Shelter Island Runabout

Spirit-of-Tradition Motor Yacht: 38' Shelter Island Runabout.The Spirit-of-Tradition DNA gets more streamlined when modern-classic design principles are concentrated into smaller  runabouts. One of our favorite examples of big design themes in a smaller package is the 38-foot Shelter Island Runabout built by CH Marine, of — you guessed it — Shelter Island, New York.

Designed by the talented Doug Zurn, the 38 crams a lot of advanced technology into a trim traditional design. The hull is a high-quality hybrid build of Kevlar and E-Glass, vacuum bagged around a light and stiff Corecell core. The  hull is then carefully engineered to swap out complex laminates for solid wood near load-bearing hull fittings and rails.

The 38 can be powered with either twin 260 or 370 HP powerplants, which optimizes the performance for today’s overpowered world: Cruising speed is 25 knots. Top speed is 42! She’s both zippy on a plane and comfortable when chugging along in displacement mode.

William Frost’s “Merganser”work boat, cir. 1943

The bigger design story, however, starts, with the dramatic sheer that is a direct evolution of the classic Down East hull shapes, that evolved as motors replaced sails right around the end of the American Civil War. A Digby Neck, Nova Scotia designer named William A. Frost is credited as being the father of these narrow and sleek lobsterboat designs. Legend has it, Frost built somewhere between 700 to 1,000 such work boats, race boats, rum runners and patrol craft. For the record, Frost’s two grandsons were also famous lobsterboat designers: Royal and Carroll Lowell. And his great-grandsons are still designing and building similar lobsterboats at Even Keel Marine Specialties in Yarmouth, ME. The full history is worth a read, here.

In the case of our Shelter Island 38′, we see the Jonesporter and “Razor Case” lobsterboats of the 1930’s through the ‘60’s. She features a relatively narrow 10-foot beam on a 38-foot length over all. But the most notable characteristic of the Shelter Island is its very light weight. Typical 38-foot cruisers feature about 26,000 lb. of displacement. That’s well more than double the 11,800 pounds quoted by CH Marine. That’s what makes for the top speeds of 40-plus knots. That’s brisk for a boat of this horsepower.

All this balanced engineering and craftsmanship is not cheap. Even used Shelter Harbors can fetch $400,000! That makes this an experience that requires commitment. But to us, the price signals the rare vessel that keeps its value through the years.

And that’s what every owner should strive for, in a motor boat market drowning in disposable design.


LOA: 38’ 7” — Beam: 10’ 0″
Draft (Total): 2’ 3”
Displacement (50%): 11,800 lb
Standard Power: (2) Yanmar 260 hp sterndrive
Speed (Cruise): 25 kt
Optional Power: (2) Yanmar 315 hp sterndrive
Speed (WOT): 42 kt
Fuel Cons. (Cruise): 11.2 gph
Range (Cruise): 424 nm
Fuel: 200 gal
Water: 39 gal
Builder: CH Marine.
Launch: Fall 1996