Eastport 32By Capt. Grant Rafter
Fine dining tables are airily spaced throughout The Boatyard Bar and Grill, which is coated in the endemic red-and-white dcor of a Maryland crab house. Manila lines and painted pastel models of local vessels sit on long shelves, displayed as gentle beacons of Annapolis’ maritime heritage. “This is where we drew the first boat,” explains Eastport Yachts cofounder and sales manager Tom Weaver in his upbeat-Kiwi tone. “We were here one evening talking about what our favorite boat would be,” and with a shoulder-shrug acknowledgment of the clich founding myth, he smiles and says, “I still have the napkin.” Mick Price, cofounder and head designer, sits quietly back in his chair, his fingertips flexed steeple-like and sunglasses resting on his brow, nodding in agreement. “The 32 was based on a Chesapeake Bay workboat,” Weaver continues. “The idea was to modernize the look, as New Englanders and others have done with Downeast lobster boats, but to make sure that it was still suited for the way we boat around here.”
According to Weaver, the boating lifestyle on the Chesapeake demands a vessel that can reach the major towns on the far side of the bay (between 15 and 30 miles away) within an hour, comfortably fit a slew of guests for daytime cruising, and run in the shallows for explorations up rivers and streams. “She only draws 19 inches,” he explains, sipping from his ice water.
Price leans in. “Other hulls are retrofitted,” he says. “Ours is a modern running surface with a classic top. That’s a first.” I laugh lightly in agreement. The classic Chesapeake workboat is a single-engine vessel with a big engine box on centerline. By contrast, the standard propulsion system on an Eastport 32 consists of a pair of high-revving 190-hp Volvo Penta D3 diesel inboards mated to gears with eight-degree down angles that spin four-blade Acme nibral props. I’d already experienced how the combination works with the Eastport 32’s planing surface—which Price says is based on the modified-V used by modern Carolina sportfishermen—earlier that morning while bounding over the one-to-two foot chop of Annapolis Harbor.
My test boat, the aquamarine Hull No. 2 dubbed Chatterbox, reached her cruise speed of 20 mph just five seconds after I pushed the Morse controls flat, and in a mere 15 seconds she’d topped out at 33.5 mph. Just as her designers had intended, she was indeed capable of reaching destinations on the far side of the ria in less than an hour, and with time to spare.
Her SeaStar hydraulic steering responded without delay and allowed her to make four-boat-length circles at WOT. The only issue I had with her handling resulted from the aforementioned Morse controls, which required a good yank to get the transmissions in and out of gear, due to some improper maintenance. The available upgrades to electronic controls would eliminate such a problem, but even with it, I was still able to back her down alongside the dock with ease. (Weaver lubed the cables later, and the resistance disappeared.)
After docking I wanted to see how Eastport met its commitment to accommodate a multitude of guests. In order to maximize the width of the centerline walkway and thus allow for extra seating, Price placed the 32’s engines farther outboard than is typical. “We had to make sure that she wouldn’t get air underneath in a hard, high-speed turn and cavitate the props,” he explains. Part of the solution are conical prop tunnels designed to maintain a steady flow of water to the props. The engines’ wide stance creates other benefits besides guest mobility, such as increasing the boat’s ability to turn quickly while using less rudder, which is especially handy when docking. The only drawback I found is particular to the port side and only in conjunction with this engine. Since Volvo Penta doesn’t make port and starboard versions of its D3, a port-side installation leaves maintenance points like the oil dipstick and the impeller housing difficult to reach. Upgrade to 260-hp Volvo Penta D4s, 240-hp Cummins, or 220-hp Yanmars, and this problem disappears. The only other maintenance access issue I found was the restricted access via the 133⁄4"x 2'8" bilge-access hatch in the walkway between the engine boxes. The compartment below it holds four 8-D batteries—two house and two starters—as well as the switching box that allows you to parallel the banks in case one pair of batteries ever goes flat.
In any case, the ability to move about freely is only one defining aspect of the 32. Another, and more recognizable feature of a Chesapeake Bay workboat, is the flat cabin top that extends over the entire seating area. Traditionally fashioned from scrap planks and plywood with the sole task of carrying crab pots, the cabin top serves a more genteel purpose on the 32: shading patrons. Its made of vacuum-bagged Divinyncell and is supported on an aluminum housing that includes the windshield mullions. (All construction, including that of the hand-laid and also Divnycell-cored hull and stringers, is done by Brooks Boatworks in Washington, North Carolina.) Simply rolling up the optional isinglass dismisses any sense of an enclosed cabin, letting the ocean breeze whir by. But when protection from the elements is paramount, the entire seating area can be buttoned up—there’s even an option for a diesel heater. “I go fishing in one of these all winter,” boasts Weaver, “and just sip my coffee, watching guys get drenched in their center consoles.” In order to engender a dryer ride, Price moved the workboat’s helm station slightly aft, allowing more room for higher sheerlines. He also adopted flare in the bow, another improvement over the workboats. These adjustments seem to have done the trick, although coming off plane at around 1500 rpm, I did receive a light splash of salt spray onto the windshield (quickly removed by the dual Imtra wipers).
Affordability is another hallmark of the traditional crab-snagger that has worked its way into Eastport’s philosophy. As a result, you won’t find the level of finish that you would on a pricier vessel. For instance, the undersides of the fiberglass decks are left bare, PVC wiring conduit is exposed, and wires are not enclosed in looming. But none of this in any way affects the operation of the boat, or for that matter, should impact her long-term value. As Weaver says, “We created this boat for the way we boat.” His utilitarian dogma persists in features such as retractable faucet in the head that doubles as a shower nozzle (when was the last time you actually showered inside a 32-footer instead of using the one at the swim platform anyway?) and the purposeful avoidance of exterior woodwork (which also means less maintenance).
Because of her no-frills nature, the 32 is perfect for rigorous use. Daily trips—either cruising around local islands or fishing a few miles offshore—are her raison d’etre. In that sense, she again displays her workboat roots. But like everything else onboard, that tradition has been modified. The Eastport 32 is a pleasureboat, meant for your daily pursuit of on-the-water joy
To me the Eastport 32’s most memorable feature is her signature flip-down transom. It’s both easy to use and a practical addition for a boat that will spend a lot of time at sea. Just twist the central handle to pop open the stainless steel bolts, then push the switch under the starboard-side gunwale, and you’ve got yourself a sea-level lounging area. And this is no gimmick. It works great as a swim deck (a ladder attaches to the port side) or for hauling your tender aboard. The hinge along the bottom of the door doubles as a scupper, so the little water that comes in when you’re backing down pours right back out. Eastport even designed it so you can run at full speed with the door down, although just in case, you better look at your wake.
This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.