The Downeast style of boat is a very distinctive class in the United States, originating from the lobster boats that needed space on deck for handling pots as well as a fair turn of speed to get the catch back to market in good time. The style has transformed into a wide range of leisure craft that match workboat heritage with stylish lines and luxury interiors. Typified by the beautiful styling from a number of renowned builders, such as Hinckley and Sabre/Back Cove, the Downeast-style lobster boat is steadily finding its way into yacht markets beyond North America.
Based in Turkey, Vicem Yachts is one of the best-known builders outside the United States making this style of boat. Vicem has adapted the Downeast style to include sizes up to 80 feet, and their boats find a ready market in the U.S. among owners who appreciate the seaworthy design of classic style paired with Vicem’s attempt to maximize the internal volume in the interest of luxury accommodations. In Australia, Palm Beach Motor Yachts—now merged with Grand Banks Yachts’ headquarters in Malaysia—also builds a stylish cruiser along with Grand Banks’ venerable Eastbay Series, one of the originators in the style that first launched in 1994. Italian boatbuilder Mochi Craft offers a range of what they call “lobster boats,” but there is little left of the original concept in these models. In typical Italian fashion, extravagant styling and performance demands have taken over the practical aspects of traditional Downeast style.
When it comes to staying true to Downeast style, however, the Dutch have probably got it right. There are a number of Dutch builders who are building practical low-profile motoryachts. Probably because Dutch yards find it hard to compete on price with the mass-produced fiberglass yachts, they have opted to focus on the highest quality, creating motor cruisers that combine function with tradition. The practical Dutch have found the key to bringing the highest quality of design and construction to a concept that is eminently practical. The number of builders and their annual production demonstrates just how successful they have been.
There are yards of all sizes that have each produced their own versions of these beautifully crafted vessels. Auke van der Werff of Sturiër Yachts outlines the positive features of the “Dutch Downeast” style: “The low profile contributes to a nice design; it enables the yacht to navigate under bridges and it contributes to excellent stability and seaworthiness. We have been building this style for over 50 years in a shipyard that was established 100 years ago, so we have a lot of experience in knowing what works. Our range of leisure yachts is based on this experience, and we have built many commercial fishing boats in the past.”
Sturiër’s yachts are primarily built in steel, but the yard can also build in aluminum, which is often used when a client wants higher speeds due to the weight savings. “All our designs use round-bilge hulls for both displacement and semidisplacement designs,” van der Werff noted.
I am reluctant to call the motoryachts from Dutch builder Serious Yachts purely “Downeast.” While in appearance they share a derivative low profile with the classic Maine boats, they take the concept to new heights of luxury and design. This is far removed from the fishing origins of Downeast boats, but with their Brightly range, Serious Yachts has produced one of the highest quality and most stylish boats that I have had the privilege to board.
The style starts with the hull shape, featuring a distinctive flare at the bow and a rounded and double-curved transom—and all this in steel construction, which is not noted for being very cooperative when it comes to curves. Everywhere you look on this boat things are of the highest quality, including the best woods and fabrics, stitched leather, and stainless steel fittings that could be classed as an art form in and of themselves.
The Gently range from the same builder takes style back a few years with a traditional vertical stem and a much more upright style matched to quality wood interiors. The Gently I went aboard had three features that I thought I would never see again on new motoryachts: a rotating clear view screen in the windscreen—like something out of a 1940s classic naval movie—gooseneck vents on the foredeck, and the mast supported in a tabernacle so that it can be lowered. The models in the Gently range show more of their fishing-boat heritage than those in the Brightly range, but like all the Serious boats they are based on displacement hull forms.
It is not just the style that makes Serious stand out. The paint finish features a deep luster that you do not find on composite hulls. Delve into the history of the builder and you find out why. Derk Bonsink, who founded Serious Yachts in 2004, owns one of the major superyacht painting companies in Europe. The same skilled team that goes into shipyards to do the painting on superyachts has done the painting on the Serious line. Bonsink’s story sounds like that of many founders: He bought a 1975 Bowman Trawler but could not find a yard that would refit it to his requirements, so he founded Serious Yachts to build it for him.
Van den Hoven Jachtbouw
In business for the past 20 years, Van den Hoven Jachtbouw has evolved from building motor cruisers with a high profile and upper steering station to producing low-profile versions that reflect the more modern take. Like so many Dutch yards, this is a family business. Husband-and-wife team, Bart and Monique Van den Hoven, started the yard in 1999, and they have since been joined by their daughter Michelle.
“The current designs of our Executive line have been developed over the years,” said Van den Hoven. “Since our establishment in 1999, our yachts have been constantly developing. The goal during all the years has always been to make the interior of the ship more spacious. The openness of the wheelhouse increased and this resulted in the Executive line, where living, kitchen, and helm are on the same level. By aligning these issues, the low design has been created. Our new aluminum concept is also designed in this way, with the living room, kitchen, and helm on one level with a flybridge as standard but available in a low-profile ‘Downeast’ style.”
The low profile of the Executive 1500 was developed specifically for the French canals where air draft is limited, and the design also works for most of the Dutch canals. These yachts are built in steel with a beautiful soft bow shape combined with a distinctive flare. The underwater hull form has been optimized for running efficiency.
Now the yard is moving into increasingly contemporary designs with yachts from 15 to 24 meters in length that are much curvier versions of the “lobster boat” style. Designed by René van der Velden, these boats will be constructed in aluminum to allow higher speeds for the semi-displacement hulls. Like nearly all Dutch yards, Van den Hoven places a very high priority on quality.
A rich history is also part of the Mulder Shipyard, which is also very much a family affair. Nick Mulder, who is the third generation at the yard, said, “My grandfather founded the company and delivered hundreds of our Favorite Cruisers with their steel hulls and mahogany superstructures. Many went to the States and they can still be seen in Dutch waters. From 2000 onwards we were working on larger yachts, but my father did not want to lose track of the 50-foot market, so he worked with designer Guido de Groot to develop the Mulder Favorite 1500.”
The first of these beautiful Favorite 1500s was for the family and had a very low air draft of about 9 feet, but this was later increased to 11 feet for a more practical design. As Mulder explains, “The design of the Favorite was a combination of a comfortable ride at sea with very high quality and a beautiful style. Everything in the concept is aimed at high quality and clients can fully customize the design.” Mulder uses aluminum construction and all their hulls are round bilge but designed as semi-displacement yachts to allow higher speeds.
Nick’s father, Dick Mulder, said, “We design our yachts with a distinct Dutch style, in many cases using a traditional style. We want to build beautiful yachts which are head-turners” This is borne out by the Favorite 1500, which has a fully curved hull and low profile that is one of the sleekest designs that I have seen; perhaps it is the faster version of the equally attractive yacht from Brightly.
With their Z44, Zeelander offers a boat in the style of the “New York Commuter,” and they have obviously hit the spot because their biggest market is squarely in the U.S. The upcoming Z55 looks to be an even more extravagant design. And while these boats do share traditional styling, they take their cues from the boats used by wealthy commuters to get to their New York offices from Long Island residences—rather a different heritage than the fishing and workboat background of the true Downeast lobster boat.
There is a narrow line between the traditional, simple Downeast style featured by many of these Dutch yards and the more extravagant designs that are emerging from others. You can see the changes firstly in the sheerline of the deck, which on the Sturiër has a distinctive dip in the middle with a raised bow and stern compared to the straight sheerline of some of the others. Designs are beginning to emerge featuring a reverse sheer, which allows more internal space inside the hull. A similar trend is seen with the hull windows. Tradition dictates that these be simple round or oval portholes, but a few contemporary European designs feature the same large hull windows as most other fiberglass boats these days. Transoms have also changed. Some designs now feature a beautifully rounded and curved transom, which seems an alien shape for a steel or aluminum hull and adds a distinct aesthetic.
The market seems to be demanding more curves these days, and Dutch yards are facing a dilemma. Should they stay with the traditional or embrace modern curvaceous styling, which has largely been generated by the freedom of shape that fiberglass construction allows? In the past, the shape of a boat was often dictated by the construction material, but that is changing as glass, metal, and composite builders achieve new heights in construction techniques.
I’ll stick to the classic styling that Dutch yards have perfected in their low-profile “Downeast” style. These designs are equally at home in the challenging waters of the North Sea as they are in the marinas of the Mediterranean coast. It is great to find that such designs still thrive and that a seamanlike approach to yacht design has not disappeared entirely in the modern quest for aesthetic appeal.
One of the largest of these Dutch yards focusing on blending quality builds and classic styles, Steeler Yachts has an annual production around 20 yachts. Despite this level of production there is still a strong focus on individual design and customization. Steeler owner Hans Webbnik said, “I try to build a boat that I would buy myself. If you love boats, then you put your heart into every one you build. I am always trying to build the ideal boat, and whilst there is lots of innovation in advanced styling, the classic styles still sell well.”
Steeler has a vast range of designs on offer, and they build in both aluminum and steel. Nearest to a “Downeast” style, their Next Generation (NG) series embraces a range of designs from 40 to 50 feet in length. A simple low-profile style with a beautiful flared bow immediately catches the eye. The Steeler (S) line has a wider range of sizes, but they are a more “upright” and classic Dutch low-profile style.
Like many of these Dutch yards, Steeler is going modern with new ranges of yachts that embrace advanced styling. Their Panorama and Bronson ranges use aluminum to give higher planing speeds, and the styling is aimed more at the Mediterranean market where boating in the sun is the norm.