Far Harbour 39: Thinking Inside the Box
A pocket cruiser designed to fit in a shipping container impresses with its comfort and sailing performance. A boat review from our May 2007 issue
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I've been an admirer of Bob Perry's designs since sailing against Heather, a Two-Ton racer he drew in the 1970s. I've sailed many sea miles on his designs, and I've made some fast passages on boats that I'd expected to be slugs. So when I started hearing rumors that he'd designed a sailboat that would fit in a container, I was intrigued.
I had a chance to sail the Far Harbour 39 in Newport, Rhode Island, when it first arrived in September 2006. It performed beautifully and was fun to sail in the 10-knot breeze and smooth water on Narragansett Bay. But almost any boat would have been a pleasure to sail in those conditions. Because the Far Harbour is a departure from yacht-design norms, the editors at CW decided that a more rigorous test was in order. After watching the weather in southern Florida for several weeks, I hopped on a plane and flew to Miami to sail the boat in windy conditions.
It was blowing 24 knots true when owner Bernie Blum asked me if I minded him tucking a reef or two in the main. A glance at the bumpy horizon outside Miami's Government Cut made the decision easy. We motorsailed out the cut and found ourselves in 5- to 7-foot waves kicked up by the ebb against the breeze. The boat was surprisingly dry; I only got splashed once on the way out. Once clear of the cruise-ship and freighter traffic, we unrolled the whole of the 100-percent jib and started to have some fun. I came into the test with a favorable impression from sailing the Far Harbour in Newport, but now I was pleased anew at how well the boat performed. It went to weather well, tacking through about 100 degrees-the waves were big, remember-and it ate up the reaches, as one would expect. But keeping the crew dry surprised all of us except Bernie, who'd already sailed it offshore all the way from Newport to Miami. He reported that after sailing the whole East Coast, he's happy with the boat's performance in a variety of conditions.
Once the chine dug in and the big bulb keel started to have an effect, the boat was very stiff. Designer Perry says, "At first I wanted to give the boat a little more than a draft of 5 1/2 feet, but my client wanted the shallow draft for cruising, and the boat doesn't seem to need it-so why bother." I sailed the Far Harbour in 25 knots of wind, and I still found no reason to disagree with his assessment. The straight run of the hull and hard turn of the bilges aft helped the boat track well-even in big waves.
The design specifications for the Far Harbour 39 had two main criteria: The whole boat-rig and all-had to fit inside a standard 40-foot shipping container, and it had to have room aboard for two to cruise in comfort.
Bernie and his wife, Bette, wanted to sail the boat all over the world without making the time-consuming offshore passages between cruising grounds. They wanted to cruise in the Pacific Northwest, for example, then put the boat in a container and have it shipped to, say, Thailand. Of course, cruising in comfort involves feeling confident in the boat's overall seaworthiness and its ability to sail reasonably quickly between ports.
Fortunately, Bernie made a good choice in Perry, a yacht designer who can think outside the box when need be-or, in this case, inside the box. The result is a quirky-looking craft that fits the design spec to a T. Nowhere in that spec was the requirement that the boat be a beauty, and it's not-except in the way that functional form is beautiful. With a maximum beam of 7 feet 5 1/4 inches and a hard chine aft, it resembles a box with a point on one end. The boat may be skinny for a 40-footer, but that helps in the performance department-there's a reason America's Cup yachts are getting thinner, and it's not to make them slower. And like the current generation of America's Cup yachts, the Far Harbour 39 is a little slab-sided. The LOA and LWL are nearly identical, there's very little rocker, and hull sections aft are almost square.
The interior is bright and airy, with white bulkheads and varnished teak trim; a bunch of hatches and some opening ports provide plenty of ventilation. Counter tops in the galley and head are finished with light-colored granite, and there's a teak-and-holly sole. The forward cabin has a comfortable, traditional V-berth and hanging lockers port and starboard. Just aft on the port side is the head and shower. They're attractive and ergonomically laid out. In the saloon are two settees flanking an off-center fold-up table for four. Ports on either side in the hull ensure that diners will have a water view. The galley's just aft, and it's as workable and attractive as the rest of the interior, with a gimbaled three-burner stove to port and a refrigerator/freezer to starboard. The helm station is up a step on the port side. The engine faces aft and is attached to a saildrive; it has good, all-around access through the removable offset companionway steps, a hatch from the port seat locker, and a hatch from the lazarette.
The cockpit is open aft for self bailing, but I'd like to see at least a large fiddle there to stop such things as water bottles from rolling out the back of the boat.
The Far Harbour 39 performed well under power and surprised me with how easily it maneuvered; long, skinny designs tend to be hard to turn, but this one had a perfectly acceptable turning radius. I would've liked engine controls in the cockpit rather than only below, so I could've helped with hoisting the sails, but that could be easily fixed.
The mast is limited in height by the need to fit into the container, so the boat has been fitted with a big, roachy main that drives the hull forward quite easily, even in light air.
Checking this prototype where the sun don't shine, I found the finish work from Schooner Creek Boat Works in Oregon to be consistently good and matching the quality of the work that was eye level and obvious. Subsequent boats are being built by SAS-VEKTOR, in Zader, Croatia, with the first boat nearing completion at press time. Overall, the Far Harbour 39 is a comfortable coastal cruiser for two that's capable of making good passages offshore. It's well built and meets its unusual design specifications.
Andrew Burton is a CW associate editor.
LOA 38' 11" (11.86 m.)
LWL 38' 0" (11.58 m.)
Beam 7' 5" (2.26 m.)
Draft 5' 6" (1.68 m.)
Sail Area 553 sq. ft. (51.4 sq. m.)
Ballast 4,600 lb. (2,087 kg.)
Displacement 13,100 lb. (5,942 kg.)
Water 75 gal. (284 l.)
Fuel 75 gal. (284 l.)
Mast Height 44' 0" (13.41 m.)
Engine 40-hp. Yanmar
Designer Robert H. Perry Yacht