at the same time. In addition to replacing the fuel, water and waste tanks, an updated electronics package was installed, and most of the boat was rewired. In the end the boat’s second Caterpillar engine, installed in the early 1990s and with an unknown number of hours, was replaced with a new Yanmar. Horton believes the long-distance relationship with Josh at Newman & Gray during the winter of 2013-14 was the next best thing to being able to be there on a regular basis. He only visited once, midway through the project. Josh and Seth were very good at providing regular email updates with pictures of the progress, and one of them always picked up the phone when there were issues to discuss. That might not have been the case at a larger yard, where it can be difficult to reach someone beyond the front office on the first call, and you’re never sure whether it’s better to speak to the boss or to the people who are getting their hands dirty. At a yard such as Newman & Gray, they are one and the same. Capital gains are one expense most boat owners never have to worry about, and Pemetic will be no exception. The project costs have exceeded the asking price of all but a handful of used Hinckley Picnic Boats listed on Yachtworld.com, and like most custom boats, she’ll probably be a worse return on investment than a high-end production boat. Horton says he knew getting into this project that there were more economical ways to spend time on the water, but owning a boat that is complimented by the blue-blazer and workboat crowds alike makes it worthwhile. Horton keeps Pemetic in Newport, where he cruises with his wife and two young boys. 

The idea of owning one of the beautiful boats I saw in my wanderings, boats that were almost always built for people from “away,” was just a fantasy for my boyhood self. But the die was cast: The boy grew up and left Maine, but Maine never left the boy. My childhood left me with an indelible impression of how a boat, whether used for pleasure or work, is supposed to look and behave.

A few years ago, with my daughters’ college tuitions nearly in the rearview mirror and a thriving law practice that allowed me to get away, I started looking in earnest for my boat, the one that had never released its hold on me. A wooden boat was the natural starting point, but the realities of economics and availability quickly redirected my search to fiberglass. My guilt over abandoning my long-held wooden-boat ideal was mitigated by the discovery of a beautiful fiberglass hull whose form was taken from the Raymond Bunker-designed plank-on-frame Irona: the Newman 36. I was immediately captivated by the boat’s sweeping sheer line, bow flare and graceful tumblehome.

Jarvis Newman built about 90 Newman 36 hulls between 1971 and 2001. They were rugged, with 16-layer hand-laid fiberglass hulls, stout bulkheads and engine beds, and 270-hp V-8 Caterpillar diesels. Newman sold most of the hulls with the engine, drive gear and prop, and left the finishing to the buyers. About half of the hulls were used for commercial fishing and lobstering, the other half finished as pleasure boats.

“I think that they are such a popular boat because they have such a comfortable ride and push real easy,” says Josh Gray, who now runs the business his father started with Newman. “They are built-down hulls, as all Bunker and Ellis boats were, so they have a softer ride than a skeg-built boat. They also have more room in the bilge for tanks, batteries, et cetera, things a pleasure boat needs. Also, it allows the engine to be low, giving a lower center of gravity.”

Gracious Plenty patiently awaits her next adventure. She is exactly the boat the author always dreamed of having.

Despite the trend toward ever-increasing cruising speeds, accompanied by remarkable jumps in horsepower and fuel consumption, I liked the 14- to 18-knot cruising speed of most Newman 36s and their thrifty fuel consumption.

I found six Newman 36s for sale on the East Coast. They included a bare hull at Newman & Gray Boatyard on Maine’s Great Cranberry Isle, a highly finished cruiser in Maryland and a simple picnic boat in Florida. While exploring what it would take in time and money to fit out the bare hull Newman and simultaneously tracking the Florida boat, an ideal Newman 36 came up for sale near Bass Harbor, Maine. Newman built the hull in 1975 and Cobalt Marine in Essex, Connecticut, finished it to yacht quality in Herreshoff style in 1976. She had been through several owners but had been lightly used and wintered in a shed most of her life. Her second engine had been installed in the late 1990s and had only 940 hours of use. Her excellent condition surprised even the surveyor.

Aside from outdated electronics, the boat’s principal drawback was a flybridge and the cost of removing it. My vision of the perfect boat was borne of the classic Maine lobster boat, and the flybridge interfered with the simplicity and purity of that look. I turned to Ed Gray at Newman & Gray to consult about its removal, as well as other minor changes. Ed and Jarvis Newman were partners for many years, and Ed is a fan of all Newman designs. The 36 is clearly his favorite; he can extol its virtues at length, from seakindliness and safety to fuel economy, durability and comfort. I was certain that he was the person I wanted by my side as I undertook making this Newman 36 the boat I had envisioned for so long.

When we took possession in August 2013, my wife and I immediately put her in the water for a few months of cruising. Late that first autumn, we departed on what I’ve always considered one of Maine’s prettiest cruises. From our place in Montsweag, a few miles south of Wiscasset, we headed for Great Cranberry Isle. We passed Muscongus Bay in 6-foot seas and steady 25-knot winds with ease. After an overnight in Rockland Harbor, we crossed the west side of Penobscot Bay, then ran through Fox Island Thorofare and Deer Isle Thorofare to Casco Passage, across the lower end of Eggemoggin Reach past Bass Harbor Light, and into Western Way on the west side of the Cranberry Isles. It is a stunning journey, and it was a wonderful way to accumulate hands-on knowledge that would help inform my decisions in the months ahead.

Jonathan Nye and Huzzah Jonathan Nye is a lifelong sailor, but like so many others, he found that there came a time when the relative advantages and comforts of powerboating began to take hold, especially when his wife, Karin, became involved in the decision-making. But like many sailing converts, Jonathan and Karin wanted an aesthetic that would remind them of a proper sailing yacht. Not just any powerboat was going to do. While looking around the Northeast in the spring and summer of 2014, the Nyes found a 36-foot Newman hull that was available at the Newman & Gray yard. They looked at a number of other options while talking to Josh Gray about his vision for transforming Wendy Jean (the official name of the bare hull). Although there were many good used-boat options, they all, to the Nyes’ way of thinking, involved some amount of compromise. Jonathan and Karin weren’t in a hurry, and because they became convinced that Newman & Gray could deliver exactly what they wanted, they purchased the hull, engine and running gear in September. Thus began the year-long process that resulted in Huzzah. The Nyes’ dream was to have a comfortable and reliable cocktail cruiser and couple’s overnighter, suited to occasional duty as a race committee boat for their sailing friends. They wanted it to reference her workboat heritage, even though her fit and finish would belie her past. So they went with mostly right angles, a trunk cabin that paralleled the waterline, and rectangular front windows to give the boat a bulkier look. And for reliability and simplicity’s sake, they decided on no generator, A/C, or fixed stove or microwave. For comfort’s sake, they requested lots of soundproofing. Jonathan and Karin fretted about whether to go with an enclosed or open pilothouse. Fortunately, Josh had enough pictures of both that they got to “pre-experience” what she would look like under either configuration. The Nyes went with open sides and back. In October 2015, after much consultation with Josh and Seth, the boat was ready for sea trials. It was too late in the season to deliver her to Connecticut, so the Nyes would spend a weekend aboard, checking things out, before leaving her in Maine for the winter. They arrived on a Friday and met the boat at Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina in Southwest Harbor. A brief cruise up Somes Sound and over to Cranberry Island got them back ashore in time for a casual thank-you meal with the team at Newman & Gray. For the next two days, Jonathan and Karin had a wonderful cruise around Swans Island, up Eggemoggin Reach and back, with an overnight in Bucks Harbor. The Nyes are thrilled with the way Huzzah turned out. And the process of participating in her resurrection was part of the thrill. The team at Newman & Gray has a true appreciation for quality boatbuilding, from the old hands to the next generation taking over the reins. This is Jonathan’s and Karin’s first full year with the boat, and they are looking forward to cruising the Eastern Seaboard on Huzzah for many years to come.

Our delivery of the boat to Newman & Gray coincided with Ed Gray’s two talented sons, Josh and Seth, taking the helm of the family business. After earning an undergraduate degree at Colby College and a subsequent degree in marine design, Josh had come home to island life and the boatyard. Seth, having just earned an engineering degree in Boston, soon followed. Ed stayed in the background, with his lifetime of knowledge as a resource, while Josh and Seth provided outstanding design, craftsmanship and customer service. Any trepidation about leaving our boat in Maine while we were in Virginia soon dissipated, thanks to a steady stream of photographs and emails that kept us updated on every detail of the project.

The initial plan was fairly simple: We would remove the flybridge and install pilothouse doors port and starboard abeam of the helm. This would allow an open and airy pilothouse and, more important, the ability to comfortably dock and moor single-handedly. In addition, we would install a new radar, chart plotter, sonar and GPS to work with the existing compasses, radio and autopilot.

When the first photographs of the flybridge removal arrived we were a bit shocked. We had not fully appreciated what the overhead with no windshield visor would look like. It reminded me of a ’57 Chevy, low and swept-back. The short cabin overhead that I had tried to ignore on my test run now demanded correction for practical and aesthetic reasons, but how and at what expense?

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The talented craftsmen came up with a creative solution to cut all of the support posts between the windows and splice in about 4 additional inches. As part of that effort, a well-proportioned extension of the overhead was created for a windshield visor. This change preceded cutting in the new doorways and the construction of the doors with custom fiberglass splash molds. These new side doors, each with a window, helped change the visual perception from horizontal to vertical.

We replaced the windows all around and made the two in the aft bulkhead considerably longer to improve the view and give a greater sense of connection between cockpit and pilothouse. We removed much of the built-in furniture and a large chart table to create a more open feeling in the pilothouse and to accommodate two very comfortable helm seats.

When the eagerly anticipated delivery date finally arrived after a long winter, we headed with high expectations to Great Cranberry Isle, ready to take our “new” boat home. The hours and days of cruising that have followed have been everything I’d always dreamed of in my younger years, and the boat has performed beautifully. Her new name, something of a nod to our four decades south of the Mason-Dixon line — and applied to the transom only after appropriate permission from the sea gods — is Gracious Plenty. She is gracious and beautiful, and she is plenty of boat to take us, with complete comfort and confidence, anywhere we want to cruise along that unique coast of Maine that has never left my heart.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.