Lobster yacht exudes old-fashioned grace

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Betty Hunt is a modern vessel that recalls a simpler time

Time to put aside the world of failed banks, Ponzi schemes and billion-dollar bailouts. Let’s talk about boats.

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One boat in particular.

Don’t feel guilty. All the nation’s problems will still be there when we’re done. But this boat just might have a lesson to impart about where we’ve come from, where we are and the values that might lead us out of trouble. A boat to counter the Bernie Madoff age.

She’s the Betty Hunt, a 30-foot cruising couple’s lobster yacht built in 2000 at Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard and designed by that yard’s former owner, Tom Hale. (He also designed the Wasque powerboat and the Vineyard Vixen cruising sloop, and built about 150 boats during a long career on the Vineyard.)

In a world of bling, Betty Hunt has grace. In a world of complexity, she’s simple. In a world of excess and overstatement, she’s practical and down-to-earth.

And from designer to builder to her current owner, she’s been a very personal boat. Hale, now in his 80s, called on his years of experience in designing Betty Hunt for himself and his first wife, Kelsey. (The boat’s original name was Lady Kelsey.) They cruised her, and he retains happy memories of their many voyages.

Household amenities were deliberately kept to a minimum.

Rick Brown, who runs Far Cry Boats in Vineyard Haven, fashioned the boat by hand out of countless pieces of wood, each carefully shaped and fitted with a human touch, appraised with the human eye — both his own and Tom Hale’s. Current owner John Snyder takes loving care of her; Betty Hunt won best owner-maintained boat last year at the WoodenBoat Show in Mystic, Conn. And looking back at his creation today, Hale says: “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

His goal back in 2000 was to design a “sailor’s powerboat,” as Hale puts it today. “A good, able powerboat of the type that I’d always admired, similar to a Down East lobster boat,” he says. “And I thought 30 feet was about as big as I wanted to handle at the time.

The windshield on Betty Hunt is a complex and cunning example of the joiner's craft.

(“To tell the truth, I wish I’d made her 2 feet longer,” he says now, in an aside.)

Snyder, a wooden boat fanatic, has the boat up for sale after five years of ownership. He’s focusing on his two wooden sailboats now, a 24-foot Fenwick Williams double-ended yawl and a 26-foot Eldredge-McInnis cruising catboat. Says John Hall, of Watch Hill Yacht Services in Watch Hill, R.I., where the yacht is listed: “This is a boat that was designed by a boatyard owner who had his own way of doing things, and this is what he wanted. It’s a unique boat, but the more you look at it, the more you see that it’s all really exactly how you’d want it, too.”

The profile is Down East with a long, cambered trunk cabin pierced by bronze ports and topped with plenty of brightwork in the form of handrails and old-fashioned wooden hatches. The windshield, a complex and cunning example of the joiner’s craft, is low, and the nicely curved hardtop extends well back of the helm to protect the forward half of a large, open cockpit. The bow is moderately high, with a gentle spoon curve to it. The sheer is long and even, and the whole boat looks pleasingly low to the water. “One of the things I liked about the boat when I first saw it was the look,” says Snyder, 51, formerly a custom clothes fitter, now a ship’s carpenter at Mystic Seaport. “It’s well-proportioned, and everyone who sees it comments; it turns heads.”

Construction is cedar-on-oak, using 1-inch planks on 1-by-1.5-inch frames on 14-inch centers. The deck is marine plywood with a layer of epoxy and fiberglass — one of the few nods to modernity on the boat. Fasteners are silicon-bronze. “The construction is pretty standard,” says Brown. “I’d say she’s stout; we certainly didn’t skimp on the scantlings. It can take some punishment out there.”

The builder certainly didn't skimp on the scantlings during construction.

Bronze hardware is used throughout, from the windlass to cleats and chocks. “All Tom Hale’s boats are outfitted to be highly useful and practical,” says Snyder. “But the bronze hardware on this boat is also just beautiful. It makes it pretty unique.”

Power comes from a single Yanmar 4LH-HTE, delivering 140 hp. (Another modern touch.) That gives the 30-footer a cruising speed of 9 mph with a top speed of around 12 mph at 3,000 rpm. It burns about 3 or 4 gallons an hour and, with its traditional round-bottom, full-keel lobster boat hull, it runs with a pleasant, rolling motion, says Snyder.

The single Yanmar 4LH-THE lets the 30-footer cruise at 9 mph.

The boat is helmed from a starboard station in the wheelhouse that’s open to the side deck. The three-panel windshield and side windows provide protection for the helmsman while maintaining sightlines. The mahogany dashboard has room for a full slate of electronics, and the boat today carries a Garmin GPS/plotter, a Lowrance depth sounder, a Furuno radar and a Standard Horizon VHF radio.

The cockpit is more than a third of the boat’s length and, combined with the vessel’s beam (9 feet, 6 inches), offers plenty of deck space for cruising activities like fishing or swimming, or entertaining dockside or at a raft-up.

The engine box can serve as a table or, covered with a cushion, an extra place to lounge. The extended hardtop offers sun and weather protection and, with the drop-down curtains, the wheelhouse can be buttoned up pretty effectively.

John and Susan Snyder say if they don't find the right new owner for Betty Hunt they'll just keep cruising her.

The simple accommodations (no hot water, no refrigerator) are “down” in the main cabin. Just abaft the forepeak lockers, there’s a V-berth and a sailboat-style drop-leaf table for dining. The enclosed head compartment has a marine head and a sink with foot-operated cold water.

The galley has a three-burner CNG stove, and that third burner can come in handy on long cruises. The overhead is gently cambered, like an old sailboat’s might be, and painted, along with the bulkheads, a marine white. It’s all offset by varnished mahogany trim and a teak-and-holly sole. Seven large bronze ports and two overhead hatches supply light and air.

The lack of some household amenities hasn’t been a concern for Snyder and his wife, Sarah, during their three- and four-day cruises around southern New England. It keeps the boat’s systems to a minimum, and even adds to the fun.

“A cooler has always worked well for us,” Snyder says. “I did contemplate a water heater at one point, but I got a sun shower for the cockpit instead. I like the camping aspect of it.”

Still, Snyder admits, Betty Hunt (named for his wife’s elderly, feisty English aunt: “She moves a little slow, but she’s a sharp one,” he says) is not a boat for everyone. In today’s fast-paced, fiberglass world, boats aren’t necessarily prized for being graceful, simple, practical and down-to-earth. But as far as he’s concerned, these old values are exactly what make Tom Hale’s coastal cruiser so successful.

More boat and less bling — what a concept.

Betty Hunt is offered by Watch Hill Yacht Services, 3 India Point Rd., in the Avondale section of Westerly, R.I. Phone (888) 724-3410 or (401) 596-8815. www.watchhillyachts.com

This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the June 2009 issue.