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Lear 204 proves electric can be edgy

Electric boats may be slow, but they don’t have to be stodgy.

Electric boats may be slow, but they don’t have to be stodgy. The Lear 204 from Lear Baylor of Garden Grove, Calif., revs up to a genteel 6 mph, but the design is up to speed — 21st century — in form and function.

“My dad used to say, ‘If it works it will probably be beautiful, and if it’s beautiful it probably will work,’ ” says CEO Shanda Lear-Baylor, daughter of Bill Lear, builder of the Learjet and one of aviation’s great innovators.

The Lear 204’s lines are rakish. That in itself is a nice change for an electric boat. The Lectra-Lift hardtop is retractable; push a button, and it goes up and down on electric screw jacks, transforming the boat’s character. With the top up, the 20-footer’s a canal cruiser; with the top down and serving as a foredeck, the boat takes on a whole new look — it’s a sportboat.

“It’s real innovative,” says W. Todd Sims, a Lear Baylor dealer in Boynton Beach, Fla. “You might think it’s gimmicky; it’s not.”

He says the retractable top not only

changes the way the boat looks, but the way it is used. Top up, the Lear seats 11 for cocktails; top down and with the cockpit hatch slid forward, it seats three at the sporty helm console. It’s also practical, because the lowered top doubles as a deck cover and the boat is more easily trailered that way.

“It’s a little deceiving [in sportboat mode] because it doesn’t go any faster,” says Sims. But it sure looks fast. The Lear 204 is designed to cruise at 5.7 mph for 10-plus hours. Sims says it can run 8 hours at 6 mph and 20 hours at 3.5 mph. A full recharge of its six big 8D batteries takes eight hours with the batteries plugged into a standard 110-volt AC outlet. If the boat cruises for just two or three hours, recharge time drops to about 45 minutes, he says.

“You’re paying only 50 cents for a [full] recharge,” Sims says. “That’s 50 cents for 10 hours on the water. You couldn’t start most engines for that.”

Sims, who sells a full range of electric boats, says the Lear hull, with its 8-foot, 5-inch beam and 22-inch draft, is stable and very efficient — designed for leisurely cruising on lakes, canals and rivers.

“It could go faster,” he says, “but there’s no point for what this boat is designed for. It’s not about the destination. It is the destination.”

The boat is quiet, comfortable and luxurious, Lear-Baylor says, and “simply enchanting,” as one admirer describes it. “He’s right,” she says. “When you get into this boat, you just go ahhhhhhhhh.”

The Lear 204 was nine years in gestation, and Lear-Baylor credits most of the design features to her husband, Terry Baylor, the company’s engineering vice president. He is a self-taught designer known in aviation and marine circles for his ingenuity. He is on the Boeing Co.’s short list of design “problem-solvers,” she says. He designed the Nor’Sea 27, a bluewater sailboat. He also is a pattern and tool maker, and created the tooling and fiberglass molds for Minnie Mouse’s kitchen and cars at Walt Disney World’s ToonTown.And, he fabricated the skin of the mechanical shark at the Universal Studios theme park. “He’s interested in everything,” says Lear-Baylor, just like her dad.

Lear-Baylor says the Lear 204 grew out of Baylor’s belief that he could design an electric-boat hull that was more efficient and had greater range than anything he had seen. The Lear hull — with its sharp entry, its broad, flat aft section, and small keel (for directional stability) — is powered by a 36-volt DC electric motor and six 245-amp deep-cycle batteries.

The motor is rated at 9 hp, but because of its high torque Lear equates it to a 20-hp gas or diesel engine. The boat throws virtually no bow wake at its cruising speed of 5.7 mph, Lear-Baylor says. And for those with a need for speed, Baylor can change the gear ratio so the Lear will top out at a faster but less-efficient 7.5 knots.

Lear’s computer-programmed motor controller is state-of-the-art. The boat’s patented five-blade E-prop delivers quick acceleration, Lear-Baylor says, and the oversized rudder-prop combination provides high maneuverability. The boat comes with a swim platform, concealed swim ladder, and enclosed head, as well as ice chest, serving table and laminated wood steering wheel. Sink and refrigerator are optional. Side windows slip on and off a track and enclose the boat when the top is up. The boat also is offered with fixed soft top.

On display at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October, the Lear 204 drew a lot of oohs and aahs for its ability to transform, but Capt. Chris Morton, an electric-boat captain from the Florida Keys, liked the retractable top’s practicality.

“Yeah, I hate putting that boat cover on,” he says.

Priced from $50,000 to $70,000, the Lear isn’t cheap, but Lear-Baylor can’t think of a more enchanting way to tool around a lake or harbor.

“It’s quiet, and you won’t go fast enough to spill your martini,” she says.

For more information, contact the company at (714) 799-9396 or visit .