The Longest Friendship

By Rebecca Hayter - From Boating New Zealand

Isabel, the first Friendship 75, is the perfect flourish at the head of the Friendship range. Outwardly, the elegant grace of American colonial style is created in the lightweight strength of composite construction. Onboard, her gleaming timber cabinetry, inside and out, conceals the modern technology of sail and boat handling, navigation, communications and entertainment. It’s a meeting of today and yesteryear.

The concept is the hallmark of the Friendship range, designed by American Ted Fontaine and built exclusively by Friendship Yachts in Whangarei; Boating New Zealand has twice reviewed the Friendship 40. As expressions of maritime beauty, the Friendship yachts tend to be smaller volume for their length on deck, thanks to their graceful overhangs and low-profile coachroofs. A modern production yacht of the same length might have a spacious saloon and three cabins, but the Friendship 40 is better suited as a day-sailer or weekender.

In the Friendship 75, you can almost feel the designer’s joy as he and his pencil – not a computer tool – created the spacious interior in the colonial style.

Isabel’s owner enjoys cruising with two couples onboard and sometimes a skipper, however, he also wanted a yacht that he could sail easily with one other competent crew. That meant two cabins, plus a skipper’s cabin. Fontaine felt 75 feet would be the right size.

“A bigger boat can get too much,” Fontaine says. “Size doesn’t matter. Common sense matters more.”

The owner sails mostly around Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. That dictated a shallow draft; the pivoting centerboard – ie, hinged at one end – lifts on an electric winch to 7ft 7in and lowers to 16ft, to generate lift when sailing upwind.

The hull form is fairly beamy to provide form stability so that she is not overly tender when the centerboard is raised. The generous fuel, water and black water tankage and solid teak cabinetry mean she is fairly heavy displacement at just over 49,000 kg, despite the composite hull. However Fontaine says the hull form carries weight well without slowing down. The mast and Leisurefurl boom are carbon fibre to save weight aloft.

I met Isabel in Tutukaka. Onboard were Ted Fontaine, and Friendship Yachts’ Ian Gray, Dennis Maconaghie, John Clements and Mary-Ann McRae, a marine electrical apprentice, and Maconaghie’s daughter Natalie. We motorsailed out through Tutukaka Heads, where a moody swell sweeping over the reefs seemed to eye us hungrily. We set course for the Poor Knights Marine Reserve, where we were greeted by the pinky flashes of large, friendly snapper, absolutely sure of their protected status.

Smooth Sailing

Isabel’s displacement and long keep give her a smooth motion through the swells, and an easy, predictable motion through all point of sail. She has plenty of momentum through the tacks and is a delight to helm, with excellent visibility. Under motor it’s possible to feel the propeller’s influence on the helm, but in docking her bow thruster makes handling easy.

Above decks, Isabel’s length flows from the overhang of the bow – which conceals remote-operated, self-launching anchors – along mostly clear decks and gentle sheer to the transom. Fontaine admits the tumblehome took many hours to get exactly right. Varnished teak trim ensures the pilothouse flows as part of the yacht’s profile.

The cockpit has comfortable seating on fitted squabs for at least four a side in C-shaped seats, each with a fold-out table. There is a curved settee behind the helmsman. Round skylights allow natural light below, and drinks holders are inset in handy places.

The aft deck, with gin seats, stretches out invitingly for sunbathing or gathering snorkeling gear for a swim. It’s an air of wide-brimmed sunhats and Pimm’s, but the interior is where Isabel really works her charms. Liferafts are stowed in the aft deck, using a hydrostatic system that will launch automatically if the yacht capsizes or swamps. Boarding is via a ladder fitted amidships, as required. Isabel has plenty of onboard assistance. Her navigation equipment includes four Garmin 5212 radar chartplotters – two each in the pilothouse and on the steering pedestal; a Simrad autopilot; a digital sounder, and a Garmin weather receiver interfaced with wind instruments.

The Friendship is easy to sail, with all operations well clear of the for’ard seating area. As on the 40, the single line mainsheet exits the boom well aft of the helmsman and is controlled by a captive winch beneath the aft deck so there is no clutter of a traveller and mainsheet system. The helmsman eases and sheets the mainsheet using foot-operated buttons. A preventer, tensioned by deck winches, further controls the boom in lieu of the traveller.

The helmstation, as showpiece of brightwork, is more like a drinks cabinet than a piece of nautical hardware and is home to all the boat’s electronics on deck.

Discreet panels of stainless steel buttons use electrics and hydraulics to do tasks such as furling or unfurling the genoa or mainsail, and attend to all sail trim, vang and backstay, except the genoa sheets. The primary and secondary electric winches, Lewmar 775 and 68s, can be operated by the crew or skipper. The main halyard is also on a captive winch.

Colonial Style

In bad weather, the interior helmstation in the pilothouse is a port in a storm, with all-around visibility and a nice sense of space as it overlooks the saloon, four steps down. The areas are separated by turned teak fiddles. The nav station has a pedestal seat, chart storage, hand basin and wine cooler. To port is a C-shaped settee with table; unintentionally, this settee has become a favourite snooze spot.

The saloon is more formal, as though George Washington has just popped out for a minute. Here, as in the owner’s cabin, the designer has used Friendship Yachts’ cabinetmaking skills to their full ability. Glass-fronted cupboards, gleaming turned columns, raised and fielded paneling, and scotias bordering the tongue and groove ceiling reflect the tradition without being dark and stuffy. The vents for the air conditioning are behind timber slats. Many modern yachts conceal the mast in a bulkhead but Isabel’s makes an honest statement in the saloon. I like that – it’s reassuring.

The cabinetmaking involved seven or eight cabinetmakers for a year, working to tolerances of half a millimeter as its high gloss finish is unforgiving of the teeniest imperfection. They used traditional cabinetmaking skills, making dovetail joins, mortice and tenon joins, and raised and fielded panels in hand-selected teak. The 80 panels throughout the boat are all solid teak, ensuring they will look good for many decades to come, although at a price tag of around $3000 each.

The greatest challenge of maritime cabinetmaking is fitting it within the complex curves of the yacht, especially so in the fore and aft cabins which fill the whole beam within the complex curves of the hull. If the fiberglass surface of the inside hull is not exactly fair, the cabinetmakers are the ones who will need to accommodate every imperfection. The cabinetry is built outside the yacht, then installed and removed for adjustments until it is a perfect dry fit. It is then removed and sent to the polishing department for sanding to 800 grit, then receives 10 coats of varnish.

As Fontaine observes, Isabel has been built with astonishing attention to detail. “I don’t think there’s a 75-footer built in the world that rivals this for quality,” he says.

The audio-visual entertainment system includes LCD Sony Bravia televisions in saloon, forward cabin and aft cabin. A multi-zone stereo system with XM satellite radio, iPod and multiple zone control is played through speakers throughout the interior and cockpit.

The galley, on the port side, is also the access to the owner’s cabin. The timber paneling conceals three refrigerators, freezer, microwave, range hood, trash compactor, dishwasher and Meile washer and dryer. Spices sit behind a fiddle rail.

The galley leads around the engine room to a small corridor with day shower and head to either side, then a little step to the owner’s cabin. This is another showcase of the cabinetmaker’s skills, best illustrated by the photographs. Similar to the guest cabin, forward, it features a centerline berth with port and starboard settees, custom handing lockers, bureau and storage, with a desk. There is a separate head and shower.

The skipper’s cabin, with two stacked berths, is to starboard opposite the galley, with ensuite shower and head. The engine room is under the cockpit, between the skipper’s cabin and galley. A fire-proof, watertight door with window gives a view and access to the engine a 250hp Lugger diesel engine with Twin Disc gearbox spinning a Bruntons Varifold 4-blade, 32-inch propeller. Northern Lights 20kW generators provide 120/240 power and shower power converter. At 1800rpm, the yacht cruises at nine knots, although it feels like she’s ambling along at seven.

The hull construction is foam sandwich GRP, with vinylester polyester foam handlaid in a male mold. The skeg-hung rudder is composite with a round carbon fibre rudder stock. Isabel has direct quadrant steering, giving the helmsman direct contact with the rudder. The black hull with gold trim is immaculate, set off by a high boot topping and teak caprail. The dark port lights virtually disappear when viewed from off the boat.

Fontaine is clearly delighted with his latest design, and visited three times during the build.

“You have to trust the builder,” he says of Friendship Yachts. “There are very few guys you can hand over the design to and know they will take a good design and make it better.”