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Hinckley spruces up its Picnic Boat

Company already has orders for the 36-foot day cruiser, remodeled for the first time since 1994

Say goodbye to the Hinckley Picnic Boat — at least the one we’ve known for the last 14 years.

The second generation of the Hinckley Picnic Boat - bigger and faster - debuted at the fall boat shows.

The Hinckley Company has introduced a bigger and faster Picnic Boat with a redesigned bottom, marking the model’s first major changes since its launch in 1994.

“We sold 18 even before the first one hit the water,” said Ed Roberts, Hinckley’s vice president of sales and product development, after the Newport Boat Show in September. “The boat has been an icon since its inception, and it still will be. This is the beginning of the next chapter for the Hinckley Picnic Boat.”

In the previous chapter the 36-foot day cruiser made quite a splash. The boat expanded the Down East style outside of New England and spawned lookalikes from coast to coast. (Hinckley actually filed several lawsuits against other boatbuilders claiming they were copying the Picnic Boat’s unique design, or “trade dress.” Those suits never made it to court.) The Picnic Boat stood out as one of the first small recreational boats to use water-jet propulsion and joystick steering. And it became the yacht of choice for celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Geraldo Rivera.

“That boat was designed from the outside in,” says Shepard McKenney, co-owner and CEO of Hinckley at the time the Picnic Boat was brought to market. He and Bob Hinckley sold the company in 1997. “The focus was on aesthetics. It certainly had a good run. I’ve only seen pictures [of the new Picnic Boat]. They’ve taken the concept and come up with a faster, more commodious boat, which makes sense to me. Times change and the market changes.”

The 2009 Picnic Boat, the T37, replaces the EP 36 (Extended Pilothouse). Production of the latter ceased in early October, according to Roberts. The T37 is 13 inches longer and 14 inches wider than its predecessor, and a pair of 300-hp diesels power the boat instead of a single 480-hp diesel. Water jets remain the drive of choice.

Hinckley's jet drive propulsion and its deft maneuverability first made ripples in the pleasure boat market in 1994, and is integral to the new Picnic Boat; the switch to twin engines has freed up space on deck.

“The boat’s mission is the same — to provide a manageable cruising platform in an elegant, easy-to-manage package,” says Roberts. “Our feedback from customers indicates that they were looking for a bit more speed.”

Hinckley estimates the T37 will cruise at 28 knots and top out at roughly 32 knots. The EP 36 cruised at 24 knots and reached a top speed of 29 knots.

With the power below the deck, engine noise levels at cruise have decreased at the helm from 85 to 80 decibels and from 90 to 83 decibels in the cockpit, says Roberts. These are significant noise reductions that should be noticeable to anyone aboard, he adds.

The builder has sold 370 Picnic Boats — not including the new model — since its introduction. The Southwest Harbor, Maine, builder was best-known for its sailing yachts prior to the Picnic Boat.

In addition to an extension of the pilothouse in 2001, the Bruce King-designed yacht had remained unchanged. King retired in 2004, so Hinckley hired Michael Peters, who has designed a variety of power craft including sportfishing boats, raceboats and custom power yachts. Peters, who is president and owner of Michael Peters Yacht Design in Sarasota, Fla., has also penned boats for production builders such as Chris-Craft, Regal and Cabo.

He gave the new Picnic Boat more deadrise aft and a fuller forefoot. “It’s a modern bottom melded with a classic-looking boat,” says Peters.

The original, with its rudderless, flat stern and a single water jet, was prone to bow steering and stern sliding in certain sea conditions, says Peters. The boat is still rudderless but, with deadrise increasing from 15 to 19 degrees at the transom and a fuller bow, the vessel’s ride and handling characteristics will improve, according to Peters.

“The boat really filled out,” says Peters, who is also working on another yacht for Hinckley that will fill the gap between its 44- and 55-footers in the Talaria line. “The bow is not as fine, so you won’t have that water peeling off the hull like you did before, but it’s a better-performing boat in all sea conditions. This is not just a twin-engine version of the first boat.”

Even with its sharper V-shape, the Picnic Boat still draws only 2 feet, 1 inch. The original drew 18 inches.

Deck changes

Topside rearrangements have given the Picnic Boat a cleaner, more organized look, more seating and better fore-and-aft access, says Roberts.

The switch to twin engines has freed up space on deck, allowing the builder to do away with the engine box of the original and plant two identical, inboard-facing settees between the helm deck and the cockpit. Two aft-facing settees on the port and starboard sides of the cockpit have replaced the single seat on the engine box’s backside.

The layout changes allow you to go fore and aft along the centerline as opposed to walking around the engine box on the starboard side. (The EP’s L-shaped settee blocked port-side access.)

Transom seating remains essentially the same, with a settee that spans the beam. The settee has been lowered and the seat itself is larger, says Roberts. Its starboard section of the settee can be removed to access the transom door.

Hinckley also focused on improving on-deck visibility with oversized, powered side windows. “It’s really a great feeling of inside-outside living,” says Roberts. The deck was raised to make room for the twin Volvo Penta D4 diesels. This also aided overall sightlines for the crew and the skipper.

At the helm, the driver will still enjoy the precise maneuverability of Hinckley’s JetStick, the company’s patented version of joystick steerage. The JetStick commands the twin Hamilton 274 jet drives.

Like its predecessor, the cabin consists of a galley to port, a head to starboard and a V-berth forward. The interior is finished with a satin varnished cherry, with a teak-and-tulipwood sole. “The only difference really is that it feels — and is — larger,” says Roberts. Headroom in the galley increases from 5 feet, 11 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches. In the head you have an additional 6 inches of overhead clearance.

Hinckley constructs the boat using the same materials and methods. It’s built with Kevlar, fiberglass, carbon fiber and end-grain balsa. An inner skin of carbon fiber and an outer skin of fiberglass and Kevlar sandwich the end-grain balsa core. The hull skins and core are bonded together with vinylester resin using SCRIMP, Seaman Composite Resin Infusion Molding Process.

With its greater size and increased power, the Picnic Boat’s retail price has jumped from $650,000 to $715,000, says Roberts. The original Picnic Boat’s base price in 1994 was $249,000.

This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.