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John Atkin's Ninigret

A practical yet elegant powerboat

By Bill Boyd

Photographs By Bill Boyd

Some boats are better suited for older folks, while others work better for those who are younger. This became especially evident to me over the course of a few years as first my son Ben and then I went through the process of finding the perfect vessel.

Bill Boyd’s Ninigret, shown here being driven by his son Ben, is capable and efficient. Its cabin has room for a porta potty and two cushioned bunks. When Ben and I set about looking for a boat for him, he was in his late 20s and he wanted speed, seaworthiness, and comfort. He also hoped to spend as little money as possible. Thinking we could save by building the boat ourselves, we pored over plans and talked to lots of people. One afternoon, while visiting WoodenBoat magazine’s waterfront on Eggemoggin Reach in Brooklin, we encountered an exceptionally handsome yet capable-looking 19' Albury runabout that belonged to the marine photographer Ben Mendlowitz.

Named, Abaco, that runabout was designed and built by the Alburys of Man-O-War Cay in the Bahamas. It was classy-looking and seaworthy, as well as fast, capable of carrying a crew of four, or sometimes five, at speeds up to 30 mph. We made our decision, bought the plans, and laid the keel. Son Ben’s new Albury Runabout emerged from our shop two and a half years later. It proved to be everything he wanted: comfortable while providing a safe yet speedy exhilarating ride. “The perfect boat,” Ben said. Perfect, that is, for a young, cooler-toting family that likes to picnic at different islands, as weather and a tight schedule allow.

But then, of course, I, in my 70s, needed a different boat, to fit a different set of needs.

I found it, not on WoodenBoat’s waterfront, but in the pages of Mike O’Brien’s informative Boat Design Quarterly, a journal of drawings and commentary on wooden boat designs from the past and present. I was smitten by John Atkin’s 1963 design of a 22' plywood-planked bassboat,  a design that he called Ninigret.

Ninigret, based on Atkin’s fact sheet and profile, looked to be a practical yet elegant powerboat. Though longer than the 19’ Albury, the Ninigret is powered by an outboard with only one-third of the power of the Albury’s (30 horsepower versus 90). Ninigret is not as beamy, either (6'8" versus 6'10" for the Albury), nor as heavy (2,070 pounds versus 2,400).

In the Ninigret I found the potential for a capable, efficient, and graceful boat, one able to deliver peace on the water, which was my personal goal. I bought the plans and set to work, hoping to build the boat entirely by myself.

(Left) Bill Boyd’s Ninigret parked in his garage during construction. (Right) Ben Boyd decided to build this speedy Albury runabout after seeing a similar one owned by photographer Benjamin Mendlowitz. He keeps the boat in Portland, Maine. As an older person I am more able to recognize and adjust to my limitations than others I know. I soon realized, for example, that twisting and gluing 3/8" marine plywood from a vertical at the stem to a horizontal at the stern would require lots of strength and many hands. I also realized that building the hull by myself would take too much time, so I contracted with the boatshop at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine, where I was already a volunteer, to build the hull, with the intention of finishing the rest at home. This approach worked well for me and makes sense for anyone with moderate woodworking skills, who nonetheless might be concerned about the time requirements, the complexity, and even the cost of building a boat entirely at home. Other than the boatshop’s director, Kurt Spiridakis, the hull was built entirely by us volunteers. 

In time saved and problems solved, paying the boatshop to build Ninigret’s hull actually saved me money in the long run. It also gave me a psychological boost as I settled in to complete the build, and enabled me to finish the boat within a reasonable time schedule.

This hybrid way of building a boat also made sense to show-goers at last summer’s WoodenBoat Show in Mystic, Connecticut, where I displayed the almost-finished boat. I explained to anyone who asked that the hull was built in a museum’s boat shop and that I finished the boat in my garage. The idea appealed particularly to folks who, like myself, might shy away from a scratch boatbuilding project, but who could imagine building a boat in a garage to work on as time permitted. Actually, the people who admired the Ninigret the most were middle-aged or older, lured, most probably, by the boat’s good looks, its economy of design, and its obvious practicality. One older gentleman took a long look at Ninigret, then turned to me and said: “it’s everything I need, and all I’ll ever want.”

Billy Atkin and his son John designed boats from the early 1900s into the 1980s. Many are classics such as Ingrid, Maid of Endor, and Rescue Minor. The Ninigret, designed by John, is one of his best-known designs: it is a practical, multi-use boat that anyone can enjoy and appreciate. Its cabin provides protection from the weather and sleeps two if you choose to go out overnight. Its 8' cockpit has room for four people to sit in comfort. A 30-hp 4-cycle outboard pushes the Ninigret along at an honest 18 mph (with one person aboard) or at 12-15 mph with up to four aboard. The outboard motor hangs off an inner transom, about 3' inboard from the stern, so the hull extends beyond and around the motor giving added lift and buoyancy in the stern. 

When I first launched my boat, the Annie B I noticed that the bow barely lifted when power was applied, and concluded that a flat-running boat is much more comfortable than a boat with its bow high in the air. I also noted how smooth the ride was, and how the cabin, with its two cushioned bunks and porta-potty, provided a sense of comfort and security. 

Based on online discussion and sales of its plans, the 22' Ninigret seems to be more and more popular as time goes by. The boat is trailerable, comfortable, able, and economical to build and run. She also, without question, has beautiful and much-admired lines. 

In every sense, my Annie B is, indeed, everything I want and all I’ll ever need. 

Bill Boyd is a Foreign Service Officer, teacher, bookstore owner, and LL Bean employee. He has built six boats ranging in size from 9' to 22', all in his garage. He lives with Nicky, his wife, in Topsham, Maine.

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