Back Cove 34By Eric Colby
Back Cove Yachts managed to get plenty of Down East charm into its 34-footer. But there’s much more going on here that may take your breath away.
For the past decade, Back Cove Yachts has built its reputation on offering solid, practical, single-engine, diesel-powered boats, so when I got the chance to test the new 34, I was expecting a boat that displayed all of those attributes.
I was not disappointed. The boat is solidly constructed and has a practical layout. Single diesel engine? Check. But this attractive Down East-style boat also caught me off guard: I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by so many aspects of the vessel.
When Sabre’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bentley Collins demonstrated the boat’s acceleration with the single 480-metric-horsepower Cummins QSB 6.7 diesel, my jaw dropped. This boat rivals a bowrider for holeshot and wastes little time getting on plane—you could go tubing with the Back Cove 34. Top speed is 28.4 knots at 3340 rpm.
The planing hull with 18 degrees of transom deadrise handled deftly in maneuvers, completing turning tight circles in response to a hard-over helm. Test day on Casco Bay off the coast of Portland, Maine, was lily-pond calm, so the only waves I could find were those I created with my own wake. We sliced through with rock-solid confidence.
Not surprisingly, dockside maneuverability with the single engine ain’t easy, at least for those of us who are used to twin engines. So virtually every Back Cove 34 that has been ordered has gone out with an optional stern thruster as well as the standard bow thruster. Of course, with the boat so equipped you can maneuver into a slip with ease.
But there’s more to this boat than how she performs: The first sight that stopped me in my tracks actually came when I asked Collins to let me take a look at the boat’s engine compartment before we headed out for our test. He asked me to step into the cockpit and then he pushed a button.
The entire bridgedeck swung upwards on an electro-hydraulic ram to provide the most convenient engine access this side of an outboard. I could move easily around each side of the single Cummins diesel, which was mounted on rugged 4-foot-long, half-inch-thick aluminum brackets that bolted through the stringers and were secured with a 4-foot-long, -inch-thick backing plate. Not only will mechanics love working on this boat, mechanically inclined owners will be drawn to the Back Cove 34 as well. Service items such as the fuel-water separators and sea strainers are easy to get to at the aft end of the compartment. You could even replace a battery at the forward end of the compartment without worrying about hurting your back—they’re conveniently positioned on either side of the engine. The lazarette provides equally convenient access to the steering gear, struts, and trim-tab mechanicals.
Then there’s the construction. The solid-fiberglass hull and stringers are co-infused simultaneously for as close to a one-piece structure as possible, which explains the rigid feel when we went through our wake-induced waves. The deck is cored with balsa for strength and weight savings. It fits over the hull in a shoebox-style joint that is bonded with 3M 5200 adhesive and through-bolted every 6 inches. In practical Back Cove style, there are inspection plates in the cockpit where you can check on the joint and on the fittings for the fuel fills. I was glad to see Back Cove follows ABYC recommendations for fuel-hose connections with double clamps on the fuel-fill system.
When we returned from our sea trial, I discovered that the portside dinette on the bridgedeck converts to a berth. Again I would expect only a convenient couch here where the kids could nap. But it stretched out to nearly 6 feet 6 inches long for adults who like to sleep out in the open air. I also liked that it’s raised well above the walkway so guests seated there have a better view of the scenery. Across to starboard, the galley had excellent counter and stowage space for a boat this size, bolstered by two drawer-style refrigerators in the bases of the helm and companion seats.
Up forward, the Back Cove 34 has separate air conditioner controls for the port and starboard sides of the helm area so there won’t be any disagreements over temperature. If you prefer fresh air, the center section of the windshield, two sliding side windows, and a hatch in the overhead all open to let in breezes.
While ensconced in the Stidd helm seat, I felt comfortable and had a great view of my surroundings. The digital engine controls worked smoothly and all engine information is displayed on a VesselView screen. The only thing missing was a small pouch or glove box to stash a cell phone.
Belowdecks spaces were just as welcoming. When I asked if I should shed my shoes to go below, Collins shook his head. The sole that looked just like cherry and holly was a high pressure laminate that’s much easier to maintain and looks just as good.
As I descended through the companionway in the main bulkhead I noted battery switches (with an emergency cross-over) within comfortable reach. At the rear,there’s an L-shaped couch to port with a table that can also be utilized in the cockpit. Again, what looked like a small bed that would sleep a child or two converts into a 6-foot-6-inch-long berth that can sleep two comfortably. Privacy is provided by a curtain that separates the area from the island queen berth in the bow. On the practical side, there are two hanging lockers, plus removable panels in the sole so you can service the shower sump and the forward bilge pump.
Then I experienced another genuinely pleasant surprise. I walked into the head to find a separate stall shower...on a 34-foot boat! That’s going to draw lots of praise from a wife who hates dealing with a wet commode.
Taken altogether, this and all the other little surprises may add up to be the big lesson of the Back Cove 34: Sometimes the showstopping details aren’t grandiose or opulent. They just have to fit in with the rest of the boat, and make perfect sense.
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