A master builds one for himself - Soundings Online

A master builds one for himself

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It took decades, but designer Bruce King — of Hinckley Picnic Boat fame — finally splashes his 24-foot cutter

It took decades, but designer Bruce King — of Hinckley Picnic Boat fame — finally splashes his 24-foot cutter

Bruce King has been designing boats of all types for more than 40 years. Noted for his innovative ideas and a 30-year collaboration with Ericson Yachts, he has never been one to rest on his laurels.

The list of his more recent output is impressive by any standard and includes the 80-foot commuter yacht Liberty (launched in 1996), 24-foot sloop Antonisa (1999), 154-foot ketch Scheherazade (2003), and the Hinckley Talarias, Picnic Boats and T29s that have become nearly ubiquitous in Eastern harbors. All of them featured head-turning lines and breathtaking price tags, but in recent years his own “picnic boat” was a modest center console powered by a cantankerous outboard.

That all changed last fall with the gala christening and launch of King’s 24-foot classic cutter Frog Princess at Boothbay Region Boatyard in Southport, Maine. The project to build a boat of his own had begun more than 24 years ago, and, in fact, the name of the boat was taken from the name of his daughter Christina’s favorite fairy tale book. But King’s growing reputation and the resulting pressures of business kept the project on the back burner, waiting for that opportunity that always seemed to stay just out of reach. All the while, he kept buying various components that would go into the boat, hoping each time that a new purchase might give him the impetus to find time to resurrect the project.

The chance to finally get on with it had to wait until his calculated step toward semiretirement in the spring of 2004, when he decided to exit the custom yacht design business and limit his activity to selected production work. He closed his Newcastle, Maine, facility, downsized his staff, and moved his equipment and memorabilia to an office above the newly constructed garage at his home overlooking LinekinBay. But rather than move his cars into the garage, he resurrected the Frog Princess project in earnest.

King is an able craftsman in his own right, but he acknowledged in his prelaunch remarks that he wouldn’t have been able to get to that point without the assistance of a small army of artisans, associates and friends who contributed their time and talents. Together, they were able to complete the construction to a point where the boat was ready for paint and final commissioning, tasks entrusted to the craftsmen at Boothbay Region Boatyard last August.

The initial idea behind his design was to emulate a Cape Cod catboat, but with the constraint that it had to be buildable in the garage he had back then, which would accept a 20-foot hull if set diagonally. However, the catboat form, with its side decks to port and starboard of the deckhouse, severely limited the space below in a boat of this size. He opted to begin with a flush-deck layout, and the design evolved from there.

The finished boat features a V-berth forward, with a head and hanging locker to port, and a galley equipped with a Shipmate Skippy woodstove to starboard. At some point, the stove may be modified to use petroleum gel or butane for cooking purposes. Propulsion is provided by a single-cylinder 7-hp Farymann diesel. The cold-molded epoxy hull is flawlessly faired in keeping with the fit and finish of the rest of the boat.

Launch Day began dismally, as wisps of fog and sheets of rain swept the all-but-empty boatyard overlooking EbenecookHarbor. Frog Princess — resplendent in green Awlgrip, gold leaf, bronze and brightwork — rested in the slings of the Travelift, looking like a debutante abandoned before the ball. The rain continued through the day and showed no signs of abating as guests — in full rain gear — began to assemble for the 2 p.m. event. They were greeted by the skirl of a bagpipe being played by a kilted Scot at the tip of the pier, appropriately surrounded by a swirling mist. Then, almost as if on cue, the rain stopped, umbrellas were folded and cameras began to flash as the ceremony began.

Bruce confined his remarks to a short history of the long project, and concluded by thanking the individuals who had contributed to the effort, judiciously consulting a crib sheet to avoid leaving anyone out.

Then the boat was slowly moved and lowered to the edge of the pier, where Pam King, under her husband’s careful supervision, christened Frog Princess, breaking the champagne bottle on her second swing. As the boat was being lowered into the water, one onlooker quipped that if King had just waited another year or so, she would have been an antique before she ever got wet. The launch was followed by an expansive champagne buffet, which, in turn, was followed by a propitious omen: the sun breaking through the clouds as the day ended.

The Kings hope to have time to use Frog Princess for daysails and an occasional extended cruise to some of their favorite spots along Maine’s midcoast region, where her clipper bow and unmistakable lines will be right at home among the area’s resident fleet of classics.