Friendship 40

Combining the handling of a day boat with the aesthetics of a classic.

Friendship 40 sailing

SWEET SPOT: Fully modern operation married to gaff-rigged lobsterboat lines gives the 40's owner a memorable ride.Onne van der Wal

Remember the day you first saw the love of your life? For many sailors, a first glimpse of the Friendship 40 likely will invoke similar feelings-the tingle, the ache. She may be most alluring when you're sailing your 80-something high-performance cruiser/racer with a professional skipper and mate/engineer and eight of your not-quite-closest friends as crew. Aboard the Friendship, though, you'll notice that a solo sailor sits comfortably on the low side, perched on the fanny-friendly cockpit coaming. Simply by looking forward, he checks the telltales on the small jib. In a header, he stands momentarily to step behind the wheel. You see the boom trim toward the centerline, as if by telekinesis. As he resumes his original place, you see the jib trim to match the main. The wonders of hydraulics, you assume.

Your assumption would be correct. Designed by Ted Fontaine of the Fontaine Design Group, the Friendship 40 combines the ease of operation you'd expect from a relatively small day boat with the aesthetics, luxury and comfort of a mega-size yacht. His customers, Fontaine reckons, will include owners of large luxurious yachts trading down to or supplementing their yacht quiver with this convenient solo sailer, all without abandoning the high quality to which they've been accustomed.

This was Fontaine's goal from the inception for the Friendship 40, but branching into the business of marketing completed boats was not. That concept developed when he was chief designer at Ted Hood Design Group, which was part of Little Harbor. At that time, The Hinckley Company was absorbing Little Harbor, and the Friendship concept dropped onto Hinckley's table. When Hinckley's research, however, turned up disappointing numbers, and the company decided not to build the design, Fontaine bought the concept with his purchase of Hood's design office. Eventually he commissioned Austral Yachts in New Zealand to construct the 40 to order, forming Friendship Yacht Company LLC to handle the sales.

Fontaine drew aesthetic inspiration for this design from a Friendship sloop that he saw at its mooring almost daily during his commute to the office. These handsome gaff-rigged lobsterboats worked the coast of Maine during the eighteen hundreds. Characterized by a clipper bow, wineglass transom with tumblehome, gracefully arced fascia on the trunk cabin and elegant swept sheerline, Friendship sloops attracted an enthusiast following among yachtsmen long after the internal combustion engine exorcized them from commercial fishing.

Anyone who is familiar with the Friendship sloops will recognize elements of their design in the Friendship 40. Her sheerline describes a lovely sweep from a proud bow to a subtle lip over the counter stern, drawing your eye to the transom's seductive arc and tumblehome. The rakes of the stem and transom balance the yacht.

In plan view, seen from directly above, the trunk cabin resembles those of the working Friendship sloops, but the swept fascia and tumblehome in the sides elevate Fontaine's design to the stratosphere of chic. The tumblehome and elliptical portlights trick us into believing that the trunk cabin is lower than it is.

Friendship sloops never would have endured if they exhibited bad manners at sea or were slow. On the other hand, a fully rigged working sloop (topsail, staysail and jib) had more lines than the late Rodney Dangerfield, a diabolical arrangement that persists today in recreational versions of the type. Complication, at least in the routine handling of the 40, was the one characteristic Fontaine wanted to avoid. Hull number one, christened Manaaki, wears nearly every option the company offers, the most notable of which are the hydraulic and electric sailhandling devices. A hydraulic ram manages the mainsheet via push buttons on the cockpit sole near the steering pedestal. The sheet exits the deck through a slot in the cockpit coaming behind the helm and belays to the after end of the boom.

A Leisure furl boom by Marten Marine, New Zealand, lets you hydraulically hoist and lower the mainsail via a push button on the bulkhead near the companionway. Buyers may also specify a hydraulic furler for the headsail, but that seems like overkill to me, because you can easily unwrap the headsail using the electric primary winches and furl it via the electric winch on the starboard side of the coachroof. The furling line runs beneath the deck. The jib sheets through a block on the adjustable tracks, one on each side deck just outboard of the lower shrouds, to the primary winches right forward of the helm on the cockpit coaming. This location lets the helmsman tend the jib without engaging in acrobatics. To tack, simply turn the wheel, let go the leeward jib sheet as the boat approaches the eye of the wind, take a few wraps on the new leeward primary and push the button to trim. Toe on the release button to ease the main a bit so she'll accelerate on the new tack, and trim to your new course.

Don't let these powerful sailhandling devices fool you-she's a spirited and tactile sailboat. Although Fontaine has earned a reputation for designing beautiful superyachts, such as Pamina, Anakena and Surama, he hasn't lost his sensitivity to a yacht's feel-the type of communication we normally associate with small boats. Steering the Friendship is an authentic yachting experience. The wheel is "a virtual tiller," Fontaine says, because the Whitlock drag-and-link system has a one-to-one ratio-a single 360-degree turn from full lock to full lock telegraphs the rudder's intentions with as much tactile sensation as any tiller. In no time at all, I was steering the 40 by Braille, the rudder telling me through the wheel what the boat wanted. (On the down side, the steering also transmits the prop wash to the wheel.)

Under way in winds of 12 to 15 knots, the Friendship 40 is as stiff as a Calvinist minister. Fontaine developed the 40's underbody from the whaleback shape that Ted Hood made famous in the heavy-displacement Little Harbor cruising yachts. Her stability comes from a generous beam, a slightly harder turn of the bilges than Hood's original whaleback, and a nearly 50 percent ballast ratio. The 40 is a pure centerboarder, but doesn't rely on her board for stability. You can sail her to windward with the board fully housed, though you want to be careful of the sail area you spread when you do. Sailing with the board retracted lets a confident helmsman worry into shallow anchorages, auxiliary silent, drop the anchor and backwind the main to set it.

In the spacious cockpit, a comfortable bench stretches fore and aft on each side, providing seating for six (or more) adults for a daysail, or four for dinner under the stars at the drop-leaf table. The helmsman's perch is a crescent-shape bench that fills the after end of the cockpit. On each side of the wheel, the cockpit sole angles up, leaving a flat surface parallel to the waterline when the boat is heeled at her optimum angle. It's a great place to plant your leeward foot as you stand behind the wheel.

At the end of a daylong sail, raise the centerboard and drop the hook in a shallow cove for drinks and a casual dinner. The anchor is cached in the forepeak and deploys from a module that rises from a locker in the foredeck; the system keeps the anchor out of sight, yet ready to drop at a moment's notice. After dinner, you may lounge on the cockpit benches or retire to the saloon to stretch out on one of the settees to read. If you don't feel like sailing back to the slip later in the evening, snuggle into the island berth forward and let the yacht's gentle motion rock you to sleep.

Unlike the Hinckley DS42 and the Morris M36 day boats, the Friendship 40 gives you full standup headroom throughout the interior and stowage for all the clothing or stores you may need for an overnight or several days of cruising. Time spent below is every bit as pleasant as that spent topside. To complement the scenery of your anchorage you have top-quality teak joinerwork, the wonderful arched tongue-and-groove overhead and comfortable seating.

Back at the slip, you slide the 40 into place with well-planned bursts of her saildrive and bow thruster, plus tweaks of the rudder. She'll make an expert of you after the first try-but the pleasure she gives will, I would guess, never grow old.

Contact: Friendship Yacht Company LLC, (401) 682-9101; www.fontainedesigngroup.com.