Designed and built using a simple philosophy, each Alden Yachts 44 is tailored to her owner’s tastes.
"The principal philosophy in everything we do is to build good, straightforward offshore boats," says Alden Yachts president Dave MacFarlane, with satisfaction in his voice and confidence in his body language. There's good reason for both his statement and demeanor, considering the boat he's speaking of is a custom 44-footer, available in both express and flyingbridge models, that is moored at the dock outside his office. "Secondly, we build boats that have a classic sense of proportion in a traditional package that will stand the test of time," he continues.
I am at Alden Yachts's Portsmouth, Rhode Island, yard where MacFarlane's office overlooks Narragansett Bay. I've just spent the better part of the day on those waters aboard Tonic, an Alden Yachts 44 Flybridge Express, with Ray Lavoie, the company's production manager, and Jim Ewing, the company's operations manager.
The 44 FB EX joins seven other Alden yachts, including a 40, 44, 46, and 50/56 express; a 50/56 motoryacht; a 50/56 pilothouse; and a 60 tournament express. And while each boat is different--every owner has great leeway on layout and configuration--all share common traits: craftsmanship, attention to detail, and the attention of the entire Alden Yachts staff. "The owner works with the entire team from day one in the building process," explains MacFarlane. "There is a special relationship that forms throughout, right up to the launch and christening. It's quite meaningful for everybody."
The 44 that I've spent the day on exemplifies this and then some. "This particular owner is rather tall, so, for example, we had the refrigerator configured with a cabinet underneath to get the unit up as high as possible," says Ewing as we examine the port-side galley-down area prior to taking Tonic out. "That's the way he wanted it, so that's how we did it," he adds as he opens the stowage space, which I notice is quite deep and easily accessed. The rest of the galley provides a suitable amount of Corian-topped counterspace, beautiful teak and holly sole, deep stainless steel sink--its Grohe faucet with pull-out sprayer is an option--three-burner electric stovetop, microwave, and plenty of drawer and cabinet space. There is also a full-size pantry opposite the galley.
Another well-thought-out touch I notice involves garbage--actually the placement of the ubiquitous galley garbage pail that usually takes up space on deck, where it is constantly being knocked over. Beneath the middle of three steps that lead from the saloon to the galley is a place where a pair of garbage pails easily fit side by side, with room to spare. When they're full, the entire affair--all three steps--lifts up on hinges with the help of a pair of gas-assisted rams for easy removal.
Why do I bring up this seemingly small point? Because I believe that if the Alden Yachts team took the time to devise this distinctive solution for a mundane problem, there are no limits to what they'd do to make this 44 special. One look around convinces me I was right.
I am just as impressed with the layout of the 44's saloon. It features a pair of couches to either side, each with stowage beneath; an entertainment center tucked into the aft, starboard corner; and large windows all around for maximum ambient light and sightlines while driving from the lower, starboard-side helm station. Also of note is the high level of fit and finish, a hallmark of Alden Yachts. To learn how it's done, I am taken on a tour of the woodshop, where I note that all the drawers are dovetail-joined, a sure sign of quality craftsmanship. I see craftsmen working on round-topped, cold-molded cherry door frames that are used on doorways for the 44's starboard Pullman-style guest/kids quarters, head forward of the galley, separate shower compartment forward of the guest quarters, and owner's forepeak stateroom. I also see rooms designed for clean air and proper humidity and temperature where the varnish is painstakingly applied.
What you don’t immediately see on the 44 is just as impressive. The engine room, accessed through a large hatch in the teak-soled cockpit and also equipped with gas-assisted rams for effortless operation, offers suitable space for hands-on maintenance. It's not a stand-up space, but there is enough room between the 600-hp Cats for me to comfortably kneel. I can clearly see the stringer system, four fore and aft and the four athwartships girders that are Divinycell-cored fiberglass. What I can't see is the eight-pound-density foam and the thicker laminate in way of the engine, including an encapsulated, half-inch steel plate that is drilled and tapped for the engine mount bolts. A PSS shaft system is used for vibration control.
The hull is cored with end-grain balsa with solid FRP at the chines, and it's vacuum-bagged using an isopthalic gelcoat and a vinylester osmotic barrier. The hull laminate is solid from the sheer down to about four inches, then again from the keel up about eight inches, with Divinycell core between. The top and bottom laminates lock the coring into place, says Alden Yachts.
While I admire the woodwork and attention to detail, I'm also impressed by Tonic on the water. "The owner commutes between Fishers Island (New York), where he lives, and Connecticut," says Ewing as we begin our sea trial. "He's an avid boater and uses the boat five or six days a week." Once I get my hands on the wheel, I can see why. The 44 has a modified deep-V hull with a bottom that flattens slightly as it goes aft, which, according to MacFarlane, gives her a soft entry and a good turn of speed in adverse conditions.
While conditions in the bay are fairly calm--the 10- to 15-knot wind has little effect, as we are in the lee of the land for most of the day--I am unable to judge her seakeeping abilities in challenging water. I do, however, put her through a series of hard-over turns and 360s, with her losing no more than about 200 rpm during one at WOT. She also tracks well on straight runs. Indeed, with the Providence skyline visible in one direction and Newport just around the bend to the south, I am tempted to just keep on going.
As I’m packing up, Ewing tells me that in a twist, the builder has an issue with the owner. Seems he likes to drive the boat with the bimini up in conditions that one shouldn't. "So we're going to design a bimini that he can use while running Tonic at 25 knots in six-footers," says Ewing, with an obvious tone of confidence and pride in his voice.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.