Downeast Style

Classic Downeast Lobsterboat Style Cruisers

If you are from Maine as I am, a downeast boat is built on a round chine, semi-displacement hull, with a full length keel extending to and protecting a single propeller. It is the same hull that serves lobster fishermen every day and lends its load carrying capacity, efficiency of operation, and good looks to pleasure applications as well. For more on semi-displacement hulls see The Grand Compromise.

The hull on the boat on the top left was designed by an actual fisherman and boatbuilder named Lyford Stanley and is built by the John Williams Boat Company on Mt Desert Island, Maine. I can show you many others with similar pedigrees. This is about as pure as a lobster style yacht can get. Ditto the Wilbur 34 just below it. The Dyer 29 is a great small example of of the breed. It is also the longest (time wise), continuously produced power boat model in America and probably the world.

More recently, classically styled lobster yachts have been built on hard chine hulls, such as the Wesmac series and some of the Atlantic Boat hulls. These hulls provide a little more "bottom" to support bigger engines and higher speeds. Beyond this there is a burgeoning category of express yachts labeled downeast, which, while good looking and able cruisers, are never going to be fitted with pot-haulers. 

Downeast Express - Leaving the lobster behind

This category is growing; elements of the style have turned up in offerings from builders in Italy, the Far East, Turkey, Poland, and everywhere builders are looking for a piece of the American powerboat pie. The ones I like feature superb build and are not simply "me too" boats. All have proven to maintain value on the resale market.

The boat that set the tone for the modern Downeast Express was the original 36' Hinckley Picnic Boat®, which blended drop dead, neo-classic looks with waterjet propulsion and introduced sideways as a direction to the pleasure boat world. Long before the pod drive revolution, Hinckley took a Hamilton Waterjet, which can direct thrust in all directions, coupled it to a Yanmar diesel and a bowthruster, and with a joystick changed everybody's idea of maneuverability.

It didn't take long for some smarty-pants engineers to take the concept of dual, independently steerable drives from the tugboat world, and adapt them to the pleasureboat world. I think the credit goes to Volvo, although I am sure that there were engineering geeks slaving in obscurity and coming up with similar concepts. Volvo's IPS pod drives and the ZF/Zeus pods used by other engine manufacturers dominate the pod world, but the vector physics can be applied to twin outdrives or outboards.

The first boat pictured in this group is the 36' MJM Yachts dayboat/cruiser which is remarkable in many respects, beginning with construction; it is built with a vacuum-bagged, epoxy laminate that makes it the strongest, lightest, fastest and most fuel efficient of the group. These boats are built on a semi-custom basis from 29 to 50 feet. They are well thought out and beautifully finished: special boats which command premium prices. They are built in Massachussets.

The Hinckley series are all now twin engine waterjet yachts (although some may be ordered with Volvo IPS pods now), exquisitely crafted and lavished with varnished teak and cherry. Having one built for you is a rare privilege and priced accordingly. An increasingly good buy right now is the original single engine Picnic Boat®. Hinckleys are still built in Maine, very close to the Southwest Harbor yard where the company began.

Sabre has made inroads in category market share thanks to investment in design, construction and propulsion technology. All models, from 38 to 66 feet, were designed around pod propulsion and enjoy the interior space and sound suppression advantages that this provides. Prior to the current lineup, Sabre produced many similar straight inboard yachts which can be good values in the brokerage market today. They are built in Maine along with the Back Cove line, which comprises smaller boats of similar design and purpose, but with single engines and less sophisticated woodwork, and are considerably less expensive than the Sabres.

The early entrant into the category was Grand Banks with their Eastbay series, which has enjoyed many years of popularity, but lost share in recent years due to lack of innovation and investment. They seemed to have righted the ship of late and have introduced new models with pod drives, although they do not take advantage of this system to the extent that other brands do. One thing Eastbays do have is the unmistakable profile of a Hunt design. They are relatively heavy, deep yachts that take a lot of power to perform at speed. They are built in Singapore and Malaysia. They also build fast trawlers (an oxymoron), and pilothouse motoryachts. I have a separate section for trawlers and motorsailers. 

All these yachts are highly respected in design and build. A knowledgable broker is important here to sort through the many models built over the years with a variety of propulsion options. Most of these boats reflect the pride of ownership their quality deserves, but there are exceptions. Extensive refinishing, repowering, or redecorating can rapidly drive up the cost of ownership. These are the situations where a marine surveyor and buyer's broker can make a great difference in the success of boat ownership. 

© Peter Bass 2013-19