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Taking in a trio of Maine-built beauties

Of all the boat shows I attend each year, which sometimes is as many as eight, from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Maine Boatbuilders Show each March at the Portland Company Marine Complex stands apart for a number of reasons.

The Crowley-Beal 23 is a handsome round-bilge Down Easter that's trailerable and powered with a modest outboard.

Now in its 24th year and the brainchild of Portland Yacht Services president Phin Sprague, the show is special in the sense that builders, not just dealers, are there to speak with potential boat buyers, or those who are merely intrigued. The direct interaction with the public is obviously instructive for anyone even remotely interested in buying a Maine-built boat, but it's helpful for the builders as well. The companies get feedback from the horse's mouth, so to speak, in terms of how well they're doing, which in turn enables them to make improvements in the boats they build.

The next differentiator between this show and some of the others is the building in which it is held. Rather than the usual convention center setting, this show takes place in a structure that was built in 1846 as a locomotive foundry, where components for the Panama Canal were eventually made. The facility continued to house a heavy steel fabrication business until 1978.

Of course, the best part of the show is the gamut of boats and other things nautical on display. Wander among the exhibits and you'll get the chance to admire all kinds of nifty boats, including a plank-on-frame Beetle Cat, a strip-planked Pulsifer Hampton, a resin-infused Back Cove 30 and a wave-slicing Hunt 29.

There is always a lot to take in at this show, but three boats in particular caught my eye: the Crowley-Beal 23, the Rockcoast 30 and the Fitzgerald F-28. (There also was a shiny blue diesel - the Nanni - that deserves to be better known, but that's another story.)

Crowley-Beal 23

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The Crowley-Beal 23 is a round-bilge Down East lobster boat fitted with a keel. It's a pretty and nicely proportioned workboat and/or pleasure boat designed by Calvin Beal, which in parts of Maine is like saying Levi's designed your jeans. The boat is scaled down to make it trailerable with an SUV or pickup, and to make it easily powered with a modestly sized outboard. The hull and deck are laid up at Beal's Boat Shop in Milbridge, Maine. Joe Sargent at Sargent's Custom Boats, also in Milbridge, puts them together, and the dealer, Jeff's Marine Inc. in Thomaston, Maine, outfits and installs the power.

The round-bilge hull means this boat is comfortable in a seaway, pound-proof in a head sea and slippery in its 12- to 20-knot cruise- speed range. A flat bottom aft helps the boat plane easily at just 9 or 10 knots, but it also means the boat has to stay down in the water when running in rough seas. You don't want to land on the aft third of the hull in 3-footers at 30 knots. With the Yamaha F115, the boat will cruise at 20 mph. The builder says the boat will only burn 4 gallons of fuel per hour at that speed. The boat will hit 27 mph wide open, which is just right for this hull. If you want to cruise faster than 25 knots, you'll be better off with a hard-chine boat, but at the aforementioned speeds the hull is an excellent and seakindly form. The extra set of spray rails along the turn of the bilge aft helps with flow separation, reducing resistance and increasing efficiency at higher speeds. The only reason I'd put the bigger Yamaha F150 on this boat is if I planned to routinely carry a lot of weight, say, several thousand pounds of fish.

There's a full 75 inches of headroom at the wheel, and yet the boat still looks nicely proportioned. There's a comfortable cuddy forward. Chris Cornell managed this project and sells the boat for Jeff's Marine. Cornell was one of the founders of National Fisherman and Professional Boatbuilder magazines, so he knows his way around a boat. He contributed to the boat's layout and made sure, among other things, that a couple will sleep with their heads uphill when the boat is in the water and that there's enough room to step into the cabin comfortably and move around abaft the 78-inch berth. Lobster boats are mostly open cockpit, and this one is no exception. There's a lot of sheer open space topside, and that open motif continues to starboard under the pilothouse roof, where the helm area is open to the water, just in case you want to add a pot hauler and make a little money. The open-air effect is also nice for stepping forward from the wheel to pick up a mooring pennant.

The Crowley-Beal 23 goes for $53,000, and you'll be ready to cast off the dock lines right away at that price. If you've been shopping around, you'll understand that's not much money, though you could spend more on the boat if you thought it was too good a deal. On our boat, the price included a nifty two-person seat forward to port with a bi-polar seatback for facing forward or aft as circumstances dictate. The boat weighs 2,850 pounds. Add 415 pounds for the Yamaha F115, 430 pounds for a full tank of gas (70 gallons) and 200 pounds of gear, and your trailer will be carrying just under 4,000 pounds of boat. By virtue of its low purchase and operating costs, this boat will be a good fit for many budgets, and its seakindly hull will let you get out on the water when many larger flat-bottomed hard-chine boats will be hiding under a rock somewhere, waiting for the wind to die down. Center console and bass boat versions are also available. or

Rockcoast Boatworks 30

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George Menezes, owner of Menezes Marine Group, worked his way up the ranks at Sabre Yachts for 20 years, winding up as head of product development. As such, he was instrumental in developing a number of Sabre models, and he also spearheaded the creation of the attractive Back Cove brand of single-diesel powerboats. He founded Rockcoast Boatworks in 2007, and he's now busy designing and building a variety of boats - round bilge and hard chine, outboard and diesel sterndrive, cabin boats, and center consoles from 20 to 30 feet in length. Based in South Casco, Maine, Menezes' purpose is to produce a line of well-built semicustom traditionally Maine-styled boats that will fill a need in the marketplace that has been largely unmet.

Menezes' 30-footer, which is fairly beamy at 10 feet, 4 inches, is being offered in coupe, lobster, center console and open configurations. The open version is really a bass boat, and to my eye it's the prettiest of them all. Early this spring, he was building a center console, which he expects to launch in midsummer. It's probably no coincidence, but the Rockcoast 30 hull, a Geoff Dickes design, looks a lot like the Back Cove hull form, including a spoon stem, moderately fine entry and an efficient 16-degree transom deadrise that marks the hull as reasonably suited for 15- to 25-knot speeds. The bottom has twist, or warp, in it, which means deadrise increases steadily as you work your way forward of the transom, a sage page out of Hunt's design book. This detail shifts the center of lift aft, which, if done right and all else being equal, reduces trim (bow rise), which in turn smoothes out the ride, increases efficiency and improves visibility from the wheel. While the bottom has nothing to do with a Maine heritage, the topsides definitely do, especially in the lobster and open configurations, which are pretty boats in a classic sort of way. To their great credit, there's nothing leading edge about these boats.

The center console has a head-equipped cuddy forward with 5 feet, 6 inches of headroom. This design lets the builder reduce the height of the console for better visibility from the wheel. It also gives you a nice platform to climb up on and plug for stripers, with the extra height extending your range and helping to prevent hook-earlobe interceptions. Forward are a pair of inboard-facing bench seats, and a third smaller seat forward of the console. The console is set fairly well aft in the hull, so the ride will be more comfortable, at least for the driver. A pair of 250-hp bracket-mounted outboards is at the maximum power limit. The boat has a fuel capacity of 150 gallons, precisely half of what many deep-vee hulls of the same size carry. This suggests a greater efficiency and likely less range since the Rockcoast 30's displacement is in line with those same deep-vee hulls.

The boat is open molded with premium vinylester resin throughout the laminate and a vacuum-bagged 1.25-inch Core-Cell cored bottom for quieting and stiffening at little cost in weight. Half-inch Nida-Core honeycomb is used to core the hull sides, which don't take the same beating as boat bottoms (except on my brother John's boat). One-inch Nida-Core is used in the hull bulkheads. The transom is cored with high-density 1.25-inch Airex that's able to resist compression from the loads on the bolts for the engine mounts. Stringers are foam-cored fiberglass, and the hull-to-deck joint is bonded with a methacrylate adhesive.

The Rockcoast 30 is being offered in coupe, lobster, center console and open configurations.

The tentative base price of the Rockcoast 30-foot center console with a pair of 175-hp Evinrudes is $150,000, with its launch expected this summer. Menezes expects the boat to displace 8,000 pounds in sea-trial condition, quite a bit less than many production center consoles of this size (about 2,000 pounds less). His projected economy is as much as 40 percent better than some of these same boats. For example, the boat will get 1.5 nautical miles per gallon at 30 knots. We'll report back on actual numbers after my test ride this summer. It should be very interesting to see how much difference the Rockcoast's flatter hull sections and lower weight have on its economy. The hull form is appropriate for its projected top speed of 36 knots and its 25- to 30-knot cruise speed. Menezes hopes to build a dozen boats a year and sell them factory-direct, happily increasing the builder's margins and, even more happily, lowering the retail price. Also under way at Rockcoast Boatworks is a pretty wild project, the Reflex 850 tri-sponson center console - think Boston Whaler Montauk, only with a smoother ride. I'll be taking that boat for a ride this summer and reporting back, so stay tuned. www.rockcoastboat

Fitzgerald F-28

Mark Fitzgerald is pushing the design envelope with his F-28, which includes a hydraulic ramp that creates a walkway from boat to beach.

One boat represented at the show that I found remarkable in every way was the Fitzgerald F-28 center console, a new design from Fitzgerald Marine Architecture Inc., which is based in Camden, Maine. The boat's virtues include obvious beauty as well as a subtle - and possibly even more impressive - overall utility. Quite simply, it's the product of a coherent vision and a disciplined imagination. When confronted with so many novelties, it's difficult to know where to start, so the bow is as good a place as any. There is actually a hydraulically actuated ramp that hinges down to create a walkway from the boat to the beach. With a steep enough gradient, you could walk from the boat to the beach without dampening your Top-Siders. This is such a practical touch that once I have the chance to spend some time in this boat I am sure I will never be satisfied with a run-of-the-mill rampless bow again. The teak bow seating is ergonomically designed for comfort and support, and it comes right off the boat if you want to go out for an afternoon jaunt in search of feeding fish.

Farther aft we find what is essentially a flybridge with a high handrail set in the middle of the boat. This keeps passengers contained at the helm. A high tinted forward-swept windshield will do a great job deflecting the elements from the boat's occupants. The helm is patterned after automotive consoles, with carefully considered reach, touch and feel. The two-person seat is also modeled on car seating, contoured to keep one comfortably situated in spite of the vertical, transverse and longitudinal accelerations you feel when you're out on the water. Speaking of accelerations, the whole deck section around the helm/bridge is suspended on coil springs, so wave impacts, as felt by anyone seated or standing in the immediate area, will be substantially diminished. The whole suspended deck system also comes right off the boat if needed to provide wide-open access to the fuel and water tanks and the bilge below.

Overhead is a carbon-fiber-and-epoxy hardtop that weighs in at some 80 pounds, a quarter of what a top of this size weighs on many other boats. Integral to the top is a bubble that neatly and discretely houses the radar antenna. The top is supported by inch-thick composite radar arches outboard and a pair of stainless-steel stanchions forward. Note from the renderings that slots are cut down the middle of the arches to keep horizon sightline obstructions seen from the helm to a bare minimum, improving situational awareness and, therefore, operational safety. Side lights are placed up high at the top of the arches where they will be seen from farther away than if they were placed forward (and lower) at the gunwale, and there will be little backscatter to interfere with visibility at night. The only better place for them would be right up on the top, where there would be no backscatter.

Just aft to starboard is a side door, which makes it convenient and safe to get on or off the boat. This is an especially pleasing feature for the older demographic for which the boat is partially intended. It allows women in dresses to retain their modesty and anyone else to save their recently replaced hips and knees from immoderate exertion. Aft in the cockpit are more of those hip-hugging auto-industry-inspired seats.

In the stern is another bubble, in this case a hinged hood that covers the Yamaha F300 outboard, giving the boat a cleaner look and making this already quiet engine virtually silent, at least at lower speeds. The hull extends several feet abaft the transom on both sides of the motor and stairs lead down to the water on both sides. The his-and-her stairs are symmetrical to a fault and pleasing to the eye, but a more practical approach might be to have a transom door and walkthrough on one side for better access to the dock when tied stern-to. As it happens, this is easily done with a stroke (or two) of the CAD mouse since the boat hasn't actually been built yet. Lastly, the F-28 has a fairly large-diameter soft collar to make the boat suitable for use as a tender. And on any boat, why not build your primary fendering system (RIB-like) into the boat so you're not completely reliant on fenders carefully suspended over the side?

Fitzgerald F-28

The boat will be built using infusion and fiberglass composites, which will minimize weight and maximize build quality. Mark Fitzgerald, the gifted artist and engineer who created the boat, is looking for three (or so) customers to put up the cash for the tooling and take delivery of their own F-28s at a compelling price of about $238,000. Fitzgerald says that with the 300-hp outboard the boat's cruise speed will be 24 knots and 30 knots at full power. Fuel consumption is expected to be 2.1 nautical miles per gallon at cruise speed. Optional power includes a 300-hp Volvo diesel sterndrive, which will increase the boat's range and cost.

As you can see, there was much to admire at the Maine Boatbuilders Show (, and I hope you find yourself inspired enough to consider attending the show next year. Believe me, this brief sketch barely scratches the surface of the offerings you'll find from some of Maine and New England's best builders. I'll be following up on the Crowley-Beal 23 out on the water this summer, and I also hope to get out on the Rockcoast 30 and the Reflex 850, as well as the Fitzgerald F-28 once it's built.

Eric Sorensen is a consultant to boat- and shipbuilders and to the government. He was founding director of the J.D. Power and Associates marine practice and is the author of "Sorensen's Guide to Powerboats: How to Evaluate Design, Construction and Performance." A longtime licensed captain, he can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.