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
At the helm, Marcy swung the bow slowly into the breeze and John hoisted the in-boom, fully-battened Leisure Furl main about two-thirds of the way up the towering, 77-foot, triple-spreader carbon-fiber spar via an electric, coachroof-mounted halyard winch. The hydraulically controlled mainsheet was sheeted home with a tap of Marcy's toe to the foot pedals directly abaft the wheel. Another foot control engaged the robust Reckman furler on which the high-clewed yankee jib was rolled. After a modest portion was automatically unfurled, John quickly trimmed the sail with one of the primary self-tailing Lewmar electric sheet winches. Almost instantly, Songtao was happily sliding along at seven knots.
"She's really nice and balanced," said Wayne as we slid along.
"Pushbutton yachting at its finest," said John with a smile. The skyline of Manhattan lay just ahead.
It was up the coast a ways, in the less renowned U.S. East Coast port of New Bedford, in Massachusetts, where Ted Fontaine started learning his ropes. His dad was a member of a local institution in the south end, the Low Tide Yacht Club, and at one point the family fleet included three Beetle Cats, a Rhodes 19, an Ensign, and a Laser. By his teens, young Ted, one of nine kids, had become especially proficient with that Laser, which he raced competitively both locally and nationally. Sailing was in his blood, a gift from his yachting father.
Decades later, after he'd become well-established as a successful naval architect, he lived for a while in the nearby coastal village of Padanaram, a section of South Dartmouth that was close to his childhood roots. On many mornings, he'd hop aboard his powerboat for an early session of fly-fishing in the nearby Elizabeth Islands, and on the way back home across Buzzards Bay, he always passed a weathered Friendship sloop-a classic Maine workboat, an unadorned throwback to a bygone era.
"It was a pretty old, beat-up thing," he said. "But the shape of it-the sheer line, the curvature of the transom. It was shallow draft, and it had a small cabin house that kind of bent around. That's something that could be done again with a little bit of class, I thought, a little bit of finesse. The shapes were all there."
So this, as much as anything, is a New England story. And that's underscored by what happened in those intervening years, between the time a cocky teenage sailing hotshot became a grown man who was awestruck, as I was, by the arresting grace and simple beauty of a bobbing, floating object. For it was in that middling period that Fontaine apprenticed with, then became a working partner of one of the great Yankee icons in American sailing and boatbuilding, Ted Hood.
"We developed a pretty good relationship over time," said Fontaine. "We were good at arguing things out. I learned so much from him. I got so much experience: how to deal with customers, how to develop an overall program for a design."