MEET THE HELMS­MAN 38E PILOTHOUSE

THE HELMS­MAN 38E IS A THRIFTY SOLID COASTAL CRUISER

Soundings - - Contents - BY GARY RE­ICH

Come along for the ride as we put this thrifty yet well-built coastal trawler through her paces on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

Nearly 20 years ago I moved off my 30- foot sail­boat and started de­vel­op­ing a fancy for stout- look­ing pilothouse trawlers and other full- dis­place­ment ves­sels. Since then, I’ve been dream­ing about a boat that could de­liver my spouse and me up and down the U.S. coast­line, and maybe to the Ba­hamas or the Caribbean when weather win­dows present them­selves.

Maybe that’s why the spec­i­fi­ca­tions plac­ard on the dock be­hind a Helms­man 38E Pilothouse caught my at­ten­tion at the U.S. Power­boat Show in An­napo­lis, Mary­land, last fall. It wasn’t the length over­all, beam or draft on that plac­ard that caught my eye; it was the 38E’s start­ing price, just north of $400,000.

I quickly hopped aboard the dis­play model at the boat show, a 38E re­cently de­liv­ered from China, and the first Helms­man de­liv­ered to the East Coast. In the main saloon, the L- shaped gal­ley was free of over­head cab­i­nets and bulk­heads, cre­at­ing a seam­less flow be­tween the meal pre­parer and folks in the ad­ja­cent L-shaped dinette and lounge chair. An en­closed guest head/shower feels oddly placed at first (it’s down two steps in the for­ward port corner of the main saloon), but I con­fess that sit­u­at­ing it here of­fers a feel­ing of pri­vacy.

A com­bi­na­tion of teak and other hard­woods in the join­ery be­low give the in­te­rior a gen­uinely shippy look with­out be­ing overly util­i­tar­ian. An es­pe­cially nice touch is the ex­pan­sive, thick teak dinette ta­ble — ours had an in­laid com­pass rose at its cen­ter. Also

thought­ful is how spe­cific wood sur­faces through­out are fin­ished in gloss or satin var­nish, de­pend­ing on the type of wear the area will re­ceive.

Up two steps from the main saloon is the pilothouse. Here, be­hind the helm’s el­e­gant teak ship’s wheel, is a sturdy cap­tain’s chair with flip- up bol­ster. To star­board of the wheel is a slid­ing door that leads to a side deck and stair ac­cess to the fly­bridge. (There’s iden­ti­cal ac­cess to port.) Plenty of for­ward-look­ing glass and a clear line of sight aft pro­vide ex­cel­lent vis­i­bil­ity.

The for­ward port side of the wheel­house fea­tures a chart ta­ble with a hinged stowage space for those of us who still use chart guides and pa­per charts. Be­hind it is an Lshaped lounge with teak ta­ble for com­pan­ions or guests. The helm’s side-to po­si­tion re­duces dash space, which will limit prospec­tive buy­ers to one dis­play — not a big deal, given the amaz­ing mul­ti­func­tion op­tions avail­able these days.

For­ward and on cen­ter­line from the pilothouse is the mas­ter state­room, which fea­tures a queen-sized is­land berth flanked by shelf stowage and large hang­ing lock­ers abaft. An open­ing hatch above and pol­ished tra­di­tional stain­less-steel open­ing ports en­hance light­ing and ven­ti­la­tion. There’s an en­closed shower to star­board and an en­closed, stand­alone head with sink to port. The beau­ti­ful join­ery work con­tin­ues into this spa­cious, com­fort­able cabin.

On the out­side, the 38E pro­vides plenty of space for re­lax­ing and en­joy­ing the scenery. The most com­mand­ing view of the world around you is from the fly­bridge and up­per helm. It has two swivel­ing cap­tain’s chairs, en­gine and bow thruster con­trols, and an en­gine panel/ elec­tron­ics bay pro­tected by Plexi-glass. Guests can join the skip­per on the ad­ja­cent com­pan­ion seat­ing to port. Abaft of this area is an ex­panse of deck that will be used by most own­ers for dinghy stowage (which will re­quire the in­stal­la­tion of an op­tional pow­ered crane).

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay was whipped up into a frothy, choppy mess as I drove across

the Bay Bridge to sea trial the 38E from Bay Bridge Ma­rina in Stevensville, Mary­land. These were per­fect con­di­tions to test the Helms­man’s met­tle. Once on the Bay, we met a stiff, 20- to 30- knot breeze that kicked up a 3- to 4-foot chop with an oc­ca­sional 5- footer. Small- craft- ad­vi­sory stuff, for sure, and the 38E han­dled it in style.

Bash­ing into the 3- to 4- foot­ers pro­duced a solid and sub­stan­tial “thud” from the bow, but the steep waves didn’t im­pede our for­ward progress or make for a par­tic­u­larly un­com­fort­able ride. The pilothouse re­mained quiet and cozy as we mo­tored along at around 7 knots.

Run­ning beam-to the waves with the throt­tle firmly mashed down gave us about 10 knots from the stan­dard 250- hp Cum­mins QSB6.7 in­board diesel, with a 10 to 12 gph fuel burn. Throt­tling down to 7 or 8 knots — this boat’s “sweet spot” — re­duces the fuel burn to about 3 gal­lons per hour. If you’re re­ally look­ing to stretch your cruis­ing bud­get, 5 to 6 knots will boost range sig­nif­i­cantly. Op­tional en­gine choices in­clude sin­gle 380- and 550- hp Cum­mins diesels with 12- to 18- knot top ends, re­spec­tively, and an 8- knot cruise. I could tell that Helms­man paid a lot of at­ten­tion to sound- proof­ing the en­gine room — the Cum­mins diesel purred qui­etly be­low our feet in the pilothouse, re­gard­less of how hard we pushed it.

I was wor­ried about dock­ing a boat with plenty of windage and a sin­gle screw in such a big breeze, but the 38E han­dled pre­dictably as we backed her into her slip, and the bow thruster eased both the dock­ing and the stress level.

I found our re­view boat to be ex­tremely well built, thought­fully de­signed and a great value for the price. No won­der it sold to a mar­ried cou­ple only a few hours af­ter I ran it.

If you’re look­ing for a ca­pa­ble and solidly built coastal trawler in the 35- to 40- foot range, this one’s worth a se­ri­ous look.

A bright, well-po­si­tioned gal­ley puts the cook be­tween the helms­man and those in the main saloon.

The Helms­man 38E’s pilothouse has an L-shaped lounge with plenty of space for guests.

LOA: 40 feet, 10 inches BEAM: 13 feet, 11 inches WEIGHT: 30,000 pounds (dry weight) DRAFT: 4 feet POWER: sin­gle 250-hp Cum­mins QSB 6.7 diesel SPEED: 10 knots top, 8 knots cruise (stan­dard power) TANKAGE: 400 gal­lons fuel, 145 gal­lons water, 45 gal­lons...

The fly­bridge has two chairs and com­pan­ion seat­ing to port. Add an op­tional pow­ered crane and take ad­van­tage of room for dinghy stowage abaft the helm area.

The for­ward mas­ter state­room in­cludes a queen-sized berth, an en­closed shower to star­board and an en­closed head and sink to port.

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