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It’s a bluebird afternoon in Newport, Rhode Island, the late-summer sun beating down on the crowded city, where tourists line the streets, crews wash and varnish yachts in the shipyard, and some boaters steal a few hours out of the weekday to escape to the water, everyone trying to soak in the last delicate moments of the season. The air is heavy with humidity and there’s barely a breeze, but Newport Harbor churns in the aftermath of Hurricane Henri, just enough sport to keep it interesting for the fleets of children sailing dinghies around the heavy boat traffic. By all measures, it’s as lovely an August day as one could ask for.

While twin 300-hp Mercury or Yamaha outboards come standard, most owners are opting for 350s for a bit of added performance.

While twin 300-hp Mercury or Yamaha outboards come standard, most owners are opting for 350s for a bit of added performance.

Gleaming under the sun is the brightwork on the Hinckley 35 as we motor through the harbor and into Mackerel Cove. The newest boat in the builder’s portfolio, the 35 resembles Hinckley’s iconic Picnic Boat that launched in 1995, with one key exception: There are two 350-hp Mercury Verado outboards bolted to the transom. (Twin 300-hp Mercury or Yamaha outboards are standard.) To some Hinckley owners—namely those who run boats with the jet drives more typically associated with this brand—outboard propulsion represents a significant change, but for the builder, the choice is rooted in the company’s heritage.

“A lot of people think about Picnic Boats and sailboats when they think about Hinckley, but before those models, we were building a lot of powerboats,” says Scott Bryant, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. “We were building boats for the military. And in the 1950s, we built 15-footers called Kingfishers, a runabout that you could get with outboard power.”

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When Hinckley introduced outboard-powered Sport Boats in 2018, it incorporated the knowledge and feedback it had gained over the decades from its work on boats with a variety of propulsion options. That expertise now culminates in this latest dayboat. “The Hinckley 35 is an intersection of outboard power and the best possible Hinckley experience,” says Bryant. “It’s the evolution.”

In line with that evolutionary ethos, Bryant emphasizes that the 35 is not a Picnic Boat; jet propulsion is foundational to that line of yachts, he says. Instead, everything on the 35 has been optimized for outboard propulsion, starting with the Michael Peters-designed hull. Peters, who has done the naval architecture for every Hinckley model since 2008, focused on creating added lift and stability through wide chines and strakes. That design, combined with infused carbon epoxy construction, is intended to make for a strong, seaworthy hull.

To its credit, the hull certainly feels solid in 2- to 3-foot head seas as we press the throttle down, though we can definitely feel the abrupt force of some of the steeper chop. And any doubts about the boat’s stability and seaworthiness were immediately put to rest when, after finishing our performance test and throttling back to neutral, we realize that we left a vase of roses on the galley counter in the forward cabin. They are still standing upright, exactly where we left them.

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I have to duck my head a bit when entering the cabin, but once inside I find it spacious enough for a couple to comfortably spend a night aboard, or just escape the heat and sun for a few hours. To port is a small galley with stovetop, refrigerator, sink and microwave, and the head is to starboard. A scissor berth is forward, and storage is integrated throughout the cabin.

Impressive is the sound mitigation afforded by the chemically bonded hull and the large cockpit that puts plenty of space between the helm and the engines. We can comfortably converse at the wheel while underway without our voices being drowned out by rattling structures or roaring engines. As far as outboard-powered boats go, the 35 is quiet.

Outboard power grants the 35 a few extra knots of speed compared to jet drives on the Picnic Boats; we record a top speed of 40.1 knots, just below the company’s published figure of 41.7 knots. But the benefits of this propulsion method stretch beyond performance.

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The first of those added benefits is a spacious stowage area midships, where the powertrain for a jet-powered boat would normally live. With the press of a button, the deck easily lifts and lowers, revealing enough space to stow electric scooters, fold-up tables and chairs, inflatable paddleboards and more, as well as providing easy access to the optional Seakeeper stabilizer. For a dayboat designed around having fun experiences on the water, I imagine this space will be invaluable for families who want to bring toys aboard.

The second and perhaps most significant benefit of outboard power is that it has attracted a broader and younger demographic to the brand. Out of the 13 hulls already sold sight unseen, most orders for the 35 came from customers who are new to Hinckley. Those boats will be delivered all over the country: to Florida, California, New England and the mid-Atlantic. “There’s an acceptance and knowledge about outboards, and that’s comfortable for some owners,” Bryant explains. “These are people who have always wanted a Hinckley, and now we don’t have to train them in jets.”

The galley includes refrigerator, stovetop, sink and microwave. And those roses didn’t budge as we ran the boat hard through chop.

The galley includes refrigerator, stovetop, sink and microwave. And those roses didn’t budge as we ran the boat hard through chop.

As we make our way back to the dock, carefully navigating through traffic—an easy task thanks to the boat’s ClearView single-pane windshield, which improves sight lines—I wonder aloud if Hinckley has received any criticism from loyalists for putting outboards on a design that strongly resembles one recognized as a classic.

“The market response has been an absolute embrace,” Bryant
responds.

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While some Hinckley owners may not be too fond of change, says Bryant, they ultimately think of themselves as stewards of the boats, rather than owners; they are there to take care of the boat for a number of years before passing it along to its next keeper. In my opinion, with outboard propulsion, the 35 will be easier to repower over time, thus giving it an even longer life and helping new generations of boaters share fun experiences on the water.  

Specifications:

LOA: 38’8”
Beam: 11’
Draft: 2’10”
Displ.: 13,174 lbs.
Fuel: 300 gals.
Water: 35 gals.
Standard Power: (2) 300-hp Yamaha or Mercury Verado Outboards

This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue.

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