To executives at Hinckley, the Maine builder of sailboats and jet-powered craft, the focus-group studies they conducted in 2002 confirmed what they had speculated for the last decade. Casual boaters and Hinckley devotees alike indicated that they wanted boats longer than 30 to 40 feet, the company’s core products, and would consider other brands when shopping for larger vessels. “It was judged to be very important to grow the product line out of the midsize boat range and into a larger boat,” says Ed Roberts, vice president of marketing and product development. “That’s where the marketplace is headed.”
In response, Hinckley departed from its traditional designs and recently released the $2 million, 55-foot T55, the largest jet-powered boat the company has ever built. The T55 can be operated with the JetStick, a device similar to a video-game joystick, which controls the bow thruster and steering system. When fitted with 1,000 hp engines, the T55 can reach a top speed of nearly 45 mph.
However, Hinckley placed greater emphasis on accommodations than performance. When designing the T55, the company had in mind the couple who takes the boat out on weekends and invites a guest or two along. It therefore includes two staterooms, a full galley, and a washer and dryer–accommodations and amenities that could not fit into the company’s smaller hulls. “The 55 is finally a big enough envelope that you can get some bonafide cruising details on the boat,” Roberts says. “The highest priority was cruising for one couple and an occasional guest, so we intentionally did not go down the road of squeezing as many cabins into a 55-foot envelope as possible.”
Although Hinckley’s Talaria line includes smaller vessels that resemble the T55, the company did not borrow heavily from existing templates when designing the more ample cruiser. However, even more challenging than building the luxurious staterooms and the airier galley was finding room within the hull for the systems that keep the T55’s amenities running. To support the boat’s full-size refrigerator and freezer, the company had to squeeze three compressors into a space that usually fits two, and engineers needed to devise storage space for the refrigeration units that power the T55’s air-conditioning system.
At the same time, the engineers had to integrate the systems into the shape that designer Bruce King, who has drafted all of the Talaria models since 1994, had created for the T55. “Bruce, like all designers, is very strong-willed in maintaining the highest standard possible on the aesthetic side of the equation,” Roberts says, “so there had to be a natural give-and-take with the pragmatic engineering side and the pure design side.”
Hinckley spent two years tinkering with systems, solving space shortcomings, and finalizing the exterior appearance of the T55, and as of this fall, the company had sold two of the boats–both sight unseen. While Hinckley expects to sell four to six T55s each year, it will continue to offer boats in its traditional size range. In fact, this year, Hinckley has also released the propeller-driven SC42 and the DS42 sailboat, marking the first time the boatbuilder has released a trio of vessels simultaneously.