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A simple boat for complicated times

When I first saw the lovely photo of the little diesel-powered Down Easter that graces our cover this month, I thought, I’ve got to run this in the magazine.

The boat is simple and clean, the image evocative. Put me in that scene, please.

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The boat is the North Shore 22 built by William Colbert in his one-man shop, Grey Barn Boatworks, in Newton, N.H. The 22 is built from a mold that produced the venerable Sisu 22, a proven semidisplacement hull I am certain many of our readers are familiar with.

The North Shore 22 struck me as a good boat for these times: simple, seaworthy and efficient. It is all those things and more, but Colbert can easily dress one up to what he calls “mini-yacht” status, with a teak sole, transom, coaming and toe kick; a built-in head; custom helm seat; and so on. Or he can deliver one without a scrap of wood. Varnished mahogany is gorgeous, but it comes with a price. Having spent a good many seasons maintaining a brightly finished console and pilot seat, I’d lean toward keeping it simple, but that’s just me.

No matter how fancy or basic the finish, the hull has delivered consistent sure-footed performance for many years. “It gives a nice forgiving ride,” Colbert says. “It doesn’t pound or bang, so you can be on it comfortably all day.” (For more on the virtues of simplicity and boats, turn to George Sass Sr.’s piece on Page 20.)

The boat is available with inboard or outboard power. The full-keel version draws 2 feet and is powered by a 110-hp Yanmar diesel, which burns about 3 gph. Colbert recommends a 115-hp Suzuki 4-stroke for the outboard model, with its shallower keel. Colbert has built 16 boats, all but five with inboard power. Top end is about 25 mph with the diesel and roughly 29 mph under outboard power. The boat cruises comfortably at 20 mph, the builder says. The standard outboard model starts at $65,000, the inboard at $70,000.

Colbert, 45, grew up in his father’s boatyard in Revere, Mass., where he worked for 28 years. He ran it for 10 years before opening Grey Barn Boatworks in 2005. “I learned to make accessibility to systems as easy as possible,” he says. As a one-man operation, the builder prides himself on service and working closely with customers to give them exactly what they’re after.

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“When a customer calls, he talks to me,” Colbert says. For information, contact Colbert at (603) 382-0055,

The round-bilge, semidisplacement 22 was designed by the late Royal Lowell, who had a talent for drawing efficient, seaworthy lobster boats. In addition to the version of the 22 built by Grey Barn, you can also purchase one from Royal’s nephews, Jamie and Joe Lowell, who build a line of Down Easters from 22 to 43 feet at their Lowell Brothers shop in Yarmouth, Maine.

“The idea is to get people off the mooring and out in the boat, including in foul weather,” Jamie told us in an interview several months back. “We think it’s important for a boat to look good sitting at the dock, but anyone can design a pretty boat. What’s really important to me is how it moves through the waves, how it sheds water.” Sound advice.

The Lowell brothers will sell you a bare hull or one with all the bells and whistles. For information, contact the brothers at (207) 846-4878,

If you’re interested in these 22-footers, you should also look at the nice work done by Chris MacLeod of MacLeod Custom Boats in Falmouth, Maine. He’s a big fan of these hulls, and it shows in the boats he’s done. Contact Chris MacLeod at (207) 650-9554,

I’ll end with this bit of trivia: The word “Sisu” is Finnish, and it translates roughly to determination, perseverance and tenacity — a fitting description for these tough, able little hulls.

“The watery pastures … the wild watery loneliness.”

— Herman Melville

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.