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A new way  of boating?

William Sisson

William Sisson

Who foresaw the big surge in outboard-powered boats when the first generation of 4-strokes was initially introduced? And which soothsayer predicted a decade ago that pontoons would gain the traction they enjoy today?

Still better, who but Dick Bertram recognized the commercial potential of the 23-footer running around Rhode Island Sound during the 1958 America’s Cup? That little Ray Hunt-designed deep-vee morphed into the Bertram 31, the hull that changed modern powerboats.

It’s not easy to see around corners if your name isn’t Steve Jobs.

At the Newport International Boat Show in September, the Hinckley Co. pulled back the curtain on what it dubbed the world’s first electric-powered luxury yacht — a handsome 28½-footer named Dasher.

“Take it all in, folks,” said Scott Bryant, Hinckley’s director of new product development, as Dasher was revealed to a round of applause. “The boat has your back. You push a button and it comes to life — yet it’s silent.”

Will we look back on this introduction as the start of something “big” in electric power for pleasure boating? Time will tell.

The company certainly has a history of moving the dial. Hinckley created a market niche for handsome Down East dayboats when it introduced a jet-powered Picnic Boat 23 years ago, which also was named Dasher.

The company hopes the new Dasher marks the start of a product line, just as its namesake once did.

“We just stuck our flag in the ground,” said Michael Arieta, Hinckley’s chief operating officer. “We’re the first. It’s completely unlike anything you’ve experienced.”

The press liked what it saw.

“Meet the Tesla of Luxury Electric Yachts” crowed Fortune.com.

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“It’s like a Tesla for the water,” said Town & Country. And Bloomberg wondered whether Dasher’s Newport introduction might in time create a “seismic effect” similar to Bob Dylan’s electric debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

The last pronouncement sounds a bit breathless, but who knows?

Dasher is certainly a lovely melding of classic design and contemporary technology. The shapely carbon-epoxy composite hull was designed specifically for electric power by naval architect Michael Peters.

Dasher is powered by twin 80-hp Torqeedo electric motors and a pair of BMW i3 waterproof lithium ion batteries.

The open boat weighs a svelte 6,500 pounds and has a cruising speed of 10 mph and a top speed between 18 and 27 mph. Dasher’s range at 10 knots is about 40 miles; at top speed, it would be about half that.

With dual 50-amp charging, the boat can be fully charged in less than four hours, which the company says is about twice as fast as the most popular plug-in cars.

The goal was to produce a quiet, zero-emissions luxury craft that encourages social interaction among everyone on board, including the skipper. A retractable windscreen is designed to help the feeling of connectedness.

“It’s a new way of boating,” Bryant told me in an interview after the unveiling. “The boat was designed from the keel up for electric power. We believe we have something special. It feels right, and it looks right.”

There are other notables worth mentioning. The boat contains no wood. Instead of varnished teak, the builder has introduced a new lightweight, hand-painted epoxy composite on Dasher it calls “Artisanal Teak.” And the titanium hardware and some of Dasher’s console details were made through 3D printing, the company’s first foray into the additive manufacturing process.

Interestingly, the genesis of the boat came out of a meeting Hinckley held more than two years ago with designers, engineers and others on the future of yachting.

Most of us would benefit from the exercise of thinking outside the proverbial box more. Where exactly is the industry headed? What is the next big thing?

While introducing Dasher, Bryant said something I thought was profound. He was talking about how the quietness and layout and ease of operation would allow the boat to slip into the background, enabling the connection between the people and the environment to move to the foreground.

“The boat disappears, and the experience comes to the surface,” Bryant said. That’s never been easy to pull off. That could be transformative — even a game changer.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue.

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