The Essex (Conn.) Boat Club consists of a small clubhouse, a launch ramp and picnic tables set along one of the more beautiful stretches of the lower Connecticut River. With a mix of lawn, meadow and overhanging trees lining the banks for shade, it’s an idyllic place in the summer.
Members drop by after work or meet up with friends and family for a boating adventure or a riverside dinner and a quiet sunset cruise.
Sitting out in the club mooring field among the members’ small and midsize sail- and powerboats is club member Lenny Estelle’s 31-foot flybridge sportfisherman. It’s a vintage fiberglass Pacemaker, although it retains the lines of the wooden boats it replaced. The comfortable, well-used vessel looks right at home in this timeless setting.
This is the 59-year-old Ivoryton, Conn., contractor’s boating world — all that he and his extended family need. “If you have a nice boat and a nice location, you’ve got it made,” Estelle says. “It doesn’t have to be a fancy marina and a half-million-dollar yacht.”
In fact, Estelle paid just over $5,000 for his 1969 Pacemaker Alglas 31 Sportfish, a boat with a place in history. Pacemaker was a leading builder of wooden sportfishing boats throughout the 1950s and ’60s, and the 31 was its first fiberglass model, hence the Alglas designation. Several models of the 31 were offered; Estelle’s Sportfish model features both flybridge and lower helm stations.
Estelle had his eye on this particular boat before he bought it four years ago. “I owned a 26-foot Bayliner for three or four years, and I spent a lot of time on the river with that boat,” he says. “But I wanted to have a little more room. The 26 was tight. It didn’t have much of a galley in it or sleeping quarters.”
The Pacemaker has a V-berth, a real galley and plenty of outdoor seating, Estelle says. Twin engines are another plus, compared with the single engine in the Bayliner. “All these things made a difference,” he says. “The Pacemaker was a lot nicer.”
It also helped that he already knew the boat and its owner, marine mechanic John Dudek. “It was a local boat, and when I heard John was looking for a new one, I wanted to get this one,” Estelle says.
She was mechanically sound, the twin gas engines well maintained. What the boat did need was cosmetic work, and that’s where Estelle’s talents as a contractor and carpenter helped. He replaced the original drop-leaf table with a permanent table and bench seat, added a built-in refrigerator and built oak galley cabinetry. A wooden headliner replaced the fabric one. Outside he repainted the cockpit.
“I knew it needed work, but I knew I could do it all myself,” Estelle says. “I had a shop, and I could work on it right there. I love working on the boat, and I still try to do something every year.” Next on the list: building a new couch.
The Pacemaker still has its original engines, a pair of V-8 Chrysler 318s. Cruising speed is about 19 to 20 mph at 2,800 rpm. “It’ll do 20 to 22 knots, but that’s pushing it,” the owner says. Both have performed well during the past four years. “They’re pretty good on gas. Of course, they don’t have all the modern electronics, but they run very well.”
Designed for offshore fishing, the husky, modified-vee sportfisherman handles well. “I go out on Long Island Sound a lot, across to Greenport [N.Y.] or over to Block Island [R.I.], and it takes the waves really well,” Estelle says. “That fiberglass hull is very thick, and it’s a heavy boat.”
But it’s the river that draws him down to the boat club, going out with his son or meeting up with his oldest daughter and the grandchildren. “I love being out on the Connecticut River,” he says. “I might go out to Hamburg Cove, drop the anchor, relax, do some swimming. There’s usually somebody with me going along for the ride, and in the middle of the week there’s nobody on the river, so it is really nice.”
The Pacemaker Alglas 31 Sportfish was designed with coastal and offshore fishing in mind. The flybridge, reached by a ladder, is set well aft to give a good view of the cockpit. The flybridge helm station is equipped with a destroyer wheel and a molded instrument console, with companion seating.
The open cockpit offers plenty of room for fishing, entertaining or an active outing with youngsters. Safety features include wide side decks and a broad, open foredeck with a bow rail. In the large saloon, there’s a convertible couch to port and a dining table with seating to starboard. The lower helm station, with instrument console and captain’s chair, is set to starboard.
It’s a step down to the galley, on the starboard side, equipped with a stove top, sink, refrigerator and counter space. The enclosed head compartment to port includes a shower, along with the standard fixtures. The master stateroom is forward, laid out with a V-berth and storage.
The pioneering Pacemaker 31-foot Alglas series was originally offered by the Egg Harbor, N.J., builder as an express cruiser, sedan, flybridge and fisherman (with a lower helm). The first fiberglass model from the wooden-boat builder could be powered by twin Chrysler or Pacer gas engines as large as 250 hp or Crusader diesel engines as large as 250 hp. She cruised at about 17 to 24 mph, with a top end of slightly more than 30 mph. Pacemaker Yachts, once a leading builder, ceased operations in 1979 and many of its molds were sold to and used by Uniflite Corp., a Bellingham, Wash., builder.
LOA: 31 feet
BEAM: 10 feet, 10 inches
DRAFT: 2 feet, 4 inches
WEIGHT: 12,000 pounds
HULL TYPE: modified-vee
POWER: twin diesel or gas inboards
TANKAGE: 160 gallons fuel, 40 gallons water
BUILDER: Pacemaker Yachts, Egg Harbor, N.J.
April 2014 issue