Bob Potter kicks around the same waters he did when he was a youngster, but, of course, the boats have changed. “I grew up with boats,” says the 59-year-old artisan from Chester, Connecticut. “My father built a boat in the basement. My grandfather had a powerboat, and we would go cruising or fishing, either on the [Connecticut] River or out on [Long Island] Sound. I was always interested in boats.”
His first boat was one of the heavy skiffs built by local legend Earl Brockway, used then for commercial fishing and other work. Power was an air-cooled 4-hp outboard, Potter recalls.
His next boat was more sporty. “I had a Skimmer, kind of like a Boston Whaler, with a 10-horse we used for water skiing,” he says. “That was a fun boat.”
That boat also gave him a taste for those with what he calls a “turn of speed.” After marrying, he and his wife, Judy, owned first a 21-foot Stingray, then a 27-footer. “We had those boats for many years,” he says. “We made trips across the sound, went out for weekends, that sort of thing. We found that we really liked cruising.”
SPECIFICATIONS LOA: 36 feet, 1 inch BEAM: 12 feet, 11 inches DRAFT: 2 feet, 6 inches WEIGHT: 16,000 pounds HULL TYPE: modified-vee PROPULSION: twin 320-hp gas engines TANKAGE: 286 gallons fuel, 100 gallons water BUILDER: Silverton Marine
That got them looking for a boat in the 32- to 38-foot range so they could extend their time on the water and their horizons. “We wanted to spend more time on the boat, get across the sound in more comfort, go to more places,” Potter says.
When they came across a 1996 Silverton 361 Express in Rhode Island, the Potters were intrigued. “I had seen one of these boats before, and it kind of stuck with me,” says Potter. “It had that sporty look to it, which I like.” His wife liked the interior. “Nice and bright, with plenty of room inside,” he says.
Working with Hank Aldrich Yacht Sales in Essex, Connecticut, they examined the boat and talked to the owner. “I could tell he loved the boat,” says Potter. “It was in excellent condition.” But it was a test ride that “set the hook,” he recalls. “It was beamy, roomy and had a comfortable ride.” The final price was around $100,000.
Sixteen years later, the 361 Express has lost none of its luster. The Potters’ cruising destinations include Long Island’s Peconic Bay and Shinnecock Inlet, and Block Island and Watch Hill in Rhode Island. “This [coming] year we’re hoping to get to Martha’s Vineyard [Massachusetts] for the first time,” Potter says. “We’re usually making short-term trips — maybe four or five days, when it will fit in with work.”
The Silverton is a comfortable boat for two, inside and outside. The cockpit has cushioned seating, and the boat feels comfortable with the wide beam. The galley is open and of good size, equipped with a cooktop and a refrigerator that can run on battery power. “I’ve added a few batteries over the years,” Potter says.
“Being an express style, I can move around the boat easily,” he adds. “I can easily jump down from the helm to the deck or go through the windshield [door] to the foredeck. There’s easy access all around, so it’s a manageable boat around the dock.”
Power is a pair of Crusader 340 gas engines that give the boat a 20- to 22-knot cruising speed at 3,600 rpm. “It’ll go up to 30 knots, but we’re never in that much of a hurry to get anywhere,” Potter says. “Also, I do a lot of the mechanical maintenance myself, and you can get down around the engines pretty easily.”
The boat handles rough water well, too. “We were coming back from Watch Hill one weekend,” Potter says. “We left in bright sunshine, came around the corner and found the wind blowing dead against us. It got worse and worse; seas were running 6 to 8 feet. It was not exactly comfortable, but the boat was taking it all right, better than we were.”
Potter replaced the electronics last year, installing a new Garmin radar and chart plotter, GPS and a VHF radio. Over the years, he’s also installed a new head and a new stereo system. “Nothing major,” he says. This coming season, he plans to add a lift for the tender.
Maintenance isn’t a problem for the multitalented artisan and woodworker. “I do all the work myself,” Potter says. “If I need help, I know who to ask. The mechanical work especially is something different for me, and on the boat I’m working for myself.”
The Potters keep the boat at Chester Point Marina, close and convenient to the land his grandfather settled on. “I have been at that marina since 1975,” Potter says. “It’s close by — Judy can walk down to the boat — so it’s easy to go out for a sunset cruise.”
The couple have talked about another boat, but the Silverton has a lot going for it — good looks, a nice ride, cruising amenities and one other thing, says Potter. “It’s paid for.”
The Silverton 361 Express blends performance and luxury in a sporty design with an aft-raked radar arch. The all-fiberglass, modified-vee hull and nearly 13-foot beam give the 36-footer a stable ride and plenty of room in the cockpit and below. Prop pockets reduce the draft to less than 3 feet.
The helm station, which has a two-person lounge-style seat, is to starboard on a raised bridge deck. A wraparound windscreen provides protection from wind and spray. The multilevel dash is ergonomically laid out and has room for a host of electronics. Access to the foredeck, with a sun pad, is through a windshield door. The cockpit is laid out with a wet bar and an L-shaped cushioned lounge, and a transom door leads to the integral swim platform.
Below, the master suite forward (with an island berth) and midcabin sleep as many as four in privacy. The galley is complete, and a circular dinette seats as many as six. The enclosed head compartment has a sink and a wand shower. The cherry joinery is noteworthy.
The Silverton 361 Express debuted in 1995 and had a successful 6-year production run. (In 1997 the model was renamed the 360 Express). A popular midsize cruiser, it was in production through 2000, a testament to its family-oriented layout and amenities. Used 361s and 360s are easily found in the preowned market. Prices run from around $50,000 for early models to $80,000 for boats built later in the production run.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue.