Spirit 46

As slim as a whippet and nearly as fast, the Spirit 46 has the soul of a classic.

Spirit 46 Main

Billy Black

Like many self-professed adrenaline junkies, Tina Felix doesn't look like one. A lawyer by profession as well as a mother of four, at first glance she seems the very essence of those solid, grounded pursuits. Her "other side" was revealed early last fall on Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay, where a crisp northerly gusting toward 25 knots was coursing down the East Passage. Aboard Bamboozle, the Spirit 46 she owns with her spouse, Kevin, I was tagging along with the couple for the short but lively beat from Newport to Portsmouth.

We were two or perhaps three tacks into it, spray flying, clawing to windward at nearly 7 knots, when Tina suggested we shake out the single reef. The pumping breeze ever so slightly overpowered us, and the boat gained only a 10th or two of a knot. Tina seemed satisfied, though, and I completely understood why. With Bamboozle's slim beam, low profile and long overhangs, she appeared above the waterline to be from a different era, but she was a wolf in sheep's clothing: Thanks to a tall Southern Spars carbon rig, high-tech Quantum sails, the deep fin keel and ballast bulb, and a spade rudder, she tracked to weather as if possessed.

"Spirit is a pretty well-known brand in Europe and the United Kingdom, but this is our first foray into the United States," the company's founder, Sean McMillan, said last September while exhibiting Bamboozle at the Newport International Boat Show. "We started 17 years ago with the intention of building very beautiful, modern, classic boats. … The most significant thing was getting away from the long keel/keel-hung rudder configuration that all classics had. If you start with a 'narrowish' boat — but not uncomfortably narrow — with a firm turn in the bilge so it's got good form stability and shallow rocker, you're making a small hole in the water, with very efficient foils and a very efficient rig. You can't really miss, frankly."

What also separates Spirit from almost every other builder of traditional-style series yachts is the boats’ wood/epoxy construction. Like all Spirits, the 46 is built on laminated ring frames usually fashioned from Brazilian cedar, a strong, dark hardwood that looks like mahogany but at half the weight; the keelson is Oregon pine. The first layer of planking on the 46 is also Brazilian cedar (on bigger boats that are less weight sensitive, the choice is Douglas fir), and it’s glued to the ring frames to form a monocoque structure that’s then faired before a series of double-diagonal veneers are applied. The builders add a layer of glass/epoxy to stabilize the surface prior to the Awlgrip finish.

The deck is swept teak; the brightwork is highly varnished Brazilian mahogany. The keel is an SG steel foil to which a torpedo-shape lead ballast bulb is bolted. The stainless-steel rudderstock supports a finely tuned foam-cored carbon rudder. Custom hardware abounds. The attention to detail is staggering. The end result is irresistible.

Like most Spirit owners, the Felixes visited the yard as their boat, the 10th 46 to be built, came into existence before their eyes, an experience that McMillan strongly encourages. “They’re virtually custom boats,” he said. “You can have any interior you want. It’s not like buying one off the shelf. The owners have to work with us for a year or 15 months or more to create this thing, and that’s a big commitment. The more they come to visit, the better we can keep coming together to stay on exactly the same track they want.”

While McMillan said he’d delivered prior 46s with a variety of interior arrangements — an open floor plan, one cabin and two cabins — the Felixes chose a rather standard layout with a V-berth and head forward, a pair of opposing settees and dining table in the central salon, and the galley and navigation station, to port and starboard respectively, at the foot of the companionway. The joinery work is remarkable; the 46 is literally a yacht where one “takes the furniture” sailing. The one and only thing the boat lacks down below is a place to stand up; headroom is about 5 feet 2 inches.

To underscore the fact that the Felixes' 46 is optimized for sailing and that they spend the majority of their time aboard topside, Bamboozle's cockpit is two feet longer than those on her sister ships. She's also the only Spirit to be tricked out with Harken hardware, which Kevin specifically requested.

Though our destination was dead upwind, once we were past the Newport bridge, we couldn’t resist the urge to bear away and ease the sheets, if only for a few moments. While we didn’t record the 21 knots of boat speed that another 46 notched during a race the previous year — many owners enjoy competing in the ever-growing Spirit of Tradition divisions at classic-yacht regattas — the knotmeter immediately ascended into double figures, topping off at nearly 11 knots. Unfortunately, too soon we hardened up, back on the breeze.

At my suggestion — I was interested to see what difference it would make, if any — we tucked the first reef back in and were able to lock in the mainsheet and forgo easing it in the puffs to luff the sail. The boat seemed a bit happier, her rudder a tad less loaded, and we gained a few more 10ths of speed, up to almost 7½ knots and tacking through 60 degrees. Despite the rather sporty weather, she was nearly dry on deck. Thanks to her light ends and a bit of flare to her bow, rather than plowing through the chop, she rose ever so slightly and gracefully up and over each passing wave. It felt like a curtsy. She appeared to be enjoying the outing as much as we were.

The best part of all, of course, was driving. Like an old 6-Meter or 8-Meter, Bamboozle was devoid of lifelines; not only were the sight lines forward clear and unobstructed, but the absence of railings also heightened the sensation of speed and one's proximity to the water rushing by. To command a boat this long, lean and nimble, with a feathery-light tiller, was nothing less than pure joy.

Much too soon, the marina hove into view, so we threw in one last tack, luffed up, dropped the main and motored in. The boat is no slouch under power either, registering a solid 7 knots at 2500 rpm. Tying up was a letdown. Things became too quiet. Evidently, my adrenaline had been flowing too.

LOA: 46'3"
LWL: 33'10"
BEAM: 9'3"
DRAFT: 6'6"
DISPL.: 9,920 lb.
FUEL: 13 gal.
WATER: 25 gal.
ENGINE: 1 x 18 hp Yanmar GM-20 diesel
SAIL AREA: 684 sq. ft. (w/ 100 percent foretriangle)
DISPL./LENGTH RATIO: 115
SAIL AREA/DISPL. RATIO: 23.7
PRICE: $600,000
Spirit Yachts, +44-1473-214-715; www.spirityachts.com