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 only unsettling moment, and it was brief, was when I took the helm while motoring off Manhattan. I switched off the Simrad autopilot and was startled when the wheel threw itself hard to starboard, almost taking me with it. I asked Fontaine about it later; he acknowledged the issue and seemed genuinely stumped. "That's a tricky one," he said, while surmising that the inclusion of the diesel's saildrive unit is a double-edged sword. On one hand, its economy of space and easy installation is alluring; on the other, it generates maximum prop thrust at "the widest, biggest, meatiest part of the rudder," providing dramatic loads on the helm under power. For now, at least, he'd concluded that the upside outweighed the downside in the design.
All that was forgotten while beam-reaching down the Jersey shore that brisk fall evening, again on autopilot, as Marcy served a lovely sit-down dinner in the cozy cockpit and the miles ticked away. Wayne regaled us with a whimsical selection of his witty yarns, and the overnight watches passed swiftly, uneventfully, and in total comfort. By 10 the next morning, we were tied up in Cape May, and I was bound for a bus, cursing myself for my usual lack of foresight. It would've been fun to just keep going.
While the Friendship story certainly has its roots in New England, it's also, as it turns out, a Kiwi tale. The Goldens had originally hoped to build the 53 in Maine, closer to home, with a subcontractor if necessary. "I was dead set against New Zealand," said John. "But Ted impressed upon me the desire to keep consistency in the brand."
In the end, John paid half a dozen visits to the Bay of Islands facility, formerly known as the Austral boatyard, but now the dedicated builder of the Friendships. (A 76-footer, due to launch this fall, is currently under way, and a 46-foot version is ready to go.) He said that the trips to see the progress on Songtao added an invaluable, indelible aspect to the entire experience.
"Making a trip to New Zealand at a milestone stage of the project is something people plan and look forward to," said Fontaine. "And the first time they get there, they're blown away. The stuff you see, the air you breathe: It's unique. Plus, when the dollar's strong, it's a real advantageous place to build. The cost is probably 60 percent of what you'd pay for a custom order in Maine. And if you're lucky enough to have a boat that's finished between November and April, you can go cruise the Bay of Islands before shipping it home."