Songtau Friendship 53: A Resonant Tune
In form, function, and execution, naval architect Ted Fontaine's elegant Friendship 53, Songtao, strikes all the right chords. In "Yachtstyle" from our February 2009 issue
My first hard look at the Friendship 53 Songtao revealed her broad, curving transom, and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I was descending a long gangplank in a Greenwich, Connecticut, marina to the dock to which John and Marcy Golden's exquisite 53-footer was secured. The boat was bound for the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, and I'd arranged with John to help deliver Songtao as far as Cape May, New Jersey, via New York City. Judging from the rooftop flags snapping crisply in a bracing October northwesterly, it had the makings of a fast, lively trip.
But before we went anywhere, I found myself lock-kneed on the pier staring at that remarkable counter stern. The arc of its artful, rounded contour was stunning in itself, but the way in which it harmonized with the yacht's overall appearance-in particular, with its seamless and perfect transition to the sweet, low sheer line and the gentle tumblehome-was downright mesmerizing. A week later in Annapolis, I'd happen upon Ted Fontaine, the naval architect whose life's work led to the creation of those unforgettable lines, and I mentioned to him the paralyzing effect they'd had on me.
Fontaine smiled. "She's got a good shape to her, doesn't she?" he said, in what I considered a fair bit of understatement.
Yes, the sappy signature line from the movie Jerry Maguire has become a bit of a cliché, but there's no other way to put it: The Friendship 53 had me at hello.
From the outset of the voyage, it was abundantly clear that John and Marcy Golden were accomplished sailors with plenty of sea miles behind them and that they were well-versed in operating as a quiet, confident, and efficient pair. The aftermath of an overnight cold front was the aforementioned nor'wester, which had Songtao pinned firmly to her berth. With other boats stationed fore and aft, there was precious little room in which to work, but with one hand on the throttle for the 75-horsepower Volvo saildrive (spinning a sizable 20-inch, four-bladed feathering prop) and one shoe on the foot controls for the Lewmar six-kilowatt bow thruster, John extricated Songtao from her confines and into the open channel with ease.
Before Songtao-Marcy had long been enamored of the name, which translates roughly to the pleasing sound that wind makes as it rustles through pine trees-the Goldens had owned several cruising boats; the last two were a Little Harbor 42 followed by a Little Harbor 50. The Little Harbor line, of course, was the brand produced and fostered by the legendary designer Ted Hood; the Goldens' LH 42, in fact, had belonged to Hood, one of a long line of boats he named Robin. Central to the telling of this tale, the couple, during their ownership of the Little Harbors, met and became friends with Hood's young protégé, one Ted Fontaine, forging a bond that would ultimately lead to the commission of Songtao.
On our delivery south, the fourth member of the crew was another family friend, Wayne Johnson, a nautical jack-of-all-trades who happens to be a professional storyteller, making him doubly useful aboard. Working in tandem, crossing notes with the paper charts and the cockpit-mounted repeater for the Furuno Navnet chart plotter, John and Wayne laid out and confirmed a course into and through Long Island Sound to Hell Gate, the gateway to New York Harbor, which they'd timed to reach at slack water.
There was a bit of a seaway building in the sound, and cold spray began flying as Songtao cleaved her way through, which she did effortlessly and purposefully, trucking along at more than six knots with the engine turning over at an efficient 1,800 rpm and bucking the last of an incoming tide. Under the enclosed dodger, with its generous attached bimini and zip-in side curtains, it wasn't only strangely quiet, with conversation conducted at normal volume; it was also decidedly toasty. Soon enough, though, as we slightly altered course for the city, the on-the-nose headwind freed a bit, and John reckoned we could hold a nice, tight reach under sail. I zippered my collar and prepared to engage the elements.
Um, not so fast there, Trigger.