LITTLE CURRENT—Henley Boats of Manitowaning is renowned for producing some of the world’s toughest workboats, vessels ready to take on just about anything the construction world can through at them. This past weekend, owner Dave Ham and his hardy crew were out on the frigid waters of the North Channel to test out one of their newest custom-designed workboats.

“It was designed and built right here on Manitoulin,” confirmed Mr. Ham.

As to why the Henley Boat crew were launching at Boyle Marine on a Saturday morning in February, there isn’t all that much mystery. “It’s pretty much the only open water readily available at this time of year,” said Mr. Ham when queried. “We need to get it tested and out to the customer so that they can put it to work.”

The sturdy vessel weighs in at somewhere in the range of about 9,000 pounds and hurtles through the water propelled by 600hp of raw power supplied by twin 300hp Yamaha outboards. “We figured it out through hydrology (the scientific study of the movement, distribution and quality of water) calculations that she should be capable of making around 58 miles per hour,” said Mr. Ham. As it turned out during the maiden voyage testing, she handily hits that range on the odometer.

Henley Boat’s custom designed 36-foot 14-man crewboat took its maiden voyage in the frigid, but mostly ice free, waters of the North Channel this past weekend powered by the 600-hp of twin 300-hp Yamaha outboard motors.
photos by Michael Erskine

Henley Boats designs a wide range of vessels for both recreational and work purposes. Usually those vessels have hulls featuring a distinctive lap strake design but this custom-designed workboat sports smooth sides at the request of the customer. “I believe it is so that it matches rest of their fleet,” said Mr. Ham. Because, after all, “customer is king.”

This particular customer is in Greenwich, Connecticut. “The boat is designed to carry a 12 passengers and two crew,” said Mr. Ham.

When the new workboat makes its way across the border into the US to its new home on the Atlantic coast it will be kept busy ferrying work crews to offshore construction sites.

A lot of considerations go into the design and building of vessels intended to spend their lives working upon the ocean, among them buoyancy as there is around 1.6 pounds more buoyancy for objects when placed in salt water than in fresh water. The workboat will accordingly ride somewhat higher in salt water than it does in fresh water.

Henley Boats design crew discusses the vessel’s first run before loading more bodies aboard for a
second run under load.

Henley Boats has been making quite a name for itself since it was first purchased by the Manitowaning entrepreneur and that is reflected in their current waiting list. “We have about 21 boats on that list right now,” said Mr. Ham. That’s custom designed workboats. “We have shipped vessels all across the US, into southern California.” Mr. Ham even pursues international markets beyond the western hemisphere.

So is expansion in the cards? “We have thought about that a lot,” said Mr. Ham. “We could certainly use more floor space. It would be nice to have all 21 being built at once.”

There are actually larger boats currently under construction than the one being tested on the North Channel waters.

Moving those vessels presents its own challenges, but Mr. Ham notes that trailer builder Jim Wright handles that end of the production cycle with a great deal of expertise. “He has taken our boats all across the States for us,” he said. “He always does a great job.”

The new vessel passed its shakedown cruise with flying colours. That cruise included bringing the vessel up to full speed, racing across the length of the channel’s ice-free waters along the waterfront of the Port of Little Current and performing serpentine curves with élan.

“You plan things out on the drawing board,” said Mr. Ham, “but it is nice to see how they actually plane out in the water.”

Mr. Ham said that his company is anticipating growing much larger than it is today. “We have about double the orders that we did at this time last year,” he said. “We have some good salespeople working for us down in the States and there are quite a few orders just waiting for the ink to be applied to paper.”

Of course, running waterborne tests in the winter are not without their own challenges. Getting the massive vessel into the water was a lot easier than getting it out, thanks to an ice ridge formed at the ramp into the water. A little ingenuity, a little elbow grease (Mr. Ham may be the “brains” of the operation, but he quickly proved he isn’t at all afraid to get his hands wet when the situation called for it) and a bit of a power assist from Brian Boyle’s backhoe (to overcome the slippery-slick traction conditions supplied by recent freezing rain) and the boat and its trailer were back on dry land ready to return to the shop for final outfitting.

See video of the launch and shakedown cruise online at or The Expositor’s Facebook page.