Tony Mackay says the single-screw Back Cove 37 delivers a dashing ride, nautical style and terrific all-weather living spaces without being onerous about maintenance or fuel use...
North from New York, the states and cities of the USA acquire a certain elegance and charm that captivates even the most disgruntled traveller, culminating in the superb picture-postcard settings of the northernmost state of Maine. Facing the Atlantic and bordering Canada, Maine has an air of genteel elegance, magnificent scenery and dazzling waterways.
A world of boating adventure awaits in secluded bays and rivers and by virtue of waterfront restaurants dripping with romance. Mind you, we are skillfully avoiding winter when the only warm thing will be a beaver.
Tradition is the word that best sums up the character of Maine. This is never more evident than in the boats that have evolved from this region: the classic lobster boat, picnic boat and downeast styling have contributed to a very popular and enduring type of cruiser in the 30 to 50-foot bracket.
Time has evolved these boats into the perfect way to roar out to your secret fishing spot or cruise the back waters and rivers of your favourite waterway. Americans call it “gunk holing”, which is really shallow-water cruising, pottering about, a light (lobster) lunch, a warm mug of coffee, and a cosy windcheater. Think On Golden Pond.
Importing all this charm and style to our sundried shores is Jed Elderkin from E Marine
Australia, the Australian representative for Back Cove boats. Jed is passionate about this style of boat built in Maine, and the Back Coves are one of the few genuine modern-classic articles in this popular and expanding genre.
As the tender took me out to where she was moored, the graceful lines, navy blue hull, gold cove line and signature spoon bow all joined to convey the impression of timeless styling. To use an old-fashioned expression, she looked very smart.
The Back Cove range is built in Rockland, Maine, by locals who, unsurprisingly, fiercely value their boating heritage and traditions. Designer Kevin Burns has drawn a vee-style hull with downward turning chines forward, which allows the boat to get onto the plane very easily. A secondary chine deals with unwanted spray so the decks and windows stay dry and clean. Aft, the hull turns to 16° deadrise and the single propeller runs in a pocket tunnel to reduce the draft and running angle. The spoon bow is something of a novelty on a motorboat, however, the look is distinctive and pleasing.
The Back Cove people have several lifetimes of accumulated experience to analyse exactly what buyers are after in this market - and they have packaged it very successfully.
One of the main aims, prevalent in the US market, is for maintenance-free operation, be it in the mechanics of a single engine or the deletion of teak trims and mouldings, which usually raise the maintenance levels to ‘code red’ and create buyer resistance. They look great but require work and this doesn’t suit many in a time-poor world. So our test boat used the stylist’s lines to create the right look. It works. The appearance inside and out is fresh and uplifting.
Indeed, most of your maintenance will be with a sponge and chamois. Everything is designed for easy care - hose down, chamois off and lock the doors. Boarding through a centre-mounted transom door, one is immediately impressed with the wall of glass which divides the cockpit from the cabin and which bi-folds back to open the saloon to the outdoors.
The cockpit features wraparound seating that allows the maximum number of guests to relax in living-room comfort, a far better arrangement than individual chairs. A hot and cold shower will rinse those who have climbed the swimming ladder onto the moulded platform. The sidedecks have sturdy rails and an effective non-skid pattern to assist with progress forward. The shoulder-height handrails are cunningly mounted under the “eaves”, which enhances the cabin’s clean lines.
Various cleats are fitted along the gunwale and a moulded bowroller and electric winch sort out your anchoring arrangements. A deckwash is optional and would be the first thing on my list. Perhaps a jack staff fitting with a jaunty pennant would also add to the traditional flavour.
The full-height glass doors into the saloon give a feeling of spacious comfort, although those requiring more privacy or the seductive gloom of darkness to enhance their fading looks will require some blinds or curtains (blackout in my case).
A settee to port, described in the sales brochure as a “two-person loveseat” faces an L-shaped dinette to starboard, which has an attractive inlaid table. This collapses to make a bed should the activities on the loveseat become more encouraging.
Forward to port is the galley, which is well equipped with a two-burner cooktop, AC/DC drawer-style fridge-freezer and convection microwave. The cupboards are satin-finished cherry and appliances are brushed stainless steel. A floor hatch in the galley allows access to a dry-storage area, which will become a well-stocked pantry for longer trips.
The saloon has large windows that also slide for excellent ventilation, as well as a large, central sunroof-style hatch to add to the light and breeze. No one will feel claustrophobic in this space and the entire saloon area is raised so that the guests will enjoy similar views as the helmsman - this detail is one of the most remarked upon feature of the Back Cove boats.
HIGH AT THE HELM
The helm station is to starboard and has two Stidd helm seats elevated for an unimpeded view. The dash is simplistic and awaits the installation of all manner of navigational equipment you may select.
Our test boat was fitted with a single Yanmar CXM-GTE six-cylinder 530hp turbo-diesel, which has a shaft drive. Morse electronic engine controls are supplemented by bow and sternthrusters, which eliminate any manoeuvring worries. Teleflex hydraulic steering is light and responsive and the electrical systems are conveniently laid out.
A 9kW Onan generator supplies power for all onboard appliances, including the three-zone reverse-cycle air-conditioning, and there is an optional 1800W inverter for silent 240V when needed.
To attend to servicing matters, the whole saloon floor electrically raises for easy access from the cockpit and a mechanic can comfortably schlep all the oil and muck straight out the back without any mess. Most convenient. A smaller access hatch is located forward under the helm seat should a minor inspection be required when the loveseat is in use and the occupants cannot possibly be disturbed.
The single big Yanmar allows for plenty of space in the engineroom including the water tanks. A total of 1136lt of fuel are stored under the aft deck. Sea strainer, oil changing system, dripless shaft log, two-stage muffler and fuel filtration are all well installed. A Fireboy extinguisher system and carbon monoxide detector keep a silent eye/nose for any unpleasantness. The hot-water system runs off the engine or 240V when required. All the electrics and engineering systems are installed for reliability and ease of maintenance.
For those who have to entertain themselves, a cleverly concealed ceiling-mounted TV and DVD player supplements the remote-controlled CD stereo system with interior and cockpit speakers. When staying aboard for longer periods there is a choice of two cabins: one master in the bow with an island bed to get marooned upon and a guest cabin to starboard with a smaller double and a sliding door for privacy.
A large single head and shower compartment is accessed from either the forward cabin or the companionway. It is light and bright, with a hatch and porthole for ventilation.
The hull lining and the general cabinetry is done in light American cherrywood, which is satin finished and accentuates the light appeal of the interior. Each cabin has a combination of overhead hatches or portholes for ventilation and these are all screened against pesky insects. LED lighting and bunk lights for reading make for a comfortable evening with a book or crossword once the facilities of the saloon have been exhausted.
SLIP SLIDING AWAY
With the engine smoothly idling under the floor, we slipped the mooring line and moved out into the bay on our way to Sydney Heads. The hull feels light and responsive and despite a high number of turns in the steering, she does handle well. With a squirt of throttle, the Back Cove slid onto the plane and whooshed along in effortless fashion.
Despite a 27-knot top speed, half-throttle saw her on the plane with a flat wash and good running angle at 14kts - all very unfussed. In fact this would be my preferred speed, we were making tracks with economy and moving about the cabin was not compromised by the usual hanging on required in so many other boats at this pace. She just slipped along.
Of course no one can resist giving the throttle a shove and with 530hp, common rail injection and a good turbo boost from the Yanmar, you will move to flank speed with confidence. The hull seemed capable even at full speed and the only noticeable issue may have been some prop rumbling in swerving manoeuvres, which one wouldn’t normally do other than in evasive situations.
A few short swells proved no issue and she rode them or parted them with confidence. The hull feels quite nimble, yet there was no hint of bad behaviour or slamming when the chop was fierce. I doubt that you would get into too much trouble with this well-proven design, which has seen service into the wilds of the Atlantic Ocean.
THE SINGLES CLUB
Single-engine boats have become popular with the advent of bow and sternthrusters, and most modern engines will prove completely reliable in service. The extra benefit is fuel economy and half the servicing bills. There is no loss in performance, particularly with a 530hp motor in a 37-foot boat.
At a purring 1200rpm we were doing 8.4kts and using a very parsimonious 9.5lt/h. Up to 1600rpm will double the fuel and see 10.2kts. I rather liked the 2000rpm sector, which suits the boat very well and gives 14.3kts for 37lt/h. The hoons will whoosh up to 2600rpm and 22kts, but will pay at the bowser after 64 litres are used per hour.
A top sprint speed is 27kts and 95lt/h, and I particularly enjoyed that setting as I was not paying for the fuel. The joys of boat testing! Realistically, you will swish along at 10 to 14kts in a comfortable way without breaking the bank.
If I was a critic of the boat it would only be in a few areas. Most of the internal timber trims are fitted with exposed screws, which I don’t like, and the varnish on the doors and cabinets seemed a little thin. Some of the floor hatches squeaked and may require adjustment.
However, most new owners will nevertheless be thrilled with the cheery mood pervading the Back Cove 37, while the intelligent layout and timeless lines will still look smart when many other “go fast” modern styles have passed their used-by dates.
If you’re in this market sector you should definitely make an inspection of the Back Cove range. After reading a magazine devoted to the Maine way of life, it is on my short list for a fabulous holiday destination, perhaps with a little lobster and champagne on the aft deck of a Back Cove 37.
TEST BOAT SPEC CHECK
Material: Vacuum-infused GRP hull
Type: V-bottom planning monohull
Length overall: 11.59m
Hull length: 11.46m
Weight: 9.97 tonnes
Holding tank: 189lt
Make/model: Yanmar CXM-GTE 530
Type: Six-cylinder turbo-diesel
Rated HP: 530
Max. RPM: 3050
Gearbox (Make/ratio): ZF 286A/ 2.5:1 reduction
Propeller: 4-blade NiBrAl