Boat Review: Back Cove 34

With a frugal diesel engine, thrusters for docking and a big cabin for couples or a family of four, David Lockwood says this Maine-built lobster boat is a cracker!
Based in Maine (USA), Back Cove Yachts trades off the local lobster-boat lore founded by old salts putting to sea in handbuilt boats with wheelhouses. Only its three iterations – the 30, 34 and 37 – lean more towards pleasure boating, with hitherto new levels of single-engine-docking sophistication and user friendliness.
Fortunately, all that is good about the time-honoured lobster boat remains. The swooping flared bow sheds water and offers freeboard in a seaway, as the wide walk-around decks make going forward safe, the cockpit caters for outdoor pursuits, and the wheelhouse or helm deck enjoys weather protection. Then there is the new and improved cabin even better suited to a couple.
We have tested all Back Cove models over the years, beginning with the harbinger, the 29, published back in 2007. This new 34 supplants the 33 we published in October 2009. This is a better boat for several reasons, not least being the vastly improved accommodation, more spacious cockpit, better helm deck thoroughfare and deeper swim platform.
Thanks to the exchange rate, the Back Cove 34 is better buying than the 33 was three years ago!
Back in October 2009, the 33 had a base price of $425,000. The new Back Cove 34 has a landed base price of $365,000 with the same standard single 380hp Cummins QSB 5.9 common-rail diesel.
Available engine upgrades include a 440hp Yanmar, 435hp Volvo D6, or preferably the 480hp Cummins QSB 5.9 variant.
At the time of writing, our all-white test boat (#7) with the standard power was priced at $409,000 including optional hardback enclosure that creates a lock-up wheelhouse/cabin. The 33 we tested and other 34s on order have the open back with clears that better integrates indoor and outdoor seating areas. The choice is yours.
Other options on our test boat included Onan 5kW generator, twin air-con units, stern thruster, Raymarine electronics package with autopilot and radar, windlass, freshwater wash down, cockpit table, mast, TV, and trim pack.
Meantime, as a quick aside, a used 2008-model 33 on this website has an asking price of $379,000, which is probably a tad high, but the boats do seem to hold their value better than a lot of 30-foot powerboats.
With just one teak batten on the cabin sides - no teak toe rails, for example - the Back Cove 34 exterior will be easy to maintain. The diamond-pattern non-skid works a treat and the two-tone grey finish adds to the good looks.
The new deep swim platform, with pop-up cleats ideal for tying off your tender or watersports toys, has room for a folding chair or unfurled towel. An inward-opening door grants good access to the self-draining cockpit, which has more through-bolted mooring cleats.
A new L-shaped seating arrangement to port is more accommodating than the previous bench seat on the 33. You could squeeze six in here but four will be comfortable doing lunch around the small drop-in table and a couple can toast the sunsets.
In the soft-back version, the aft-facing backrest of the seat is deeper and better fixed. Blue-striped cushions add to the nautical look, while a local canopy helps cast shade. There’s storage under the cockpit lounges and lazarette whose floor hatch lifts on gas struts, but no side pockets because owners want cockpit space, we’re told.
The 34 has new, narrow gunwales in the cockpit to boost cockpit space some more. Fitting rod holders or perhaps barbecue mounts won’t be so easy, although research shows Back Cove owners don’t really fish. But we suppose they will barbecue.
Moulded steps lead to wide side decks backed by cabin-top rails and a good bow rail (albeit without intermediate wire). The flat foredeck is functional, there are twin sets of breast cleats, and a Quick windlass mounted above deck. The optional freshwater wash will help keep the decks clean.
The anchor locker is joined by a big fender locker, while stainless-steel framed Bomar hatches help retain the clean and tidy appearance. We’ve seen Back Coves carrying kayaks on their hardtops, where this boat had a mast with Raymarine radar dome and spotlight.
Powder-coated alloy cockpit door frames conceal a flyscreen, and the hatches have flyscreens as well. The centre pane of the windscreen, which has two-speed wipers with washers, swings open as do sliding side windows to enhance natural ventilation.
Back Cove Yachts has changed the dinette seat bases and cushions so there’s more walk-through space on the helm deck. The dinette works as a place for up to four people to kick back at meal time or travel out of the weather. Privacy curtains can be drawn should you need to convert the dinette into a double bed.
Headroom is abundant, as are the views through the surrounding deep picture windows. The builders have maximised storage space and created solid-cherrywood joinery with dovetailed drawers, matching ceiling battens, and an eye-catching burl-maple (a timber native to Maine) table up top.
The galley opposite the dinette features a handy two-burner electric recessed hob, small microwave oven, big sink, solid counters and there are new drawer-type fridges. There is the option of a freezer under a dinette seat. We found two 240V GPOs on the helm deck and noted the Corian cover over the hob that extends the servery space. But it’s the accommodation that’s the clincher. There’s now a full island berth where a vee berth existed on the 33.
The L-shaped lounge near the companionway with second dinette converts to an impromptu berth, but has also been remodelled for greater legroom. This takes sleeping to five and lets a family stow aboard.
Headroom is a lofty 192cm in the open-plan cabin, with a privacy curtain dividing the two sleeping areas. There are cedar-lined hanging lockers, opening portlights, and a salty ambience derived from the planked cherrywood joinery, teak flooring and mood lighting.
The upmarket fully-enclosed head with freshwater-flush loo and separate American-sized shower stall is a bonus. As we have said before, in the context of the long weekender, it’s all here. Only the 34 is more comfortable than ever, with better room for a young family and a better sleeping arrangement for couples.
Back Cove hulls are fully resin infused, with foam-cored decks for sound and weather insulation, and multiaxial E-glass in impact areas. There is a prop tunnel to reduce shaft angle and maximise thrust and Lectrotab trim tabs to keep the boat on an even keel. Some tab is needed to counter the single prop torque.
A press of a button and the cockpit sole lifts, revealing oodles of servicing room and plenty of scope to tote extra gear. With everything labelled and the best in fittings, the engineering is a cut above your average Yankee production boat.
Back Cove importer Jed Elderkin, an expat living in Sydney who grew up in the Booth Bay area of Maine, has sold more than 35 Back Coves into Australia in less than six years and is yet to find fault with the engineering.
The lazarette harbours the 694-litre alloy fuel tank, which is mounted off the stringers, and there are twin water wing tanks totalling 300 litres that should last a long weekend.
The 5kW Onan powers both air-con units, with a factory 1800W inverter available should you want to watch TV or boil a kettle at anchor in silent ship mode. The batteries are the AGM maintenance-free type and there are Racor fuel filters.
To compensate for the single engine, a bow thruster comes standard. But our boat also had that optional stern thruster to take the prop walking out of mooring.
A comfy Stidd helm chair fronts a timber ship’s wheel and purposeful dash. The single electronic gearshift keeps company with the Sidepower bow and stern thruster sticks, while fuel consumption and engine data is relayed via the VesselView display from Cummins.
We had no issue departing the marina thanks to clear site lines from the helm and two-person crew lounge opposite. As with the 33, a full liner with foam coring dampens running noise and you can cruise and carry on a conversation without yelling.
With the prop spinning in a tunnel or pocket that reduces the shaft angle, the deep-vee hull accelerates swiftly. Water is displaced out rather than sucked back aboard and, when called on, the spoon bow does an admirable job of parting the waves.
At 2200rpm, the official sea trail data states 14.7 knots low-speed cruise for 6.62 litres per nautical mile and a safe range of 291 nautical miles.
At 2600rpm, you get 19.6 knots, which is a nice speed for travelling at sea, while using just 6.43 litres per nautical mile for a 284 nautical mile range. This is the boat’s best cruise speed, returning 76dBA at the helm, although the Cummins engine sounds smoother still at 2800rpm and 22.7 knots fast cruise.
At 3060rpm WOT the top speed was 25 knots. The biggest engine option, a Cummins 480hp as tested on the 33, will return 30 knots and 25 knots cruise. But it’s a $12,800 upgrade and that will buy a lot of diesel on this thinking man’s lobster boat.
Even though the 34 uses the exact same hull as the 33 and is powered by the same base 380hp Cummins QSB 5.9 engine, we felt the updates warranted our revisit, especially as the Back Coves have really found their feet in the pared-back boating market.
The new Back Cove 34 teams tradition with technology, utility with timeless styling, but now there’s much improved accommodation to sate owners. Low maintenance and single-engine running costs also make dollars and sense. A cracking lobster boat for the times.
LOA: 10.46m (excluding bow sprit and swim platform)
Beam: 3.66m
Draft: 0.94m
Weight: 6350kg
Sleeping: 5
Fuel capacity: 694 litres
Water capacity: 300 litres 
Holding tank: 150 litres
Engines Cummins 380hp QSB 5.9 common rail diesel
optional hardback, Onan 5kW generator, twin air-con units, stern thruster, Raymarine electronics package with autopilot and radar, windlass, freshwater wash down, cockpit table, mast, TV, trim pack and more.