Photography by Billy Black
Mussel Ridge lobster yachts are a fan favorite among commercial fishermen, known for their wide beams, quality construction and proven seagoing performance. They hail from Hutchinson Composites in Cushing, Maine, where Albert Hutchinson has carved out a niche for himself building bare hulls and decks for primarily commercial fishing vessels, which are usually finished by other boatyards around Maine. But while the massive, open cockpit on Pretti Rose, a Mussel Ridge 54, reflects her commercial lineage, this Down Easter is anything but a rugged fishing boat. She is a trimmed-out recreational vessel, and her plain cockpit belies her comfortable interior designed by Newport Yacht Builders.
The boat’s owner, Eli Dana, calls Pretti Rose his “brainchild.” Having grown up on his family’s two wooden lobster boats, he has always had an affinity for Down East vessels, and went on to own a Holland 38 as an adult. While he loved that boat, an idea was brewing in his head to build a bigger and newer vessel out of fiberglass. So, he started brainstorming with Ezra Smith, the designer at Newport Yacht Builders and principal of Ezra Smith Design, during what Smith calls “a very relaxed design process.”
“He wasn’t even sure he was going to build a boat yet,” Smith says, although he had developed a keen interest in the Mussel Ridge hulls. Smith and Dana work in close proximity—Smith’s office is in a building at Newport Shipyard, where Dana works as the general manager—so it was easy for them to sit behind the computer in Smith’s office and throw around potential ideas.
“We played around with a lot of ideas, and once we got to something he was really excited about, he said ‘let’s do this.’ We started talking with Hutchinson Composites about getting a hull, and it all went from there,” says Smith.
The Pretti Rose project was the first new build for the Newport Yacht Builders, a group consisting of Smith, builder Jim Thompson (founder of J. Thompson Marine Carpentry) and project leader Ashley Reville Hill (manager of CaptureRI). The group formally came together in 2018, but the members have been working on projects together for over a decade. Now, they are refining a high-tech, highly efficient production process for designing and installing interiors, furniture and systems that utilize laser scanning and CNC cutting to expedite the construction process.
“Jim and I had done a few pretty big projects together and were always thinking, how can we do this better?” says Smith. “We were putting interiors in existing spaces, and the missing part of the puzzle was accurately recording the envelope we were designing and building into, so we were interested in scanning technology before it was even commercially viable.”
Then, in 2017, Hill and Thompson started CaptureRI, Rhode Island’s 3D interactive scanning partner, which utilizes an RTC360 laser scanner capable of scanning bare hulls. This scanning technology was the missing piece that Smith and Thompson had been looking for, as it moves projects straight from scan and design into CNC cutting for manufacturing, saving huge amounts of time and labor. The three of them decided to join forces and pool the resources of their individual companies to go after bigger boatbuilding projects.
In the beginning, the group worked primarily on refit projects while they refined their production process, starting with the 136-foot Consolidated motoryacht, a huge rebuild restoration for which they were tasked with the refit design, including new crew spaces, modifications to guest spaces, new deck furniture, a new bridge interior and a new captain’s cabin. Using old photographs, structural drawings and previous exterior hull scans by Andrew Williams, the pioneer of laser scanning in the marine industry, they were able to interpret the interior space and then cut and assemble frames in Thompson’s shop, which is located just feet away from Smith’s and Hill’s offices.
Newport Yacht Builders’ next project was the 93-foot motor-yacht Contraband, which was launched by New England Boatworks in 2018. Smith created the interior layout for the boat. He first worked out the basic dimensions with 2D drawings, which he then used to create a 3D model of the space and develop the finishes and joinery details. Then, they laser scanned the actual space and integrated the 3D model into the scan, eliminating the need for on-site templating and allowing them to build all of the furniture components to precise dimensions off site, thus expediting the build process.
“These were all the steppingstones,” says Smith of the prior
projects. “There were parts we hadn’t figured out yet. We didn’t have the CNC cutting up that well and we were subbing a lot of that out. Pretti Rose was where we really brought it all together, and used our process A-to-Z.”
The best place to start on a new build project, Smith says, is with a tried-and-true commercial hull. Once Dana had spoken with Hutchinson about building a 54-foot Mussel Ridge, Smith developed a 3D model of the interior using the lines from the designer. Then, to ensure the model was as accurate as possible, Thompson went to Maine while the boat was still in the mold and scanned the inside hull surface. Smith dropped that scan into his 3D model and trimmed his surfaces to the actual inside skin of the existing boat. This allowed the team to build all of the interior components, bulkheads, soles and furniture in the shop before the hull even made it to Rhode Island.
“While the hull was being built, we were building here, so it was a huge timesaver,” says Hill. Normally, Smith explains, when you get the hull into the shop, the crew starts templating by hand, transferring the templates onto the parts, and cutting the parts. Laser scanning eliminates this time-consuming part of the process, allowing them to get very accurate shapes on the computer, with a 3-mm tolerance for bonding and fiberglassing. Afterwards, they cut these pieces to a very fine degree with the CNC machine, assemble them on the shop floor like a puzzle and drop the finished parts directly into the boat.
The result, the team estimates, is a 30 to 50 percent savings in man-hours without compromising accuracy. “Rather than it all having to be linear, everyone is doing their part,” says Smith. “Nobody, at least in the boat industry that I’m aware of, is under one roof going from laser scanning right through to CNC production. We were pioneering this whole thing as we were doing it, and we definitely saw the benefits.”
Because the team had assembled most of the parts beforehand, once they rolled Pretti Rose’s hull into the building, it took only five months before she was in the water, even with the build taking place in the midst of a global pandemic. The fully custom yacht was delivered to Dana faster than most boat buyers were getting production boats.
Pretti Rose may be built on a commercial hull and enjoy the performance benefits inherent to her Down East design, but her interior is entirely yacht-like. Her Herreshoff styling, with white paint and dark wood, makes the space feel bright and modern, while traditional touches—like the vintage ship’s wheel from Rosebank Ironworks Edinburgh—suit her classic lines.
Mussel Ridge 54
Newport Yacht Builders made some interesting and practical layout choices. The cockpit is entirely empty aside from an aft bench seat and a small sunpad near the pilothouse. This created enough space to install slides in the deck, so the aft bench can roll forward to open the transom, and the sunpad can roll aft for engine room access. The generator and single 1,550-hp diesel MAN V-12 engine with V-drive transmission are both located beneath the cockpit for sound mitigation in the pilothouse, which is where the modern styling truly creeps in.
While Pretti Rose’s clean cockpit design resembles her workhorse ancestry, the pilothouse is designed for entertaining and livability. With the boat’s impressive beam of 17 feet, 4 inches, there is ample space for a convenient and social galley-up design, with generous counter space, large appliances and a deep double sink. Next to the galley is an L-shaped lounge with dinette, positioned directly behind the helm station.
In the cabin, the master stateroom resides in the bow, and a smaller stateroom with two twin berths is to port. The head is roomy, with easy access to the boat’s systems through the shower. There is also a second head, which is accessed through the cockpit and leads into the third stateroom, which could be used as captain’s quarters.
Perhaps the most practical features on Pretti Rose are her bow and stern thrusters, two additions for which I felt appreciative as Dana maneuvered the boat away from the dock, rotating her 180 degrees with very slim clearance between her and her neighbor, Consolidated. We settled into the cockpit for an early November cruise around the harbor, where Pretti Rose feels perfectly comfortable cruising at 20 knots, with a 23-knot top end.
Pretti Rose splashed in May of 2021, and Dana has been cruising her locally with his family since August. For Dana, however, this project wasn’t about building a family cruiser; it was about taking an interesting concept and bringing it to life. Now that Newport Yacht Builders has turned his vision into reality, he plans to sell the boat and build another.
Newport Yacht Builders is already working on another Mussel Ridge as well, a 46 that will be designed as a sportfish with a straightforward trim package. Now that the group has tested and proven their production process on a new boat, they look forward to refining it even more on this next project and hope to step into more custom builds moving forward.
“We’ve learned so much with Eli’s boat, and now we want to sharpen our pencils and see how efficiently and cost-effectively we can do this,” says Smith.
Much like Pretti Rose started as a mere concept in Dana’s head, the entire production process was still in the concept stage just a few years ago. Now, both ideas have been fully realized. And if the smooth execution of the Pretti Rose project is any indication, Newport Yacht Builders has a solid foundation to build upon.