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Judging only by the list of his award-winning yacht designs – which include Pamina, Anakena, Surama, Paraiso and many more – one might expect Ted Fontaine to be a distinguished, silver-haired gentleman ready to rest on his laurels and accolades. To the contrary, despite his close to 30 years at the top of the yacht design game, Fontaine is an eternally smiling, tanned, shorts-sporting and youthful fellow who looks much more like a casual sailing yacht captain than a captain of industry who just so happens to love what he does for a living.
He’s not the only one who loves his work, for through the years, he has built a loyal list of clients and yacht builders eager to work with him on build projects, currently ranging from 40 feet to a 160 footer now being designed for a repeat client. His newest claim to fame is creating and manufacturing a line of graceful Friendship yachts from 40 to 60 feet, which historically, his contributions to Little Harbor Whisperjet series – easily one of the most successful American production yachts ever built – are no the stuff of legend. He spent more than 20 years working alongside the renowned Ted Hood, ending as lead designer on such famed projects as circumnavigator American Promise, classic beauty Savannah, race-winning Cabachon and world traveler Surama.
Fontaine grew up in the hardscrabble waterfront town of New Bedford, sailing anything from Lasers to Perasons along with his eight brothers and sisters. After a failed first year at University of Massachusetts, jobs at Concordia Yachts and O’Day convinced yound Ted that he wanted nothing else than to be a boat builder. Enrolling at Washington County Vocational Technical Institute in Lubeck, Maine, he slept in a barn while learning the basics of drafting and design in a hands-on educational program which alternated weeks in the classroom with weeks in the shipyard. The first sailboat he hand-built as a graduation project still sails of out Martha’s Vineyard, and despite many offers, her proud owner won’t sell her for any price. Two weeks out of school, Fontaine went to work for Ted Hood as a drafting intern, drawing bits and pieces, grinning as he admitted: “My first drawings were pretty bad.” Throughout the 1980s, their collaboration resulted in the highly successful line of Little Harbor sailing yachts ranging from 38 to 75 feet, building 12 to 15 boats per year, while developing a strong client base.
Computer programs initiated by Ted Fontaine allowed Hood to accurately predict sailing performance, and extensive tank testing also contributed to a library of data on performance particulars on a wide variety of hull forms, including the famous Delta shape pure centre board models. The relationship of mentor and gifted student simply worked, as Fontaine describe: “Ted Hood and I argued well. My years with him were extremely educational and rewarding. A true leader in innovative yet commonsense thinking on design, Ted taught me never to be satisfied with the status quo. I hope I can continue his legacy and passion fro new ideas and as importantly, emulate his ability to see them through.”
In 1985, Ted Fontiane was appointed as Chief Designer of the Ted Hood Design Group, and throughout the ‘90s, the continued to refine the concept of designing and building cruising sailing yachts with optimum offshore sailing performance coupled with practical comforts. The frequent racing successes of Little Harbor yachts proved the mettle of their model of shallow draft, wide beam and deep centerboard design, allowing excellent load carrying ability and an easy motion in heavy seas. Further enhancing their reputation as designers for hugely popular classics was the often-emulated line of Little Harbor Whipserjet Express Cruisers.
Also during the 1990s began another winning tradition, of scoring one international award after another from groups including the Superyacht Society and Showboats magazine. Ted Fontaine led the design team increasingly recognized worldwide for their shoal draft, high-performance sailing yachts including the 115-foot Windship Trident Teel, built for highly experienced owner Mike Dingman, winning Most Innovative Sailing Yachts in 1995. A series of yachts built at renowned Dutch shipyard Royal Huisman such as Pamina, Anakena, Erica and Surama won awards for everything from Technical Achievement to Best Sailing Yachts and Best Interior, proving their design diversity and wide-ranging capabilities. Amazingly enough, every Fontaine design over 100 feet built to date have either been nominated for – or indeed won – an award for best interior and/or best sailing yacht design. In 2001, when the Hood Companies were purchased by Hinckley Company, Ted Fontaine acquired the design rights and assets of Ted Hood Design and created the Fontaine Design Group. His achievements, based on a great depth of experience and consistent willingness to innovate, have never ceased.
A number of on-going contracts facilitated the early growth of the Fontaine Design Group, then and now based in a purpose-built waterfront studio in Portsmouth, on Rhode Island’s historic Narragansett Bay, where seven designers now collaborate to build still more highly publicized yachts. Following company tradition, last year the Alloy-built, Fontaine-designed 108-foot Paraiso won the International Superyacht Society Design Award. Another much-acclaimed recent project was the 116-foot Holland Jachtbow Whisper, nominated for numerous awards, and has been winning races consistently ever since her launch in the Med, US, and Caribbean, including the Newport Bucket. This project involved a particularly close, family-style group effort involving Ted Fontaine, Dirk Johnson and Sandy Carney of Churchill Yacht Partners, and owner Hap Fauth. His opinion of Ted Fontaine echoes the sentiments of his legion of yacht owner fans: “Fontaine listens well, has a great eye for beautiful classic lines and, most importantly, he is fun to work with. Our friendship started with the Whisper project and continues today on an interpersonal basis. He is simply the very best in his class of modern classic design!”
Ted Fontaine’s latest project is very close to his own heart, and may well prove to be his greatest success yet. Recognizing that many yacht owners might not need or want a large professionally crewed yacht, or simply desire to downsize, he saw that a gap existed in the yacht market for a high-quality weekend sailing yacht, so he has created the Friendship line of yachts, starting at 40 feet. His company brochure waxes lyrical, describing the Friendship as “ergonomically perfect and aesthetically pleasing from every angle… a sailboat so beautifully refined and of such high quality that anyone who saw her would fall in love.” He researched more than a dozen builders worldwide before settling on New Zealand’s Austral Yachts yard as a partner to build his dream yachts.
Out for a sail on a crisp Rhode Island summer afternoon, he demonstrated the Friendship’s incredible ease of sail handling and beautiful finish, while describing the reaction from his latest group of boat owner fans: “Nothing makes me as proud as building my forty-footer. People who’ve bought them are giddy with delight. No single Friendship relationship has ended without hugs and kisses. People tell me these boats have changed their lives! When I overhear the comments that people make at boat shows, it brings tears to my eyes. It’s been such an interesting and rewarding experience, and the business only continues to grow.”
The Friendships are fitted with everything you would find on any proper yacht, and then a little more; from a generous cockpit, flush decks with clever pop-up cleats, fold-away bimini top, with a full package of electronics, and a tidy cabin with a compact head, galley and generous locker space. But it’s her athletic sailing capability that truly distinguishes the Friendship – able to sail in but a puff of wind, or easily handle a stiff breeze, she effortlessly achieves speeds of over seven knots. Her delicate lines don’t hide her sea-going hull and sailing strength. Ted recently sailed her single-handed from Annapolis, Maryland, to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, making the trip door to door in less than 46 hours. She truly is a yacht for those who feel what he calls: “the love of breathtaking yachts and the pure joy of the simplicity of sail.”
Ted Fontaine has not given up on large-yacht projects, as he is currently at work on commissioned projects from 75 to 160 feet. After building 11 large yachts in the last decade (perhaps as many as any other large-sailing-yacht designer) sailing is still his passion, as is evident by his own ceaseless time spent on the water. During last summer’s Newport Bucket, he nimbly wove in and out of the fleet of much larger yachts on a Friendship, and he remains true to the American state where he received his training, sponsoring the annual Shipyard Cup in Maine, while sailing with his friends – never just clients – on Whisper. Perhaps Ted himself best describes the timeless appeal of his designs, explaining, “It’s everything you need and nothing more… after all, sailing is a romantic passion and every great romance begins with a Friendship.” - Norma Trease