Pilot boats built by Gladding-Hearn are all-weather vessels. Seaton Yachts wants to modify certain models to make them cruising yachts.
This magazine is named after a boat that combined three elements: simple design, robust construction and the ability to cross vast swaths of ocean “with speed and dispatch.” These elements appealed to retired U.S. Navy officer Robert Beebe, and he, being an amateur naval architect, put pencil to paper and thus the trawler Passagemaker was launched.
John Clayman, president of Seaton Yachts, has long been a proponent of Beebe-style austerity, but this philosophy has put him at odds with many of his customers and the yacht market itself. Try selling “simple” at a boat show today. We’re living in a brave new world of joystick controls, powered window shades, trash compactors and integrated everything.
Seaton Yachts, though, thinks it has found a way. Headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island, the company sells a line of oceangoing motoryachts from 60 to 104 feet length overall, designed by Steve Seaton. They’re beautiful, and even the smallest costs $4 million. Clayman realized that if the Seaton designs were built like workboats—with fewer compound curves in the hulls, a workboat paint job and no-nonsense attributes—then their costs could be lowered. The price of that 60-footer, for example, could drop to $3 million.
Thus, Clayman has decided to offer a workboat version of Seaton boats that’s not manufactured in China. They’ll be produced at Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, which builds commercial watercraft in Somerset, Massachusetts, alongside a headwater to Narragansett Bay.
This is the most famous American shipbuilder you’ve never heard of, having produced pilot boats, patrol boats, tugs and fast cats for more than 60 years. Gladding-Hearn, a Duclos Corporation, partnered with C. Raymond Hunt Associates for its deep-V hull designs beginning in the late 1970s; now, the company virtually owns the U.S. pilot boat market.
Clayman works with a professional design-build organization called the Newport Yacht Collaborative. He and designer Ezra Smith were visiting Gladding-Hearn earlier this year when they experienced epiphany. The yard was building a 75-foot boat for the Southwest Alaska Pilots Association, and she was a stunning piece of work.
“We thought we’d go to Gladding-Hearn to build the hulls for our seagoing displacement boats, and it was really impressive—everything from 600-person passenger ferries to tugboats—and particularly when looking at the 75-foot Alaska class,” Clayman says. “Ezra and I looked at each other, and a lightbulb went on, and we said, ‘This would make a fantastic pleasure boat.’ We really liked the idea of it being a kick-ass, all-weather kind of vessel.”
Beebe’s idea of “dispatch and speed” was 7½ knots; the Seaton Alaska 75 that the men envisioned would thunder over the waves at 28 knots and could run 4,000 hours a year.
“It would be totally dependable and be able to operate at speeds and conditions where a lot of pleasure boats we see today would literally start falling apart,” Clayman says.
The Seatons that Gladding-Hearn plans to build will mount aluminum superstructures and decks atop ice-class steel hulls. The Seaton Alaska 75 and subsequent Hunt designs for Seaton will be all aluminum.
Gladding-Hearn-built Seaton boats will incorporate the same commercial-grade systems that Gladding-Hearn uses for its workboats. Yacht systems will be less robust but also less expensive; Clayman says the Seaton boats built at Gladding-Hearn should cost 20 percent to 25 percent less than the same Seatons finished to yacht standards.
“Another real saving is in the cost of ownership because of less downtime for maintenance, time stuck in boatyards,” he says. “So many of the systems you see in pleasure boats are designed for relatively short life spans, so the cost-of-ownership savings are gigantic.”
Clayman would not specify the price for the new Alaska 75, but says it will be lower than those of comparably sized luxury motoryachts, again because of the economies of a chine hull and a “hose-and-go” workboat finish.
DEEP-V, FIT FOR SEA
Is a deep-V hull on a 29-knot boat appropriate for long-range cruising, particularly since the commercial prototype is driven by twin water jets?
Clayman says the 75 will have the ability to cross oceans, particularly when a buyer elects to install conventional twin-screw propulsion instead of the jets. The 75 also will be equipped with Humphree Interceptors, which are trim tabs designed to control roll, pitch and yaw.
“Unlike a lot of planing boats, these boats are comfortable and seakindly at displacement speeds,” he says. “You’ve got to remember what these boats are designed for. They go out in the worst kind of weather. So jets, if someone is more inclined to go fast or is worried about underwater appendages…if they think they’re going to be operating at displacement speeds, then they should probably go with conventional propulsion.”
Another cost-controlling factor will be the way interiors are designed and installed, Clayman says. Smith typically uses a laser camera to scan the bare interior of a Seaton, creating images accurate to nearly a thousandth of an inch. These scans inform the work of the J. Thompson Marine Carpentry shop in Newport, which uses CNC router technology to carve panels and pieces.
Smith illustrated the efficiency of the process with an example from recent project on a 90-footer. On day one, the location of a piece of furniture was scanned, creating a 3-D view and the bench drawings for the carpenters. On day two, the piece was built and installed in the boat.
For these Seaton builds, the idea is to create interiors reminiscent of a cottage, not a mansion.
Clayman also says, while acknowledging the contribution of foreign shipyards to the cruising market, that the time has come to bring some manufacturing back home to the United States.
DRAWINGS AND SPECIFICATIONS: ALASKA 75
“We are on a mission, not only to make cruising more affordable but to bring back these jobs to America and, in particular, Narragansett Bay here in Rhode Island,” he says. “Some of the most talented marine professionals are based here, and that’s why so many of the world’s finest yachts travel great distances to be serviced here by these pros in all the trades.”