Little Harbor WhisperJet 38EC Page 2

Little Harbor WhisperJet 38EC — By Tim Clark — January 2001

Retro Rocket
Part 2: Little Harbor WhisperJet 38EC continued
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• Little Harbor 38EC Specs
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At the center of the bridge deck, a small hatch allows you to drop down between the twin Yanmars for quick once-overs and oil checks. For substantial jobs, the press of a button will raise the entire bridge deck on a hydraulic lift, opening the orderly, uncluttered engine compartment to the sky. The jet drives are also easily accessed through a hatch, comprising nearly the entire area of the cockpit sole, that also covers removable stowage bins large enough for a shore-power cable, washdown hose, and more.

Below decks forward is an admirably crafted environment evocative in nearly every detail of Ted Hood's 40 years of yacht designing. The sole is varnished teak and holly, and the trim, drawer fronts, locker frames, and corner posts are rich, hand-rubbed cherry. I took particular notice of the cabinet joinery--its raised-panel doors and superior joints--the louvered head door, and the fine cherry hull ceilings. The port-side galley is well equipped with a Kenyon Eurostyle two-burner stove, a microwave in a custom locker, and an under-counter Norcold refrigerator. Generous natural light enters through six ports and four deck hatches, all by Lewmar.

At the helm an optional electronics package included a North Star 961XD Color DGPS chartplotter, Raytheon RL74 radar with a seven-inch screen, Autohelm ST 6000+ autopilot, and Standard Horizon Intrepid SC101 VHF with DSC capability. But our WhisperJet 38's most remarkable technological innovation was her steering and control system, governed by a joystick mounted on the starboard arm of the captain's chair.

This device became the focal point of considerable controversy when I learned mid-way through the test that it was still in development. Little Harbor was not willing to go on record as to the details of its below-water operation, and if you were to have received delivery of a Little Harbor 38 on the day of the test, it would have arrived not with the joystick system we were testing, but with the Hinckley Jetstick. (Both Little Harbor and Hinckley are part of Hinckley Yacht Holdings and share some technology.) Bear this in mind as I describe its performance.

The system has three modes: helm, steer, and docking. In helm mode the only role of the joystick is to raise or lower the buckets over the jets, resulting, respectively, in either forward or reverse thrust. You steer with the wheel while, as in all modes, a separate throttle controls rpm.

In steer mode you can guide the vessel by just twisting the knob of the joystick port or starboard to pivot the jet nozzles. Handling the 38 this way was a pleasure. There was a certain thrill in guiding all that power with just thumb and fingertip, and because when you ease your grip a spring action returns the knob to center, thus straightening the nozzles, there seemed less tendency to oversteer than when at the wheel.

Docking mode is the system's most complex and compelling setting. With the stick left alone, the boat "hovers" in place; the buckets are about halfway down over the jets, deflecting some thrust forward, some astern, even some downward. Push the joystick forward, and the buckets come up; pull it aft, and they come down. And when you twist the knob, the jet nozzles pivot.

Moving the stick laterally, combined with some twisting of the knob to direct the jet nozzles, results in the joystick's greatest feat: walking the boat sideways. The Hinckley Jetstick has the same capability as a result of nearly identical manipulation, but it achieves it in a different way. Twisting the knob, as on the Little Harbor system, turns the jet nozzles, but lateral movement of the Hinckley stick kicks in the bow thruster. Silverman, anticipating that Little Harbor's system includes patentable technology, will not divulge on record how lateral movement of the company's stick affects the configuration of the propulsion system. He only confirms that the bow thruster plays no part. Apparently, the objective of the new control system is great maneuverability without that embarrassing bow thruster grind.

Will all these computer-integrated functions on one joystick put an end to every skipper's nightmare of crushed swim steps and crumpled bowsprits? Very possibly. The system allows you to approach tight-quarters-maneuvering from a much less stressful point of view. Rather than struggle with the proper configuration of forward, reverse, and throttle on each engine, as well as rudder angle and the general "feathering" of all these elements, you just concentrate on what you want the boat to do and how you need to use the stick in order to make it happen. If things aren't going as you like, you just turn loose of the stick, and the boat "self-centers." For unpracticed boat handlers this almost shameful admission will surely be encouraging: Taking up the joystick felt soothingly similar to sitting down to a new computer game.

Ironically, old hands might find the transition to joystick maneuvering more difficult. What expert skipper wouldn't feel a little put off seeing hard-won experience replaced by a gadget from a video arcade?

Will Little Harbor put its experimental joystick system into production, or will it stay with the Hinckley Jetstick, bow thruster noise and all? We'll have to wait and see. One thing is sure: Little Harbor's reputation for combining the most elegant aspects of nautical tradition with bold technological innovation continues.

Little Harbor (401) 683-7005. Fax: (401) 683-7251.

Next page > Little Harbor 38EC Specs > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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