Like shopping for a house or a car, buying a boat is a major decision. Add kids to the mix and a desire to do some family cruising, and the selection process will include additional wants and needs. To find out how family dynamics can inform boat buying decisions, Soundings spoke to four clans who recently bought a boat that they felt was the right one for them.
The Noyes Family
Axopar 37 XC
Brent Noyes has been a boater for most of his 37 years. “My family has an island house,” the Falmouth, Maine, resident says. “It’s one of the first islands off Freeport, so I grew up with skiffs and center consoles.
When Noyes decided to get his own boat, he had to take stock of his own needs. Noyes and his wife, Kristen, have a blended family with six kids between the ages of 4 and 9. She has four children, he has two, and they’re expecting a seventh child in August. Their boat would need the capacity for the whole family, the speed to get to the family island, and the ability to cover much longer distances.
Over the years, Noyes had been on a lot of boats, but it was a family connection that helped him find the right one. His father is friends with Jon Knowles, the longtime owner of East Coast Yacht Sales, which sells Axopars. When Noyes went for a spin on Knowles’ personal Axopar 37, the decision was easy. “I was sold on it,” Noyes says. “If I hadn’t been aware of the Axopar, the decision would have been more difficult, but I fell in love with the boat, so it was a no-brainer.”
Noyes ordered the boat with the aft cabin, an enclosed head, a hot-water system, a galley with a cooktop and the joystick at the helm.
He took possession of his Axopar 37 XC in the third week of March 2021, and he didn’t waste time getting her out on the water. When April school break arrived and Kristen said she was taking her four kids to Disney World, Noyes opted to take his two kids for a Maine cruise. But when a freak snowstorm struck the day before they were supposed to make a run to Acadia National Park, Noyes pivoted. He booked a room at Sugarloaf, skied with his kids all day, slept on the boat in Portland that night and set off for Acadia the next morning. They spent the first night off Allen Island near Port Clyde where they picked up a mooring, stopped in Rockport for fuel the next morning, shot up to Acadia for a hike and lunch, and before dark were back near Portland, anchored in the well-protected harbor at Jewell Island, a roundtrip of over 400 nautical miles.
Since then, he’s taken Anchorman south to the Saco River, made a bunch of trips to Seguin Island and spent the night at Boothbay with Kristen. They’ve slept on the boat with four of the kids and used it to ferry their large brood back and forth to the family camp at Moshier Island. “It takes 15 minutes at 30 to 35 knots,” Noyes says. His in-laws have a place on Long Island in Harpswell where they also travel by boat. “It takes forever to drive up there by car,” he says about the ride up Route 1 and the long rides down the fingers of land that stretch to the ocean. “It’s faster by boat.”
Until the new baby arrives, Noyes says they’ll keep their boating plans small. They may visit a friend up in Bar Harbor for dinner and use the Maine cruising guide to find places to anchor and go for a hike. “With such a huge coastline, there’s so much to see in Maine. In a smaller boat it’s gonna take you a lot longer to see it all.” He has bigger plans for the boat as well, including a Nantucket trip and a cruise to the Florida Keys.
Right now, he keeps the boat near his office at Fore Points Marina in Portland. “It has great wave attenuation,” he says. “I sneak away during lunch, and I have a portable printer so I can work on the boat.” He keeps the Axopar in the water from April through November, which is when the heater and the cabin come in handy. “It’s the boat that does it all,” Noyes says. “It handles chop and it’s got the speed and the efficiency.”
With twin 300-hp Mercury Verados, the Axopar can cover a lot of ground in very little time, and that speed suits Noyes. His father now owns a J46 sailboat and that’s partly what sold Noyes on the Axopar. “He’ll go up north,” Noyes says about his father’s Downeast sails. “It will take him a week to get there, and I will say, ‘I will see you this afternoon.’”
The Spaleny Family
Regal 33 Express
Erika Spaleny grew up in New Jersey and now lives in Michigan, but she started boating as a kid in California. “My father was a boat lover,” she says. “He had a 60-foot yacht. He was living out there at the time, and we would go to Catalina Island. I just fell in love with it.”
When her father passed away, she turned to her husband, Steve, and said, “Do you want to buy a boat?” Steve had fond boating memories too. When he was little, his dad owned a small boat with an outboard for fishing on the Upper Peninsula. “When I got older, I started renting pontoons,” Steve says. “My ex never wanted to get a boat, and Erika’s husband never wanted one either.”
The couple did research and decided they wanted a speedboat or a deck boat that could fit a lot of people. In 2018, Steve took Erika and her two school-age sons, Landon and Hayden, to the Grand Rapids Boat Show. “The second we walked in, there was this beautiful blue Regal,” Erika says. “I had never seen that color on a boat before.” They got aboard and found the 26 FasDeck had room for lots of people and a head—two features they wanted—but it was over their budget. They checked out other boats—including models from Four Winns, Chaparral, Yamaha, Formula and Cruisers—but not one was a speedboat/deckboat hybrid like the Regal. Over a Bloody Mary at the boat show’s bar, the couple decided to get it. “We never buy on impulse,” Erika says, “but that 26-footer was in memory of my dad.”
In their first year of ownership, the Spaleny's, who live in Flushing, Michigan, towed the FasDeck all over the state and put 200 hours on the engine. They spent a lot of time on Lake St. Claire east of Detroit, took it west to Spring Lake in Grand Haven, south to nearby Lake Ponemah, and north to Lake Michigan, Lake Leelanau, Lake Charlevoix and the crystal-clear turquoise waters of Torch Lake. They loved every minute of it, especially up north. “We instantly fell in love with the boat,” Steve says.” And Traverse City and Lake Charlevoix is like Erika’s Jersey Shore. “It’s my Zen,” he says.
But because the family couldn’t sleep on the 26, they were spending head north so the couple can accommodate more friends on the water.
“It was just meant to be,” Erika says of the boat purchases.
Steve agrees. “There are a lot of fantastic relationships that have come out of buying these boats,” he says. “From now on, we could get up in Charlevoix every morning and be happy for the rest of our lives.”
The Brunt Family
Grady-White Freedom 255
In 2018, after Mark and Tassia Brunt bought a house with a 40-foot dock in the Florida Keys, they bought a new 2016 Mako 204 center console. “If you own a house in the Keys you need to own a boat,” says Mark. But Tassia and their two small children, Mason and Taylor, who were then 5 and 2, never felt totally at ease on the 20-footer. Tassia also had days when she felt uncomfortable.
Things changed last year when Mark inherited his father’s house in Stuart, Florida. That’s when the Brunts started thinking about a second, larger boat with more power and comfort. After looking online and talking with friends and family, they decided they wanted a dual console. Last October, they went to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show to look at four brands: Scout, Sailfish, Boston Whaler and Grady-White.
When evaluating boats, Tassia had her own set of criteria: How are we going to use this boat? How wide are the seats? Can my son sit next to my husband and can my daughter sit next to me? Is there room for everyone? Do the kids have a safe place to sit? Where are the life jackets and how easy are they to access? If I have to get up while we’re in motion, is that easy?
At the Grady White display, they met Jon Burkert, one of the owners of Pompano Beach Marine Center. Burkert showed them the Freedom 307, which the Brunts liked, but it was out of their price range. Burkert then pointed them to the Grady-White Freedom 255 and 275—smaller, less expensive versions of the 307.
Mark was impressed with the Grady-Whites, but he also liked the Boston Whaler Vantages. He’d been on Whalers and Gradys in the past, and friends who were boaters told him he couldn’t go wrong with either brand. Then he sea-trialed the Freedom 255 in some pretty choppy seas and was impressed with the handling. “Getting on the Grady was a whole different experience,” Mark says.
The Brunt's took delivery of the Freedom 255 in early 2022 and it’s completely changed the family’s relationship with boating. “It feels more family-friendly,” Tassia says about the larger dual console. “Mason finds it easier to get on with the steps. Before, one of us had to hand the kid over. Grady-White thought of all the little things for the family.”
The kids also enjoy boating more. “On the Grady, Mason wants to go faster,” Tassia says, “and our daughter Taylor loves that there is a head.” Both kids now have their own space to sit, and Tassia says they don’t have to fight over one spot anymore. The couple also like that the Grady-White seems to have grabrails everywhere. “The kids feel more secure because they have things to hang onto,” Tassia says. “Mason is now much more comfortable. Once he saw how it was handling the big waves it became a better experience for him.”
That has also made Tassia feel safer on the Grady. When they first took it out on the St. Lucie River, a large yacht threw a tall wake and she braced herself for its impact. “I was thinking, ‘This is gonna be bad,’” she says. “But we ended up going through it and it was like nothing.”
She also appreciates how Grady-White offers a lot of standard features that are optional on a lot of other brands “Grady-White wants you to go out there fully equipped. Not being an experienced boater, I wouldn’t necessarily know what I need.”
During the two months they’ve had the boat, the Brunt's have beached it on the sandbar in St. Lucie Inlet and cruised the ICW. “We’ve had eight to nine people on board,” Mark says. “Everybody loves it.” Mark really likes the six stereo speakers spread around the boat, and having a windlass means he doesn’t have to manually toss and retrieve the anchor. He’s also found the Grady-White very fishable. “Put that stern folding seat away and you have a heck of an area to go fishing,” he says.
They still own the 20-foot Mako, which Mark liked, but they’ve made arrangements to trade it in for a Grady-White Fisherman 257. “For years I’ve been told there is no perfect boat,” Mark says, “but Grady-White comes pretty close.”
The Bonacorso Family
Tiara 34 LX
Michael Bonacorso has always loved Tiaras—he considers them the best boat in the industry—but the first boat he bought was a Sea Ray 310 Sundancer. That was in 2007, the year he married Sandra. Since then, the Bonacorso's, who live in Woburn, Massachusetts, have owned a lot of boats.
Their daughter Sophia has a passion for boating that rivals her father’s. “We’ve followed the boat show circuit from Florida to New England for the past five years,” Michael says. When Sophia was 7, her parents bought her a 12-foot Achilles inflatable with a 15-hp outboard, and in 2018 when she was 9, they gave her a 16-foot Edgewater with a 70-hp Yamaha for Christmas. “She is hardcore,” Michael says. “She has the itch.”
When he was 10, Michael got his own boating itch from an uncle who kept his boats at Charlestown Marina in Boston. ”He probably had seven boats—Tiaras and Boston Whalers,” Michael says, “and he got me into it.” His uncle taught him how to drive an Avon inflatable and then a Whaler 19 and 26 Outrage. Then his uncle started buying Tiaras, including a 36. “That one brings back the most memories,” Michael says.
When Michael bought his Sea Ray 310, he kept it at the same marina where he’d learned boating back in 1988-89. After they sold the Sea Ray, they bought a Cobalt R28 from Bosun’s Marine in Mashpee. “My wife wanted to buy a house in New Hampshire,” Michael says. “If we were going to be lake boaters it was a great boat.” But when they bought a house in New Seabury on Cape Cod, he knew he needed to replace the R28. That’s when he ordered a new 2016 outboard-powered Pursuit 326.
At the time, Tiara and Pursuit were owned by the same company. When he bought the Pursuit, Tiara was strictly a builder of inboards. “For outboards, you went to Pursuit,” Michael says. Michael wanted outboard-power because it allowed him to beach the boat on sandbars and beaches. “You couldn’t do that with an inboard drawing 4.5 feet,” he says.
The Bonacorsos used the Pursuit all around the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. “We could put 14 people on it,” Michael says. “It could do the two Sounds when the wind picked up and we knew we had one of the safest boats on the water. I did not have one warranty call on that boat. Nothing. Zero.”
Michael says typically he’d keep a new boat for two years max, but after two years with the Pursuit, he felt there was nothing better out there. He kept the boat for four seasons, longer than any other boat he’s owned.
The Pursuit seemed to meet all the family’s needs, but when Tiara came out with an outboard-powered boat, memories of his uncle’s Tiara 36 sprung back to mind. “I’m not a fisherman,” Michael says. “The Pursuit was more about fishing.” So, last summer, he sold the Pursuit and went back to Bosun’s Marine for a new Tiara 34 LX.
Michael says the Tiara 34 LX provides his family with the kind of amenities that suits their type of boating to a T.
“The Tiara fits my needs better,” he says. “It has wraparound lounge seating in the cockpit, we have the automatic retractable sunroof, a TV in the cockpit and a Seakeeper.”
Until they can get the new boat down to the Cape, Michael is back at a familiar place, Charlestown Marina, where they took delivery of the new Tiara. Michael asked Sophia if she remembers the marina from when they owned the Sea Ray, but she doesn’t.
However, she does know one thing: Her father isn’t done buying new boats. As much as her dad loves the new Tiara, Sophia believes the 34 LX will eventually get replaced. That’s because it came with twin 400-hp Mercurys and she knows her father wants triples. “My dreamboat for my dad is the Tiara 43 LS,” she says. Michael admits a larger Tiara may be in their future. “Triples look great,” he says, but I might also go to twin 600 Mercs.”
“It’s like hitting the lottery,” he says about the Tiara 34 LX. “I thought with the Pursuit I was on top of the world, and then Tiara came out with outboards, and I got what I consider the best boat in the industry. Tiara just raised the bar.”
This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue.