With its lobster-boat heritage, David Lockwood says the new-to-Australia Back Cove 29 is picnic cruising at its best...
Jed Elderkin manages Noakes Shipyard on Sydney Harbour, but his accent immediately tells you he's an out-of-towner. Originally hailing from Maine, on the far north-east corner of the US, where the maritime history is rich, Elderkin is now importing a hometown hero called Back Cove.
Back Cove is new to Australia – although this was hull no. 124 of the popular 29-footer – so a few words about the yard. Its parent company, Sabre Yachts, which makes traditional cruising yachts and diesel-powered passagemakers, bought a tooling and mould company four years ago and figured it had the equipment to build another boating line. So Back Cove was born in 2003, with a 26 and this 29-footer to which a new 33-footer with galley-up has just joined the fold. Each of the three models has a single diesel engine with shaftdrive, comely lines, and a seaworthy profile, which is hardly surprising given the Maine connection. And boating trends...
In the past 10 years in Maine, it's been de rigueur to rejuvenate classic one-time-working lobster boats, strip them bare and refit them, for pleasureboat use. The Back Cove's lines reflect those of the local traditional working craft, only this is a modern rendition with medium-tech build, a highly efficient hull, excellent engineering and cruising comforts.
BACK COVE BUILD
The Back Cove 29 is what I would call a classic wheelhouse picnic boat with a single diesel engine. Such timeless boats are always in vogue, which is part of their appeal, and the traditional lines and styling adds considerably to the charm. Elderkin describes the Back Cove 29 as having a "spoon bow, deep vee, prop pocket and five-blade prop".
The hull is vacuum-bagged with a composite Divinycell foam core and vinylester resin, but with solid GRP and E-Glass around each and every skin fitting. All the through-hull fittings are bronze except for the latest non-corroding Marelon seacocks, which are made from glass-reinforced plastic. They still need servicing and lubricating, mind you, but not as often as bronze seacocks. All seacocks were labelled.
Despite having a centre-mounted single diesel, the sound insulation in the engine box and the fact the boat doesn't have a cabin bulkhead ensures running noise is more than acceptable. No shouting necessary, though you do need to raise your voice to a certain level.
The engine hatch lifts on gas struts to reveal the upgraded 310hp electronic Volvo D6 motor with electronic controls because "everyone wants electronic controls".
I also spotted the sea-strainer with inspection bowl, the Racor fuel filter, a dripless shaft seal and heavy-duty galvanised steel engine girders with soft mounts.
The boat has a hot water service (240V and engine heat-exchanger driven), an 1800W invertor for 240V power for the microwave as well, needing only the aftermarket AV system and electronics, but not much more. A battery charger, shorepower, and bowthruster all come standard.
The electrical-bonding system and the amazing wiring ranks up there with the best I've seen on a production boat. Water and waste tanks (each 120lt) are mounted in the engine room, with the fuel aft in the lazarette, in an aluminium tank above the glass-encapsulated foam stringers.
There was room in the lazarette for stowing tubs of toys, tackle and stores, a deflated ducky and an outboard. I noted that the hatch lids were all double moulded and there was good access to the steering gear and locking pins aft.
TREADING THE DECKS
The decks and cockpit sole are covered with contrasting, grey, diamond-pattern non-skid. Moulded steps lead from the cockpit to the side decks, with moulded toerails and cabin-top rails and a high, sturdy 316 stainless steel bowrail that could probably do with an intermediate wire. That said, access to the bow is easy on crew.
There are stylish oversized cleats all over, polished deck fillers, engine vents on the cabin sides away from the weather and a purposeful bowsprit with centrelines cleats, which you don't always see. The Back Cove 29 demo was fitted with a windlass, too.
The chain locker is divided creating a deep, spare wet storage area for fenders, swim gear and maybe a mop and other cleaning stuff. It would be handy, whatever you chose to stash there. I also liked the half-round teak trim along the cabin sides, even though it will call for maintenance, and the teak accents at the helm.
The transom, meanwhile, isn't a walkthrough number with a door but it was, at my level of flexibility, easy enough to throw a leg over. There's a handy boarding platform that you can sit on, deep-reach swim ladder, hot/cold handheld shower, and a designer stainless steel flagstaff base with the Back Cove emblem. The popup aft cleats will assist with mooring while keeping the decks snag-free at other times.
Naturally, you can do lunch in this picnic/lobster boat – with suitable crustaceans I'd hope — or catch your own from what is a generous convertible cockpit that plays into the hands of Australian boaties. The boat's beam is especially wide, though the hull doesn't feel sluggish through the water.
Passenger seating comes by way of an optional lift-out, three-piece aft lounge that can seat four or five adults. It can be removed in no time if you want an open cockpit for the aforesaid fishing or perhaps when in swimming mode with the kids. All the boat's seat cushions, covered with thick and stylish white vinyl upholstery, are removable, so you can stow them inside the cabin. The removable seat frames are stainless steel.
The self-draining cockpit is traced by padded bolsters and courtesy lights, with a half step back up to the bridgedeck. There's a tackle locker to port at this junction and a handy storage locker. But the primary feature of the bridgedeck is the lunch setting under the hardtop, where you can enjoy a decent 1.85m of head room and fresh air through side and forward opening windows, plus twin overhead hatches.
Though small, the high-gloss teak table was mounted on an upmarket Besenzoni adjustable base, which can be removed altogether for more deck space. The Pompanette seats can seat three people, plus the skipper on the swivel helm seat. Best of all, the setting is shaded from and surrounded by big views out the armour-plate wheelhouse glass.
I also noted additional storage lockers and, under one lounge, a portable 56-can cooler for the drinks, lobsters, and salad. The boat had a Clarion sound system, chart locker before the navigator, several discreet drinkholders, and storage spaces for personal effects.
The helm, meanwhile, affords excellent vision when standing and there are fold-down footrests if you prefer driving seated. There are windscreen wipers for skipper and navigator, too, plus a timber wheel, bowthruster, Lectrosan trim tabs, windlass, Volvo EVC controls and engine panel, and fuel gauge.
The windlass offers push-button anchoring and, while the demo boat wasn't fitted with electronics, it had room to flush-mount a Raymarine E120 combo unit before the skipper. With video feed, you could run your TV back through here for watching the Sunday sport up top. The hinged dash granted great access to the wiring.
The lockup cabin lets you stow clobber and decent tackle aboard. Incidentally, the boat would look kind of cute with a pair of outriggers. Below, the Back Cove has, unsurprisingly given its parentage, a salty and yacht-like feel.
There is a melange of timber joinery including American cherry, North American or Douglas fir, maple inlay and a hardwearing mock-teak floor. The cabin sides are planked, while the cabinets are made from solid timber.
Light comes courtesy of four opening portlights and the obligatory escape hatch with insect screen. All the boat's 240V wiring and powerpoints were fitted at factory level.
By picnic-boat standards, this 29-footer has a big galley, with Corian counters (but no fiddle rails), a deep sink, recessed 240V/alcohol single-burner stove, small Tappan microwave, bench-height fridge, and decent pantry and storage space. The AC/DC panel was alongside, but I couldn't find the water gauge.
The bow is taken up by a vee berth finished in blue faux suede, set around a dinette that converts to a double bed and has storage under the seat bases. A cedar-lined hanging locker is nearby and a couple could sleep aboard this boat comfortably.
The decent moulded head added to the comfort factor. The American-sized compartment has an electric Jabsco loo, handheld shower, extractor fan and opening port, Tankwatch gauge, Corian counters, mirror and vanity. Bow to stern, decks to keel, a well-built boat.
ON THE LOBSTER TRAIL
Boats like this have a sense of purpose whether idling or on the hop. Champagne cruise of 7.5kts at 1440rpm saw the Volvo D6 310hp motor consume about 8lt/h. Very pleasant, indeed. With full trim tabs, the tunnel hull eases out nice and level, slipping to an 11kt plane at 1990rpm. But low-speed cruising, where you might have to head into the teeth of a horrible sea to get back home, is a lot more effective at 16kts at 2490rpm.
Given the engineering, this is a boat that will cruise the coast and be perfect for reaching those neighbouring ports. And at the above 16kt cruise speed, consumption is just 28 to 29lt/h for a 280nm range.
Engine noise was still acceptable at cruise speeds of 19.5kts at 2730rpm up to fast cruise of 24.5kts at about 3200rpm, where consumption went from 35lt/h to 50lt/h, and the cruising range from 280 to 250nm.
Thus, but for the champagne Christmas or birthday bash, the tunnel hull and motor are most efficient when run at a decent clip. Top speed on the day was 28.3kts, but it was the defiant motion through the rough stuff that I liked best.
At 3030rpm and 23kts, the boat continued headlong into the fray and it was reassuringly cruisey.
The Back Coves are pitched as premium pleasure boats and have a price to match.
But the premium bit you can see, above decks and when you look below the hatches. It's also evident underway. The boutique Back Cove honours its maritime heritage and must earn a spot on the shopping list of the picnic boater.
TEST BOAT SPEC CHECK
Material: Vacumm-bagged hull with Divinycell foam core and E-glass around through-hull fittings
Type: Hard-chine monohull with tunnel
Length overall: 9m inc. boarding platform
Draft: Approx 0.75m
Displacement: 4540kg fully loaded, plus extra weight from engine upgrade
Fuel capacity: 565lt
Water capacity: 120lt
Holding tank: 120lt
Make/model: Volvo D6
Type: Six-cylinder electronic turbocharged diesel engine
Rated HP: 310hp at 3550rpm max
Weight: Approx 660kg
Gearboxes (Make/ratio): 2:1
Props: Five-blade bronze
Engine upgrade, windlass, invertor, composite hardtop, helm-deck trim package, rear cockpit seating, and more
Price from: $270,950 w/ 260hp Yanmar diesel engine