I'm embarrassed to say that before I drove the Little Harbor WhisperJet 34, my misconceptions about jet boats were based on nothing more than bad information. After one morning aboard this new model, I turned into a believer.
Little Harbor has been building boats equipped with Hamilton WaterJets for five years, with no major trouble. Sure, jet-propelled boats operate a little differently than conventional, prop-driven boats, but once you get used to operating the buckets, the advantages far outweigh the learning curve.
A jet boat with a skilled driver behind the wheel is capable of some slick maneuvers. Jim Wetherald of Little Harbor Custom Yachts, controlling forward momentum with the buckets, dropped both buckets down and brought the 34 to a car-like stop. We were able to move the boat sideways into a stiff breeze by placing the bucket in the direction we wanted to go in reverse, then completing the maneuver with only a slight wheel movement. The wheel can override the side motion of the buckets if needed.
Little Harbor also offers the JetStick, which incorporates your bow thruster and bucket operation to give you a point-and-click docking experience. In a sense, it turns the twin-engine boat into a single-engine boat. The drawback is losing the versatility you have when operating the two buckets individually.
In open water, we opened up the twin 350 hp Yanmar diesels. Jet boats, characteristically, are delayed in getting out of the hole because they push the water for forward motion (think of a fire hose dispersing a riot). Once on plane, however, the 34 was as responsive as a dinghy.
The Ray Hunt-designed hull with 17 degrees of deadrise provided a solid ride through the chop. We hit a maximum speed of 31 knots. Expect a cruising speed around 24 knots. With the 34's 1-foot, 10-inch draft, you'll be free to roam without keeping one eye on the depth sounder.
Little Harbor constructs the hull with Corecell A550 on the bottom and Corecell A500 on the hull topsides, vacuum-bagging both areas to ensure a secure bond and reduce the risk of delamination. Knitted bidirectional E-glass with a Kevlar hybrid is used throughout the hull.
To minimize print-through, a vinylester osmosis barrier low-profile resin is used. It seems to be working; the dark hull WhipserJets on the line and, more important, the older models in the yard had smooth, mirror-like hulls.
The helm is well laid out with sufficient space for electronics and gauges. Wheel position allows for easy steering while standing or sitting, and the three windshield wipers maintain good visibility during foul weather. For servicing the wiring and steering, the entire console drops back. When I boarded the 34, I told Jim the helm deck felt like it belonged on a 40-footer. Well, it does," he said, explaining that Little Harbor uses several of the same tooling components on the 34, 38 and 40 WhisperJets. When building the 34, the 40's hull mold is dammed at 34 feet, accounting for its space in the cockpit and helm deck. Measuring 7 feet, 10 inches long by 8 feet, 11 inches wide, the helm deck will function as your main saloon. Our test boat's owner wanted twin Pompanette helm seats. Although this sacrifices the length of the portside L-shape settee (which can form a double berth), I prefer this arrangement. The second helm chair allows your mate to be part of the action. Twist these chairs back when in port, and you can join in the conversation on the settee. Little Harbor offers an optional ice chest or wet bar on the starboard side.
The helm deck lifts up for engineroom access, providing unlimited headroom. A smaller hatch is included for a quick look-and-see while cruising. Although the two 150-gallon aluminum fuel tanks are outboard of the engines, service to the outboard side is painless because of the 12-foot, 4-inch beam. The 40-gallon polypropylene freshwater tank is forward, and the six batteries are low on the centerline. There is space abaft in the lazarette for an optional generator. The engineroom was superbly finished, neat and orderly. To reduce noise and vibration, a rubber buffer material cushions systems mounted on a hard surface in the engineroom, including the engines, fuel filters and pumps. The attention to detail pays off. We recorded 90 decibels at the helm station with throttles at max.
The 6-foot-long by 12-foot-wide cockpit provides an additional gathering space, and the optional stern seat is a nice option. If you want to dress up your boat, Little Harbor offers a teak cockpit sole ($6,400), varnished teak coaming ($1,960) and a varnished teak eyebrow along the cabin sides ($3,470).
The interior is compact but will easily satisfy any day-tripper who takes an occasional overnight jaunt. Our test boat was finished with almond-colored Formica and varnished cherry trim. The cozy, inviting space includes a V-berth forward flanked by two shelves and cherry ceiling. Abaft is a straight settee to starboard with stowage on the outboard side. Opposite, the owner can choose a settee or, as our test boat's owner chose, a chart and stowage locker. The galley has a two-burner electric stove, a dual-voltage refrigerator and a polished stainless-steel sink. A microwave is optional. The head includes a shower, mirror, stainless-steel fixtures and a vent.
The WhisperJet may appear a little on the pricey side when compared with the base price for similarly styled boats. But you get what you pay for. In addition to attention to detail, the 34 has an extensive standard equipment list, including a bow thruster, engine spares, jet spares, ground tackle, a bimini and full owner's orientation in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
Little Harbor Custom Yachts, (401) 683-7000; fax (401) 683-7251; www.thco.com.