There are few things in this world that succeed in transcending the mere material to something far greater: a status symbol, a passion project, a generational keepsake. It’s hard to imagine Henry R. Hinckley could have known back in 1928—when he first established what is today known as Hinckley Yachts—the cruisers he would build in South Harbor, Maine, would become so much more than boats. They’d become emblems of a life well lived, garnering a cult-like following and often inspiring the kind of love-at-first-sight typically reserved for a soulmate—a glimpse of something utterly perfect.
Then again, if you know anything about Henry Hinckley, you may guess he knew exactly what kind of empire he was building. “He was both irascible and a genius,” says Phil Bennett, Hinckley’s vice president of sales and one of the company’s longstanding (and most enthusiastic) employees. Standing amid a pair of 45-foot hulls in one of the company’s warehouses in Trenton, Maine, Bennett’s eyes dance. To hear him tell the story of Hinckley is to dive into the lore of a giant.
Hinckley was young, fresh out of college, when his ramshackle boatyard—bought by his father for a mere $750—started building ships for the U.S. Navy during World War II. Five hundred boats and four years later, Hinckley was well on his way to becoming a scion of the sea-faring world. But 1959 marked his biggest splash yet, when he unveiled one of the world’s first fiberglass hulls with his slick pleasure cruiser, the Bermuda 40. There were naysayers aplenty, certain a boat made of glass would surely shatter under the slightest pressure. But Hinckley was right: The new material was ultra lightweight yet exceptionally strong, and it wasn’t long before everyone wanted in on fiberglass.
In the more than half century since, Hinckley, the brand, has continued much in the way that Hinckley, the man, surely would have wanted. The same thinking behind his fiberglass breakthrough led to advancements in carbon, Kevlar, and epoxy—and all hit that sweet spot of light and agile yet resilient and safe. It also led to the 1994 creation of the Picnic Boat, a yacht design that, as Bennett tells it, would forever change the leisure yachting industry.
“For a lot of buyers—who were largely men—it was the first time the wives wanted to be involved,” he says. “And it was because it was pretty.” Indeed, the cruiser was an aesthetic dream—owners could customize nearly every last detail, much in the way they’d work with an interior designer on a home. It was also a workhorse, with a jet-drive propulsion system that allowed it to carve water like a hot knife through butter, then stop on a dime.
At Southwest Harbor, not far from Acadia National Park, the Picnic Boat Kathleen sits at the end of the dock, awaiting its owners after spending the winter months in Hinckley’s boatyard. The 42-footer glistens—even on a foggy, cold day—its deep cherry-red hue and high-gloss wood sparkle. “Look at all the other boats here,” Bennett says. “Nothing looks like this. There’s only straight lines and right angles.” He’s right. The Kathleen is all graceful curves, each strip of sloping wood or chrome detail deceptively simplistic in its elegance. It’s no surprise the design has been relentlessly copied by competitors. Today, the term “picnic boat” is trademarked, and Hinckley holds more than a dozen patents for its unique features—from the retractable glass enclosures to the motorized side boarding door that magically disappears and reappears at the touch of a button.
Still, there’s something comforting—humble even—about the way these boats are made, and just 30 Hinckley boats, in total, are produced per year. Whatever status they may signify, their origins are honest, hardworking. More than a few four-generation families have worked at the Hinckley facilities. And the classic design of Hinckley’s yachts isn’t undermined by high-tech innovation. To the contrary, the intricate craftsmanship and careful methods marking the first models remain the holy grail of production today. Every step along the way is a feat in and of itself: Each piece of teak or cherry wood is hand-selected for strength and grain design (the ones that don’t make it go to other boat builders in the area); in the metal workshop, every piece of hardware is custom welded (a single piece can take a day or longer to complete). And it’s all done in what Dean Myrick, Hinckley’s operations manager, calls The Hinckley Way. “If you were to do it any other way, it wouldn’t be right,” he says. “A lot of people come here with talent but they don’t survive the culture of perfection.”
That spirit has a way of infecting Hinckley owners too. To own a Picnic Boat, Talaria, or Hinckley 35 (the company’s newest model) is to be part of an unofficial club. Those who are lucky enough to own one—or two, or five—consider them to be more than mere objects. They’re memory makers, sacred places where families come together for shared moments of joy and freedom. Bennett, who has counted Martha Stewart and David Rockefeller among past clients, regularly receives letters and cards at Christmas regaling him with tales of lives incalculably enhanced by moments on the water. Rockefeller even penned the forward to the book Hinckley Yachts: An American Icon, writing that, in 2009, while his sixth Hinckley, a Talaria 55, was being built, he would often stop by the boatyard to check on “her progress,” and talk with the craftspeople at work. “Their enthusiasm and love for boatbuilding was evident,” he wrote, “and I continue to experience that quality every day that I take her out.”
Experience the Hinckley HQs during a road trip with All Roads North.
While the goal may be to own a Hinckley, why not experience the next best thing? Club Members can experience the boatbuilding process via a new collaboration with Club partner All Roads North. This summer, as part of a compelling itinerary showcasing the most gorgeous areas throughout Maine, Members can stop at the Hinckley warehouses and facilities in Trenton, Maine, and the idyllic Southwest Harbor, which is not far from the iconic Acadia National Park. So whether exploring by road or water, this private experience showcases the finest in American craftsmanship.