Best Downeast Outboard Powerboats: New Boats with Deep Roots
Downeast Outboards: New Boats with Deep Roots
One of the most popular and recognizable power boat profiles is what is known as “Downeast.” They are marked by a graceful sheer, a trunk cabin forward, a midship house for the helm deck, and a large aft cockpit. The basic profile is derived from Maine lobster boats, which had less enclosed accommodations forward and more working cockpit aft.
But why “Downeast?” Along the New England Coast in the days of working sail, Maine schooners returning from Boston and points south sailed downwind to the east. When asked “where you headed, Cap,” and if the answer was anywhere east of Portland, the reply was just “Downeast.” The schooners themselves, which might range from 30’ to over 200’ with up to 7 masts gaff rigged on every spar, were known as “Downeasters.”
So how do we get from graceful working schooners to 40 knot express cruisers with outboards? Through the elasticity of American English, clever marketers, and the need for speed. Here is the linguistic voyage in one long sentence: Lobster boats developed in the Downeast part of Maine, and became know as Downeasters to the summer rusticators who built lobster-boat-derived yachts, and whose restless children, the Boomers (OK!), and their subsequent generations, wanted to go ever faster and do a one week cruise in a day. Phew!
This generational change and the development of big outboards combined to produce fast boats with profiles vaguely reminiscent of actual lobster boats with large outboards attached. The best of them began with a clean sheet of paper so the curves of a Downeast hull blended into the motors organically; the worst have angular welded brackets which clash, Borg-like, with the graceful curves of a hull which was previously designed for inboard power.
Let’s see what’s out there with some Downeast DNA and outboard power. There was an actual inshore 18’ open lobster boat designed for early small outboards. It was known as a West Pointer, developed by a fisherman/boatbuilder named Alton Wallace, with the engine properly mounted on the transom. Derivations of Wallace’s model are produced in fiberglass to this day, but one stands out and features a hull built of that now unusual material: wood. It is simply called a West Pointer and is built in cold molded, wood/epoxy to the highest standards by Six River Marine in North Yarmouth, Maine. This boat is the genetic bridge between working lobster boats and the sophisticated outboard express cruisers from Back Cove, Hinckley, and MJM. It is what you buy as an island hopper, picnicer, and inshore day boat if you want to stay closer to the family roots of this genre of small yachts.
So what is the best of breed of larger versions?
Back Cove, Hinckley, & MJM Yachts
At the top of the the heap are boats from the 3 brands listed above: Back Cove, Hinckley, and MJM. All have New England roots. Back Cove and Hinckley are Maine built and MJM, primarily Massachusetts. They vary in construction, design, and price. All are well built and the choice is more a reflection of an owner’s taste and preferences than basic function. In the 40 foot range, we have the Back Cove 39o, which finishes out at around $650,000 per the Soundings article linked below, the MJM 43z at twice that, and the Hinckley 40 Sport Boat, with a price similar to the MJM. All will make you smile, except at the gas dock.
Much is made of the increase in usable space belowdecks by getting the engines out, but it is not a pure trade if you want a similar range at speed. The fuel capacity will need to be half again greater to get the same range in the same boat with different power, such as the MJM 43z with Volvo IPS drives.
One of our favorite boats is the MJM 43z. Click here to find more info.
Wilber Yachts & John Williams Boats
Even the smaller custom yards in Maine are publishing design briefs with purpose designed outboards, notably WIlbur Yachts and John Williams Boats, both on Mt Desert Island. Jock Williams turned to Doug Zurn for a 29’ Outboard Launch with a center console and acres of teak: a gorgeous boat with a modern business-like bracket. I know that designers probably have good reasons for brackets like noise isolation, and clear water for the prop, and I have no practical reasons to disagree, just a design aesthetic from 30 years ago. (OK Boomer)
John Kachmar and wife Ingrid (Wilbur) are going bigger with the 37 Weekender. They turned to Geoff Dickes, who drew the Wesmac hulls and became known for blending traditional Downeast profiles with fast planing hulls. This is a pretty boat with the engine support blending in with the boot stripe. It is hard to tell from the renderings if it is a separate bracket or part of the hull structure. I hope someone orders one; I can’t wait to see it.
Is a Downeast profile a natural partner to outboard power, or is it Siracha added to fine wine? It certainly works in the early evidence of the DNA, Six Rivers’ West Pointer, a boat that is just right in all respects. It works in the MJM, Back Cove, and Hinckley Sport 40x outboards, all of which embody a modern flair compatible with the elegant brutishness of big outboards.
Check the links below and find your happy place.
Article by Peter Bass