The outboard craze. The phenomenon. The obsession. Whatever you want to call it, the boating world’s current love affair with this engine is not going anywhere soon. While builders of larger-scale, Downeast-style boats—think MJM, Back Cove, Vanquish and Hinckley—have been strapping these motors to hulls for years, boutique builders have been in less of a hurry. Now, companies such as Williams, Ellis, Huckins, Manchester and Wilbur are designing outboard boats as well as inboard versions. Here’s how some of these builders are getting in on the action.
John Williams Boat Co. in Mount Desert, Maine, is basing its Williams 29 on its Somes Sound 26, an open, inboard-powered launch built on a conventional, molded fiberglass hull. The 29-footer is a center console dayboat with wood trim, fore and aft seating, and 4-stroke outboard power.
“We collaborated with Doug Zurn Yacht Design to transform our Somes Sound 26, which is based on an Old Port Marine Launch hull,” says Jaime Weir, general manager at the company. “We wanted to give the 29 the same feel as the 26, but with more modern components and updated power plants.”
Plans for the Williams 29 show a generous tumblehome and a sheerline that rises dramatically to the bow, which has hard chines flanking a soft entry. Dark blue topsides, brightly varnished wood coamings and expanses of white give the 29 a Herreshoff-style look.
Hull number one will be built after a buyer is found. Weir says owners can choose single or twin outboard motors, from 150 to 425 hp. With 300 hp, he says, the boat’s expected top- end speed is 36.5 knots.
Having the outboard power, says Weir, improves the onboard experience.“Getting the engine out of the boat allows us to free up space to make larger lounges and include a head under the console. Customers also like the shallower draft and that you can tilt outboards up to beach or untangle lobster pots. Maintenance is less complicated—in most cases—than it is with an inboard. And, when it comes to repowering down the line, it’s a simple matter of removing the old engines and bolting on new ones.”
Wilbur 37 Weekender
Based in Southwest Harbor, Maine, Wilbur Yachts has built 200-plus hulls since Lee Wilbur started the company in 1973. Today, the boatbuilder makes Downeast-style yachts from 34 to 61 feet in length. The newest, the Wilbur 37 Weekender, is the first all-new Wilbur with outboard power plants: a pair of 425-hp Yamaha XF425s.
“I’ve been thinking about this boat since about 2003,” says John Kachmar, who is married to Lee Wilbur’s daughter, Ingrid, a co-owner of the company. “I wanted to modify our Wilbur 34 hull to use outboards, but the engines just weren’t there yet. Outboards have come a long way in the last 15 years—so much so that we feel comfortable building a boat around them.”
Geoff Dickes with Dickes Yacht Design in Palm Coast, Florida, drew the new plans.“I initially struggled with the look of the outboards on the back, but eventually they just disappeared into the design,” Dickes says. “The end result is a great-looking Downeaster that is both sleek and modern, yet still has those traditional lines.”
Top end on the Weekender with the XF425s should be around 48 knots, Kachmar says. “Of course, no one really runs around at top speed all the time, so she’ll cruise efficiently in the mid- to high-30s, depending on how miserly an owner wants to be with fuel.”
As with other boatbuilders, Kachmar says the Wilbur Yachts team noticed that using outboards allowed for changes to the boat’s configuration.“Having the
engines out of the boat made it possible for us to build a single-level deck, from the cockpit to the windshield,” he says. “Most Downeast-style boats have at least a small step for the cockpit-to-bridge-deck transition to make room for the inboards.” The first hull could be ready in spring 2020.
Huckins Sportsman 38
In 1928, Frank Pembroke Huckins produced one of the first planing hulls. Today, Huckins Yachts in Jacksonville, Florida, is known for its high-quality, long-lasting and smooth-riding boats, as well as its continuous innovation. Those assets are evident in the plans for the builder’s first production boat: the Sportsman 38.
The Huckins’ Sportsman 36, originally built in 1936, inspired the look of the new 38. Designers played on the 36’s curvy, Downeast bassboat lines, open bridgedeck and cockpit design. The first Sportsman 38 is being built as a hybrid with Cummins diesel inboards, a battery bank and Elco electric motors, but the boat can be ordered with twin 350-hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboards.
“We expect this to be a 40-knot boat,” says Cindy Purcell, the third-generation owner of Huckins Yachts and granddaughter of the founder. “Our in-house designer, Jon Hall, and I have been working on the design for several years. Building a hybrid was our primary objective, but we also knew we wanted to offer outboards because of customer feedback.”
This isn’t Huckins’ first experience with outboards. “Jon designed and we built a 50-footer in 1984 with four OMC Sea Drives. That boat had a top-end speed of 33 knots,” Purcell says.
Hull number one of the Sportsman 38 popped out of the mold around press time and is expected to launch later this year. Look for a cockpit with a U-shape lounge, a swim platform, walk-through transom and shelter under a hardtop. Below will be a galley and forward V-berth near an enclosed head/shower.
Manchester Yachts 29
The Manchester Yachts 29 launched in 2017 with twin 375-hp Crusader gas inboard engines mated to traditional prop-and-shaft running gear. In late 2018, the builder announced an outboard version, further evolving a concept that’s been in the works for a while.
Inboard or outboard, the Manchester 29 uses a Blackfin Combi hull, one of the best-riding fishboat running bottoms ever designed. Crocker’s Boat Yard in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, refurbishes the Blackfin hulls with design tweaks from Zurn Yacht Design in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Ray Hunt Design in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
“So, we’re building these boats from existing Blackfin hulls that need some love, which gives us the opportunity to strip them down and perfectly reconstruct them, but without all the costs associated with designing, building and maintaining molds,” says Peter Alcock of Manchester Yachts. “Adding outboard power required some design work and transom upgrades, but we’re very happy with the results and how the Armstrong outboard bracket looks.”
According to Alcock, performance with twin 300-hp Yamaha F300 4-stroke outboards is similar to the numbers Manchester Yachts calculated with twin 375-hp Crusader inboards.
“We expect to see a cruise speed of about 22 to 23 knots with the F300s, which is within a knot or two of the Crusader inboards,” he says. “Top end with the outboards is around 33 knots, while the Crusaders top out at around 36 knots.”
Alcock sees a number of advantages to using outboards on this style of boat, including simplicity on several levels.
“Outboards don’t require all of the through-hulls, plumbing, electric and other mechanical systems that inboards do,” he says. “Getting the engines and those systems out of the boat frees up a lot of space. Of course, the outboards also are much quieter, and their exhaust is often less smelly. Being able to tilt the engines up for beaching or anchoring in shallow water where you can jump out and walk ashore is also an advantage.”
Because every Manchester 29 is a custom build, buyers can outfit the boat pretty much any way they want. “The outboard engines free up a lot of interior space,” Alcock says, “so we are likely to see more requests for customization with this type of propulsion.”
Ellis 26 Hardtop Express
Shane Ellis, who runs the Ellis Boat Company in Southwest Harbor, Maine, with his brother, Anthony, is excited about a model that’s fresh off the drawing board: an outboard-powered, bassboat-style express cruiser based on the Ellis 24. The new boat, the Ellis 26 Hardtop Express, should splash in spring 2020.
“Our existing Ellis 24 has a great hull,” he says. “We had one come in for a refit, and the owner decided he wanted to make the switch to outboard power. We’ve done a few of them this way in the past, so it sort of spurred on an idea to launch an all-new, outboard-powered model with the Ellis 24’s hull.”
The design for the Ellis 26 takes inspiration from previous Ellis models as well as other builds. “We wanted to build a straight-up outboard boat with some hints of Jericho Bay and sloped window elements that hearken back to some of my grandfather’s first designs,” he says. “The outboards look pretty natural on the stern, and we’ll fit her with an Armstrong bracket for the engines. With 200 horsepower, we’re expecting a 30-plus-knot boat.”
Like other builders, Ellis likes an outboard’s ability to tilt up for shallow-water cruising. He’s a fan of the extra interior space this power creates, as wells as the way it eliminates some mechanical systems. But he is perplexed about stowing a dinghy on the transom or swim platform with the outboard engines taking up space. “I’m not sure how we’ll handle that, although there are different options we’re considering.”
On the outside, the new design looks the Downeast part, even with the outboard bracket. “You’ll see a lot of familiar Ellis design cues, like the angled hardtop supports located aft and sloped windows,” he says. “Below, there’s a galley with sink and single-burner stove, a V-berth setup for sleeping and an enclosed head. We’ll also offer this boat without a hardtop for folks who want a little more breeze through their hair when underway.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue.