Falling in Love...

By Rebecca Hayter - From Boating New Zealand

When American designer Ted Fontaine designed the Friendship 40, he “imagined a sailboat so beautifully refined and of such high quality that anyone who saw her would fall in love”.

I try to stay aloof from such sentimentality but as Karakia, the Friendship 40, pirouetted before me off the Onerahi Yacht Club in Whangarei Harbour, I was smitten.

After sailing on her, I was ready for long-term commitment.

Luckily, I don’t have the necessary credit, or I would have sold the car in Whangarei and sailed the boat home. I don’t own the car, so this would have been irresponsible.

The gorgeous lines of the early twentieth century boats are enjoying a renaissance as boatbuilders worldwide re-create them in modern construction materials. In that context, Fontaine’s interpretation of classic via hi-tech is not new but he and Austral Yachts in Whangarei have achieved new-excellence in blending performance, ergonomics, functionality and aesthetics, or as Fontaine says, “usable art”.

Fontaine designed the Friendship 40 three years ago and considered yards around the world before selecting Austral Yachts. He liked the way the company did business and he appreciated its blend of skills: composite construction, stainless steel engineering and traditional timber craftsmanship. Mostly, he liked Austral’s enthusiasm for achieving the best they could do. The Friendship’s construction is polyester-foam sandwich.

The first year brought orders for three Friendship 40 designs, of which Karakia is the third, and a Friendship 53. “They hit the US market right between the eyes,” Fontaine tells me, long-distance from Rhode Island.

I stepped over the varnished caprail and settled in Karakia’s cockpit as Ian Gray, Austral’s managing director, steered the boat out to deeper water. Also onboard from Austral were Rob van der Gulik, John and Marg Clements, Fraser Grant and Craig Thompson.

Our first task was to test the anchoring system. This borrows from superyachts: the Delta anchor stows in the anchor well, resting in a shining steel arm, which swings up and over the bow. This keeps the chain and tackle clear of the topsides. The deckwash system and windlass also live in the anchor well which can be closed when the anchor is deployed. There are no lifelines, but I was comfortable walking around the sidedecks, thanks partly to the low-profile coachroof and wide beam; the rod rigging provides a handy support. Apart from anchoring and managing the gennaker there is little need to go forward anyway.

The view from the sidedecks revealed why the boat’s lines shin through: an absence of distractions. The furling line for the headsail disappears into the deck early on its journey aft. The twin-spreader rig is simple, with slightly swept back spreaders and no runners. The Navtec boom vang and single backstay are hydraulic. Notably, the single-line mainsheet also disappears into the deck just aft of the helm, so there is no traveler.

The simple life continues below decks, which are refreshingly open and just a few, low-rise steps down the companionway. The galley – a sink, microwave, fridge and small bench – is to port. There is plenty of stowage for groceries and favourite books in the shelves.

The private head/shower compartment is just inside the companionway to starboard. There are settees side and the island berth, for’ard, and a sense of space, as there are no full bulkheads in this area. The saloon table incorporates the bases of keel-stepped mast and lifting keel.