Downeast Style Cruisers and Motor Yachts - Form Follows Function
Posted on May 11, 2020
Posted on May 11, 2020
What is the "Downeast" style? Like the recreational trawler yachts were designed based on features of the San Diego, California tuna fishing vessels by naval architect, Arthur DeFever, back in the 1950s, the Maine lobster boats were the design inspiration of the "Downeast" style and continue to be.
Maine boat builder, Will Frost, of Jonesport, built boats in 1920s for lobster fishermen that featured the long sheer forward and sweep to aft. The low freeboard made it easier to haul in lobster pots or nets over the sides; very heavy especially if loaded with lobster! Will's son-in-law, Riley Lowell and his sons, Royal Lowell and Carroll Lowell also became noted builders and designers.
The pilothouse and cabin are located just forward of amidships, giving plenty of deck workspace. A skeg running the centerline of the boat gave added directional stability by keeping roll to a minimum in heavier seas and protecting the running gear. The lower cabin structure also served to minimize windage and gave the vessel a lower center of gravity providing safety, comfort and economy.
Another well-known boat builder got its start in the late 1920s, the Hinckley Company of Southwest Harbor, Maine, founded by Benjamin B.Hinckley. Interestingly, lobster wasn't considered a desirable meat until after WWII when it was the only meat not subject to government rationing during the war years. From 1950 to 1960 lobster consumption nearly doubled and the price went way up.
1959 Columbia Pictures Romantic Comedy Classic movie, "It Happened to Jane" starring Doris Day, Jack Lemmon and Erinie Kovas is all about the Maine live lobster business as they are shipped by rail to restaurant customers in New York City! This is a great Doris Day movie; stream it via Netflix or other digital movie source. Check out the beautiful timeless style of wooden lobster boat fleets of late 50s-early 60s.
After the war, lobster boat building shifted to Southwest Harbor, when Raymond Bunker and Ralph Ellis began their boat-building partnership in 1947, building in the (now) classic style with sweeping sheerline, narrow 3 to 1 length to beam ratio, semi-displacement hull, generous deadrise amidships that flattened out aft for stability, large cockpit working space, low freeboard, fine entry for parting head seas and unballasted keel (a design feature taken from 19th century sail driven commercial fishing boats off coastal Maine). These were really nice looking boats and as the coastal area of Maine grew popular with affluent summer residents (including David Rockefeller), they noticed the elegant lines of the lobster boats and started ordering pleasure boat versions for themselves, sometime around 1960.
Essentially, the same lobster boat as upscaled to the desires of yachtsmen wanting pleasure boats with the same pretty lines, the helm station was expanded and the minimal cabin was made luxurious with brightwork, galleys, heads and comfortable V-berths. The transition was easy according to Don Ellis, who heads the Ellis Boat Company today; the hull shape remained the same-seaworthy, fuel efficient and fast with a low power-to-weight ratio. Heads were added and the interior and finish changed with finer materials-teak, mahogany-varnish. Wood planking gave way to fiberglass in the 1970s greatly increasing production. Jarvis Newman made the first fiberglass mold of a Bunker and Ellis 36 in 1971. Although his father-in-law, Raymond Bunker wasn't too thrilled about it, change and innovation in construction had come to the Maine lobster boat and "downeast" cruiser production. At one point Jarvis Newman was able to turn out a new boat ranging in length from 32, 36, 38 and 46 feet, every 2 weeks!
Another builder who got his start with the help of Bunker and Ellis, is Lee Wilbur. He completed boats for Jarvis Newman, who took his hulls with engines installed, for finishing by Wilbur. Lee Wilbur started Wilbur Yachts in 1979 with a 38' designed by Ralph Ellis and followed 4 years later with his most popular 34ft boat. He sold the business in 2001 to his daughter Ingrid and her husband, John Kachmar, after building some 200 boats, including over 70 of his classic 34s.
Modern Maine lobster boats still retain the classic lines of the originals, but some changes have been made to keep up with technology and other innovations. Engine power has increased to satisfy demand for speed; in fact, lobster boat races have become a popular annual event!
The recreational version, Downeast style, now is available in many models, configurations and features-sedan cruiser, sedan bridge, flybridge, engines inboard or outboard, trunk cabin, with full skeg keel or built-down keel, advanced composite construction, bow thruster, IPS drives, air conditioning, generator, ice-maker, wet bar and more. Yet the classic Maine lobster boat essential features identifiably remain-the long, graceful sheerline, large cockpit, fine entry, pilothouse and cabin positioned slightly forward and low... The style has been admired and reproduced by boat builders, not only throughout New England (MJM Yachts/Boston Boatworks), but the Pacific Northwest (San Juan) and Canada (Bruckmann, Rosborough Boats), Australia (Palm Beach Yachts), Malaysia (Grand Banks), Italy (Ferretti's Mochi Craft), Turkey (Vicem), Alachua, Florida (Marlow Mainship), Chesapeake Bay (Mathews Brothers, Mast & Mallet Boatworks)... this link for a more comprehensive list.
These are some popular brands/models currently listed with United Yacht Sales licensed, professional Yacht Brokers:
Some of the most enduring Maine and New England builders/brands are: Hunt, Wilbur Yachts, Hinckley, Sabre Yachts, Rockport Marine, Campbell's Custom Yachts, Downeast Royalty, Calvin Beal, Lyman-Morse, Grey Barn Boatworks, Kittery Point Boat Builders, Zimmerman Marine, Albin Marine, Ellis, Johansen Boatworks, Southport Island Marine, Rosborough Boats USA/Eastern Boats, Campbell Atlantic, Farris Boatshop, Evans, Morgan Bay Boat Company, Covey Island, Atlantic Boat Company, Eastern Boats, CW Hood, Padebco, True North, Jarvis Newmand, CH Marine
Current popular makes are: Hinckley, Northern Bay, Grand Banks, Vicem, Mochi Craft, Legacy, Sabre, Willis Beale, Atlas, Back Cove, MJM, San Juan, Island Packet, Little Harbor, Nauset, Bunker & Ellis, Duffy, Mainship, Fortier, Markly, Hunt Yachts, Chesapeake, Holland, West Bay, Bruckman, Cape Dory, Cutwater, Calvin Beal, Webbers Cove, Morgan Bay, Dyer, Blue Seas... Again, not a comprehensive list; many builds are custom. For some boat builders, the "Down East" model is a brand extension, because of the enduring popularity of the style.
Searching for a "Downeast" style cruising yacht? Check out our website frequently as new listings are added daily. Follow this link to begin your yacht search now!
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Downeast Style Cruisers and Motor Yachts - Form Follows Function
Want to know what is the "Downeast" style? Come read about the history of the Downeast, from DeFever and Will Frost to the modern Zeelander.