Fast Passage 40

by BWS Staff

Blue Water Sailing
June 2001


close window


There was a time when double-enders were the design type of choice for mariners with far-flung voyaging plans. In Europe, for example, on the oceangoing front Colin Archer cutters ruled. Ketches by Fred Shephard and Hillyard ranked high with serious offshore sailors as well. In North America, the Tahiti ketch gained a huge following in the 1930s and the design remained popular for 30 or more years. In the 1950s, designer Aage Neilsen drew the beautiful Holger Danske and Snow Star, both sweet-sailing boats and capable passagemakers. All were double-enders.

It was Bob Perry’s Valiant 40, however, that translated the design work of Neilsen, particularly, into a modern vernacular. The popularity of the V 40 (now V 42) a generation after it was designed speaks to the affection many sailors have for points at both ends. Certainly in the 1970s numerous double-enders were introduced, including the Corbin 39, the Westsail 32, Pacific Seacraft’s Mariah, Crealock 34 and Crealock 37, the Tayana 37, and more. All enjoyed success in the market and several are still in production.

Amid this genre of passagemaking double-enders, the Fast Passage 40 (formerly FP 39) amassed the solid reputation of being both remarkably fast and a highly capable round-the world cruiser. Fewer than 40 FP 39s were built between 1976 and 1985, but they went to owners who in turn were ardent devotees, and even today you rarely see the boats given up to the market. We looked at the vessel in the design column of this magazine two years ago when its modern-day revival at the hands of builder Jeremiah Mitchel was in the works (“Fast Passage 39: A classic comes back on line,” BWS March 1999).

William Garden’s design for the current FP 40 is remarkably deceptive, for it combines many traditional elements – springy sheer, flare and overhang at the bow, tumblehome amidships, canoe stern, cutaway full keel, skeg-hung rudder – with a hull shape below the water more efficient than you’d imagine at first take. Viewing the underbody in plan view and from the bow, note that the bilges tuck in relatively tightly below the waterline for reduced wetted surface and that the keel, while quite long fore and aft along the chord dimension, is narrow in section with enough of a foil shape to provide lift when sailing at reasonable speed.

The rudder is semi-elliptical and hung on a full skeg. While not the most efficient steering arrangement by modern standards, the skeg protects the blade from floating debris and adds a measurable degree of directional stability when the boat is surging down big waves.
The boat’s stern is its most distinctive design element. It is a fairly pure canoe stern, but the form has been made slightly deeper (with less overhang) and given a slightly convex shape to promote laminar flow as the stern wave moves aft. The result combines the seakeeping characteristics of the pointy stern with a long fair waterline.

The double-ended design concept flourishes for two reasons. First, in rough running conditions the stern, less buoyant than a boat transom, meets an oncoming wave gently instead of rising and sluicing sideways as the wave passes. This aids the helmsman or the windvane and prevents the wave from pooping the vessel. Second, the design was created for plank-and-frame construction, and as such represented the strongest and simplest way to finish the back end of the boat. In the age of fiberglass, arguably the structural concerns of wood boatbuilders become in many respects moot. Still, the narrow hullform aft remains a very strong way to lay up the stern nonetheless.

Garden, who designed hundreds of vessels and is known in the cruising fleet for his clipper-bowed ketches (many of which were built in Taiwan), created in the FP 39 a truly modern adaptation of the traditional double-ender concept. Moreover, the boat has proven itself to be an entirely capable passagemaker. Singlehander Francis Stokes sailed his FP 39 in numerous singlehanded events, including the first edition of the BOC Challenge singlehanded around-the-world race (now Around Alone). The boat circumnavigated safely and quickly, and in every port at the end of every leg Francis arrived looking more rested and fit than when he’d left. Francis is a consummate seaman. But, he was sailing a consummate sea boat.

The new FP 40 is a labor of love for builder Mitchel, who acquired the FP 39 molds several years ago and to date has built one new boat for a client in Maryland. Introducing a 25-year-old design into a sailing scene that has embraced decidedly more modern hull forms required a certain leap of faith on Mitchel’s part, confidence in the notion that a great boat always has a place in the market. Given that the Pacific Seacraft 40 and Valiant 42 still attract customers, however, the reincarnation of the FP 40 made and still makes a measure of market sense.

This is true particularly because Mitchel offers the boat on a semi-custom basis. For skippers with a long list of requirements as to what their next passagemaker should carry and contain, Mitchel is ready to accommodate them. This service, also available in varying degrees from competitors Pacific Seacraft and Valiant, makes these vessels very appealing to seasoned offshore sailors.

Several aspects of the original boat have been modernized substantially. The rig has been made taller and more powerful and given a double-spreader, cutter configuration. While sailors will debate the relative upwind efficiency of the cutter versus sloop rig, sailing with the combination of a high-cut yankee and a lower-cut staysail on roller-furling systems gives the crew dial-in, dial-out horsepower and the ability to de-power the sailplan quickly in a rising breeze without leaving the cockpit. From the point of view of shorthanded cruisers, this may well outweigh the better windward performance of a crew-intensive sloop setup.

The hull has been spec’d for foam sandwich construction using a state-of-the-art lay-up schedule of vinylester resins with knitted and sewn glass fabrics. Mitchel adds a crash barrier of Kevlar forward and below the waterline, and he’s beefed up the fore-and-aft stringers to make the hull stiffer without making it heavier. The new FP 40 takes further advantage of current technology with an all-synthetic core in both the deck and the hull. Synthetic core throughout eliminates the problem of rot associated with aging or compromised balsa core.

Ballast in lead to the tune of 7,500 pounds is encapsulated internally within the keel lay-up, avoiding the need for keel bolts and an externally hung part. The vessel is fabricated to ABYC standards, the result being an exceptionally strong, durable product.

Fittings throughout the boat are first class. Mitchel listened to numerous original FP 39 owners in the process of bringing the vessel back, and he learned what the new version would need in order to make it both reliable and easy to maintain.

BWS had the opportunity to sail the new FP 40 on Chesapeake Bay last fall. Unfortunately, we found little wind over 10 knots and most on the order of eight, so we were able only to test the boat’s light-air capabilities and her handling under power. For a boat created to venture to high latitudes and weather stormy seas, this was hardly a fair audition. To wit, circumnavigator Stokes’s spirited endorsement of his 39’s directional stability and control in austere Southern Ocean conditions will have to suffice. He remarked without hesitation following the 1982-83 BOC that his 39 Moonshine was “probably the best sea boat ever.”

Still, we were favorably impressed by the boat’s straight-line ability in eight knots of breeze as she slipped along easily doing four knots on a close reach, the speedo creeping toward five as we cracked off and powered up the headsails.

The boat’s theoretical hull speed is approximately 7.9 knots and we have no doubt that in the right conditions the FP 40 can make that number without a hiccup. Yet this boat was never conceived for speed alone, so being able to manage a consistent six-plus knots for days on end is as much an added perk as it is a rewarding attribute.

There were three adults aboard that afternoon, about the maximum we would recommend in the cockpit at any given time. The FP 40’s cockpit is small by modern standards, which is a good thing in bad weather but not so good when lounging with friends in a tropical anchorage. All running rigging is led aft to the cockpit, so it’s necessary to rig line bags for the snarl underfoot as sails are furled, sheets trimmed and reefing lines hauled.

We have grown accustomed to the leverage afforded by large wheels on more modern boats and we like to be able to sit on the coaming while steering. So, the smaller destroyer wheel on the FP 40 seemed too small to us, particularly given an unbalanced rudder. In the light air we encountered, this was of minor significance, but in rising weather, the small wheel requires more strength on the helmsperson’s part. The trade-off of refitting to a larger wheel, of course, involves compromising the ability to move around the wheel without leaving the cockpit. Additionally, some would invoke the argument that passagemakers on autopilot or windvane hand steer less anyway, rendering this a non-issue.

As we stepped off the FP 40 and motored away in a chase boat, we looked back at our ride slipping down the Chesapeake in the light breeze. There is no question but that the boat looks sweet and right, that it is ready to tackle Alaskan or Newfoundland cruising or even a rounding of Cape Horn.

The new Fast Passage 40 is a very appealing boat. It is small enough and manageable enough for a couple to sail just about anywhere without need for additional crew. Below, the accommodations will suit a couple sailing on their own with occasional guests. The boat is traditional, simple and strong.

The FP 40 is retro in many ways but that is a good thing. The ideas and traditions that went into the original Garden design flowed from decades of seafaring in stout, hearty North Sea-type vessels. The design has been imbued with the ability to handle virtually any oceangoing conditions, and Mitchel in his construction role is building boats that live up to that precept.

It is alluring to report in the pages of this magazine about sailors and designers on the cutting edge who push the envelope, rewrite the record books and pave the way to a new age of oceangoing temperament. It is just as important, however, to regroup and exalt the many others who simply go out there and voyage in proven safety and tried-and-true fashion. The FP 40 is a broad-shouldered cruising boat with a heart of oak apt to get you home at the end of a hard passage more rested than when you left.

LOA 40’0” (12.04 m.)
LWL 33’6” (10.21 m.)
Beam 11’10” (3.61 m.)
Draft 5’6” (1.68 m.)
Ballast 7,500 lbs. (3,402 kg.)
Disp 21,000 lbs. (9,526 kg.)
SA (100%) 795 sq. ft. (74 sq. m.)
SA/D 16.7
DL 249
Comfort 34.0
Ballast/Displ. 36%
Water 80 gals. (303 ltr.)
Fuel 44 gals. (166 ltr.)
Auxiliary Yanmar diesel 42-hp
Designer William Garden
SRP $340,000

The Fast Passage Co.
4940 SW Dakota
Corvallis, OR 97333
Ph: 541-752-4143
Fax: 541-753-8777

back to top