Skip to main content

Yankee simplicity

These New England-built cabin boats pack efficient performance into a look that never loses its appeal.

Cecil Lyon's life had become too busy for a boat, so he decided to sell his beloved 1972 Dyer 29, Sea Lion, a single-engine New England-style cabin boat.

The Dyer 29 was designed to be a seakindly boat that a couple can take cruising.

"When I first bought the boat, I had the time to varnish it and really take care of it," says Lyon, 60, who purchased the Dyer in 1991. "New boats require much less effort. Mine is an older one and she requires some work."

Lyon put the Dyer on the market last spring.

That summer, he put in at a marina on Connecticut's Mystic River for fuel. The dock attendant complimented him on a fine-looking boat. More praise came from two other boats as they passed the fuel dock. And as Lyon motored downriver, another boater called out, "Hey fella, good-looking boat!"

Lyon took Sea Lion off the market that day.

"It's hard to sell a boat that receives so many flattering comments," says Lyon, who is from Essex, Conn. and runs an apparel manufacturing company. "Vanity is doing me in."

The lines and look of New England-style cruising boats like the Dyer 29 seem to never fall out of favor. With their sweeping sheer lines, raised trunk cabins and wood-framed windshields, these boats possess a signature look that has been turning heads for decades. But they're more than just pretty. The owners of the half-dozen boats featured here describe them as simple yet functional and relatively easy to maintain. They are seaworthy and seakindly, their fine entries slicing through rough water.

They range from a 25-foot custom dayboat, the Gurnet Point 25, to a 36-foot Nauset. An Eastern 35, Back Cove 33, Fortier 33 and Lyon's Dyer 29 fill out the fleet. All are from New England builders - three from Massachusetts (Nauset, Fortier, Gurnet) and one each from Maine (Back Cove), Rhode Island (Dyer), and New Hampshire (Eastern). For the most part, they're built using traditional materials and methods, such as hand-laid fiberglass and cored fiberglass construction above the waterline. They are either custom or semicustom built.

All of our owners raved about their respective boatbuilders, applauding their customer service and attention to detail. "The people at Nauset were fantastic," says Larry Bennigson, the Nauset 36 owner. "Besides their high-quality work, they were responsive, flexible and an endless source of creative ideas."

The efficient semidisplacement hull designs of these boats make them more economical than planing express cruisers. Semidisplacement vessels offer excellent fuel efficiency, especially at low speeds, but they also have the power to hit speeds in excess of 15 knots.

And these boats run just fine with a single engine, which saves money at the fuel dock. For instance, Bennigson's Nauset, powered by a single Cummins 450-hp diesel, gets about 1.5 nautical miles to the gallon at 15 knots. The typical express cruiser struggles to achieve 1 nmpg.

Only one of the six boats here is equipped with twins - the Fortier 33. However, with its Volvo Penta IPS pod drives (350-hp IPS500s), the boat gets nearly 2 nmpg from 14 to 31 knots. "The fuel economy is phenomenal," says Matt McNamara, who keeps his Fortier on Cape Cod, Mass. "The IPS is certainly an economical way to go. To me, it's a combination of the hull design and the IPS."

Here's a closer look at our six boats.


South Shore Boatworks in Halifax, Mass., built this new Lowell Brothers design for Rhode Islanders Alexander and Jane Hawes. The couple's Gurnet Point 25, Sandpiper III, functions as a day cruiser with accommodations for overnight trips. (Alexander's nickname is Sandy, and his wife's is Piper, hence the Sandpiper name.)

Image placeholder title

Teak covers the cockpit sole, and the gunwale tops and toerails also are teak. Below, she has an enclosed head, V-berth and a teak cabin sole. The galley is equipped with a single-burner stove, icebox and a sink with a brass hand pump.

"We wanted to be able to go overnight - one, two or three nights," says Sandy Hawes. "And we wanted to go picnicking and go fishing, mostly for bluefish."

The couple took delivery last year and have yet to cruise much, but they plan to hit Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Block Island, R.I., and Long Island Sound this season. "It's really a beautiful-looking boat. It also goes through the water nicely," says Hawes, a former newspaperman. He likes the well-protected starboard-side helm. "We're both 62 and not interested in getting wet."

A single 180-hp Yanmar diesel pushes Sandpiper III to a top speed of about 21 knots. Cruising at 17 knots, she burns only 3.5 gph for an impressive 4.9 nmpg, according to the manufacturer.

The Hawses' Gurnet Point 25 is configured as a lobster yacht, but the boat can also be built in bass boat and center console configurations, in either fiberglass or cold-molded wood. The lobster yacht (fiberglass) starts at $149,250 with a 200-hp Volvo D3. Contact: South Shore Boatworks, Halifax, Mass. Phone: (781) 293-2293.


Designed by Nick Potter, whose classic sailboats include the 60-foot double-ender Serenade, the Dyer 29 was first built in 1955.

"The Dyer 29 was designed to be a hull that was comfortable, seakindly and a boat that a couple could take cruising - even for an extended period," says Dyer Jones, part owner of The Anchorage Inc., the Warren, R.I., family-owned company that builds the boat.

Compared to today's wide-bodies, the Dyer 29 is relatively narrow, with a 9-foot, 5-inch beam for its 28-foot, 6-inch length, which allows it to run efficiently with minimal horsepower, says Jones. Standard power is a 225-hp Volvo Penta diesel, which pushes the boat to a 22-knot cruise and top end of 28 knots.

Cecil Lyon's Dyer 29, with its Crusader 350 gas inboard (270 hp), cruises at 17.5 knots (1.5 nmpg) and hits 23 knots at full throttle. He uses the boat to fish and commute between his home on the Connecticut coast and his other home on Fishers Island, N.Y. "Fishers Island Sound [can be] a rough little body of water and you need something that is pretty seaworthy to get you back and forth," he says.

Lyon also appreciates his boat's versatility. "To a certain extent, this is the pickup truck of boats," he says. "It'll do anything you want it to do. If you want it to be a yacht, it can be a yacht. If you want it to be a workboat, it can be a workboat. If you want it to be a club launch, it can be a club launch. It'll take you where you want to go, and you'll get a hell of a lot of compliments."

With standard 225-hp Volvo Penta diesel, the Dyer 29 sells for $159,900. Contact: The Anchorage, Warren, R.I. Phone: (401) 245-3300.


Bob Preston, of Narragansett, R.I., despises brightwork. His Back Cove 33, Family Ties, is a testament to that, with only a touch of teak above the windshield. "I like my boat's simplicity," says Preston. "It's economical to run. It has beautiful lines. When people ask me what kind of boat I have, I tell them a Back Cove - a Sabre without the brightwork."

Image placeholder title

Family Ties apparently needs no varnished wood to attract attention. While cruising around the Thimble Islands off Stony Creek, Conn., last year, a Coast Guard boat approached. "I thought it was for a routine safety inspection, but they just wanted to give me a thumbs-up on my boat," says Preston, 51, who owns an insurance agency.

A single 435-hp turbocharged Volvo Penta diesel powers the Back Cove. It gets about 1.2 nmpg in the 20- to 22-knot range, says Preston. Top speed is 29 knots.

The boat handles big seas, says its owner. "I intentionally took it out in some rough weather," he says. "We were in solid 6-foot seas. I pushed real hard, to a point where a wave broke over the bow and broke off the wipers. But the boat did not bat an eyelash."

Preston and his wife, Becky, have owned the 33-footer for three years, but they're selling it to move up to a Back Cove 37. "We needed the space," says Preston. "We like the extra cabin. It's a heavier boat with more capacity."

The new boat will also be powered with a single-engine - a 600-hp diesel "turning one massive prop," says Preston. "I love a boat with a single screw. I have friends who travel with me in larger express cruisers that are burning 50 percent more, so I just smile as I keep up with them."

With standard 380-hp Yanmar diesel, base price of a 33 is $272,000. A 37 with genset, air conditioning and standard 480-hp Cummins diesel is $410,000. Contact: Back Cove Yachts, Rockland, Maine. Phone: (207) 594-8844.


This Somerset, Mass., company has been building semicustom boats since 1959. In addition to the 33, the company builds a 26, 30 and 40. Before stepping up to the 33, Matt McNamara and his wife, Kathy, owned two smaller Fortiers - a 26 and a 30. Not only does McNamara's Runaway Jury provide excellent fuel economy for coastal cruising, it offers exceptional cabin space for its size, says the 59-year-old retired attorney from Waquoit, Mass.

Image placeholder title

"We've taken two major trips this past season and we lived aboard for 90 days," he says. "And in every port we stayed, someone wanted to come aboard and they all could not believe it was only 33-foot boat. There are a lot less compromises with a semicustom boat like a Fortier."

While some Fortiers are set up for fishing, Runaway Jury is designed for long-range coastal cruising for two people - plus one dog, Moxie. The absence of a bulkhead separating the forward V-berth from the rest of the cabin "really gives the boat an open feeling, like the interior of a 40-footer," says McNamara. The couple worked with the builder to have a custom dinette table installed on the bridge deck. "It's on a track so you can pull it close to you when you're eating and push it away when you're done," says McNamara.

He and his wife also appreciate the hand rails mounted strategically in the cabin, along the side decks and in other places for safety.

McNamara says the IPS pod-drive propulsion system's joystick helm control has improved the boating experience for them. Last summer, a strong wind and current had pinned Runaway Jury against the fuel dock at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Yacht Club. "The young man fueling up the boat said, 'I just don't know if I can get you off the dock,' " McNamara says. With a grin, the skipper told the attendant not to worry and effortlessly pulled away. "The poor fellow was just in awe," says McNamara.

A Fortier 33 with standard 225-hp Volvo Penta diesels sells for $285,000. With Volvo Penta IPS500s (350 hp), it is $305,000. Contact: Fortier Boats, Somerset, Mass. Phone: (508) 673-5253.


Mike McNamara (no relation to Matt) hails from the south shore of Massachusetts and during the last three seasons has logged roughly 980 hours on his 2007 Eastern 35 lobster yacht, Lady Pamela. Last year he traveled 2,400 nautical miles.

The Eastern 35, with its enclosed pilothouse and heating and air conditioning, allows cruising in just about any weather.

"I'm a pretty serious recreational fisherman," says McNamara, 61, a financial planner from Marshfield, Mass. "I wanted a combination fishing/cruising boat. My boat is a custom boat rigged to go both ways."

With an enclosed pilothouse and heating and air conditioning, McNamara can go out in just about any weather. For fishing, a 120-gallon live well stores his bait and the 10-foot by 12-foot cockpit can fit up to a half-dozen anglers. "It's a perfect boat for going tuna fishing or bottom fishing or striped bass fishing," he says.

McNamara fishes every Monday and Friday from April through October, and he and his wife, Pamela, go cruising about every other weekend during the summer, he says.

The Eastern is powered with a single 370-hp diesel, and bow and stern thrusters help when maneuvering dockside. It cruises at 12 to 16 knots, with a top speed of 21 knots. The boat has a V-berth and two settees in the cabin that convert to berths.

"It's not a 55-foot Hatteras and doesn't have gold-plated sinks, but it's charming. It's got teak in the cabin," says McNamara. "It's an elegant, lovely cottage as opposed to a luxury condominium, if you know what I mean."

Image placeholder title

An Eastern 35 with 330-hp diesel (Volvo Penta or Cummins MerCruiser) sells for $233,200. Contact: Eastern Boats, Milton, N.H. Phone: (603) 652-9213.


The Orleans, Mass., custom boatbuilder offers the 36 in a flybridge configuration and as a sedan with an extended pilothouse. Larry and Cathy Bennigson's Nauset 36, Pentimento, started out as a sedan and the flybridge was added later. The couple keeps the 2003 boat in Damariscotta, Maine.

Image placeholder title

The Bennigsons have cruised extensively in their Nauset, taking it south to Annapolis, Md., in November 2007 and then down the Intracoastal Waterway to Savannah, Ga., and on to Vero Beach, Fla. A single Cummins 450-hp diesel powers the Nauset, a spin-off of the old Bruno and Stillman 35 designed by Royal Lowell, according to Nauset Marine CEO Dawson Farber.

"The boat is configured so that it's very comfortable for two people," says Bennigson. "And it's also safe. There are multiple hand rails to help us get around." Cathy Bennigson handles dock lines, making use of the hand rails on the hardtop and on the foredeck.

At 6-foot-4, Bennigson needs ample cabin headroom. And he got it - 6 feet, 8 inches in all cabin areas except the forward stateroom, where it's 6 feet, 4 inches. The raised settee in the saloon maximizes the view through the pilothouse windows.

The Nauset's seaworthiness was put to the test off North Carolina, where it battled 8- to 10-foot seas. "Obviously that was rough, but we never had any reason to lose confidence in the boat," says Bennigson, 72. "In 3- to 4-foot seas, the high bow and workboat flare throw the water out and away from the boat."

Nicely equipped and powered with a Cummins 450 diesel, the Nauset 36 with flybridge sells for about $430,000. Without the flybridge, it is $400,000. Contact: Nauset Marine, Orleans, Mass. Phone: (508) 255-0777.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue.