Return of the Runabout

Hinckley's Talaria 29 R revives the spirit of the classy personal sport boat.

The Hinckley Talaria 29 R is a Bobby McFerrin composition in the nautical theme, meant to be played with passion and whimsy. Whether or not the builder and designer knew what they had created when hull number one splashed doesn't really matter now. The word's out. The T29 R has established a new meaning for the term "runabout.

If we examine the number of ways builders and designers defined the runabout during the past 80 years, we discover that the T29 R perpetuates the spirit without calling on too much of the past. In her sensuous lines and forms, we find hints of Riva and Gar Wood, but Bruce King, her designer, avoided direct quotes, save that of the tumblehome at the stern. King and Hinckley also avoided the temptation to draw on the past for the new boat's naval architecture. Her bottom is more Ray Hunt than Gar Wood, so she's a better sea boat by an order of magnitude. She also has a tiny, but usable, cabin forward of her luxurious sports car-inspired cockpit.

I first saw the T29 R at the Newport International Boat Show last year. Jammed cheek by jowl with other examples of Hinckley's artful construction of King's equally artful drawings, her stern hooked me the moment I saw it. Then an ethereal gathering of light reflecting off the convex side windows, which flank the cockpit like a pair of scalpels, caught my eye. Light and shadow played hide-and-seek on the slick tinted surface, as though it were water rocked by a subtle swell. A step to my left or right set the shadows and light to dancing in time with the boat's motion. Oh my.

If the T29 R has a "best side", it's the one seen from either after quarter. If we catch the viewing angle exactly right, a lovely question mark appears, described by the varnished teak caprail as it embraces the foredeck and intersects the stunning hollow formed by the flare in the topsides forward. The T29 R may be the handsomest small open boat created in the past 50 years.

Automotive themes define the cockpit, as they did in the mahogany runabouts from the past century. The steering wheel and dashboard suggest the BMW Z-series roadsters, but one look at the Nardi wood-rim steering wheel placed me at the controls of the great Ferrari 250 SWB Berlinetta from the early 1960s. Even the seats bring back fond memories of that car.

During the heyday of show-quality mahogany runabouts, being seen-varnished mahogany topsides and deck reflecting water and sky from a depth of shine that defied description-was perhaps more important than any other pleasure the boat offered. Though Riva kept that flame alive long after other builders abandoned it, Hinckley has led the return to the classy personal sport boat, the runabout. Seated like a prince behind that Nardi wheel, who among us will resist posturing at a walking pace past the yacht club floats?

More than simply being a platform for displaying oneself, the T29 R is a hoot to drive. One of my earliest impressions of Hackers and Gar Woods was the way they danced a loose softshoe atop the typical lake-water chop when they were at rest or under slow way. The Hinckley T29 R dances, too, but the steps are more deliberate, not as funky as I remember from those early boats.

Can you imagine how one's heart would break if the boat's performance failed to match her good looks? Nightmares of driving a stunning 1979 Corvette haunt me still. That car was strangled by Rube Goldberg emissions gear and an automatic transmission. All the fun had gone. I'm happy to report that despite the T29 R's nautical version of the automatic box-a jet drive-her acceleration, speed and handling are first-rate.

When I pushed the throttle to its stop, the Hamilton water jet wound up like the torque converter of a 1955 Buick. This jet is of the high-volume, low-pressure variety, but when the water builds up speed running through the inlet port and out the nozzle, the T29 R begins to fly. I saw 37.5 knots on the GPS at wide-open throttle (3300 rpm). What's more, the hull didn't mind the 2-foot seas on Narragansett Bay. Like the larger Hinckley jets, the T29 R is very seakindly.

Her great ride comes from a fine entry and steep deadrise forward of the planing surface. The bottom flattens to about 18 degrees at the transom. If the T29 R had a conventional prop drive, the V-shape would carry all the way to the transom. To accommodate the jet's appetite for solid water, the design team had to provide a delta-shape flat on the centerline back aft. In addition to allowing plenty of water to reach the inlet, this flat provides a bit of lift. The T29 R hustled onto a plane without lifting her bow to embarrassing heights.

The configuration of her bottom also encourages good bite in the turns. She corners like a prop-driven boat, not like a PWC. I didn't push her beyond the dictates of prudent seamanship, and I didn't experience any skidding in the turns. She slows a bit as the cornering loads increase, but that's normal.

I puttered around the bay, running north and south mostly, upwind and down. At 5 feet, 6 inches, I'm not quite tall enough to see well from a seated position, so I folded up the cushion and sat atop it. From this perch, I discovered another of the joys of JetStick piloting. The wind blew steadily at about 15 knots out of the south, increasing the seas a bit at the end of my run. Hinckley's Jim Wetherald and I had beached the T29 R in Potter Cove, then in very shallow water maneuvered her sideways and in circles before we headed back to the yard.

At her 30-knot cruise, the T29 R remained comfortable, but wandered a little when I tried to steer her with the wheel. Most of the powerboats I drive do not have steerable thrust, as an outboard, sterndrive or jet boat does. Small inputs at the wheel generated a more dramatic response than I'm accustomed to getting, so I oversteered. I engaged the JetStick and used its twist knob to steer a straighter course.

Hinckley offers a nifty roadster top, an Erector Set device that looks terrific when it's in place. Top down is definitely the way to go, motoring in the tradition of English gentlemen in their roadsters.

Contact: Hinckley Yachts, (866) 446-2553; sales@hinckleyyachts.com; www.hinckleyyachts.com.