To call the new outboard-powered 34O from this traditional Down East builder a design departure would be short shrift. This is a new model, after all, from Sabre’s not-so-little sister company that has made their bread and butter building dependable, efficient boats in the Maine lobster-boat style—each powered by a single straight-shaft diesel engine. It’s a monumental change of pace, like swapping the blue heron on the builder’s logo for a sea hawk.
The blue heron remains, just look for it to be moving a little faster aboard the 34O. “O,” of course, refers to the outboard power—a pair of standard Yamaha 300s—or the dumbfounded noise one makes after seeing them affixed to the transom for the first time. I made a similar expression when I first locked eyes on Hull No. 1 before taking it on an extended cruise with Kevin Burns, Back Cove’s vice president of design and product development. The 34O was the first outboard-powered boat Burns had ever built, and he was enjoying the mostly positive feedback it was receiving.
An extended cruise afforded me and Burns the ability to see how the 34O handled a multitude of snotty conditions, from 6- to 8-foot swells in the Atlantic to choppy seas on the Chesapeake.
I was impressed with how the 34O took on the Atlantic’s larger head seas. This is an entirely new hull, designed specifically to optimize outboard propulsion. But adding speed required weight reduction. To get a displacement of about 17,000 pounds, or about 10 percent less than the builder’s popular single-diesel 32-footer, the builder swapped solid fiberglass topsides for cored versions. But Back Cove didn’t skimp on joinery or seaworthiness either. Cruising around 24 knots in those conditions, I never once felt like we were taking a step outside the hull’s comfort zone, and the relative silence on board while we were blasting through the spin cycle was revealing. This was a solidly built vessel.
Entering the Chesapeake allowed the boat to really shine. The company’s literature proposed the 34O could blow the 32 out of the water, with a top speed approximately 10 knots faster than its diesel-burning cousin. A raked bow and strakes, combined with standard power—twin 350-horsepower Yamahas (or optional Suzukis)—put us at 37 knots with the throttles down, right on the builder’s target brief. Before long we were cruising comfortably at 30 knots.
“This is what the boat was made to do,” Burns said. Classic Down East lines and a graceful sheerline hitting those numbers? It was nothing less than exhilarating.
Simplicity was also a major touchpoint for this new model. In determining interior spaces, Burns and the design team routinely spoke with Back Cove owners and came away with the impression that pared-down features were a boon.
“It’s easy to complicate a boat really quickly,” said Burns. “It’s harder to keep it simple.”
Aside from a faster top hop, the biggest benefit of the changeover to outboards is stowage. Below the salon, underneath the one-level deck is now an enormous compartment for bikes, stand-up paddle boards or miscellaneous gear, all easily accessed by an electrically controlled hinge. Belowdecks, a king-size berth is forward, while the cockpit is meant for entertaining with an aft-facing seat that converts into a U-shaped dinette or second berth in a pinch.
As we were fueling up for our journey, preparing to depart out of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, a seasoned boater recognized the 34O gleaming under a midday sun at the fuel dock.
“I like it,” he said, “but I thought the whole thing with Back Cove was single inboard engines?”
“It was, until a couple months ago,” replied Burns.
And then the boater said what we were all thinking: “It’s a rocket ship. Either way, you’re beating me to the inlet!”