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Back to the Future

Take a spin on Jacksonville’s St. Johns River over the next few weeks and you’re likely to see Cindy Purcell, owner of Huckins Yacht Corporation, sea trialing her latest and greatest, the classically styled, futuristically engineered hybrid-electric 38 Sportsman.

Huckins Hybrid-Electric 38 Sportsman

Huckins Hybrid-Electric 38 Sportsman

Me and the ol’ Betty Jane II had just returned to our slip in Jacksonville when I got a cellphone call from Editor-in-Chief Dan Harding. I was standing in the cockpit at the time, putting a cleat hitch on one of the stern lines. “Just a second, Dan—I can’t hear you,” I said for starters, “Lemme shut ‘er down. Just take a second.”

After I’d hit the big red STOP button on the Yanmar panel and returned to a chair in the cockpit to continue the conversation, Dan explained that he’d just been bopping around, checking out Facebook and, as luck would have it, turned up the latest model being developed by Huckins Yacht Corporation, the 38 Sportsman, a pretty little cruiser with classical Art Deco lines and a futuristic, post-modern hybrid-electric powerplant. In the Facebook video, Dan said, the brand-new cruiser was zipping across the sun-spangled St. Johns River at a rousing clip, just a stone’s throw from me and my marina.

Both Dan and I were big-time interested in the Sportsman. We’d toured the Huckins facility some month before and, out of that experience, Dan had written a story for Power & Motoryacht’s March issue (Past, Meet Present) detailing the progress being made by Huckins on the boat’s infused, composite-sandwich construction (Corecell, E-Glass, Kevlar), her modern, Architectural Digest interior and her dual-purpose, environmentally-friendly powerplant. Now, apparently, the boat was much further along. Indeed, her engineering had achieved sea trial status.

“What kinda time frame we talkin’ here—maybe they’re still out there on the river,” I suggested while tipping back in my chair and making a fast calculation. After all, I hadn’t hooked Betty’s shorepower cord up yet. Her electronics were still energized. With virtually no trouble at all, I could crank back up, toss the lines off, ease back out of the slip, zip down the Ortega River and be in the St. Johns in a heartbeat. “Maybe I can catch ‘em. Take some pictures or at least get a look at the darn thing as it goes by.”

Dan’s fairly used to my super abundance of enthusiasm. “Maybe call Huckins first,” he advised, “They posted today but that’s no guarantee they did the trial today, too. Maybe they’re out there, maybe they’re not.”

Huckins Hybrid-Electric 38 Sportsman

Huckins Hybrid-Electric 38 Sportsman

This turned out to be sound advice. Huckins owner Cindy Purcell and crew had been tearing up the St. Johns the day before. Everything had gone smoothly though, according to Huckins marketeer Sara Gielow. The twin 380-hp Cummins QSB 6.7s, the diesel side of the hybrid-electric powerplant, had performed as hoped. Great top speed. Great running attitudes. The whole nine yards.

“We will be sea trialing the electrical part of the equation in a couple of weeks,” added Gielow, “and I’ll make sure to give you a heads up.”

Heads up indeed. If the hybrid-electric portion of the Sportsman’s powerplant performs as planned, twin 20-hp Elco EP-20 (brushless, virtually maintenance-free) motors electronically clutched into the diesel’s propeller shafts will, with the flip of a switch, push the boat along at 7 knots or so for two and a half hours or, with the genset deployed, produce the very same 7-knot cruise speed all day long. In near silence, with zero emissions and absolutely no help from the mains. And there will be no automotive-type lithium-ion technology represented in the Sportsman’s battery banks. Instead, she will feature Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePho4) batts that, according to Huckins, tend to be more robust and stable than lithium-ion.

“Yeah, Sarah, I’d really appreciate a heads up,” I told Gielow, “Give me a day’s notice and I’ll be on the scene, ready to go.”

And you can best believe, I certainly will. Stay tuned.