Classical music pours out of Michael Porter’s boat shop. Dusty plans, handtools, creaky floorboards, and a 55-year-old lobster boat on which he once worked as sternman fill the tight workspace. It is here on Chebeague Island in Maine’s Casco Bay that designer and boat builder Michael Porter has lived and worked since 1977. Porter said that after designing and building small craft on the island for over a quarter of a century, he was beginning to give some thought to where he [and his wife Barbara] wanted to be in the next ten years. “I’ve always lived close to boats, built boats, delivered other people’s boats, but wanted to get even closer. I started reading books about the European canals, but I knew that I really didn’t want to charter, and the idea of building a big boat had always been there,” he said.
Barbara was conceived as a liveaboard/workaboard power voyager that he and his wife could take to the Caribbean and Europe. Once they cross the Atlantic they plan to cruise the European canal systems. The boat had to meet the height requirements for the canals and also be seaworthy enough and have the range to make ocean passages. From Barbara they would both be able to continue their work, he as a designer and she a scholar and author. To that end the boat’s accommodations would include separate office spaces for the two to work independently, along with provisions for a sizable on-board library. The boat would also be constructed of aluminum for ease of maintenance and economy. The design specified stout construction, a high-end commercial finish, and systems and electronics that meet commercial standards.
Porter has designed many boats, but all of them significantly smaller and with far less complicated systems than Barbara. “But,” he told me, “lines are lines.” So once the preliminary drawings were complete he requested quotes from three boat yards. Lyman-Morse of Thomaston was selected, not simply as a matter of price, but because of their expertise in aluminum fabrication and systems installation and integration.
Launched during the summer of 2006, Barbara is the second custom aluminum yacht to be built at Lyman-Morse’s fabrication shop. Collaborating with Pierce Aluminum of Franklin, Mass., all of the plating was cut using a computerized water jet system for a precise fit. The yard was responsible for building the hull and deck structures, and installing the power plant and all of the major systems. Porter, who has primarily worked alone as a boat builder, is in the process of finishing the interior on Chebeague Island.
On deck Barbara is all workboat. The layout includes an aft pilothouse with an elevated control station. The control station is flanked with port and starboard seating that provides added protection and privacy, and houses line and fender lockers. A stainless steel deck plate on the side of the port locker contains a unique watertight compartment with a handy GFI electrical receptacle. The transom has a boarding ladder and swim/boarding platform with a shower hookup. All the decks are covered with an aggressive industrial non-skid, and the deck fittings and equipment, such as cleats, railings, windlass and ground tackle, are all heavy duty. The radar mast is mounted against the house and can be folded down to further reduce the vessel’s air height and protect the array in very heavy weather.
Barbara’s foredeck is massive and reminiscent of coastal cargo carriers right down to the knockdown mast and boom. Narrow sidedecks run on either side of the cabin and terminate port and starboard in steps leading to the fore deck. An RIB tender, small sailboat or deck cargo can be easily carried on the cabin trunk and secured to heavy-duty tie-down points without effecting forward visibility.
Standing in the pilothouse, Porter explained to me that he was still in the process of determining the final placement of instruments and controls at the helm. So far the equipment inventory includes a 5-inch Ritchie compass, Furuno 1932 radar, Furuno GP-37 GPS, Icom M-802 SSB and Icom M-602 VHF. For safety equipment there will be a canister-style SOLAS-approved six-person raft and an ARC GPS-equipped EPIRB.
As Barbara gently swung at its mooring I was struck by how much I felt like I was standing in the wheelhouse of a large commercial vessel with all of the deck laid out before me. “Since this boat will spend much of its time in rivers and canals, you want to have the whole boat in front of you,” Porter said. Above Barbara’s massive air horns there’s a signal board display that can be operated from the house to indicate your intended direction, mandatory when transiting canals in Europe. Entry to the wheelhouse is via port and starboard watertight bulkheads. There is no aft bulkhead or pilot berth, as that would have sacrificed space in the house and the aft helm control. Instead, side settees will be built.
Ample main cabin
Below and forward we entered the cavernous main cabin area. This is made possible by locating the engine room directly below the wheelhouse and about two-thirds of the way aft. The galley and dinette are approximately midships with the dinette to starboard. The galley will be equipped with a three-burner propane range, a 15-sq.-ft. reefer and a 15-sq.-ft. freezer. Forward of that is a port head with an incinerating electric toilet and to starboard a guest cabin for two. There are two pipe berths in the forepeak to accommodate additional guests.
Moving back aft into the engine room the power plant is a Cummins six-cylinder, producing 255 hp at 1,800 rpm. This should give Barbara a cruising speed of about 8 knots with a maximum speed of 11 knots. Even with the interior bare and the soundproofing incomplete engine noise and vibration were minimal. The generator is a Westerbeke 12.6 kW. The engine room offers standing headroom and exceptional access to all systems and equipment.
Aft of the engine room is the owners’ cabin with a starboard double berth and L-shaped settee to port with book cases above. Between the two is a raised watertight steering compartment. Porter noted that the two places where a boat can leak are the shaft and the steering gear. Provisions have been made for both to remain as leak-free as possible. The steering gear is hydraulic and from Jastram. The top of the compartment serves as a table while the space forward of the settee serves as the on-board office.
If all goes as planned Michael and Barbara Porter plan to head south to Connecticut for Christmas and then continue on, possibly to the Carolinas where he plans to continue working on fitting out the interior. “All that I need is to be near a lumber yard and a Home Depot,” he said. “The interior may not be completely fitted out before we leave but it will be livable.” After that the Porters will decide the best route to take across the Atlantic, either a route via the Azores or the shorter northern route, which will allow them to visit Iceland. Either way they plan to be in Paris in 2009 tucked away at some cozy berth along the Seine.