On every boat test, there is a defining moment. Sometimes, it's the way a sportfisherman rises to the first swell in the Gulf Stream and you know it's going to be a wild but fun ride. Or it might be something as small as the way a locker thunks closed that tells you about the builder and his craftsmen.
In the case of the Windsor Craft 40, however, it didn't even happen on the boat. Bruce Darkow of Windsor Craft and I had just run their 36-footer straight from the Palm Beach Boat Show to the Rybovich yard to go onto the Windsor Craft trailer for transport to another boat show.
As I waited for my ride, I wandered over to where several guys were restoring a vintage 100-foot Alden schooner. Working on the bare and sistered frames of the boat, one guy spied the all-varnished Windsor Craft and he nudged his companion, who poked another. In a moment, all work on the schooner stopped as the hard-hatted crew of craftsmen surrounded the Windsor Craft, now hanging in slings.
Boating writers, myself included, write that this boat or that boat will stop all activity in a harbor when it arrives, but thisthis was different. The Windsor Craft not only made everyone look, but it drew a bunch of fellows who've seen it all when it comes to wooden boats.
In essence, that's the attraction of the Windsor Craft 40. Step aboard, and you feel like you've been warped back through time. Everywhere you look, there are expanses of beautifully varnished mahogany and, underfoot, there is the silky feel of freshly scrubbed teak. In a boating world defined by white plastic boats, the Windsor Craft is a refreshing throwback to another era.
But is the world ready for a wooden yacht? That's what Irwin Jacobs, the CEO of Genmar and owner of Windsor Craft, is betting. "When I first saw a Windsor Craft, I just melted," he admits. "As a kid, I grew up on the Minnesota lakes, and I always dreamt about a yacht like this. It's magical...nostalgic...it's Clark Gable and another era."
With 13 boat companies under the Genmar umbrella and sales in excess of $1 billion, Jacobs laughs when asked about the potential."It's not a big market, but I don't care. It's about a passion...about building a boat for people who appreciate something very special. It's as much a one-off as a Picasso, because each Windsor is built for that owner."
Three things are in Jacobs's favor when potential buyers consider the Windsor Craft. First, this isn't your father's varnish. It's a far more sophisticated and long-lived finish than that used decades ago. With 60 layers applied by the builder,Windsor Craft has one boat that has been in the Florida sun for two years with no need for refinishing.
Second, this isn't your father's wooden boat, either. The hull, made in Turkey by the Vicem yard, is cold-molded mahogany bathed in durable WEST System epoxy resins.
Last, Jacobs doesn't want just any buyer: he has enough fiberglass boat companies to satisfy those after the wash-and-walk boating experience. No, the Windsor Craft is for someone who appreciates fine quality and who is willing to invest time and money in its pursuit.
Yes, you'll spend more time maintaining a Windsor Craft than a fiberglass yacht. Lots more. But white plastic boats won't attract the seen-it-all crew from an old Alden schooner. It's your call.
The Windsor Craft 40 isn't so much pretty as she is arresting. Taken piece by piece, her topsides are a bit too tall, as is her wheelhouse, and her hull sides are a bit too flat and don't have enough flare forward. But overall, she can only be called striking.After all, you could say that Sophia Loren's forehead is too wide, but who would?
While our test boat, the first Windsor Craft 40, had an open wheelhouse, there will also be an enclosed version that would be my choice to take advantage of air conditioning and/or heating in all climates.
Once past the teak-grated swim platform, there is a comfy settee and a barbecue console with a Kenyon electric grill and undercounter Isotherm fridge, plus a wine chiller. This summer kitchen would probably be a bit more meaningful on the enclosed version, since the grill is just inches from the two-burner cooktop in the galley.
Up a step from the cockpit is the wheelhouse, with a mini-galley to starboard. The galley cooktop and a sink are hidden under hinged lids, and there is an icemaker and selfclosing drawers. Overhead, an electric sunroof provides light and air, and huge windows provide a great view even to those on the settee.
The helm has a wide bench seat behind a console that is, no surprise, beautifully varnished mahogany. It easily holds the Raymarine E80 screen, although the two Yanmar engine monitors on the horizontal part of the dash are hard to read from the reflected light of the windshield. Rocker switches, the joysticks for the Sidepower bow and stern thrusters, and a lovely air-conditioning vent right next to the skipper finish off the helm.
One oddity was the flat-screen television on the table next to the settee. This is the first 40, of course, but the only place to sit to watch the TV was on the stove. Windsor reps say that a TV that hinges down from the overhead will be on future boats.
The single cabin is a symphony of elegantly varnished mahogany, button-tufted and plump upholstered headboard, mirrors, and a traditional white-painted overhead with no fewer than nine lights. There are drawers under the berth, a large hanging locker, and plenty of smaller lockers and cabinets elsewhere.
The head is a split layout, with a spacious shower compartment to starboard, complete with seat and opening port. On the opposite side is the head and vanity with a granite counter and toiletry stowage, all with considerable detailing in the joinerwork.
A flush hatch in the after cockpit sole leads to a spacious but low lazarette with good access to the rudder posts and hydraulic steering gear, the water heater, and the batteries and charger. The generator is a bit hard to reach. A redesigned engineroom hatch will be used on future boats, with a lifting mechanism for easier access.
Underway, I was reminded that wooden boats sound different: Somehow the wood seems to absorb noise and vibration and creates a pleasant sound. The twin thrusters get you in and out of tight spots gracefully (all that varnish...omigod!), and the boat easily jumps onto plane. Our boat had the standard 380-horsepower Yanmar diesels, and we reached almost 29 knots in spite of what we agreed were the wrong props and a dirty bottom. I don't think I'd upgrade to the optional 440-horsepower Yanmars for the sake of a few extra knots.
The Windsor Craft 40 isn't for everyone. But it's perfect for someone who would rather drive a Ferrari than a Chevy-who is willing to give up turnkey for head-turning. Like Irwin Jacobs, and the admiring workers at Rybovich, the first time you see a Windsor Craft, you'll melt.
Windsor Craft Yachts, (800) 250-4431; www.windsorcraft.com