It’s been about four years since the Fontaine Design Group first introduced a 40-foot modern version of the classic Friendship Sloop. Since then they have been turning heads at every boat show and every harbor they visit, catching the eye and quickening the pulse of even the most casual dockside observer. Since the first Friendship 40, Manaaki, was launched, 13 more have followed in its wake. The boat’s unprecedented success has clearly set the standard for luxury daysailers. What it has also done is spark the interest of those would not compromise on the look and unsurpassed quality of build that the 40-footer offered, but who had intentions of voyaging farther with more amenities aboard.
Songtao, the first Friendship 53, was built for a client with just those requirements. At his prompting, designer Ted Fontaine has expanded on the concept of the 40-footer and has taken it to a new level.
According to Fontaine, whose work includes some of the largest and most elegant yachts afloat today, the Friendship 53 is basically a stretched out version of the Friendship 40. Built by the Friendship Yacht Company in New Zealand, its workmanship and aesthetics are uncompromising. Like the 40, Fontaine designed the boat with a clean fore and aft deck and a sleek, low-profile cabin without sacrificing any headroom below. Even the windlass and anchor are concealed in a custom flush-deck anchor locker so as not to detract from the yacht’s clean deck. The anchor rises from its locker at the push of a button and exits through an opening in the bow rail at exacting tolerances. Atwood pop-up cleats help maintain the clean look, and a low-profile cabin top affords the helmsman a 360° view.
Performance from a tall rig
Songtao’s powerful rig is Awlgrip finished aluminum and was built by Sparcraft. At a height of 77 feet it carries 1,468 square feet of sail under main and jib in addition to a 2,100-square-foot spinnaker. The boat can be easily singlehanded and is effortless at the helm. For ease of handling Fontaine has included a Leisure Furl in-boom main with hydraulic sheet controls. There is a Reckmann 100-percent genoa with winch controls at either side of the wheel.
The mainsail features a Navtec hydraulic boom vang. The mainsheet is led straight down through the coaming and is controlled by foot switches near the pedestal. This is the same concept that Fontaine used on the Friendship 40, and it has proven to work exceptionally well. The cockpit is kept clear of lines and the need for a traveler is eliminated. For safety’s sake, in the event of a malfunction a conventional sheet can be rigged to control the main. The winches are from Lewmar, assorted hardware is from Antal, and flush mounted deck cleats are from Atwood.
Fontaine has designed a hull that is stable, responsive and easily driven through the water. Its shallow draft and high-performance shape rely heavily on his experience with his mentor Ted Hood. He has created an underbody that seems to create its own lift. In shoal water the centerboard provides a draft of a little less than 6 feet with the board up and 12 feet with the board down.
In the cockpit there are three deep settees, one to port, one to starboard and one that sweeps behind the helm. There’s a wide teak coaming that is perfectly proportioned, and its finish compliments the bright finished teak of the sheer strake and the cap rail. The cockpit is split fore and aft by two partial bulkheads that serve as winch tables and storage. This structure separates the helm from the sitting area, enhancing the roomy feel. A full, fixed bimini over the cockpit creates the feel of a large outdoor living room in the cockpit. A good-sized centerline cockpit table fills out the space and cleverly conceals the autopilot control head and the chartplotter when they are not in use. Line bins are built into bulkheads on either side of the companionway beneath winches mounted on the cabin top.
Belowdecks, the yacht is beautifully finished and laid out. Compared to lighter displacement designs, the medium displacement hull has increased useable living space and offers more than 6 feet of standing headroom. The interior trim, doors and raised panel joinery are all finished to perfection in satin and gloss-varnished teak and are handsomely offset by a painted v-groove hull ceiling. Exquisite joinery abounds and is even carried over to the hatch screen frames and the port light sills. The fiddles and handholds are beautifully carved, and the draw pull hardware is elegant. Open any locker and you will find that the finish work has been continued throughout the space — no exposed wiring or hull visible here.
Songtao’s layout called for a double cabin aft with an ensuite head and shower to port. The forward owner’s cabin has a centerline bunk and is separated from the main saloon. It too has an ensuite head. The galley is located to starboard at the base of the companionway and equipped with a Force 10 four burner stove, custom built reefer/freezer compartments recessed in the galley countertop and a microwave oven. The countertops are Corian.
Fontaine’s design makes for a cavernous main saloon with a large U-shaped settee around the owner’s fossil-inlaid table to port. Opposite the table there is a nav station flanked with built-in seating.
For power, Songtao has a 75-hp Volvo D2 engine with a SD50 saildrive and a Lewmar bow thruster. The engine controls are from Morse. There is also a 6-kW Northern Lights generator to provide auxiliary power.
When Ted Fontaine first endeavored to build the Friendship 40 he considered some of the finest yards in the world. But it was in New Zealand that he found Austral Yachts, a small family-run business with which he has built the Friendship Yacht Company. Together, his fine design and Austral’s uncompromising craftsmanship have created what Fontaine himself has described as “useable art.”
Now that the Friendship 53 has joined its little sister there is no telling where Fontaine’s modern classic will go from here. It may not be long before we are graced, once again, with that elegant profile and stunning sheer in an even larger yacht.