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"The thinking behind a modern lobster boat"
By Mark Pearson

August 2001 Soundings

After building thousands of sail-and powerboats under the Pearson name, and more for companies like Rampage, Alden yachts, Freedom, J-Boats and Alerion, my father, Everett Pearson, couldn't leave well enough alone. Instead, he encouraged and inspired the management of TPI Composites to take a close look at what the market was currently offering in family cruising boats, and challenged us to take a different, better approach.

One of the pioneers in the fiberglass production boat industry, Everett has always believed in making boating more accessible by building boats that were reasonably priced and easy to maintain. He played a big part in the industry's revolution from wood to fiberglass, and he saw how new technology and production efficiencies could produce better, more affordable boats. But he also began to witness the trend of making boats too complex, too expensive to maintain, and simply too expensive for most boaters to own. More and more people were getting out of boating because many of their experiences were far from satisfying.

"Why don't we start with a clean sheet of paper and build a fun, affordable boat that doesn't cost a fortune to operate and maintain?" because the fundamental objective for this new project at TPI. Partly due to the market shift to power vessels, and partly due to the fact that we did not want to compete with our biggest customer and strategic partner, J-Boats, we decided to relaunch the Pearson yachts name with a mid-sized powerboat. From the beginning, we called this design the True North 38.

Lobster boat influence

Living in New England and being exposed to the simple beauty and working-class honesty of the lobster boat, our design team started our project by considering this classic boat's attributes and attractiveness. Obviously, the tremendous success of so many new Down East designs was a factor in our initial direction. But the most compelling argument for this style came from one of our managers, Jono Billings, who owns a 1958 36-foot Royal Lowell-designed lobster boat.

Jono is an avid, experienced cruiser who also is part owner of Jamestown (R.I.) Boat Yard. Over the years he has seen just about everything in maintenance, repairs and rebuilds. And he has come to believe in the K.I.S.S. philosophy of keeping it as simple as possible.

"I have seen too many frustrated boat owners who spend more of their time getting things fixed than going cruising," says Billings. "I realized that I was having a lot more fun on my simple lobster boat than they were on their luxurious yacht with complex systems and equipment. And the seaworthy performance of the basic lobster boat has always provided a real sense of confidence when the weather turns bad. I talked to Mark and Everett about building a modern version of my boat."

The seed was planted, and a team was formed at TPI to develop this new concept. Olive Dent, TPI's in-house naval architect, worked closely with Jono, Everett and me, and eventually we created basic drawings and a three-dimensional model of the True North 38. Knowing our design had to look different from everything else on the market, we all agreed that its starting point would include a plumb bow, a sweeping sheerline, a low profile pilothouse and a reverse transom.

"SUV" attitude

We all had our own ideas of how people used their boats and what features they wanted. When we compared notes, we found a common thread that paralleled the popularity of the family sport utility vehicle. Active boaters, especially those with kids, want enough room to carry an assortment of water toys, which might include a dinghy, a couple of kayaks, and fishing and diving gear, as well as the requisite cruising accessories like a barbecue grill, fenders, extra lines, spare anchors and the like. And many want to venture off the beaten path, getting away from the crowded marina scene. We likened the concept to a "base camp" for all kinds of water sports.

While some of these qualities can be found in the popular trawler yachts, today's boater also wants to cover a log of cruising ground quickly. So it was important that the True North cruise comfortably in the low to mid-20-knot range, increasing the choices for weekend getaways. The modern-day lobster boat proved the ideal design.

The right balance between comfortable amenities and rugged, easy-to-maintain qualities also suggested an SUV mentality. We felt this boat had to strike the perfect balance between luxury and practicality. In fact, we heard many stories from owners of beautiful express yachts who found that they were fighting a losing, expensive battle trying to keep their boats up to "yacht" standards, rather than going out with the kids or friends, and enjoying a day on the water. And many others were questioning the wisdom of having so much money tied up in something they didn't use every day.

Fine-tuned concept

After we had a good idea of what this boat would look like, how it would perform, and how it was to be equipped, we decided we should test our concept with potential customers. We hired George Sass of Sass Communications in Annapolis, Md., to conduct market research using a series of focus-group studies with potential buyers. Sass specializes in the marine industry, and his company provided us with some very valuable insight into today's boater. Most encouraging was the fact that our overall concept was well-received. But we also learned a lot by listening to what these boaters had to say about how they used their boats and what they wanted in their next boats.

Everyone wanted a boat that was more reliable. We heard one horror story after another about bad dealers, poor boatyard service and unreliable equipment. But we also heard a lot of contradictions. While everyone demanded greater reliability, not everyone was willing to give up creature comforts. And while everyone understood the economic advantage of producing a "standard" boat, everyone had different ideas of what that "standard" should consist of.

As a result, our True North 38 is available in three versions: Sport, Explorer and Heritage. Each differs in the amount of equipment included and , to some extent, the level of finish. The Heritage, for example, includes air conditioning, a genset, a complete electronics package and a yacht-finish wood-trimmed interior. The Explorer is designed for coastal cruising and includes an electric windlass and the electronics package. The Sport is a good, basic boat with a competitive price that will allow more boaters to get out on the water and have a lot of fun.

Unique features

We knew that to stand out in the crowded marketplace we had to offer something quite unique, and the True North 38 does so in several ways. To begin with, the cockpit is large enough to stow a 10-foot inflatable with its outboard attached. The dinghy is easily brought aboard through the large, double transom doors, eliminating the need for davits or a mast-and-boom rig. We see the dinghy being an ideal place to store bicycles and other cruising gear while under way. And there's plenty of walk space and seating around the dinghy, thanks to the wide side decks.

Because we see the boat being used as a center of water-sports activity, we kept the pilothouse open to the cockpit, allowing a natural traffic flow between the indoors and outdoors. The galley is very accessible to those in the cockpit, so those with wet swimsuits can satisfy their hunger and thirst without leaving a trail behind them. To allow room for overnight guests, the dinette settee expands, and the table converts to create a double berth.

The helmsman is not far from the action and has an excellent view aft, making docking easier. In fact, the helm area commands an excellent view all around, and we've spent a lot of time getting the instrument panel right from a practical point, as well as aesthetics. Sitting or standing, this is a very comfortable boat to steer. A set of canvas and clear windows can be fitted to the aft roof and cabin sides for full protection from weather.

Adjacent to the helm area is a con-pilot/nav area, equipped with a bench seat. We also decided to feature an easy-to-clean nonskid flooring instead of the traditional teak and holly sole. Yes, that traditional sole is beautiful, but after a season of kids, dogs and guests without boat shoes, there's hell to pay.

Below there's a sizable V-berth cabin with a full-sized head and shower. Originally, we felt we needed a separate stall shower, but our focus group studies told us not to waste the room. Now that we see how much room there is in the cabin, we see our customers were right on.

In talking with owners of mid-sized express boats who also have kids, we found there was a problem of what to do when the children were ready for bed. Normally they would try to sleep in the converted dinette area, but that would essentially close off the boat to adults. We developed an optional loft that is built athwartships of the V-berth, and that can fit two kids. Put them to bed early, close off the forward cabin, and the rest of the boat is ready to enjoy. When the adults are ready to turn in, everyone can have a good night's sleep in the forward cabin. And, of course, there's room for two more in the pilothouse.

Performance without expense

One of the first questions people ask is whether this is a jet-driven boat. While we considered a waterjet at the beginning of its development, we are moving away from it. We understand the popularity of these drives, but we also know they're expensive. If someone absolutely wants one, we are pointing them in the direction of those who are offering jetdrives. We simply feel that for the initial cost and long-term maintenance simplicity, a conventional single screw is the way to go. To make docking maneuvers easy, a bow thruster is standard on all three models.

Because our patented SCRIMP construction system provides great strength without undue weight, the True North 38 displaces a modest 15,000 pounds. Her long waterline length and hull shape contribute to fuel-efficient running speeds. The sport, with a 350-hp Yanmar diesel, will have a top speed of 22 knots and a cruising speed of 18 knots. The Explorer and Heritage models feature a 420-hp Yanmar for a top speed of more than 25 knots and a cruising speed of 24 knots. Conservatively, each model will have a range in excess of 300 nautical miles.

We've specified an AquaDrive antivibration system for each model, which we have found to be an excellent investment in noise and vibration reduction. It also reduces the need for exact engine alignment.

Transom deadrise is a moderate 12 degrees, transitioning from a midship deadrise of 20 degrees - an ideal shape for efficient, quick-planning performance. And thanks to a fairly deep forefoot, the boat will handle some nasty seas at cruising speeds. Her full skeg not only will provide strength and protection for the running gear, it will provide added directional stability in following seas.

It's more than a boat

We are committed to the success of this project and fully understand the need to exceed the expectations of our customers. We've decided to sell the boats directly, encouraging them to visit our facility here in Rhode Island. We're setting up a network of authorized service yards throughout the United States, requiring each yard to undergo factory training. Boats will be delivered on land to the yard closest to our customer, and we will dispatch a factory technician to that yard to take charge of commissioning the boat and teaching the new owner how to operate and maintain her. The yard will agree to provide a list of services, each with a preset cost, so owners will never be surprised by their yard bill.

We really want to improve the entire buying and owning experience for our customers, and the only way we can do that is to work directly with our customers and our preferred yards. Additionally, we're working on a series of value-added services, including boat-handling courses for spouses, flotilla cruising events and open houses for test driving the boats.

Judging from the early response we've had to the True North 38, we're going in the right direction. Production for 2001 is pretty much sold out, and we're now scheduling for early spring 2002 deliveries. Our customers are telling us that we've created what they've been looking for: a good-looking boat with great performance, lots of room, and at a reasonable cost. All of which is music to Everett's ears - again.

Mark Pearson, 38, is general manager of TPI Composites' marine Division, and oversees the manufacturing of J-Boats and Alerion Express sailboats, in additional to heading the new Pearson yachts division. He grew up sailing and fishing with his family on the Kickemuit River in Rhode Island, where he lives today. He has participated in many offshore sportfishing tournaments, many with his father, and enjoys family fishing, cruising and a good round of golf.



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