Easy Driver: A pleasure to sail, the Friendship 53 captures the spirit of yachting.

By Dennis Caprio - From Yachting World

Lovely to look at, delightful to know – that’s the Friendship 53, all right. Designed by Ted Fontaine, she’s big and powerful, stiff under sail, faster than her waterline length leads you to believe, and sea kindly. Most important for the owner, she makes a great helmsman out of a merely good one and makes a novice think he’s ready for the America’s Cup. Like every sailing yacht I’ve ever driven, the Friendship 53 has a groove, but her relatively heavy displacement, effective appendages and well-balanced helm keep her in that groove without demanding one’s undivided attention. She’s so easy, in fact, that you may never want to give up the wheel to another member of the crew, never mind the autopilot.

After you’ve digested all these accolades, no one will blame you for thinking, “Not another perfect boat!” Well, she is and she isn’t. This notion of perfection defies easy clarification. As a work of art, the Friendship 53 succeeds beyond criticism. Her sheerline, standing proud at the stem, sweeps gently to its lowest point at the after terminus of the trunk cabin, then rises subtly to the after end of the cockpit. There it kicks up to the transom, drawing our eye to the topsides tumblehome abaft the cockpit and to the lovely counter stern. Her cove stripe combines with the sheer strake of varnished teak veneer to visually reduce the height of the topsides.

If you carefully study the profile, you’ll notice that the spring of the cockpit coaming mimics that of the sheerline. Changing this subtle detail would alter the character of the design far more than we can imagine. The same theory holds true for the trunk cabin, though you can’t see the effect on a drawing. Fontaine gave the coach roof exactly the right amount of camber to shed water, add to the amount of headroom belowdecks and complement the rest of the design. To reduce the apparent height of the trunk and soften its visual impact, the sides of the trunk cabin tumble home as the front fascia rakes aft. The elliptical portlights are most captivating; they and the varnished teak eyebrow also help disguise the height of the trunk.

For functional as well as aesthetic reasons, the Friendship meets the seas with an aggressively raked straight stem and steep entry, and leaves them in the soft touch of her delicate counter – something for the masculine and feminine side of an owner’s personality. The stem terminates in a knuckle below the waterline, which gives the 53 more waterline length than she would have if Fontaine had drawn a spoon bow of the sort we find on many N.G. Herreshoff’s designs. The longer the waterline, the faster the boat – all other elements being equal. Her forward sections are convex, no hollow at the waterline or elsewhere, which goes with Fontaine’s notion of the volume distribution beneath the water.

Among the factors that influence the maximum speed of a displacement yacht, the shape of the hull below the waterline may be the most important for a given sail area / displacement ration and displacement / length ration. (Naval architects use the term prismatic coefficient to show the relationship of the volume in the ends of the boat to the volume amidships. They speak of the prismatic number; the higher the number, the fuller the ends are in relation to the maximum beam on the waterline. The prismatic influences the shape of the waterlines as the boat heels.) A boat that has a symmetrical footprint throughout its range of heeling won’t have any handling vices. The Friendship 53 fits this category, and I had a chance to prove it to myself on a nearly perfect afternoon this past July.

Ted Fontaine and Jenni Caiazza, who manages the Friendship Yacht Co., met me at the company’s office at Little Harbor Landing, Portsmouth, R.I. A handful of puffy white clouds floated across the sky and the wind blew out of the south (up Narragansett Bay) to 12 to 15 knots. We cast off and motored out of the slip, Fontaine at the helm. The balanced rudder has quite a lot of surface area so it bites well at low speeds, and the steering is quicker than most cruising boats of this size (1.8:1 versus 3.8:1). This steering combined with the bow thruster gives the 53 nearly mistake-proof maneuvering. The push buttons that control the thruster are located on the cockpit sole just abaft the steering pedestal and outboard of the trimming buttons for the mainsail.

In open water, we headed into the wind, and Fontaine motioned me to the wheel while he unrolled the mainsail from its home in the Leisurefurl boom. Push a button, and the hydraulic systems does the heavy lifting. Same for the headsail furler and the centerboard. Sails set, centerboard down, we bore off on a starboard tack, sailing at about 30 degrees to the apparent wind. Within a few minutes, I’d found her groove, and out speed over the ground climbed to better than 9 knots. I pinched up another three degrees closer to the wind while Fontaine trimmed the genoa via a button on the port side of the cockpit just below the primary winch. I trimmed the main with a button next to the bow thruster control on the cockpit sole. We lost a knot or so, which isn’t a big deal when you’re cruising, and we could have come up even more and still maintained enough speed to maneuver. Like her smaller sibling, the Friendship 40, the 53 has a lot of sail for her wetted surface area, so she’ll ghost along in the lightest wind. Her relatively heavy displacement also allows her to carry way when you luff up head to wind. This, combined with her accurate steering and close-windedness, may encourage the helmsman to sail through the mooring field for the sheer fun of it or to pick up his mooring without resorting to the auxiliary.

Tacking south toward the Newport / Jamestown Bridge, we lost ourselves in the moment, watching the lee rail skim the surface of the bay and the frothy water slip by. The genoa overlaps a bit, so it’s not self-tacking. On the other hand, tacking the Friendship 53 doesn’t require any acrobatics. Head up, and just as the bow begins to pass through the stays, unwind the genoa sheet from its winch, step around the wheel and take a few wraps on the newly active winch and push the button to trim. Fall off a bit, gather speed, then steer to the trim or trim to your course. A pair of massive hydraulic rams – one on each side of the cockpit under the side decks – tend the mainsheet. I was lucky to have Fontaine trimming the headsail so I didn’t have to think about it. Adjustable genoa tracks let fine-tune the slot when you feel picky about your speed.

As time ran short, we bore off on a run back to the slip. Bore is the operative word here, because I don’t like sailing downwind in relatively light winds. A lot of the feel goes out of the steering and the speed drops. Yet without the optional asymmetrical spinnaker, we still made 5-to-6 knots over the ground.

Belowdecks, the Friendship 53 is spacious, comfortable, and very traditional in the style of the Herreshoffs – teak furniture and ceilings, white bulkheads and overhead panels between teak deck beams. The owner spent the winter cruising in the Bahamas and loved every minute of it. Who wouldn’t? Anyone who likes to cook will love the big U-shaped galley. It has all the stowage – refrigerator and freezer included – the boat needs for a week of independent living, large and durable synthetic granite countertop, and a three-burner stove. My favorite part of the accommodations was the settee on the port side of the saloon. Its lovely table, topped with fossil stone, lowers to receive cushions, turning the settee into a sumptuous lounge. The flat-screen TV rises electrically from the seatback of the fixed bench on the centerline. What a great place to watch a movie late at night or on a rainy afternoon.

In the end, is the Friendship 53 a perfect boat? If you love her looks and performance, then she’s the one for you. If you appreciate her looks for the skill that created them but prefer a lighter displacement, then she’s not your perfect boat. If that’s the case, though, you may want to talk a friend into buying one – just in case you get lonely.