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Used Boat Review: Penbo 38

'It's like a house'

It happens every year, when the weather turns warm and the boats are in the water on Long Island’s east end. James Murphy moves aboard.

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“I clean up and then get the stuff on board — the dishes, the towels, the TV … the food and everything — and then it’s all over and I move on board,” says the 55-year-old from East Hampton, New York. “It’s a spring ritual.”

Compromise III is a 38-foot wooden Penbo built in 1973 by the Penobscot Boat Co. in Maine. It’s been home to Murphy four months of the year while he works on the yachts that make their home ports around the Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Shelter Island areas. “I moved out here from New York after 9/11,” says Murphy, who bought the boat seven years ago. “I was done with the insanity.”

The native Midwesterner tapped into his boating background and opened a marine woodworking business. “Dad was a sailor. We always had boats,” he says. “We did the Mackinac race and a lot of Great Lakes cruising, so I always liked boats, and I like woodworking. I put it together, bought some tools and got a shop.”

Working with private clients, marinas and boatbuilders, Murphy spent summers living aboard sailboats, the last an Irwin 32, which he had for six years. Things took a turn in 2010, when he sold the Irwin. “I didn’t have a boat,” Murphy says. “I thought I’d take a season off, relax, have no bills.”

LOA: 38 feet BEAM: 12 feet, 3 inches DRAFT: 4 feet, 2 inches WEIGHT: 17,500 pounds HULL TYPE: displacement PROPULSION: single Perkins T356 diesel TANKAGE: 100 gallons fuel, 40 gallons water BUILDER: Penobscot Boat Works, Rockport, Maine

Instead, he got a call from a dockmaster friend who told him about an old wooden powerboat that needed work. It turned out to be the Penbo. “My first thought when I saw it was, this thing is crazy. It’s like a house,” Murphy says. “I’ve been living on an Irwin 32, which is like a submarine below, in comparison. And here’s this boat with a fireplace in the saloon.”

Murphy calls it “civilized living.” He says the owner had kept the boat as a sort of social club, making sure it ran but paying less attention to outside maintenance. The paint and woodwork suffered. “He’d owned it for 16 years and was sprucing it up to sell,” Murphy says. “He wanted me to do the work.”

That’s when the Penbo insinuated itself into Murphy’s life. The owner wanted Murphy to buy the boat, and the price kept coming down. “Finally, I made my best offer, and he accepted it,” Murphy says. “So I bought it.”

The price was $10,000, and to his astonishment, Murphy also got a slip in Sag Harbor for the season as part of the deal.

He spent the first few months bringing the woodwork back and painting the cabin and hull. “I’m a Shelter Island kind of guy, but when you’re at a marina in Sag Harbor, you want your boat to look good,” he says.

Liveaboard amenities on the 44-year-old boat include a freshwater VacuFlush head, a flat-screen TV and stereo system, hot and cold pressure water for the shower, and a wood-burning stove.

Although he lives aboard, Murphy gets away on Compromise III whenever he can. “I grab a mooring at Sag Harbor or go over to Shelter Island,” he says. “You work Saturday, head for Shelter on Sunday, grab your slip at noon and leave Tuesday morning.”

Power comes from a Perkins T356 diesel, rated at 170 hp. The Penbo cruises easily at 7 to 8 knots. “Light speed to an ex-sailor,” Murphy says. “It sips fuel, maybe a gallon an hour. So with 100 gallons of diesel I can go a long way.” Electronics include a Raymarine plotter/depth sounder and a VHF radio.

James Murphy

Compromise III draws a lot of comments, with its distinctive Down East working boat profile, Murphy says, adding, “Who knows how many of these boats are even left?” It’s been a wonderful summer home and a comfortable place to come home to. “I work all day, drive back to my marina, and I have a little baby house.”

And it’s a house with style. “I like it because it’s old and traditional, with the books, the fireplace — it’s just so comfortable,” Murphy says. “I can sit there, relax and watch a Yankees game, make a margarita.”

And on a summer night at the marina, when the Penbo is lit up and the doors are open, people tend to gravitate to the boat. “It’s perfect for that,” Murphy says.

As idyllic as the life has been, Murphy can see the day when the Penbo might move on to another custodian or owner. “I can’t keep it forever, and she needs some work,” he says. “If the right person would come along to restore it, that would be a crazy, awesome thing.”


Compromise III has a raised pilothouse with a helm station, a nav area and a bench seat/pilot berth. The windows and side doors (port and starboard) give the helmsman visibility all around the boat.

The forward section is down winding stairs. There’s a full shower compartment to port and an enclosed head to starboard with a VacuFlush head, sink and countertop with cabinetry. There are full-size port and starboard berths with drawer stowage in the forepeak. A forward locker with louver doors accesses the anchor line and windlass.

The galley is abaft the pilothouse, equipped with a sink, stove, refrigerator, microwave and counter space. The saloon has a sofa that converts to a berth, plus bookshelves, reading lamps and a wood-burning stove. Sliding screen doors open to the cockpit. The engine is below the pilothouse sole; stairs lead down to the lighted engine room, which has access on both sides of the diesel.


Penobscot Boat Works, founded in 1951 by Robert “Bob” Lane and his father, Carl, built Penbo powerboats in Rockport, Maine, in the 1960s and ’70s. The company built skiffs, sloops and a fleet of semicustom “cruising houseboats” that became known as Penbos. These trawler-style boats had different layouts and superstructures, including aft cabin, center cockpit and flybridge models. Bob Lane built his last Penbo in 1975, and he and his wife, Esther, cruised it to the Bahamas for the next 10 years.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue.