Sunday driver

By: Jeff Strang, Photography by: Jeff Strang


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Whether as a first boat for those looking to get more out of life or as a downsizer for experienced mariners, many consider the Back Cove 34 to be at the top of the list. Jeff Strang takes a look for himself…

Sunday driver
Sunday driver

A Sunday drive is a pleasure best enjoyed in good company. Just one person is enough, if it's the right person. And while the destination and, to a certain extent, the catering are important, it's the style and comfort of your chariot that is the icing on the cake. But above all else, a Sunday drive should be something that can be planned and undertaken on a whim, with a minimum of fuss. This is where the Back Cove 34 comes into its own.

As experienced seafarers know, boating is not usually an off-the-cuff activity. Most vessels require some organisation to be ready for the journey. At a glance, the Back Cove 34 struck me as being low down on the 'fuss' scale; pretty much a jump-on-and-go kind of boat – you have got to love it for that.

Alan Barr, who owns Aurora with his wife, knows exactly what I mean. To be fair, he probably fusses over the boat much more than he needs to, which was obvious from the immaculate condition in which she was presented to us. Another thing Barr understands is the importance of great coffee. Things were looking good; great coffee with nice company on a beautiful boat – the perfect way to start the day.

Good breeding

Half a glance is all it takes to guess the pedigree of this cultured cruiser: a classic Maine lobster boat all day long, with her spooned bow and gently curved stern lines, no gentleman would unceremoniously drag pots over this lady's gunwales.

As much as she is indisputably born and bred on the Eastern US seaboard (all Back Cove boats are designed and built in Rockland, Maine), for some reason the 34 reminds me more of a classic British sports car, like an MG BGT, than a muscled American thumper. This is probably why the 'Sunday driver' theme rang true. It just has those unpretentious yet classy lines that the Brits did so well in the 60s and 70s.  I hope the American builders aren't offended here, as it is meant as a compliment. And don't worry: I am very confident the boat is infinitely more reliable than an English sports car from the 70s.

A guided tour

You know you are on an American-designed boat when the stateroom, even on this relatively compact 34-foot hull, has 6ft5in of headroom. Features that come to eye instantly are the stainless steel mug holders within easy reach of the bed, the raised steps to facilitate access to the island berth – for those not as mobile as they may once have been – and the handy touch-switch for the floor lighting. These elements are all aimed at pleasing the boat's primary target audience: lifestyle boaters in their later years, who are more interested in convenience than performance.

It's also a pleasure to see so much genuine timber joinery employed. The sarking on the walls runs almost floor to ceiling and a mixture of American cherry, cedar and maple is used throughout the cabinetry.

A small private lounger adjoins the stateroom and allows a little extra space and comfort for getting organised in the morning. It has easy access to the low-maintenance bathroom. The head features a freshwater-only flush system to minimise any unpleasant odours. The shower compartment itself is to generous proportions and, if my memory serves me correctly, incorporates a comfort seat and handrails. This section can be closed off from the berth with a quality curtain courtesy of Sunbrella, and the entire lower living space can be locked off from the saloon by virtue of a sliding door.

The saloon on the Back Cove 34 is the primary living area and takes up more than 50 percent of the boat's total volume. A trend for cruising craft these days is to ensure all passengers have great visibility and the Back Cove 34 meets this demand well, with large surround windows. The slightly raised floor and seating levels also help maximise viewing opportunities and I have it on good authority that occasional 'mal-de-mer' sufferers find this to be one of the best ways to minimise its effects.

Two is company

Although there is ample space to entertain a cosy complement of guests (a feature Barr rates highly), I like the way the saloon is nicely personalised for two. Both the pilot and navigator travel in equal comfort, with a custom skipper's seat and a plush double recliner respectively. Dual independently-controlled air-conditioning units service both sides, so there is no reason to argue over the optimal climate conditions.

To my eye, navy and white striped upholstery works well, while the white gelcoat surfaces and timber trim add to the effortlessly classic 'Jackie O' look. I was also impressed with the nifty OceanAir blinds. They look sharp and could not be easier to deploy. Just don't be an idiot like me and pull them down with the window open at 20 knots – still, all's well that ends well...!

A generous galley sits opposite the dining table and runs parallel to the starboard sidewall. To be honest, this longitudinal configuration is not my favourite set-up for a working galley because it's just that much harder to keep your balance standing sideways in a rolling sea. However, it would be difficult to locate anywhere else without compromising the layout in some other way.

Barr and his wife opted for the closed-in version of the Back Cove 34 in Aurora. This decision was made in keeping with Barr's desire to keep things as simple as possible at the end of a day's boating. The lock-up-and-leave option has a great deal of appeal for Back Cove owners. The rear cockpit, while not overly large, is more than adequate for a party of four to enjoy the atmosphere in comfort, with low-maintenance seating surrounding a small table for the hors d'oeuvres.

Quality engineering

I was impressed with the workmanship on display in the Back Cove 34. The single 480hp Cummins QSB5.9 power plant is accessed via an electrically-driven hydraulic ram that lifts the saloon floor. Unlike some I have experienced, opening up the floor is a straightforward operation and the electric system can be manually overridden if necessary. It is hard to fault the working space in the engine room. With the floor lifted, there is virtually full headroom around the motor and as much servicing room as one could ever expect. In addition to the main power plant there is an extraordinarily quiet Onan generator.

Another good example of the high level of workmanship and thought that has been put into servicing is shown by the access to the wiring behind the dash, as it folds completely away to expose the tidy, well-labelled wiring looms. Full marks to the Back Cove team there. Anyone who has spent time with their arms behind a dash will understand what I mean when I talk about the damage cut zip-tie ends inflict when working in a tight space with limited visibility.

Under power With twin thrusters (bow and stern) at your fingertips, any significant manoeuvrability issues arising from the single-screw, in-tunnel propeller are mitigated. I will say that in my recent experience tunnel-mounted single-screw props do not respond well in reverse, making thrusters a necessary option for boats intending to live in marinas.

The tunnel-hull comes into its own when underway, with noticeable improvements in efficiency, and the Aurora certainly has more than enough zip for a Sunday drive. Chasing good light for photography purposes, we were forced to run from Soldiers Point Marina in Port Stephens out through the heads. Being conscious of time, I was nervous about suggesting this reasonably long run – I needn't have been. Cruising comfortably in excess of 30 knots, it was a short, quiet and comfortable trip – well worth the effort.

Once past the heads, we continued to charge through a regular half-metre set, which was in no way large enough to test the seakeeping abilities of this hull. What we did experience was a soft, dry ride, in keeping with the brand's reputation. The fact that there was no need to close the large central window on the bridge is testament to that. Apparently the delivery voyage to Port Stephens was conducted in reasonably unpleasant weather and all those involved were impressed with the boat's ride. Nothing I saw on this day suggested anything different.

Unfortunately, in our haste I neglected to gather any meaningful fuel information first-hand, which would've been no trouble with the Cummins/Mercury SmartCraft data tracker on hand. For those that are not aware, marine industry giant Brunswick now controls both those companies, so we can expect to see more crossover technology emerging in future.

In conclusion

There really is a lot to like about this good-looking, fuss-free little overnighter. My list is quite long and focuses around its simplicity. I like the way the boat carries itself with style and displays many examples of quality craftsmanship. Little things like the dovetailed joints in the cabinetry, the laser-cut details on some of the stainless steel work and the pretty 24-carat gold pinstripe around the hull show attention to detail that is not always present in brands that choose to manufacture in cheaper countries.

The Back Cove 34 is just the right size and configuration for those, like Barr and his wife, who are opting to downsize after a lifetime on larger vessels. Two people, neither of which need to be great mariners, can easily handle this boat. And once back at the dock after refuelling, it really is well suited to a hose-down, lock-up-and-leave approach to boating.

In this case, I think it is fair to give Barr the last say. In his own words, his Back Cove 34, the Aurora, quite simply makes him feel good about owning the boat. To be able to indulge his passion for a life afloat with his wife and his dog in stress-free style is something he cannot put a price on. Fortunately, in this case, the price was not even that high.

For more information contact James Purves at Back Cove New Zealand, ph 021 274 1850, email james@backcove.co.nz or visit backcove.co.nz.

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