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Maine boatbuilding methods combine beauty and technology

Obvious beauty and discreet high-tech construction methods are the Maine way

The deckhouse is the center of attention on Sabre’s 54 Flybridge.

Maine is known for its traditional-looking yachts, but behind some of these stately profiles and flag-blue hulls are some of the most advanced and durable construction methods in boatbuilding. In a place where time seems to stand still (in a good way!), these builders are pushing forward, maximizing strength in lean but tough hull structures designed to last for generations.

“These boats are not just pretty,” says Burr Shaw, the Hinckley Co.’s chief engineer. “They’re also very high-tech, have been high-tech and continue to get more high-tech. We’re consistently improving our ability to dial in the weight and structure relationship to come away with stronger boats. We’re building high-quality parts — strong, robust, lightweight.”

Sabre 54 Flybridge The large windows in this sedan’s deckhouse create a bright space that includes facing port and starboard L-shaped settees with tables. The galley is forward and to port, across from the starboard-side helm with twin Stidd seats. A helm station with twin seats anchors the flybridge, which includes starboard and aft seating. Below are a master stateroom, two guest staterooms and three heads. Powered with twin 710-hp Volvo Penta IPS950 pod drives, the 54 Flybridge has a range of about 400 nautical miles at 22 knots. LOA: 59 feet, 9 inches (with stern platform) BEAM: 15 feet, 11 inches DRAFT: 4 feet, 4 inches POWER: twin 710-hp Volvo Penta IPS950s SPEED: 34 knots top, 28 knots cruise PRICE: $1.8 million CONTACT: Sabre Yachts, South Casco, Maine, (207) 655-3831.

This construction serves as the foundation for a seakindly, smooth ride, and results in a more efficient boat. Plus, the quality pays off for owners: High-tech boats garner high resale values.

Hinckley, Sabre and Southport stand out as three Maine production builders that produce handsome, traditional-looking vessels known for their aesthetics, rather than the high level of technology that guides their design, construction and propulsion systems.

“The majority of people who come to us today don’t really get down into the weeds and talk too much about how our boats are actually built,” says Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre and its sister brand Back Cove. “They are more interested in the end result. They like the look, and the fact that it goes 30 knots and performs as well as or better than ‘that white plastic boat over there’ is a bonus for them.”

Hinckley and Sabre build Down East-style power yachts characterized by high windshields, raised trunk cabins, simple lines, teak-and-holly soles and varnished interior joinery. Southport manufactures fishing/family center consoles, with a style and simplicity that allows them to look at home among the Down Easters that ply the nooks and crannies of the Maine coast.

Building the Maine way is as much about mindset as aesthetics, says Skip Robinson, Southport’s managing director. “People in Maine have built boats to go out to sea and make a living,” he says. “They put their lives on the line, trusting their boats would bring them home safely every day. Boats were not toys — they needed to be reliable and dependable. That’s the kind of building tradition and pride that we’re obligated to follow here at Southport. There’s a certain standard of boatbuilding that comes along with being in Maine.”

With all three brands, the philosophy of careful hands-on building and craftsmanship lives in harmony with computer-aided design, chemical engineering, fuel-injected engines, pod drives, joystick controls and pinch-and-zoom electronics.

Hinckley Talaria 43 The T43’s design stresses open space in a single-level arrangement. The deckhouse’s aft glass enclosure comprises a door and windows that retract under power to create an express-style saloon, which includes identical inboard-facing bench seats and a varnished teak table. The galley is to port across from the starboard-side helm. Below, there is a master stateroom forward with a queen berth, a second stateroom with twin berths and a head with a separate shower stall. Powered by twin 550-hp diesels and waterjets, the T43 gets 0.6 mpg at 18 to 23 knots for a range of about 260 nautical miles. LOA: 46 feet, 6 inches BEAM: 14 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 2 feet, 4 inches POWER: twin Cummins QSB 6.7-liter 550-hp diesels SPEED: 34 knots top, 29 knots cruise PRICE: $1.685 million CONTACT: The Hinckley Co., Southwest Harbor, Maine, (207) 244-5531.

What makes the construction so special? These boats are resin-infused, a process that distributes the precise amount of resin throughout the build by using a vacuum to remove air and excess resin, yielding a solid structure with no internal voids. It ensures that the right amount of resin is used to bond the fiberglass fabrics and composite coring material. “We were an early adopter of the infusion process, and we’ve been able to tune that up over the years,” says Shaw. “We have changed the design of our fiberglass fabrics over time to give us a thinner skin with the same structural qualities. We are optimizing the resin uptake in the laminate.”

A resin-infused, close-molded hull can weigh 20 to 25 percent less than a hand-laid one, says Burr. Hinckley uses an infusion method known as SCRIMP (Seemann Composites Resin Infusion Molding Process), “one of the first widely accepted resin infusion processes for large parts,” says Burr, who has a chemical engineering degree and has been with Hinckley since 1999. “We were on the ground floor when SCRIMP was being developed.”

Southport has been infusing its hulls since 2011 — the year the company moved to Maine, says Robinson. “We were able to take resin out of the boat and increase the amount of laminate, which adds to the structural integrity,” he says. “Building a heavy boat to achieve a smooth ride in a seaway is unnecessary. It’s our boat’s center of gravity — you have to nail it — and weight distribution, along with the deep-vee hull form, that give it that ride. It may feel heavy underneath you, but it’s not.”

A lighter boat with today’s engines is a one-two punch that pays off at the pump, says Collins. “There is a huge difference in fuel economy between the pod boats that are built lighter and the solid fiberglass boats from the last generation with twin diesel engines,” he says.

Southport 33 FE The Southport 33 Family Edition is a cruising-friendly center console that features four seating areas: a U-shaped bow settee, with a high/low table that converts to a sun lounge; a seat on the forward side of the console; twin helm seats, with an optional grill and refrigerator on the backside; and a fold-up stern seat. The console houses an electric head. The 33 FE rides a C. Raymond Hunt Associates deep-vee hull and gets 1.8 mpg at a cruise speed of about 30 mph with twin Yamaha F300s. The boat can also take twin F350s. LOA: 32 feet, 6 inches BEAM: 10 feet, 8 inches DRAFT: 1 foot, 9.5 inches POWER: twin Yamaha F300s or F350s SPEED: 55 mph top, 30-40 mph cruise PRICE: $271,000 CONTACT: Southport Boats, Augusta, Maine, (207) 620-7998.

All three builders agree that if a boat is engineered to accept the latest propulsion and control systems, it only makes sense to build it with advanced materials and methods that maximize strength while saving weight. “The engines are efficient, so why would you build an inefficient hull?” says Robinson.

“The benefit of all this is speed, fuel efficiency and general boat performance,” adds Burr. “By being able to keep the weight down and the stiffness of the parts up, you come away with a really great ride. It is part of what we do. When you drive a Hinckley, it’s quick, nimble, and it feels right. And that is a sum of a lot of small parts.”

It doesn’t really matter whether the average customer knows the difference between woven roving and tri-axial stitched fiberglass fabrics, says Collins. “The customer is into the experience,” he says. “They want the fuel economy, the performance, the quiet ride and the comfort — they want all of those benefits. We have to deliver it to them, and the construction is a big part of that.”

Hodgdon Yachts: Old but an innovation leader

When you think about Maine boats, you probably envision semidisplacement Down East cruisers, as opposed to high-tech 100-foot sailboats built for shattering speed records. Hodgdon Yachts is celebrating 200 years of boatbuilding and is today crafting a diverse fleet of some of the finest custom boats using advanced composite construction.

Earlier this year, Hodgdon was named the Innovator of the Year — an award given to a company that is competing globally through new products or processes — by the Maine International Trade Center. One contribution toward earning this award is the Hodgdon-built 100-foot super maxi Comanche, which in July set a new 24-hour distance record for a monohull during the Transatlantic Race. The purpose-built speedster covered 618.01 nautical miles in 24 hours (a 25.75-knot average speed), making Comanche the fastest sailing monohull in the world.

“Our top speeds were into the mid-30s a bunch of times,” skipper Ken Read says in a statement. “The boat is amazing. You sail it heeled over, and it feels like you are right on the edge, but when you grab the wheel you are in control. The boat is a phenomenal piece of machinery.”

Hodgdon’s 35-foot “limousine tender” will be on display at the Monaco Yacht Show in September.

The mold used for the prepreg carbon fiber hull is one of the largest single hull infusions ever done in the United States, according to Hodgdon, and one of a handful on this scale worldwide.

A separate division of the company, Hodgdon Custom Tenders, builds high-end launches for superyachts. Its 35-foot “limousine tender” is the 422nd hull Hodgdon has built and its 10th tender since 2011. “Our commitment is not only to deliver these expected levels of innovation and quality, but to also support our tenders with the strength of a dedicated shipyard,” says company president Timothy Hodgdon.

— Chris Landry

No idle hands at these Maine boatbuilders

Sabre, Hinckley and Southport are putting their high-tech processes to use with new builds. Sabre is preparing to launch its largest boat, Southport is introducing a new take on its 27-foot center console, and Hinckley is staying true to its roots with a new sailboat.

The 66 Dirigo is Sabre’s flagship, a three- stateroom Down East-style yacht powered by twin Volvo Penta IPS pod drives. Her open design features a spacious cockpit and full-beam master stateroom below the helm deck.

The Dirigo (pronounced dee-ree-go), as her designer Kevin Burns puts it, is the “highest expression of Sabre yet.” Hull No. 1 will launch this fall, and the yacht (base price $3 million) will be officially introduced at the 2016 Miami International Boat Show in February. Dirigo is Maine’s state motto; it means “I lead” in Latin.

Southport is following the launch of its 33-foot flagship with a new 27-footer, the 272 TE. Based on its 27-foot center console, this Tournament Edition features a coffin box in place of the forward wraparound seating, an improved live well in the transom, a redesigned console and helm pod, and a redesigned T-top and leaning post. The 272 TE with a single 300-hp outboard will be priced at $141,900. Look for this boat and the next generation of Southport’s 29-foot center console at the fall boat shows.

Vacuum infusion technology allows builders such as Southport to produce lighter, stiffer boats by distributing the precise amount of required resin uniformly and consistently.

Hinckley is well-known for its Picnic Boat and Talaria jet-driven powerboats, but it’s also known for its elegant sailboats. In fact, for the first time in more than 10 years the builder has four sailboats in production, including the new Bermuda 50, a versatile sloop that delivers sleek looks and racing performance. She was designed by Bill Tripp III for club and offshore racing, as well as family cruising. The boat features a carbon Kevlar composite hull, a hydraulic lifting keel and an 80-foot rig for its 1,624 square feet of sail. Base price is $635,000.

— Rich Armstrong

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.