Photos by Billy Black
Back Home in a Back Cove
A late fall cruise in Connecticut allows the author to see her home waters, and the new line of outboard-powered Back Coves, in a new light.
A crisp breeze sweeps through Old Saybrook, Connecticut, a reminder that although November has been kind to us thus far, colder air lingers nearby, creeping in after dark and when the clouds cover the sun. Soon, relentless cold will likely be our reality in the Northeast for the coming months, and reminders are everywhere. Saybrook Point, bustling with activity during the summer, is silent and empty, save for a few locals fishing from the pier. The mini-golf course is shrink-wrapped for the winter, and the Connecticut River, usually full of pleasure craft, looks barren. This is the time of year when Northeastern boaters prepare for hibernation.
Saybrook Point Marina is my homeport, and during the summer months, its expansive slips are filled with a motley of vessels, from open dayboats to trawlers to some of the flashiest new boats on the water. But now those slips are empty, their summer tenants either resting on the hard or cruising in warmer climes. Even the most stubborn boaters who are intent on extending their cruising season for as long as possible have finally accepted their fate: Winter is upon us.
Luckily, the boat I’m here to test is built for harsh weather. Standing on the dock, I watch the Back Cove 39O approach. Coated in salt from her trip down the coast, the Down East hull looks right at home on the empty Connecticut River, proving right away that she can outlast other vessels once the season turns.
Back Cove 39O
The 39O is the second outboard model from Back Cove, following the 34O, which debuted in 2018. With hull number 47 of the 34O about to splash, Back Cove has gathered extensive feedback from its customers that it incorporated into the larger model, and while both the 34- and 39-foot models feature entirely new hull designs specific to outboard propulsion, the 39O is truly a new build.
“On the 34O, we utilized a lot of the same tooling from our Back Cove 32, which is an inboard model, in order to accelerate bringing that boat to market,” says Jamie Bloomquist, national sales manager at Back Cove. “But with the 39O, everything from the keel to the hardtop is brand new.”
Perhaps the most significant change is the sheer increase in space; with only 5 feet of additional length, the 39O has added a second stateroom with twin berths, as well as a lower salon safe from prying eyes, of which I anticipate there will be many. A family of four should have no trouble spending a weekend aboard.
The cockpit also feels exceptionally spacious, with fore- and aft-facing bench seats making this an ideal space for entertaining. Among the other new design elements is a fully enclosable, climate-controlled salon helm with lounge seating, dinette and a compact galley. On our finger-numbing sea trial, we were particularly thankful for this space.
Rolling through no wake zones at 5 knots, the 39O is near silent, allowing us to fully appreciate the scenery as we head towards Hamburg Cove in Old Lyme. We cruise beneath the I-95 bridge and pass downtown Essex before throttling down and allowing the Downeaster to demonstrate her performance as we quickly accelerate into the 40-knot range. Even at speed, she is remarkably quiet, a trait that did not occur by accident.
“It’s the fastest and the quietest Back Cove we’ve ever built because of how we have the outboards so far aft and the enclosed helm,” says Bloomquist. From inside the helm station, it is easy to tune out the roar from the triple 400-hp Mercury Verados. The hull is also remarkably stable, and combined with the sound mitigation, you’d nearly forget you are sitting on a boat if it weren’t for the passing scenery.
We throttle back as we enter Hamburg Cove, situated where the Eight Mile River flows into the Connecticut River. Here, the Back Cove proves easy to maneuver through dozens of empty mooring balls while hugged on both sides by shallows. This is one of my favorite cruising destinations, and during the warmer months, you would be hard pressed to find an opening. But today, we are alone. It’s strange to return this time of year, with the sun beginning to set in the early afternoon and the temperature plummeting by the minute. On an open boat, this would be an abridged cruising day at best, but the enclosed helm allows us to extend the day in an already extended season.
I may not be testing the Back Cove in her home waters of Maine, but Hamburg Cove feels pretty close this time of year. Here, we are shrouded in nature, and although it has lost some of its vibrancy now that the leaves are shed, it allows us to use the boat the way Back Cove intended: in the offseason, when you have the water mostly to yourself.
Jumping off the boat onto a floating dock to grab some drone footage allows us to utilize one of the other new features on the 39O: port and starboard transom gates, which diverge from the centerline transom door on the 34O and all other Back Cove models. Disembarking and boarding the boat is easy, even with the outboards lifted out of the water. And if the dock is too tall to board from the swim platform, there is a vertical grab rail at the aft end of the hardtop that makes it easy to board amidships. These considerations make the vessel even more family-friendly, as has the added space in the interior.
Video produced by John V. Turner
With the sun beginning to rapidly set, we board the boat once again and turn back for home, more appreciative than ever for the enclosed helm now that any semblance of warmth has been swept away by the breeze. Once out of the cove and into the river, we comfortably push the Back Cove to a top end speed of just over 40 knots, more than zippy enough to reach the dock before the last light disappears. It is barely five, but it feels like it could be 9 p.m. The glow of the Saybrook Point Inn behind the dock looks enticing, a cozy place to retire for the night after a day on the water, but our captain, John Tammany, will sleep on the boat instead. He has been living aboard in comfort for the past week, showcasing the boat along the coast from Maine to New Jersey.
And the boat made quite an impression along the way; Back Cove had already sold 16 models when we went to press. “When we came out with the 34O, that was new territory for us. We didn’t have a lot of information about what the potential was for a cruising model with an enclosed helm deck,” says Bloomquist. “We gathered a ton of feedback from that first owner group.” The 39O attracted the attention of boaters moving up from smaller models, downsizing from larger cruising yachts and even considering Back Cove for the first time now that the builder offers outboard propulsion. So, with all of this newfound interest, will the builder be expanding the line in the future?
“There are several different sketches for additional outboard models,” Bloomquist says. “I would not rule it out.” Right now, there are no concrete plans or timelines, as the 39O seemingly falls into a sweet spot in the balance between speed and fuel consumption. That is not to say that there will never be a larger outboard model, and if the upgrades made to the 39O based on feedback from the 34O are any indication, future models should only continue to improve.
I am envious of our captain for getting to spend the night aboard. The climate-controlled helm station having proven itself against the elements, I would be happy to settle onto a bunk for the night, even as the temperature continues to fall. But this is only a brief visit to my hometown, where normally I would be preparing to spend more time with the approaching holiday season. With COVID-19 cases on the rise and forcing us all to hunker down in our homes, however, the Back Cove provided a brief excuse to return, if only for a day. Selfishly, there is nowhere I would rather enjoy the newest model in what has already become a standout line. She may be the last remaining boat at the dock tonight, but in such a tumultuous year, when the water provides the only true escape from the grim realities ashore, why stop now?
Back Cove 39O Test Report
Back Cove 39O Specifications:
Displ.: 26,500 lbs.
Fuel: 500 gal.
Water: 97 gal.
Power: 3/350-hp Suzuki 4.4L V6s;
3/300-hp Yamaha 4.2L V6s;
3/400-hp Mercury Verado 2.6L V6s
Price (as tested): $799,965