By Ivor Wilkins - From ShowBoats International
For boat-lovers who travel, it is always engaging to gravitate to the world’s waterfronts and gaze upon the local boats. The working boats, in particular, tend to provide clues to the distinct aesthetics of the location. One of the most evocative examples of this can be found along the Northeastern coast of the United States in the Maine lobster boats, which in turn were derived from the 19th century Friendship sloops. The original Friendship sloops plied the waters of the Northeast as fishing and lobster boats until the dawn of the gasoline engine in the early 20th century. While outmoded as workboats, their beauty and ease of handling kept them popular as daysailors.
It does not take a major leap to detect the direct lineage from these boats to the fine yachts that came to be associated with a certain New England style, calling into mind the Kennedy’s Camelot, Martha’s Vineyard, Newport cottages, and New York Yacht Club cruises.
While many of the yards that produced these yachts no longer exist – or have switched production to powerboats – designer Ted Fontaine has found a ready market for his aristocratic line of Friendship sailboats firmly rooted in the New England tradition. A seven-year collaboration with New Zealand’s Friendship Yachts in Whangarei has seen 18 Friendship 40’s delivered with two more currently in build. They have also produced a 53ft version and, in February, launched their flagship 75-footer, Isabel.
Fontaine says the appeal of these bespoke yachts is that they provide superyacht quality and amenities in boats that owners can easily handle themselves, maintaining their privacy and independence without the need for crew. “They are catering to the very top end of the market,” he says.
The seeds of the Friendship series were sown in 2000 when the Hinckley Company decided to concentrate on its powerboat range. Fontaine’s tenure as resident sailboat designer for Hinckley Yachts came to an end, but he was convinced there was a market for 40ft New England-style yachts targeted at couples whose lifestyles favored day-sailing or short-term cruising.
“I had discussions with about 17 boatyards in eight or nine different countries,” says Fontaine. “But I always came back to the Whangarei yard.” Favorable exchange and labor rates played their part in the decision, but also of paramount importance was the quality of the workmanship and the allure of New Zealand’s reputation as a sailing nation.
Contract details were finalized in a meeting at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2003, and the yard delivered the first 40-footer just seven months later. “I had sold the first on off the plans to a Rhode Island man, who generously allowed me to display the boat at various shows in the U.S.,” recalls Fontaine. “We took it to the Newport boat show, and the reaction was extremely positive. The quality was impeccable, people had not seen anything like it. The yard had done quite an outstanding job.”
The show immediately produced two orders, and the Annapolis show the following year led to three more. Demand continued to grow, reaching a peak of five in 2007. While many of the yachts have sold into the U.S., they’ve also had commissions from Europe and South America.
The 40ft series lead to an order for a 53ft version, and in 2007 discussions began with Nantucket-based clients who wanted something bigger again. “They had seen Whisper, a 116ft design of mine, which was built at Holland Jachtbow,” says Fontaine. “They liked the open pilothouse arrangement and that became the style as the design discussion evolved.” Initially, the clients considered a larger yacht – a three-couple boat with accommodations for four crew. However, in conversations with other boat owners and in a major reappraisal of their goals, the clients realized they were building something beyond their actual requirements and accordingly pared back the brief. The boat would accommodate only two couples and the owners wanted to be able to handle it alone with their family. For occasions when perhaps more formal entertaining was envisaged, there should be provision for a captain and stewardess as well. The owner-operator requirement set a size limit of about 75 feet, and so the design of Isabel evolved. The original Friendship sloops’ distinctive features included a pronounced sheer, clipper bow, counter stern, and simple, low-profile deckhouse with a sweeping curve at the forward end. Isabel’s design was distilled to those essential elements.
As with all of Fontaine’s Friendship yachts, Isabel embodies each of these elements, with the exception of the clipper bow. The shapes, however, are refined into a modern interpretation. Instead of the abrupt vertical face of the cabintop, for example, a more subtle raked angle is introduced. The cabintop curve becomes a theme repeated throughout the yacht, with the cockpit’s aft coaming forming an arc, providing back support for a wide helm seat. A similar silhouette describes the aft end of the superstructure and is repeated around the counter stern.
All of these shapes are accentuated with varnished caprails, coaming tops, and superstructure edges. Just to ensure the varnish team is not left idle, additional varnished timber detail strips wrap around the cockpit coamings.
The high-gloss varnished surfaces and expansive teak decks combine smartly with the cream coach roof and black hull. Complete with a carved gold cove stripe, the whole appearance speaks of classic New England yachting tradition at its most refined.
This is confirmed below with teak-and-holly cabin soles, cream tongue-and-groove deckheads and porthole surrounds, and acres of teak joinery complete with raided and fielded panels and fluted columns. The finish and quality of the construction throughout and the extremely challenging interior specification is a testament to Friendship Yachts’ craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Echoes of the Friendship curve are discovered throughout the interior, in the bathroom counters, the door architraves, the staterooms, and salon furniture. Plain fabric coverings and plenty of light from in-hill portlights and large pilothouse windows balance the rich detailing of the joinery.
The interior treatment perfectly aligns with the external style of the yacht. Its success is also a result of careful space planning, particularly in resisting any temptation to cram too much into the area available. Accommodations are divided into two more or less equal full-beam staterooms, one forward of the main salon and the other aft. Each features an island queen-sized bed on the centerline and each has separate toiler and shower arrangements. The aft suite, by virtue of its position, is slightly larger, but nobody will feel slighted by being assigned the forward one.
The center part of the yacht comprises a lower salon, with formal dining to starboard and a lounge area port. The upper salon in the pilothouse accommodates a discreet navigation center to starboard with pop-up performance and monitoring displays and a U-shaped settee to port surrounding a dining table. This area also includes a wet bar with custom 12-bottle wine cooler with a cold plate system. This will be a popular area, with great views and easy access to the cockpit, which is protected by a soft dodger and removable bimini.
Aft of the lower salon are the service and crew areas. On the starboard side is a comfortable cabin with twin bunks and an en suite bathroom. This would serve a captain and stewardess, but equally would make an excellent children’s cabin for family cruising.
On the port side is a walk-thru galley with parallel counters, also providing passage to the aft stateroom. The galley layout is extremely efficient and borrows some ideas from arrangements in private jets. It lacks for nothing – along with the stove and sink is a full complement of appliances concealed behind various cabinets, including a coffee maker, convection microwave, trash compactor, dishwasher, laundry, and copious fridge-freezer space.
Under sail, Isabel is a competent performer. She sports a Hall Spars carbon-fiber mast and furling boom. The rig is a 7/8 fractional configuration with a 105 percent genoa on a Reckmann furler. An inner forestay can carry a hank-on staysail, and, for the more energetically inclined, a large asymmetrical gennaker is stowed in a side-deck locker. All the push-button sail controls and primary winches are clustered around the large single steering station within easy reach of the helmsman on either tack.
In the style of New England yachts, this is a heavy-displacement vessel with an easy motion and no mean turn of speed. Even in the light winds of a lazy summer’s day, these yachts develop their own momentum and ghost along handsomely. The underwater shape is modern, with a balanced rudder and bulb keel with a carbon-fiber centerboard foil – allowing access into the protection of bays for anchoring (7ft draft) with the board up, and good upwind performance under sail (nearly 16ft draft) with the board down.
In this Friendship line of yachts, Fontaine and Friendship Yachts have found a niche market that benefits greatly from a design process that is precisely focused on owners who appreciated superlative quality and want to retain privacy and independence. While these yachts are well capable of bluewater passage making, their owners are hands-on sailors who recognize that most of their sailing is in relatively short stings, inshore, or coastal cruising with close friends or family. They have tailored their boats to meet those requirements with a high level of comfort and style.
The ongoing popularity of the Friendship 40s and the fact that new owners are awaiting the arrival of this new Friendship 75 with keen anticipation and contracts poised suggests Fontaine and Friendship Yachts have found a formula that, like the yachts themselves, will prove to have enduring value.