Huckins 38 Sportsman
Like Flippin’ a Switch!
I’ve always been interested in new, cutting-edge stuff. So, when Huckins Yachts announced its plans to build a hybrid-electric cruiser with an Art Deco profile directly descended from the old Huckins 36 Sportsman, I was all in. The mix of classical good looks with an undeniably forward-leaning propulsion package was totally intriguing to me. So much so, that I had to pay the folks at Huckins a visit, just to see how things were coming along. Couldn’t help myself, really.
What I subsequently saw kept me coming back, at least two times now, maybe three. After all, the Huckins facility in Jacksonville is a compelling place and Huckins is a venerable, time-honored company with a list of customers that stretches back into the dim, fabled, sepia past. David Goodrich, the tire magnate, owned at least three Huckins Fairform Flyers during his lifetime. And none other than John F. Kennedy himself delivered a few of the PT Boats that Huckins built during World War II, running them from Jacksonville down to the so-called “break-in center” in Miami.
Gallery: Huckins 38 Sportsman
But here’s the deal. This storied old boatbuilding enterprise—perhaps one of oldest in America—was just about up to its eyeballs in one of the most complex and sophisticated hybrid-electric powerplants imaginable, with the serious intention of dropping the whole thing into a retro-looking fiberglass envelope constructed, paradoxically enough, with totally modern techniques and materials. You know, stuff like vinylester resin-infused, Corecell-sandwiched fiberglass, Alexseal two-part polyurethane paint and Countervail vibration and sound dampening panels. When I’d truly got my head wrapped around all this grooviness, it was actually kinda spellbinding. A wild, Hail Mary for Huckins—from the early twentieth century smack dab into the midst of the twenty-first!
Consider the potential of the hybrid technology alone. Thanks to a set of 20-hp Elco electric motors and a two-part battery bank (port and starboard) comprised of a total of 18 Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries (with a longer cycle life than lithium-ion batts as well as greater thermal and chemical stability and safety), the 38 was specified to cruise in full-electric mode at a top speed of 7 knots for two hours in virtual, water-slicing silence. Lower speeds were going to stretch the range, of course. And, if an owner opted for the 8-kW Phasor genset, the quiet 7-knot cruise could be stretched out for an entire day, perhaps even more.
The internal combustion side of the hybrid equation pushed the envelope even further. Firing up the boat’s twin 380-hp Cummins QSB 6.7 diesels would, according to Huckins, boost performance radically. More to the point, Huckins predicted the top speed under diesel power at approximately 35 knots and a cruising speed of 30 knots. And while the shafts were turning, the Elco motors, in hybrid fashion, could be clutched into the system as generators, thereby keeping the battery banks efficiently topped off.
This last point is a biggie, by the way. Imagine making a diesel-powered run to a secluded anchorage with the 38—the run should guarantee, more or less, that all 18 highly sophisticated batteries are charged up and ready to boogie. Combine this happy state of affairs with the boat’s powerful inverter and her CZone digital switching system and a seriously uncommon possibility arises: Captain and crew should be able to spend the entire night on the hook in near-silent, air-conditioned comfort, with a few lights flipped on for reading and a few AC outlets energized for entertainment. And to heck with the genset!
I must admit that, at this point, although I’ve thus far checked out the 38 in various stages of construction, I haven’t actually tested the finished product, although I continue to be tantalized by a standing invitation to sea trial the boat once pandemic-related travel and social-distancing restrictions abate. I deeply, almost poetically, appreciate old boats—or at least some of them—as well as new boats that look old-fashioned. And the 38 fills the latter bill to a tee.
For example, she pretty much rides the same Quadraconic hullform as the aforementioned Huckins 36 Sportsman, a vessel designed and marketed by Huckins founder Frank Pembroke Huckins in 1936. The 38 also sports the same Huckins-style cleats and other signature hardware found on her progenitor as well as a layout that tips its rather fashionable hat to conventional, super-practical arrangements of yesteryear. Up forward, you’ll find a sleeping area with a scissors-type V-berth/lounge. A head is located just abaft the sleeping area to starboard, and there’s a galley opposite. On the main or weather deck, there’s a helm station to starboard (with a double Stidd helmchair) and single Stidd to port for the mate. Abaft the helm there’s a lounge-equipped salon and behind that, a cockpit fitted out with a U-shaped settee and a hi/lo table. A fairly simple setup? Yeah, but eminently sensible, especially for a boat in this size range.
The word from Huckins these days is that the 38’s been successfully launched and sea trialed by the Huckins’ technical types on Jacksonville’s St. Johns River. Results were positive, apparently. Hull number one has the hybrid-electric powerplant, although Huckins plans to offer both inboard and outboard propulsion options once the full, assembly-line production the company promises begins. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s the hybrid-electric version I’m really interested in—the time for full-electric and hybrid-electric marine propulsion has come, at least in my opinion. Look for a full test as soon as possible.
Huckins 38 Sportsman Specifications:
Fuel: 285 gal.
Water: 95 gal.
Power: 2/380-hp Cummins QSB 6.7 diesels; 2/20-hp Elco EP-20 electric motors
Optional Power: 2/350-hp Suzuki outboards
Full electric speed: 7 knots
Cruise speed: 30 knots
Top speed: 35 knots