Easterns are 'old school' built, using hand-laid, open-mold construction
Bob Bourdeau has a photo of his five grandchildren clad in their orange Grundens foul weather gear. Like Bourdeau, his gaggle of grandkids — all boys — love lobstering.
“I run a 31-foot Eastern,” says Bourdeau, 57, the president and owner of Eastern Boats, who bought the Milton, New Hampshire, company from founder Carmen Carbone in 1993.
“I have a pot hauler. I run 40 to 50 traps a year, just enough to feed the family. It’s a lot of fun, and it gets me out on the water.”
Getting out on the water — that’s what Eastern is all about, says Bourdeau, who started in the boat business at 14 as a “yard boy.” With boats from 18 to 35 feet across four brands — Eastern, Seaway, Rosborough and Sisu — Eastern Boats (easternboats.com) has something for just about everyone, says Bourdeau. They all carry that traditional New England look, one that has been the company’s cornerstone of success for decades. But Eastern boats bring more to the water than good looks. They’re smart and functional, requiring less power and maintenance than many similar boats.
Bourdeau lives in Milton with his wife, Lorrie, and fills his spare time serving on the town’s planning board. His two children — Jake, 34, and Ashlee Maimes, 30 — work at Eastern. Bourdeau also owns Lobo Realty, a company that renovates old houses, and a snow tubing/disc golf operation on his own 700-acre mountain. “What can I say, l like to dabble in a bit of everything — water, snow, soil, whatever,” he says.
Q: What do people like about your boats?
A: Our niche is trailerable Down East boats. We have a 31 and 35 that do well, but when you use the words “Down East” and “trailerable” together, you think of us. We sell a lot of our boats due to their appearance. There are a lot of people who truly want that Down East look. Beyond that, everybody seems to be looking for something different — that’s why we have a variety of boats. We can cater to that fisherman, and we can cater to that family cruiser. Our boats can operate with lower horsepower than most boats. A big engine for us is 150 hp. We get good fuel efficiency, we offer a great ride, and we have low maintenance.
Q: Simplicity and ease of maintenance must be big selling points these days.
A: From about 2002 to 2007 we were really striving to get more refined — more finish, more features. We really worked on improving the interior. We used to have no deck liners. Then people started wanting liners and a fancier boat. We spent a lot of time bringing in liners to provide all those features that people seemed to want so we could compete. They were selling really well. But the recession caused us to take certain models and hold down their prices. We went ahead and took a lot of the features out. The simpler Seaway Sport models are selling extremely well. It’s back-to-basics boating. People are really concerned about price these days. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who want all the bells and whistles, but others just want the basic boat to get out on the water.
Q: What are some of your newer models?
A: We came out with the new Eastern 248 in 2010, when the economy was still down. That boat is a home run. It is always sold out. We also came out with a 27-footer introduced last year with a 10-foot beam. It’s also one we can’t produce fast enough. With the Rosborough acquisition, we had another winner in the 22 Sea Skiff, which used to be built as the 22 Sisu. But the Rosborough 22 Sea Skiff had no name recognition but Sisu did. So we relaunched it in Newport last year, and I can’t build that thing fast enough. It is on fire.
Q: What is the difference between an Eastern and a Seaway?
A: From 18 to 24 feet, we offer both. All the Easterns are round-chined, and all the Seaways are hard-chined, so you get some ride characteristic differences. In the Seaways, the teak is a popular feature — you can get the teak windshield and teak coamings and a nice teak appearance. There is a fair amount of people who like that look, and, yes, you have the maintenance that goes with it, but there is a buyer for that teak look.
Q: How do they ride differently?
A: The Seaway, with the hard chine, tends to come up on plane a little quicker. It has a sharper, deeper forefoot, and it actually handles the chop a little better. With a round chine, the Eastern tends to squat in the water more to give you a soft ride overall, but it doesn’t displace the chop as well as the Seaway. They both give you good ride, but if you hop in one and then the other you can notice the difference.
Q: Do your boats have appeal farther south along the East Coast?
A: Our dealer in the Panhandle has found after two years that our cabin boats do really well. He is lighting them up with the cabin boats, which offer protection from the sun and rain, and some have air conditioning. There’s not much success with the center consoles, which is understandable since Florida is the center console capital of the country.
Q: Where in the price spectrum do your boats fall?
A: It varies from model to model. Our center consoles are middle of the road. Our cabin boats, compared to others, are on the lower price end for what you get. An Eastern 18 with a 50-horse — boat, motor and trailer — is $23,995. The new 27 is going out through the dealers at about $175,000 to $180,000, and we delivered a 35 that was $330,000. So we are all over the place. In the lower-price market, we have a couple Seaway Sport models — like the 21 Sport that is a cabin boat that is being promoted for under $40,000. We have a 24-footer that is $54,000.
Q: How do you build your boats?
A: We are old school. We hand-lay and open-mold. We bought the equipment a few years ago to do some [resin] infusion, but it’s difficult to teach old-school people new tricks. Our materials? We’ve been higher-tech for many years, using coring material. In 1989, in fact, Eastern was using Divinycell core in the decks and transoms. We have always used synthetic cores. So I guess we’re a mix of old and new school. We do vinylester resin skin coats for blister protection. We will go with resin infusion some day; we just haven’t got there yet. The facility is broken into three buildings: a laminating building, an assembly shop where all the stringers and decks are installed, and then the final rigging shop for the windshield, rub rails and last of the hardware.
Q: What about the future — what is your lineup going to look like?
A: I don’t see us building any bigger boats. We’ve had requests for 40- and 42-footers. We have been pretty successful servicing our niche. We had a couple holes in our fleet. We filled one with a 27-foot boat. We will stay pretty much the same, and features will be based on customer demand.
Q: Do you see your boats getting more bells and whistles?
A: As a builder, you really need to have both the higher end with bells and whistles and the simple, stripped-down boats. There are at least two distinct buyers out there. You can’t go one way or the other; if you do you will miss out. Our Seaway Sport is going to be stripped down, but you have guys who want the bow thrusters and the microwaves and everything else. We have that kind of boat, too. When we introduced the 24 five years ago, it was going out the door for $75,000, and now most are $95,000 to $100,000. A big part of that price increase is the extra features that people are putting on their boats.
Q: How did you get into boatbuilding?
A: I started working as a yard boy at Ray’s Marina [in Milton], and I graduated to mechanic. I went on to Johnson [outboard] school in Waukegan, Illinois, and MerCruiser school in New Jersey. I became a boat rigger and mechanic for several years, and then about 1982 I was running the whole boat operation for Ray’s, from line selection to purchasing to the shop — the whole enchilada. In ’89 I went out on my own. I went to Eastern Marine in East Rochester, New Hampshire. I was doing the same thing I was doing at Ray’s, but we were also handling the retail sales of Eastern Boats. I was there on the manufacturing end, and I could see this was pretty neat. I dabbled in that until ’93 and then I bought out Carmen Carbone in 1993.
Q: What is it about boatbuilding that you like?
A: The fascination with building stuff — that is something I have always had. Quite frankly, some of the fun of boatbuilding has disappeared. In the early days, we were customer-direct, so we were doing a lot of one-offs. We were always involved with the customer. Everything was pretty unique. Today, we have grown into a dealer network where you really don’t want to do any one-offs. You want numbers, repetition and consistency. It used to be a more adventurous type of building. Now, unfortunately, I sit behind a desk and do too much paperwork.
Q: When did you take up boating?
A: As a young kid, we used to water ski virtually every day. My mother gave me $2 a day, and gas was 33 cents, so I filled my 6-gallon gas tank. We would go in my parents’ boat and burn my 6 gallons of gas and hop in my friend’s 13-foot Boston Whaler and burn his tank of gas and then on to the next guy’s boat. And the next day we would start all over again. My parents’ boat was an 18-foot aluminum Starcraft center console. It was on Milton Three Ponds [New Hampshire].
Q: What are some of the boats you’ve owned?
A: The first boat I bought was a 16-foot Starcraft. It was a used boat, and I think I followed that up with a used pontoon boat. And I bought a 19-foot closed-bow Renken and then a Renken 22 Seamaster walkaround. After that, all I have had is Easterns. For the last 6 or 7 years I had a 31-footer with a 370-hp Volvo Penta diesel. And I am about a week away from launching my new 31, which will have a 380-hp Yanmar. I actually sold the 31 and built one of my new 27s for myself. I liked it but missed lobstering, so now I am back to a 31.
Q: What other kinds of boats do you like?
A: I really like the 1970s era and boats like Glastron. We were a big Glastron jetboat dealer. I can’t tell you how much fun I had spinning around in those jetboats back in the ’70s. Even though we have boats down at the ocean, I bought my kids a few years ago a Tige 24-foot ski boat because I wanted them to experience the water sports that I loved. We kept it four or five years, and now everyone is content with being on the ocean.
August 2014 issue