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Posted by on Mar 22, 2014 in Boats We Love, Powerboating, Runabouts, US |

Boats We Love: Boston Whaler 13

There are still plenty of the 13-footers around. They were hardy to begin with, and as the decades have passed they've become iconic and sought-after.

Ever since Boston Whaler founder Dick Fisher–an inventor with a flair for advertising and marketing–had one of his original 13-footers cut in half while he sat in it, Whaler builders have kept their blades buzzing, sawing their products in two on a regular basis and showing customers the results. There’s nothing that says “unsinkable” quite like a bisected boat that’s not only still afloat but underway.

This is the 1967 Boston Whaler 13 early in the new millennium, with its fifth engine – a Mercury 8-hp two-stroke, which gets the boat on a plane with two people in it if they sit in the right places.  (The older we get, the slower we go, and the easier the engine to lift.) The colorful squares are part of a topside paint test for Practical Sailor. Today the topsides are all platinum gray.

This is the 1967 Boston Whaler 13 early in the new millennium, with its fifth engine – a Mercury 8-hp two-stroke, which gets the boat on a plane with two people in it if they sit in the right places. (The older we get, the slower we go, and the easier the engine to lift.) The colorful squares are part of a topside paint test for Practical Sailor. Today the topsides are all platinum gray.

Fisher’s marketing skills were backed up by a great design. The 13-footer was a collaboration between Fisher and C. Raymond Hunt, and was an evolution of the “Sea Sled” concept of Albert Hickman. But Fisher’s boat was revolutionary in terms of the enthusiasm it generated in the boating population. It was probably the Hunt connection that helped bridge the gap between powerboaters and sailors. Hunt had strong followings in both camps, and everybody embraced that early Whaler design. It was stable, fast, responsive, fun, and safe. Nice combo.

Dick Fisher (steering) had great marketing skills, but also a great design.  Photo courtesy of Boston Whaler.

Dick Fisher (steering) had great marketing skills, but also a great design. Photo courtesy of Boston Whaler.

Among many, many other owners of the original 13-footer, I can speak volumes for its durability. I’ve had mine for 47 years. When I was young I pretty much lived in it during the summer. As a teenager I liked to take it out in storms with the thwarts removed and the gas tank strapped down, and jump waves. (I sort of gave that up one day after the boat went up in the air and a bit past vertical before plunging back in stern-first. It popped back up and landed on its bottom, swamped, engine dead, but with the idiot in charge still alive.) My friends and I waterskied behind it until we were too heavy. I ran it into hard things, beached it, camped in it, adventured in it. It was by far the coolest boat to own in the ’60s, especially because Bud and Sandy Ricks had one, and they hung around with Flipper.

The builders at Boston Whaler still like to show off the unsinkability of their boats.  Photo courtesy of Boston Whaler.

The builders at Boston Whaler still like to show off the unsinkability of their boats. Photo courtesy of Boston Whaler.

Over the years my 13 has shed its console and wheel, gone through a bunch of topside repaints and five engines, and has been both a trusted family boat and a workhorse for boat-gear testing. There are bigger, faster, fancier Boston Whaler models today, but none better than the original 13-footer. Long may it run.