Boat Review: Back Cove Downeast 37

David Lockwood says this Maine-built modern lobster yacht is right at home Down Under... and poses the question: "Is this the ultimate lunch boat and greatest entertainer in its class?"
In the short time Back Cove has been available in Australia - we tested the harbinger, a 29-footer back in 2006 - there have been some 40 of the Maine-built boats sold locally. This is a solid achievement considering local importer, the affable Jed Elderkin also from Maine, is a one-man band.
But there are compelling reasons these boats from the far-away American state, with a contrasting climate and very different culture from ours, have garnered local acceptance. It’s all about something called timeless style and seagoing sense.
Take the latest Downeast 37. This is an especially relevant boat when you consider the way Australians go about their favourite pastime. The common practice is to tootle off to a favourite anchorage, stage lunch with a bunch of friends and/family on deck, preferably in the shade of a large awning, swim off the transom, grab a nap, tidy up and then head home. Sated.
For many, the idea of sleeping a whole tribe aboard their beloved boat is a frightening prospect. Yet many salty couples in their twilight years, who have the room for a night or two in the social schedule, enjoy that private time like no other. Offload the extended family après lunch and head back out to enjoy your own company and share in the spoils together.
Evidently, the brains behind Back Cove have been watching us. I’m told Back Cove follows foreign markets, considers the way other folk use their boats, and include smart ideas in their craft. The Downeast 37 will answer a lot of wants Downunder for it’s a boat pitched at retirees and empty nesters who know exactly how they use their boats.
When we tested the Classic 37, with the same hull but lock-up cabin, back in December 2009 it had a $679,500 package price with single 530hp Yanmar and some kit. This Downeast 37 iteration, with a lot more cool gear and an upgraded QSC 8.3 600hp engine, in place of the standard 480hp model, was selling for $625,000 turnkey. That’s a buy.
Options included 6kVa Kohler generator with standard air-con to cabin and helm deck, dark-blue coloured hull with red boot stripe, tusk-coloured UltraLeather upholstery, aft cockpit “L” shaped corner seating with Sunbrella upholstery, teak decking on swim platform, stern thruster, “Easy Dock “ proportional thruster controller, Lenco Autoglide self-levelling trim tabs, mast for hardtop and fresh water washdown forward.
The extra cockpit refrigerator will be welcome, as might be the hi/lo pedestal with helm table filler cushion for creating an impromptu berth up top. Electronics (not yet fitted) were a Garmin 8015 GPS/MAP with HD Radar, VHF radio and Simrad autopilot. The boat is sold with antifouling and PropSpeed, safety equipment including EPIRB, docking lines and fenders, commissioning and handover as a turnkey, registration, ready-to-roll rig.
From the above selected options one can indeed see how Back Cove importer Mr Elderkin has really got a grip on the way we use our boats Down Under. There really wasn’t anything left wanting except, perhaps, a stainless-steel U-bar on the swim platform with lift-out barbecue and bait board with rod holders. But he’s says he’s fitted that using an easy addition using a local aftermarket supplier. Switched on.
The Downeast 37 has a decent swim platform, teak covered for a touch of luxe so you can sit down without non-skid imprint or second-degree burns. There’s the requisite swim ladder and handheld hot/cold deck shower linked to 454 litres of onboard water, which is pretty good for a 37 and will last a long weekend with the troops and at least a week for a couple.
The central transom door doesn’t facilitate the typical L-shaped seating and dinette found on sportscruisers. But that’s no loss. Our test boat had smaller removeable L-shaped lounges nestled in each transom corner. These boost seating when underway with a full house and seemed relatively dry back there. At rest, you could add small casual folding tables before each lounge and this would suffice the cruising couple.
Dressed in blue-and-white striped Sunbrella livery, the lounges added to the cheerful look of the Downeast 37. But with them clipped out and removed -- then stowed in the handy amidships storage hold -- you’re left with one big practical, easy-clean, non-skid cockpit ready for a multitude of outdoor duties. Rod holders could be mounted on the cockpit rails or gunwales (provided there’s clearance for reel handles).
But as depicted by the Maine-based factory in its Downeast 37 brochure, such is the expanse of cockpit floor space that you can easily fit a large teak outdoor table and eight loose chairs. With this in place you will still have room to move around the table and access the central transom door and swim ladder. Thus, the stage is set and the script written for that long lunch, swim, snooze and run home.
The pièce de résistance is the electric push-button awning that extends from the trailing edge of the hardtop back over the cockpit. Evidently, it’s rated for up to 40 knots, though you’re best furling it back in when putting to sea. Extended, you gain shade from the midday sun over the big deck setting. It’s just like a lunch under a sail around the pool, only way better as you’re boating.
For smaller crowds, and in adverse weather, the helm deck offers more permanent protection. There is a small, plush raised dinette, beautifully finished in cherrywood and maple, big enough for four when you reverse the backrest on the co-pilot seat. The dinette converts via a hi-low pedestal to an impromptu berth or daybed (that’s where couples might snooze after lunch).
Opposite, behind the helm, is another small two-person lounge. Beneath both lounges are handy storage drawers, two fridges plus an icemaker. Full marks for boosting the refrigeration, Mr Elderkin, as you can never have too much in an Aussie cruising boat.
Back Cove also deserves a wrap for creating the huge, walk-in amidships hold under the moulded co-pilot seat base, which lifts on gas struts. There’s sufficient storage space to stash seats, tables, chair, water-sports kit, fishing and dive gear, you name it! The loose timber-topped footrest/storage icebox for the co-pilot is another nice touch.
As with all Back Coves, walk-around decks backed by a high bow-rail, moulded toe rails, two-tone non-skid decking, and grab rails tucked under the hardtop, ensure safe access to the bow. There you’ll find a nice flat cabin top upon which to sit and toast the sunset, a windlass and bowsprit with self-stow stainless steel anchor, and a very generous anchor locker with freshwater wash and dedicated fender storage.
Looking back, the easy-clean smooth hardtop with mast looks purposeful. There’s scope - as indeed we have seen on other Back Coves in our travels - to add custom kayak cradles and keep them, stand-up boards, crab pots and long fishing rods, up here at holiday time.
From swim platform through the cockpit and helm deck and down the companionway, the Downeast 37 flows. There’s no need to dodge intrusive mouldings, seats or other paraphernalia. This adds to the ergonomics and useability of the boat, especially in seagoing applications.
Aesthetics are enhanced by the soft-panel inserts under the hardtop, while yet more practicality is reflected by the LED lighting, side opening windows, sensible opening centre pane of the windscreen for fresh air when at anchor, and abundant 12V outlets and GPOs, including a waterproof one in the cockpit.
Below decks, the Downeast 37 is a self-contained suite. The galley is immediately to port, close to the wide companionway, traced by solid Corian counters and fitted with convection microwave oven, two burner Kenyon electric hob, and upmarket Vitrifrigo stainless-steel pull-out drawer fridge and freezer (adjustable either way).
Storage is beyond adequate, with drawers and cupboards, plus a usefully deep locker for appliances, pots and pans. The sink is a big circular number, there’s a garbage receptacle, opening ports and overhead hatches.
The dovetailed drawer joints point to the handmade ‘stick built’ cabin interior, where matt cherrywood joinery and trim and moulded clinker-like hull sides create a Herreshoff-inspired ambience. Integrated timber grabs are a yacht-like feature, while the master AC/DC panel near the companionway is very simple, with a Kohler generator switch and Fusion stereo head and dock.
Accommodation for owners comes in the form of one beckoning island queen bed flanked by quaint reading lights, hanging space for the weekend attire, and a nearby bathroom with freshwater toilet and American-sized shower. Storage lockers are plentiful, there’s a TV on the wall, and fly screens on all hatches, ports and even the companionway cabin door.
The Back Cove 37 hull has been around for about five years now. As we stated in our original test of the 37 Classic, the hull is hard to fault. Designer Kevin Burns has drawn a vee-style hull with reverse chines forward, a secondary chine to shoot the spray away, with 16 degrees of moderate deadrise flattening to the single propeller running in a pocket to reduce draft and running angle.
The resin-infused hull has foam-cored stringers, Awlgrip navy-blue hull and bright-red boot stripe, and the deck is all bagged and foam cored, leading to a stiff monocoque structure. The mouldings are very fair, but the stuff out of the way is just as impressive.
The lazarette is home to the 6kVA Kohler generator with sea strainer, sound-shield and exhaust splitter. Being aft, it’s wonderfully quiet and as far removed from the accommodation as can be. The house and engine-start batteries are back here, along with the polypropylene 1135-litre fuel tank.
Cummins’ 8.3-litre 600hp straight-six dominates the engine room, but being on the centreline ensures there’s plenty of access to the engineering items. The water and H/W tank are outboard, all the seacocks are labelled, with big clear strainers to catch the weed, and a fuel filter aft.
The 2 1/4in Aquamet shaft and Nibral four-blade prop operate through a ZF 2.39:1 gearbox. Thus, the running gear is all proven quality, although extra effort appears to have gone into sound insulation. Underway, this was a very compliant boat.
Driving the Downeast 37 is one of the boating life’s pleasure. The views astern are unfettered, the deep glass around the helm frames the views abeam and forward, while wipers with washer combine with flare and chines in the hull topsides to keep the spray away. We took on nigh a drop until playing the goat.
Recline in the high-backed helm chair and you’re ready to reel in the sea miles, with the red-cruising light on at night. Flip over the seat bolster and stand if the going gets tough. And when you arrive back at the marina, proportional bow thrusters are ready to assist. As they engage slowly, there isn’t the cavitation and loud grinding noise of standard DC thrusters. This leads to greater control and adds to the refined experience.
Meantime, the decent dash looks big enough to swallow a 15in or 16in multifunction screen or perhaps two 9in screens. The Cummins engine comes with a Vesselview engine-monitoring display and a single electronic throttle/shift. The automatic Lenco trim-tabs actually worked a treat on the water, keeping the boat level, with the forefoot working in the head seas.
Yet, yet the Downeast 37 is a joy to hand steer and command. The timber wheel, upright purposeful wheelhouse and muffled engine noise all adding to the pleasure. At 20-21 knots cruise at 2380rm we were burning 65 litres per hour for a safe range of 322 nautical miles (nm) while heading to sea.
According to the official sea-trial data, you will get 380nm at 15.9 knots using 43 litres per hour at 2000rpm, the most efficient cruise and perhaps how you might gad about the waterways during holidays. Top speed is 29-30 knots with the 600hp QSC 8.3. It’s a terrific common-rail electronic engine with great local support to boot.
On the water, underway and at anchor, the Downeast 37 excels.
The Downeast 37 is another very convincing design from the Maine yard, with class-leading single-level cockpit and deck space from transom to cabin companionway. As such, it’s one of the most impressive entertaining boats we’ve had the pleasure of setting foot aboard. The mind boggles at the partying possibilities… you will surely be the go-to venue in raft ups.
Yet it is more than just a stage. There’s Atlantic-inspired seaworthiness, sweet traditional lines, single-engine good sense, thrusters to assist docking, and a romantic owner's cabin with real comforts. Those empty-nesters will be right at home.
At the same time, a half dozen anglers could easily work the deck, with plenty of scope for adding rod holders, a cutting board on a rail on the swim platform, even outriggers if the fishing bug bites you. Divers will also appreciate the deck space, as might those who like to do a bit of everything active during boating holidays.
On the Downeast 37, it’s all about seizing the day, escaping for the night, and cruising places in a boat designed for open water with single diesel-engine efficiency. It’s about the merits of timeless design -- a spoon bow, graceful sheerline and tumblehome -- melding with the latest technologies.
And it’s about looking good in a modern-day boat that honours its maritime heritage. Downeast. Downunder. Downshift...
Length overall: 12.95m
Hull length: 11.64m
Beam: 4.01m
Draft: 1.09m
Weight: 11,050kg
Berths: 2+2
Fuel: 1136 litres
Water: 454 litres
Holding tank: 150 litres+
Engine: Cummins QSC 8.3
Type: Six-cylinder turbo-diesel
Displacement:8.3 litres
Rated HP: 600
Max. RPM: 3080
Gearbox (Make/ratio): ZF/ 2.39:1 reduction
Propeller: four-blade NiBrAl
Upgraded Cummins 600hp QSC 8.3 and options such as coloured hull, teak swim platform, cockpit seating, stern thruster, BCY “ Easy Dock “ Proportional Docking System, Lenco Autoglide Self-Levelling System with GPS Kit, mast for hardtop, FW wash on bow, Garmin 8015 GPS/MAP with HD Radar, VHF radio and Simrad autopilot, all safety gear and commissioning.