The geese and swans were winging overhead over the marshes on one of those sharp, clear winter days when I met Jack Heffner in Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He's a partner with Ed Kurowski in Gratitude Yachting Center, dealers in Island Packet Yachts, Moody sailboats, from England, Nauticat motorsailers from Finland, and now, the importers of a new cruising powerboat built on the island of Minorca off the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
We found the boat at a floating dock of a marina on Swan Creek, with its canoe stern and flared, plumb bow and attractive, business-like pilothouse. Jack explained that this is a modern version of a traditional fishing boat built on the Isle of Minorca, and it does have a salty, traditional appeal to its looks.
Jack started up the twin Volvo 230 hp diesels, which did crank up quite readily despite the fact that they had been dormant for nearly two months, and it was pretty darned chilly. 'We saw the line at the Miami show two years ago,' Jack recalls. 'We were impressed by its salty and gutsy looks.' he said. 'We'd been looking for some kind of power cruising boat. We've been dealers for Island Packet sailboats for 23 years, but we didn't want a trawler. I figure if you want to cruise at eight knots, you might as well keep your sailboat. But we didn't want something that goes 30 to 40 knots either. We figured there must be something in between. We were very impressed with the boat. The interior reminds you of a sailboat, but more than that, we were impressed with the gutsy feel of it.'
The hull is built of solid fiberglass, even the decks. The hull actually extends aft at the waterline, past the curved transom, to form both an expansive swim platform as well as an extension of the hull for better planing and handling.
You board the boat across that wide swim platform, and step up into a generously sized cockpit or aft deck, with bench seats on either side and a large hatch in the teak sole revealing the engine compartment. The Volvos are rather squeezed into this area, but they're still easily serviceable.
You enter the pilothouse through the yachty teak bi-fold doors, set up so that they serve as double doors, but then fold completely out of the way to open up the inside to the cockpit, express style. The pilothouse is just that,a helm station to starboard with a wide bench seat and a large dash, a triple-pane windshield, and a love-seat sort of settee to port and large, square side windows. This is a place where you want to spend time, underway or not. The saloon, galley, head and the single stateroom are all below, in a layout much like a cruising sailboat, which is also something Jack said he found appealing.
As we opened up out of the mouth of the creek into the Chesapeake, the expanse of the Bay Bridge spanning the southern horizon, and the Key Bridge over Baltimore Harbor visible over on the Western Shore.
'Other models we've ordered have the optional flybridge,' Jack explains. 'Since we're sailboat people, we had no idea that a flybridge would be in such demand, so we didn't order this model with a flybridge.' Still, the enclosed pilothouse offers great visibility, good protection from the harsh winter or summer weather, and the side windows and the aft doors open for the more pleasant times of the year.
You step below to the saloon, with its cozy arrangement of a settee wrapped around a dining table to port and a galley area to starboard, all with a beautifully finished teak paneling. The table drops down and the settee forms a comfortable double berth for guests. An enclosed head is just forward of the galley, with plenty of stand-up headroom and a hand-held shower. The sole is a salty-looking teak grating.
The galley is quite serviceable, with a faux-marble counter in an L-shape configuration, a deep, round stainless-steel ink, a three-burner electric flush-top stove, a fridge under the counter, storage for crockery and glassware neatly stowed under the side decks behind the counter, and lots of drawers.
One unique feature is that the AC/DC distribution panel is on the aft bulkhead, just above the sink. It's unique because it hinges down to reveal all the very neat wiring behind the panel as well as the instrumentation behind the helm station. Another access panel drops down from the ceiling to reveal the backs of all the electronic instruments mounted on the dash,all very neat and highly accessible.
The stateroom in the bow is entered through a curve-topped teak door, and again, it reflects a very sailboaty kind of feel. There's a double island berth on the centerline, hanging lockers on either side, and an opening, screened hatch overhead, plus opening portlights forward and on each side. The dark mahogany-and-light pine inlaid sole throughout the interior adds to the yachty ambiance. All of the joinery seems first-class.
We headed out the creek, with a trio of tundra swans scooting out of the way and circling off toward the stand of pines on the northern shore. The boat handles extremely well for such a solidly-built boat. The twin Volvos get it up out of the water at about 12 knots, then it's a smooth, rapid lift to the top speed of about 18.4 knots at 3800 rpm, with a comfortable cruising speed of about 10.5 knots at 2500 rpm. 'When we first got it in the water, we were doing just over 19 knots,' Jack explains. 'We haven't cleaned the bottom since then, so that probably accounts for the knot difference.'
The boat passed the 'wallow' test, sitting dead still broadside to the wake of a passing waterman's deadrise clam boat, with nary a rattle, bump or groan. Driving this boat is a delight, either standing or seated, and the visibility is great all around, though it's a bit of a stretch seeing all of the swim platform past the high transom.
It's got a smooth, solid feel to it and the helm is quite responsive, despite the fact that there's a single large rudder set amidships between the two props. Future models will have twin rudders, Jack explains. While he drove back into the creek, I crept out on the bow pulpit and looked down to see that plumb bow slicing through the water and the bow wave curling over like the sod turned by a plow on the prairie, leaving the bow high and dry.
You get to the bow via wide side decks, into which deep lockers have been mounted for power cords, dock lines and fenders. In addition, the cabin top provides space for an expanse of padded sun lounge.