Hinckley Picnic Boat
Length overall  36'5"
Beam 10'
Draft  1'6"
Displacement  11,500 lb
Fuel Capacity  166 gals
Water Capacity  35 gals
Standard power  Single Yanmar 440hp diesel
Jets  292 Hamilton waterjets
Base Price  $527,000

The U-shaped galley has plenty of work space on the Corian countertop.. (below) Captain George Bischoff takes the helm. Notice the large expanse of dash available for electronic displays.

It's been a full decade since Hinckley introduced their proprietary Picnic Boat with its Yanmar 440 coupled to a Hamilton 292 jet drive capable of shooting this half-million-dollar beauty off across two feet of water at 29 knots. In 2001, the company introduced the EP version, which stands for Extended Pilothouse.

'In the extended pilothouse model, the cabin top is thirty inches further aft,' explains Peter Howard, director of Hickley's relatively new sales office in Annapolis. 'This allows room under the hardtop for an L-shaped lounge. This has been a nice improvement. We made two hundred eighteen of the classics before we made the EP, and this has been quite popular. We've done about ninety since then and only one of the earlier version.' Peter has been working with Hinckley since 1987, starting out as a finish carpenter and working his way up. He opened the office at Pier 4 Marina in the Eastport Maritime District of Annapolis last March.

This boat is designed around its propulsion system. The engine is mounted in the center of the cockpit underneath a box disguised as part of the L of the settee, a teak-capped entertainment center, and an aft-facing bench. This arrangement raises hydraulically for access to the engine.

The jet drive, capable of pumping 166 gallons of water a second, is controlled by a bucket-shaped device mounted at the nozzle under the transom where the water jet flows out. You raise the bucket and the thrust goes back and the boat goes forward. Drop the bucket and the jet gets deflected forward, so the boat goes in reverse. The nozzle swivels from side to side for lateral turns.

Reverse gear doesn't actually make the boat go backwards, but it does back-flush the intake in case you've sucked up a plastic bag or other debris. In the worst case, if you suck up a bit of floating line, there's an access plate at the top of the unit that allows you to clean it out. The boat does not have trim tabs, though future editions will, Howard says, not so much for the bow rise but for the lateral level. You can man the helm with either a conventional steering wheel or a joystick device they call the JetStick control system. The JetStick, mounted at the pilot's right hand, works in sync with the bow thruster, so you have precise control over the boat's movement forward, backward and even sideways.

This works in three different modes: docking mode for slow-speed or lateral maneuvers, excellent for docking or working in tight quarters; power steer mode, where you steer using just the JetStick; and helm mode, when you steer with the wheel and use the JetStick for forward and reverse as well as bow thruster maneuvers. While this sounds complicated, it only takes a few minutes of tutoring to figure out how to make it work.

The pilothouse has a beautifully finished teak dash with room for two Raymarine chartplotter units. The teak-and-stainless steering wheel and the teak-knobbed JetStick are handy to use standing up or sitting in the comfortable Pompanette adjustable helm chair. Newer models will have Stidd chairs, Howard advised. Visibility is great all around from the helm, through the two large panes of the windshield and the opening side ports. Four hatches in the cabin top provide additional ventilation.

A hatch in the sole between the helm chair and the copilot seat opens to reveal a deep lazarette as well as the bilge pump and the fuel-tank valve. In the middle, there's a folding teak table and the L-shaped settee. The cockpit features an inviting settee spanning the transom and the aft-facing seat on the engine cover. Between the backs of this settee and the L-shaped lounge is an expanse of teak that hinges up to reveal a sink and an optional gas grill. A cooler comes standard in this space. Underneath the transom seat there's a removable storage bin that, when removed, allows access to the three batteries, the jet drive unit and the steering mechanism.

Up on the foredeck, the Danforth anchor and its stainless pulpit stow neatly away under a hatch, staying out of sight until you need them. You can raise or lower the anchor either from the helm or with the remote control plugged in to a socket under the hatch.

Down below, there's just 5 feet 9 inches of headroom, owing to the low profile of the cabin top. It features a handsomely classic teak interior, a V-berth with a hanging locker, a nicely laid out galley and an enclosed head with a spacious teak countertop on the vanity.

The galley has a spacious laminate countertop, though newer editions are available with Corian. There's a deep Adler-Barbour 12-volt cold-plate refrigerated icebox under part of the countertop, plus a microwave oven, a deep stainless steel sink, a two-burner Force 10 propane stove, and a modicum of storage in drawers and cabinets.

Heading out up the Severn River in a southeast breeze of about 10 knots, the bow rose a bit and then leveled off once on plane. One nice thing about jet drives on the Chesapeake is that you don't have to worry about snagging your prop on the crab pot floats. You can run right over them, though I couldn't bring myself to try. 'At the end of the season, you haul the boat and you might notice some orange, yellow or green scuffs on the hull, but that's about it,' Howard says. 'It doesn't hurt the boat and it doesn't hurt the buoys.'

We were cruising at 26 knots at 3100 rpm and 27.7 knots wide open at 3300 rpm, though the brochure sets the top speed at 29 knots. Even at top speed, the boat was quite responsive. Steering with the JetStick takes a little practice. A mere quarter of a turn puts the helm hard over, it's that responsive. But in just a few minutes I was doing a slalom around the Navy's hurricane mooring buoys in the open water of Round Bay, taking tighter and tighter turns in succession to get the feel of how tight you can turn without the stern kicking out. I also learned the hovering technique, keeping the boat just a few feet off of one of the buoys against that breeze, maneuvering in minute detail with just a slight twist of the stick.

Peter Howard took the helm to demonstrate the trademark spin out. He turned the wheel hard over clockwise and we spun 180 degrees in about a boat length and a half. He also demonstrated another unique maneuver. Since you shift from forward to reverse with the bucket, not with the transmission, you can come to a full emergency stop from full speed, again in little more than a boatlength. The bow plunges a bit, but it's an impressive operation, as was sidling back into the slip in Eastport.