A Fond Return To Bright Maine Waters

Huckins 45

Sam Rowse's 45-foot Huckins now sports Volvo Penta IPS pod propulsion, courtesy of Yachting Solutions.

Our last trip down memory lane took place aboard Northern Spy, Sam Rowse's 1954 45-foot Huckins that he had stripped down to parade rest, lovingly restored to better-than-ever condition and repowered with Volvo Penta IPS pod propulsion. What a great combination. The boat now has a whole new bottom, and she's stronger than ever with epoxy and fiberglass sheathing and a heavily laminated bottom around the engine room built to Volvo's specs, tying the hull together into a single unit.

The boat originally had a pair of Cummins V-drives in her, but they'd gotten tired over the years and were shakers as well as movers. Sam wanted a boat that his kids could run easily, and a cruise speed in the mid-20-knot range - an 8-knot improvement - was just the ticket.

Like most rebuilding projects, whether it's a house or a boat, this one was a lot more extensive than Sam had counted on, but the end result was a delightful cruiser that handles like a baby carriage. A child could dock the boat in a stiff crosswind after an hour of tutelage at most.

I'd seen the Huckins in its snow-covered shed last winter, where Bill Morong's Yachting Solutions crew in Rockport had torn her apart, and all the king's men were getting ready to put her together again. When I saw her down at the dock in October, she'd been in the water for a month and was hot to trot and back in operation. The boat was Awlgripped from top to bottom in a beautiful shade of haze gray that makes you wonder why every boat isn't painted the same color, and she was looking just peachy, ready for a gallop around the bay.

The proportions on this 57-year-old Huckins are just right, too. The deckhouse is small, and the hull is big, just the way it should be, not the other way around, as is the case with 70 percent of the boats being produced today. The interior is flooded with sunlight through all those big windows, and the master stateroom aft and guest stateroom forward are separated by the pilothouse, or saloon if you must, lending a degree of privacy, simplicity and comfort not seen on many boats built today.

We had maybe a 1-foot chop on Penobscot Bay, so the sea conditions didn't challenge the boat. The twin 300-hp Volvo D4 diesels driving IPS pods through short jackshafts pushed the Huckins to 28 knots at 3,500 rpm, and she did an easy 22 knots at 3,000 rpm, burning 21 gph, which translates to slightly more than 1 nautical mile a gallon. If you're not up on this kind of thing, that's really good for a 26,000-pound boat, 20 to 30 percent better than many similar size boats today.

The Huckins 45 retains the elegance of her 57-year-old pedigree.

The boat handled nimbly, with just 3.5 turns lock to lock, though it also turned flatter than other IPS boats I've run, a result of the boat's shallow keel resisting transverse slip in a turn and the hull's flat sections aft, which orient the pods at a correspondingly vertical angle. On a planing boat with 20 degrees of deadrise, which is more the norm for an IPS installation, the pods are 20 degrees from vertical, normal to the hull bottom, and thrust oriented at this angle makes the boat heel more in a turn. When centrifugal force goes right down through your feet or seat, as it does in a banking airplane, rather than throwing you off to the side, it makes for a safer boat. This angle, which Volvo calls a true turn, is more nearly achieved by a boat with 15 or 20 degrees of deadrise. The Huckins' flatter turn is the only fault I could find with this IPS installation, not that I came in looking for it. But because this diagonal-planked mahogany boat needs a healthy blocking keel to keep her back straight, I'll just deal with it.

This is one quiet boat, inside and out. Even at 3,000 rpm in the master stateroom, just forward of the engine room, I measured only 79 dBA. In the wheelhouse, it was just 75 dBA, which is as quiet as it gets on any Alden or Riviera, the two quietest diesel-powered boats I've been on.

As with any IPS boat, the joystick control takes all the fun out of boat handling. That is to say, there is no challenge whatsoever in docking it. Driving this boat competently after some perfunctory instruction is akin to being able to play a Scriabin etude on the piano competently after 20 minutes of practice. (Someone needs to make a joystick for the piano!)

This 1950s-era Huckins (www.huckinsyacht.com) has many features that contemporary boatbuilders trumpet as new discoveries - marvels, really, in their own boats - such as a full-beam master stateroom, cabins flooded with light from big windows, great engine room access (although nothing out there even approaches this boat in the latter two categories) and, of course, pod power.

Hats off to Sam for his vision and resolve, and to Bill and his crew for pulling off the rebuild, which was an unqualified success. This beauty is a first cousin of the World War II PT boat, and like recharging a battery, she has at least that many more years built back into her, given reasonable care at Yachting Solutions, according to Bill.

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