Rob Russell didn’t get a youthful start in boating. He never owned a boat as a young man. Instead, his thing was flying.
“I’ve been a pilot and aircraft owner ever since my father taught me to fly in our 1941 Piper Cub J5 when I was 16 years old,” the 68-year-old, semi-retired forensic psychologist says. But after owning a handful of airplanes and logging thousands of flight hours crisscrossing the continent, he was looking for a new adventure. That’s when boats came to mind.
“I always read books on boating and admired the sailboats and trawlers I’d see out on the water,” he says. “Getting into boating seemed to be a natural next step for me, a new challenge.” Occasional rides in friends’ boats only added to the allure.
There are commonalities between flying and boating, Russell says. There’s the challenge of landing and docking, during which you can test your skills while factoring in the natural forces. Pilots and captains need to know meteorology and be keen observers of changing weather, too. “And both pilot and captain should know their limitations as well, and the limitations of the plane or boat,” Russell says. “But the quality of flying and boating that most appeals to me is the thrill of adventure when heading out on a long trip.”
In September of 2019, Russell and his wife, Marian, bought their first boat, a 1996 Rosborough RF246, the well-known Canadian-built trailerable trawler. It was priced to sell at $27,000. “I happened to be the first to respond to the advertisement and realized this was a bargain,” he says. “I made the drive out to Connecticut [from his Binghamton, New York, home] early the next morning to look at the boat.”
He signed a purchase agreement that day. Within the week, he had a day-long survey done and found the 23-year-old boat in good shape, aside from a few minor issues. “I’m still working to improve its overall cosmetics as well as add various touches and improvements that a new owner would want,” he says.
The Rosborough RF246 was just what he was looking for, an affordable, entry-level pocket trawler that he could learn to boat in. It was large enough to sleep a family of three (including their son, Ryan), and it had an enclosed helm and cabin which made it suitable for cruises in open water. The Nova Scotia-bred boat had a solid, seaworthy reputation, too. “The access doors to port and starboard come in handy when I’m docking by myself,” he says.
The Russell’s RF246 (named SeaHag after the cartoon character) is powered by twin Honda 90-hp outboards and carries 120 gallons of fuel. Cruising speed can be as easy as 10 knots or a peppier 19 knots, if needed, Russell says. Top end is around 26 knots.
Living in northern New York state puts the couple in some beautiful but challenging cruising grounds for which the Rosborough is well-suited. It’s currently kept in Cape Vincent, where Lake Ontario meets the scenic St. Lawrence River. “We cruise the Thousand Island area with its many anchorages, charming ports, lighthouses and even castles—there are two of them.” says Russell. “A bigger thrill for me, however, is when I head out into the vastness of Lake Ontario, where there are many destinations beyond the horizon.”
The Rosborough Owners Association has helped ease the couple into the boating lifestyle. He attended an owners rendezvous in Florida prior to the pandemic and enjoyed the experience. He hopes owners will get the chance to travel north to a planned reunion on the St. Lawrence next year. “The Rosborough Association has proven to be a great resource and I’ve made some good friendships through it as well.”
Meanwhile, distant shores beckon the newly minted boating family and their “Rossi.” There’s the New York state and Canadian canal systems waiting to be explored, for instance. Being able to trailer the 8-foot, 6-inch-wide boat without permits “is something I believe I will appreciate in the future when I want to expand my boating horizons,” he says.
Russell has one special trip he’d like to make in the Rosborough, a cruise back to the boat’s home waters to touch base with its proud “Novi” roots. “As I gain more experience, my ultimate fantasy is to venture into the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. It is in the maritime provinces of Canada where the Rosborough developed its reputation as a workboat.”
The Nova Scotia-bred Rosborough RF246 has a traditional look with a tall, slightly angled bow with modest flare and a graceful sheer leading to a low cockpit with a straight transom. The builder’s three models—Halifax, Digby and Yarmouth—share common design features, starting with an enclosed pilothouse with pilot doors and a three-panel windshield. The basic layout includes a forward V-berth with an insert that converts the berth to a seating area with table. The enclosed head compartment has a marine head, sink and shower. Up in the pilothouse, the steering station, to starboard, is set up with a helm seat, destroyer wheel and console for electronics. The dinette is abaft the helm, with its bench seating and table. (This area also converts to a berth.) The galley is opposite, laid out with a view through large side windows. All the RF246 models ride an all-fiberglass modified-V hull with 100 percent positive flotation.
Nova Scotia-born James Rosborough founded Rosborough Boats near Halifax in the mid-1950s, building wooden fishing vessels for the regional commercial fleet. A generation later, with two sons joining him, Rosborough made the switch from wood to fiberglass construction. By the 1990s the RF246 had been developed as a couple’s pocket cruiser. Rosborough boats are built today in Milton, New Hampshire.
This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue.