Back in February 2005, former CW colleague Nim Marsh wrote a story called “The New Sailing Machines” and explored the emerging genre of daysailers. It opened with a quote from L. Francis Herreshoff’s 1946 book, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, describing sailing friends who were tired of ocean racing: “What they want is to sail in the daytime … and sail fast enough to get the sensation of sailing. The only thing that will satiate the desire of these men is the sailing machine, and they should be allowed to have it.”
Each in its own way, the three sailboats Marsh went on to review — the Morris M36, Hinckley’s DS 42 and the Friendship 40 — were indeed sailing machines, from their carbon-fiber rigs to the cutting-edge foils they carried below the waterline. These were not stripped down racing sleds, but rather proper yachts with teak and varnish and price tags that ranged from $289,000 (the Morris) to just over $800,000 (the Friendship).
At the time, the M36 marked a turning point for Morris, which up to then had built mostly Chuck Paine-designed coastal and bluewater cruisers. According to then-Morris president Cuyler Morris, he and his father, Tom, had been talking about building a different sort of boat in response to customers who had less time to sail and wanted something they could step aboard, enjoy for an hour or two, and then tie to the dock. The story goes that Tom was visiting the Sparkman & Stephens office in New York when he saw a rendering of a wooden daysailer called Stormy; from that the M series was born. The range now includes 29-, 36-, 42- and 52-foot models. Morris Yachts, now owned by its next-door Maine neighbor, Hinckley, is currently further refining the M series by introducing performance-oriented “X” versions of the three smaller boats.
Late this past fall, on a day with a tinge of winter in the air, I joined Cuyler, now the company’s chief ambassador, at the Morris yard in Northeast Harbor, Maine, for a sail on the latest thoroughbred, the M36x. I quickly took a liking to the whole gentleman daysailer thing.
The boat’s carbon-fiber Hall Spars mast is a meter taller than the standard rig, and the M36x carries a 2-foot deeper keel and a longer high-aspect rudder that ensures it will twist and turn like a sports car ripping along a mountain highway. The infused vinylester-resin balsa-cored hull and deck are also a little lighter. All these add just under $130,000 to the $489,750 price tag of a standard-model M36. Even in race mode, sailing the 36x is simple and straightforward. Sheets and halyards are led to winches mounted on either side of the large wheel. An electric winch raises the main, which resides in a Leisure Furl boom when not in use; the self-tacking jib is effortlessly rolled out. Upwind at least, once the sheets are set, they can be forgotten. When it’s time to tack, put the helm over and you’re done. The sporty X package also includes a carbon-fiber sprit that can be extended on days you want to fly an A-sail.
It was blustery outside the harbor, perfect conditions to dip the rail occasionally as we beat to open water. Close hauled, the boat sailed like a witch and blasted through the puffs straight as an arrow. I’d have to say that a perch on the leeward rail with a couple of fingers on the wheel was the best seat in the house. The boat’s sailing instruments were cranky that afternoon, but I’d guess the wind was in the mid- to highteens. The speedometer hovered in the 6-plus knots range as we raced upwind toward Sommes Sound, and even jumped another knot or two with some of the bigger gusts as we eased to a reach. Accommodations below are both elegant and minimal: sitting headroom, a V-berth for napping, an enclosed head, and enough room to get out of the weather. But really where you want to be on this boat is up in the spacious cockpit, savoring the ride. That’s where I lounged as Cuyler took the helm and steered us back to the dock. Once there, he casually rolled up the sails, and the little Yanmar diesel sent us gliding into our slip. With the lines tied, we were done — simple as that.
Mark Pillsbury is CW’s editor.