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
The Little Harbor formula-Ted Hood's formula-rarely wavered. He favored heavy-displacement, high-volume boats with centerboards that fulfilled a dual purpose, providing shoal, inshore access when raised, then becoming, when deployed, a deep, powerful blade for offshore work. And while the words "heavy" and "fast" have become incongruous terms for many contemporary yacht designers, Hood's Little Harbors all had a couple of indisputable traits in common. They were traditionally handsome vessels-as he became more experienced, Fontaine became more responsible for the aesthetics of the designs, which he feels plays to his strengths-that sailed exceedingly well.
"Ted Hood's empirical view was simple," explained Fontaine, "If it looks right, it is right."
Fontaine started as a draftsman and eventually became involved with the design office's development and project management of a string of larger vessels over 100 feet that were being built in various yards around the world. Ultimately, Hood sold his business to the Hinckley Company, a move that would open the door for Fontaine to set out on his own, taking with him several 100-foot-plus projects that were already under way.
Before leaving Hinckley, however, he began developing a sailing equivalent of the company's popular Picnic Boat; Fontaine's design was inspired in no small part from the Friendship sloop he'd seen in Padanaram a few years earlier. It was essentially a large daysailer with a big cockpit for entertaining and basic accommodations for a couple's weekend retreat. Hinckley, and other builders, decided to take a pass, but Fontaine found a buyer, and then a builder in New Zealand, and pursued the project on his own.
That boat became the Friendship 40 and the foundation of the Friendship Yacht Company, with 17 of them having been sold to date. John Golden saw one of the early ones, and almost immediately he had a question for Fontaine.
"Could we do something a little bit bigger?" he wondered.
Transiting the canyons of New York from the deck of a small boat is an experience that every sailor should relish at least once in his or her lifetime. Despite the conditions, or perhaps because of them, our passage aboard Songtao was turning out to be special.
By the time we passed beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, we'd doused sail in the congested waters but were still soaring along at nine knots, aided by a favorable current of nearly two knots. Around the corner from Governor's Island, we again pressed on a shortened sail plan, and after slipping under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the last before gaining the open Atlantic, Wayne had Songtao up to 11 knots as recorded on the GPS in about 25 knots of breeze. John had dropped the centerboard a tad-another finger, another button-and it was magical sailing. The smooth, flat wake, in close association with the locked-in bubble of our quarter wave, provided yet another transfixing image.