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Carried away

Dave Browne bought his 1987 commercial lobster boat, a Calvin Beal design, just two days after laying eyes on the 30-footer. She was bundled up for the winter and on the hard in Wareham, Massachusetts.

Dave Browne (at the helm) wanted Jeff Perette (on the gunwale) to refit his Calvin Beal to maintain her simple beauty and superb function. A boost in power and a very pretty finish have made Molli G a dream Down Easter.

Browne had owned several smaller boats, including two Regulator center consoles — a 2005 23-footer and a 1999 26-footer — and a 1989 29-foot Blackfin sportfish express. He strayed from boating in the early 2000s when his professional career gobbled up the majority of his leisure time, and he had to let go of his coveted twin-outboard Regulator 23. A few years later, when he decided to jump back into boating, Browne turned to the Down East hull.

“Like many people, I fell in love with the Down East style and look,” says Browne. “I also have some physical issues with my back, and even though my previous vessels were good small sea boats, I wanted something larger and gentler.”

This Beal design, which was originally sold as a South Shore 30, carries a beam of 10 feet, 3 inches and draws 4 feet. The previous two owners had worked the vessel hard. The first was a lobsterman, the second a commercial tuna fisherman. But she was in decent shape when Browne bought her in 2008. In fact, Browne ran the boat — powered by a 210-hp Cummins diesel — for a half-season before he decided to repower with a 270-hp Cummins. He called on fiberglass specialist Jeff Perette, who is now the proprietor of East Coast Fiberglass in Marshfield, Massachusetts, to repair some soft spots in the plywood-cored deck. “There were two 1-foot-by-1-foot areas that were delaminating and wet, with one being right at the helm station,” says Perette. “This was a simple and easy two-day job.”

Neither Perette nor Browne knew at the time that the deck repair would morph into a comprehensive refit — one that transformed this hard-nosed workboat into an elegant cruiser that draws oohs and aahs in any port she slides into.

The Molli G’s refit took place over the course of two years. Browne bought the boat for $40,000 and has spent much more than that on the repower, fiberglass work, Awlgrip, mechanical and electrical upgrades, and wheelhouse windshield replacement. The boat also had a tower with a second helm station that was removed.

“I had no intention of spending that kind of dough, but when I saw how good each repair, upgrade and paint job turned out, I knew it was worth it for me and the money was being well-spent on a classic-looking boat,” says Browne, 49, who lives on Massachusetts’ South Shore and is a vice president of a wine company. His wife, Lisa, “was supportive of the project all the way, and she loves the boat as much as I do,” he says.

“Working with Dave and his wife was very easy,” says Perette. “I gave them weekly updates, and they didn’t pressure me time-wise, which is a big positive when you do a job like this.”

Dave Browne had been out of boating for a while when he found Molli G.

After the fiberglass repairs to the deck, Perette turned his attention to the fiberglass in the cockpit and wheelhouse. He sanded, filled and faired every surface, including the helm station, and Awlgripped it all in off-white. Browne requested that the helm dash be coated with nonskid to keep small objects in place. The work also included prepping and painting the inside wheelhouse window frames, and replacing the windows.

When it came to the exterior, Browne knew it would be no run-of-the-mill paint job. The hull showed fiberglass print-through — the weave of the glass fabric was visible through the gelcoat. “That had to be sanded and prepped significantly,” says Perette. In addition, as a lobster boat, Molli G was built with a chafing section, a hull-side area outboard of the starboard helm with beefed-up fiberglass that served as a landing pad for hauled traps. Perette had to sand this down, fill it and fair it before applying Awlgrip.

Multiple layers of antifouling paint covered the bottom. Perette hired a company to have it soda-blasted. The 100-gallon fuel tank was removed. It was not leaking or deteriorating, but “it was a 20-year-old tank, and it would be foolish not to replace it,” says Perette. He installed an aluminum tank that he coated with anti-corrosive primer and epoxy, and through-bolted to the bulkheads.

Perette installed new hardware — stainless steel hawseholes in the cockpit, stainless cleats, chocks and eight rod holders. A new Bomar forward trunk cabin hatch and portlights were installed, and Perette framed the companionway door and helm gauges with teak. Molli G also got a new rigid vinyl rubrail with a stainless insert. The lobster boat was now well on her way to becoming a cruising boat with yacht-like workmanship and excellent fit and finish.

Browne took it up another notch and requested a cockpit sole covered in teak. Perette used 60 canisters of caulk to install the same number of 2-inch-wide, 14-foot-long teak boards. “By the end of that job my arms were practically falling off,” says Perette, who specializes in fiberglass and surface refinishing. “The next day I could barely lift them.”

Structurally, Molli G was solid. Perette had no reason to mess with the transom or bulkheads, which were either marine-grade plywood encapsulated in fiberglass or pressure-treated wood. The repower, however, was a job and a half. To remove the engine, Perette had to cut a 5-by-5-foot hole on the top of the trunk cabin. He then replaced the forward rotted bulkhead with 3/4-inch plywood laminated with resin and fiberglass. He also retabbed the sections of the stringers that serve as the engine bed.

Molli G’s workboat heritage is clear as she idles alongside working big sister Phoenix, near Damon Point in Marshfield, Massachusetts.

A refit would not be a refit without some unexpected problems. Browne and Perette discovered that the new engine would need a larger exhaust tube, but the teak had been installed over the deck. Perette had to remove the 12-foot tube through the engine compartment, but there was no room to take it out in one piece. So he had to yank it through the engine compartment and cut it off 3 feet at a time. The new tube was fed into the boat from the transom. Perette wormed his way beneath the decks to hang the exhaust. “There literally was no wiggle room. A friend had to pull me out one time, grabbing my legs,” says Perette, 31, who estimates he put 300 hours into Molli G.

“Jeff was unbelievable — he made it happen no matter what problem presented itself,” says Browne, who grew up in Hingham and was once a part-time charter fishing captain.

Browne uses Molli G mainly for weekend cruising and some striper fishing. He and his family cruise to Provincetown, Boston and the north shore of Massachusetts.

“I have to say my favorite part of this boat is the way it handles,” says Lisa Browne. “The ride always feels safe. It’s great that I don’t have to brace myself when it’s choppy. We have spent many days and nights enjoying the boat by ourselves and with friends and family.”

She says the hardtop during the summer months is perhaps the boat’s most coveted space. “People jump off the hard top,” she says. “It is an amazing experience, especially for those who have never done it before. Everyone is a bit anxious the first time they climb up there, but once they jump they are hooked. It really makes you feel like a kid again.”

Molli G shows off her 270-hp Cummins repower.

The Brownes have already enjoyed some memorable trips, including weeklong vacations to Cape Cod. The boat cruises comfortably at 17 knots and tops out at 22. She thrives in head seas and delivers a stable, smooth ride in most conditions, which is good for Browne’s ailing back.

Browne and his wife kept the boat simple. She lacks a head, galley and fresh water but has a V-berth. “We bring our grill and hot plate, and we are good to go,” says Browne, who has logged about 250 hours with the new engine in two-and-a-half seasons.

“It’s easy for two people to handle the boat, and running it single-handed is no problem,” says Browne. “Lisa will drive it, and my son, Greg, will drive it. By the way, Greg [is] the ‘G’ in the Molli G, and my daughter is Molli.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.