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Scott Bryant, vice president of sales and new product development at Hinckley Yachts, said he had a surprise as I entered the Hinckley compound in Maine a few months ago. He first asked if I remembered the all-electric Dasher model, which the company unveiled in 2017. Of course I did. It was one of the industry’s earliest attempts to move into all-electric power.

The Dasher had a silent Torqeedo propulsion system powered by dual BMW i3 lithium-ion batteries, and produced zero emissions. All of those attributes were well-received — but the boat’s range was quite limiting. It could run just 40 miles at about 8 knots, and an even shorter distance of 20 to 25 miles at about 18 knots.

The Picnic Boat 40 S cruises at 7 knots under electric power and 35 knots with the diesel.

The Picnic Boat 40 S cruises at 7 knots under electric power and 35 knots with the diesel.

Still, right from the start, buyers liked a lot of things about the Dasher, Bryant said. “The client didn’t have to think about how far he was going or his range and all that, because it really tracked everything for him on the boat. It gave him a very intuitive interface to show him all those things. What we also demonstrated were the benefits of electric propulsion.”

The feature that most appealed to potential buyers on sea trials, though, was how quiet the Dasher was. “What we learned in that process is that people love the silent running aspect where you could get on the boat, you didn’t have the sound or the smell of diesel engines — you just had this quiet whir, so to speak, that was happening below the waterline,” Bryant said. “So we started working on a project that addressed both of those needs: silent running and long range.”

Hinckley Yachts teamed up with Wisconsin-based transmission-maker Twin Disc to create a hybrid electric system called SilentJet that can switch automatically from diesel to electric power, depending on how much throttle you use. The company announced the SilentJet system in July and intends to promote it at the fall boat shows. SilentJet keeps the quiet-propulsion and silence-at-anchor capabilities that customers liked about the Dasher, but adds the ability for owners to cruise longer distances at faster speeds.

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For instance, the company says, with SilentJet engaged, the Picnic Boat 40 S has a cruising speed of 7 knots in electric mode. Range at that speed is at least an hour — with the ability for owners to switch to diesel power for a 35-knot cruise.

“The beauty of SilentJet is that all of the thought process is done for you,” Bryant said. “You leave the marina under electric power and silence. As soon as it’s time to go somewhere, you put the throttles down, and the diesel automatically comes to life and carries you to your next destination while also charging the battery. When you get to your final destination, you drop the anchor, and everything runs on that battery.”

For the team at Hinckley, he added, developing the
SilentJet system has been reminiscent of developing the company’s JetStick steering technology almost three decades ago. “Back in 1994, when we introduced the first Hinckley Picnic Boat with a joystick, that was pretty revolutionary for the time,” he added. “And that first boat, it kind of had a slow take-up, but the first time we took it to the Newport boat show, it just started the revolution, and that was it. People loved the Picnic Boat. They loved the ease of use, the joystick control. And so that first boat, the name of that boat, was, believe it or not …”

Dasher.” I replied.

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He didn’t mean the all-electric Dasher model from 2017; he meant the first Picnic Boat, which was christened Dasher.

As chance would have it, the Picnic Boat Dasher was put up for sale about five years ago. “We bought it. We’ve had Dasher in the stable for a couple of years,” he said. “We needed the best possible test boat to develop SilentJet on. So we raised Dasher out of the shed, and we repowered her. We put this new system inside of her to really test SilentJet.”

We made our way down to the docks, where, one after another, beautifully maintained Hinckleys glistened under the summer sun. And there was the celebrity herself: the original 36-foot Dasher, aging like a single-malt scotch in a teak cask.

Her transplant included a repowering with a 570-hp FPT Industrial N67 diesel paired to the Twin Disc hybrid system’s transmission and electric motor, then mating it to a HamiltonJet drive. When Bryant fired up the 12.9-liter engine, Dasher’s bones reverberated as jet wash stirred to the surface. Bryant pushed the throttles forward to keep the boat in diesel mode, then eased back on the rpm. It took a second or two to feel the engine shut off and then … nothing. No hum, whine or cavitation.

Losing the lines, we glided out of the crowded marina, aided by the joystick maneuverability. On Narragansett Bay, I took the helm. I have to admit, pulling back on the throttles and engaging the electric mode made it feel as if the boat had stalled — but I quickly got past that sensation, and in short order, I had total admiration for how seamlessly the system shifts from diesel to electric and back again.

We blasted around in diesel mode, which meant the batteries were being recharged. According to Bryant, it takes 30 to 60 minutes of cruising in diesel mode to fully recharge the batteries and eliminate the need for an on-board generator. That includes for air conditioning and cooking.

To prove the latter point, Hinckley had invited along chef Chad Hoffer of Thames Street Kitchen in Newport, R.I., to prepare a lunch of halibut steaks. Without a garnish of exaggeration, I can say that Hoffer prepared the best seafood meal I’ve ever had. It was a taste of the Hinckley lifestyle.

The best of both worlds: electric power when you want it, and diesel speed when you need it.

What a fantastic surprise. 

This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue.

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