You Can Go Home Again
A Maine cruise on the Back Cove 32 may help you rethink what your next boat should be.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t go wrong cruising on a new Back Cove. Another is that you also can’t go wrong cruising in the middle of the summer in Midcoast Maine. Put the two together and you have a winning combination.
As it happened, Back Cove completed its first new 32-foot cruising boat about a day before the decidedly relaxed Maine Boats, Home & Harbors boat show opened in Rockland in August. The Back Cove factory is just outside town, so there weren’t any delivery problems. This was definitely, as Bentley Collins, the marketing and sales VP for Back Cove and parent company Sabre, said, “a soft launch.” But it was a good one. Cruisers from near and far were all over the boat during the show, wanting to see what this new entry-level Back Cove was all about.
After the show, the boat needed to get down to DiMillo’s, the large Back Cove and Sabre dealer in Portland. A plan was born. Collins and I compared notes, and decided to retrace a highlight reel of our previous cruises in Midcoast Maine. Basically we’d go from Rockland down to Port Clyde, up Muscongus Bay to Round Pond, down and around to Christmas Cove, over to Boothbay Harbor, and finally run west to Portland. This route included some of the most beautiful coves and harbors in Maine, as well as a stop at the busy summer cruising destination of Boothbay Harbor. It seemed that the best of Midcoast Maine and the new Back Cove were made for each other.
I am no stranger to Back Coves. Indeed, I tested the first one, a 29, at its launch in Miami in 2003, and I wrote that it was a winner. Now, 13 years and 600 hulls later, the new Back Cove 32 still adheres to the values that have made this built-in-Maine brand so popular: a single-diesel, fuel-efficient, low-maintenance, user-friendly cruiser with lobsterboat heritage. It has all the amenities for a comfortable day or weekend cruise; if you’re feeling really adventuresome and have a good relationship with your spouse, you could conceivably take it for a few months around the Great Loop.
But the 32 is built as a pocket cruiser. In the old Back Cove lineup, it would fit between the 30 and the 34, but Back Cove is letting those models rest for a year or so while it concentrates on the 32. They also make a 37 and 41. “With the 32, Back Cove is staying where we belong, below Sabre,” Collins says. “We recognize there’s a market for boats that size. People want to cruise at 25 knots with their family and friends. It’s a gentleman’s cruiser. It’s not a go-fast boat and it’s not a trawler. But it gets the fuel economy of a trawler and it goes fast enough so you can get where you want for a weekend or outrun a sudden storm.” It’s worth noting that Back Coves keep exterior teak to a bare minimum; the only teak on the 32, for example, is a thin accent strip running along the side of the cabin. Sabre, by comparison, makes upscale twin-diesel cruising boats from 38 to 66 feet, and they often have lots of teak.
The day after the Maine Boats show, we gathered at Journey’s End Marina in Rockland to start the cruise. Kevin Burns, the VP of design for Sabre and Back Cove, came by for a final look at his latest launch. “It’s a proud boat, a beautiful boat,” he said. “The accommodations worked out below. We’re very happy with the way the boat ended up.”
Collins added that “in terms of engineering and design, this has been the best start-up of any of our boats.”
Amid this bonhomie, four of us climbed on board for the cruise to Portland: Collins, Adam Carlson, the chief designer for the 32, Jamie Governale, a marketing assistant, and me. It’s easy to board the boat from the external swim platform; a large centerline door opens into a cockpit where there’s an L-shaped settee with attractive blue cushions in each corner. A center filler can be placed between the settees to make a seat that extends all the way across the transom. A highly varnished cherry table is in front of each settee.
You won’t stub your toe going forward. A large hatch opens at the back of the cockpit where there’s a lazarette for stowage and access to the steering gear. Push a button on the starboard side of the cockpit and the entire cockpit sole lifts up for engine access. What unfolds below is just about the best engine access I’ve seen on a boat this size. Two steps down from the cockpit, the big 435-horsepower Volvo Penta diesel (an optional upgrade) is mounted deep for a low center of gravity, and there’s walking room all around. For fast, fluid-check access to the engine, another small hatch is in the cockpit forward.
The bridgedeck is protected by a hardtop overhead and by large windows on both sides and is where people tend to gather underway. The galley is up, on the starboard side. You probably won’t be making gourmet meals here, but that’s not what cruising is about these days. The galley does have a Thetford two-burner cooktop, a stainless sink, convection microwave, and stowage in drawers under the solid-surface countertop.
On the port side, an attractive U-shaped settee holds four adults easily, and surrounds a high-gloss inlaid table. The mate’s seat is versatile, with the seatback on tracks so it can face forward while underway, or aft to join the crowd around the table.
The helm itself has an elevated wood border with a single 16-inch Garmin GPSMap 7616 display, plus the Volvo engine display. The joysticks for the Side-Power bow and stern thrusters are on the port side. (A bow thruster is standard; the stern is optional.) A wooden footrest makes driving easy.
Sightlines from the helm are excellent. The 32 has a large, three-pane windshield; the middle one opens for ventilation. And there are big side windows, which slide back to open. A nice touch is the large overhead hatch that slides astern to open (instead of tilting up) so you can run with the hatch open. For safety, three stainless steel handrails are overhead. The fridge with freezer is under the helm seat, with stowage under the mate’s seat.
To go below, you slide a large, centered fiberglass door to the side and descend two steps to the cabin and head. For a 32-foot boat with a large cockpit and bridgedeck, I was surprised by the amount of space down here. The cabin has a teak-and-holly sole, salty Herreshoff-style side panels, and standing headroom at the foot of the bed, even for me, and I’m almost 6 feet 2 inches tall. An island double bed is centered; there’s also an oval opening port on each side for more light, plus a large overhead hatch. A cedar-lined hanging locker is to starboard, with three drawers to port. The mattress lifts up for more stowage, and there are drawers at the foot of the bed. What’s interesting here is that Back Cove has made good use of space by separating the head and shower. The traditional head, with toilet, sink, vanity, mirrors, and stowage, is on the port side, while a separate stall shower, with a molded-in seat and stowage underneath, is to starboard.
Back in the cockpit, to reach the side decks you go up one step on each side; the decks themselves are 10¼ inches wide, good for a boat this size. The stainless steel side rails are high enough so you feel safe going forward, and there is a long stainless grabrail on the hardtop.
Below the waterline, the boat has a 16-degree deadrise at the transom, which made for a comfortable, stable ride. The hull is resin-infused with PVC foam core sandwich and strengthened via a resin-infused foam-cored stringer system. The boat proved to be comfortable, sturdy, and responsive in a seaway.
We left Rockland on a beautiful morning with the front and side windows and overhead hatch all open to let in the clean Maine seabreeze. It felt good. Even with four of us on board, there was plenty of room to move around the boat, and we quickly cruised past Tenants Harbor and around the iconic fishing village of Port Clyde running at 24.5 knots at 3230 rpm. This was Maine cruising at its best, with a deep blue sky, dark blue water, a rocky shore with dark green trees—and lobster pots everywhere.
All morning we saw few other recreational boats, just working lobstermen, as we cruised up Muscongus Bay to Round Pond. To say it is laid-back and relaxing would be an understatement. Round Pond is Maine at its most inviting. It’s protected, it has a lobster pound and dinghy dock at the head of the harbor, and you can feel your blood pressure drop as you cruise in at no-wake speed.
Christmas Cove got its name because British explorer John Smith stopped here on Christmas Day in 1614. Over the years the protected cove was a fur-trading center and then a fishing port, eventually becoming a favored summer vacation spot for families from New York and Boston. Today it has all the enchanting beauty of an idyllic cove that’s off the beaten path; a step back in time to a Maine less traveled. We entered the cove following two sailboats, and passed an osprey on a day marker. The cove itself was filled with Down East cruisers, center consoles, and a host of sailboats barely bobbing at their moorings. Halfway into the cove, just past a narrow spot, the Coveside Restaurant and Marina is on the left. The restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, features fresh Maine seafood (of course), but the real treat is the view from the deck overlooking the cove. If you want to spend a night or two, call the marina on Channel 9; it has 12 slips and 14 moorings. We explored the cove’s chilly waters for a while on this picture-perfect summer afternoon, passing a center console with mother, father, two kids and a yellow lab, a Norman Rockwell scene in a pristine setting.
To follow one of Maine’s best harbors with another, we cruised past Pemaquid Point a short while later and fell in line behind two sailboats to enter Christmas Cove, widely acclaimed as one of the prettiest destinations on the East Coast. It lived up to its reputation this summer afternoon (see Christmas Memories, right).
Moving on, we passed Ocean Point with its timeless old homes reaching down to the water and then around Spruce Point, with the inviting Spruce Point Inn, to reach the bustling waters of Boothbay Harbor, filled with tourist schooners, fellow cruisers, little kids getting sailing lessons, and working fishermen. With its marinas, waterfront restaurants, and many shops and boutiques, Boothbay Harbor has long been a destination for visitors arriving by land and by sea.
I was driving at this point, and I headed for one of my favorite stretches in this part of the world, Townsend Gut, a narrow waterway that runs between Boothbay Harbor and the Sheepscot River, winding its way past summer homes with docks and Down East boats and dogs and kids fishing. Each time I go by I want to check the real estate listings (before I remember what’s in my bank account).
After leaving the Gut at Cameron Point, where the channel really narrows, we headed down the wide Sheepscot River, past Sheepscot Beach where the surprisingly white sand made it look more like the Maryland shore than the Maine coast. From there we had the Gulf of Maine all to ourselves, passing Halfway Rock with its tall light at 24 knots and eventually picking up Portland Head Light blinking white in the far distance. We did not need its help on this beautiful day.
We swung in toward Portland past Cushing Island, where two guys on top of the World War II lookout tower waved as we cruised by. I was sorry for our excursion to end at DiMillo’s. I realized that the Back Cove 32 would be perfect for exploring all of Casco Bay, with its many channels, islands, waterfront restaurants, and Down East attractions. But I took solace knowing that where my journey on the 32 ended, some lucky cruisers’ was just about to begin.
Noteworthy Options: hardback enclosure ($14,550); teak decking for cockpit, helm, and side steps ($15,900); 5-kW Onan generator ($18,000); Stidd helm chair ($6,400); SureShade cockpit awning ($8,500); stern thruster ($5,025); dark green, black, flag-blue, or claret-red hull color ($3,950); engine options: Cummins 425-hp QSB-SL6.7 diesel ($12,000); 435-hp Volvo Penta D6 diesel ($12,500).
Warranty: One year on everything; two years on the 435-hp Volvo Penta D6, Generator: 5-kW Onan
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 81°F; humidity: 34%; seas: 1'
Load During Boat Test
139 gal. fuel, 80 gal. water, 4 persons.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 1/435-hp Volvo Penta D6
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 85-A, 2.5:1 gear ratio
- Props: 24 x 28 4-blade Nibral
- Price as Tested: $425,000
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.