Morris 51 • Designed and built in Maine, the semi-custom Morris 51 blends the best traditions of the sea with the most modern building techniques and the latest sailing systems
The Morris 51, designed by Chuck Paine, started life as the Apogee 50 from Able Marine. Several years ago, in a move to expand his boatbuilding and boatyard businesses, Tom Morris, founder of Morris Yachts, purchased the assets of Able Marine, its Maine facilities and the molds to the Able line of boats. In that acquisition were the molds for the Apogee 50, of which 10 were out sailing ably about the world. The original 50-foot sloop had proven to be a comfortable, fast cruiser for a couple or family and was one of the few semi-custom passagemakers in this size range available from an American builder.
With the Apogee 50 in the Morris family of boats, the new Morris 51 has become one of the finest and truest blue-water boats available on the market—Maine designed, Maine built and ready to sail anywhere.
Last September, BWS had the chance to spend an afternoon sailing the new Morris 51 off Newport, R.I. While the test sail was not our usual offshore passage, we did get a chance to put the new boat through its paces and to have a thorough look at how the boat was conceived, constructed and fitted out.
We joined the boat in Newport Harbor. As it approached the dock, the purposeful lines, businesslike cutter rig, clean deck and rigid dodger over the cockpit gave the 51 the appearance of a true sea boat. And, being painted “Stars & Stripes” blue—the same color as Dennis Conner’s America’s Cups boats—the 51 cut an elegant figure as she motored through the fleet of cruising boats anchored nearby.
We set the main and jib and headed south through the heads of Narragansett Bay. The day was clear and bright with a 10-knot breeze from the south—a perfect sailing day as we so often get in New England in September. With the high roach, full-batten main and 100-percent jib drawing nicely, the 51 settled into the groove and chewed her way to windward easily and comfortably. We were making seven knots through the water, heeling to about 10 degrees and tacking through an easy 85 degrees on the compass. Looking aft, it was impossible to discern any leeway in her track.
PLENTY OF POWER
Once we had cleared the heads, we slacked sheets to reach easily into Block Island Sound before jibing around and running comfortably back toward Newport. The 51 tacked smoothly and surely with the small jib requiring only a small effort to trim while the big main gave the
boat plenty of power to sail well and accelerate in the moderate breeze. Off the wind she tracked extremely well, and we could lock the helm for extended periods while she steered herself.
Designed by Chuck Paine, the 51 has the feel of a solid, comfortable cruiser underfoot and cuts through the water with ease on all points of sail. With a displacement of 34,000 pounds, she is relatively light and carries her 11,400 pounds of ballast low in the keel. The displacement/length ratio is 178, which puts the 51 in a category of moderately light cruisers. And with a ballast/displacement ratio of 34 percent the boat is balanced for an easy motion in a wide range of conditions.
Although the 51 has a 45-foot waterline and therefore a nominal hull speed of nine knots, she flies only 1,066 square feet of working sail area, so the rig will be easily handled by a couple and will, at the same time, provide the power to keep the boat moving well in light conditions, as we discovered during our test sail. The 51 has a sail area/displacement ratio of 16.25 (100 percent foretri-angle), which is right in the middle of the range for modern, performance cruising boats.
By modern standards, the 51 has quite a narrow beam—14 feet—which translates into a beam/length ratio of only 27 percent. Long legs and a slim hull form translate into a hull that will be easily driven, will maintain high average speeds and will have excellent directional stability in following seas.
For long distance cruising the 51’s comfortable motion, easily driven hull, smallish rig and great directional stability combine to make the boat a true pleasure to sail and a fine example of what a designer can do when he is not constrained by racing rules and the need to pack a huge interior into a small space.
During a sail trial we always note the way the stern wave behaves as it flows aft of the transom. Does it build and curl back onto the hull as the boat squats under a press of sail? Does it boil as the hull lines converge suddenly beneath the cockpit? Or does it flow straight and smooth along fair lines that ease the boat through the water? On every point of sail, the 51’s wake streamed aft flat and undisturbed, just what we believe it is meant to do.
Although Morris Yachts bills the 51, like the company’s other boats, as a semi-custom cruiser, the fact of the matter is that aside from the hull, deck, keel and rudder, the boat can be customized extensively to meet an owner’s sailing and cruising styles.
Owners of new Morris boats tend to be sailors who have already owned several boats in their lives and know a lot about what they need to make a boat meet their personal standards. The ability to work with the Morris team and designer Paine means that the creation of a new 51 is an engaging process that benefits from each party’s wide knowledge and experience.
The boat we sailed in Newport was built for a cruising couple who have many thousands of miles under their keels and specific needs for their next, long-haul cruise. Having already been through a boat owning phase that saw them equip previous boats with everything under the sun, they chose to keep their new 51 as simple and low maintenance as possible while still incorporating the systems they know they need, selected from a list of brands they are comfortable owning and repairing.
On deck, they chose to build a rigid dodger over the forward end of the cockpit under which a watch-keeper can manage the boat during night watches or in inclement weather in comfort as the autopilot steers and the on-deck radar/chart-plotter monitors the navigation. Visibility from under the dodger is excellent—both fore at sea level and upward at the sails—so a lone watchstander can keep an eye on the horizon and sail trim without stepping into the weather. Such a dodger may seem a small detail, but the security and protection it offers the crew can make the difference between a wearisome passage and a safe and comfortable one.
Belowdecks the owners’ set up the interior to be a comfortable home for two with room for one couple to join them. The master stateroom lies forward and has a large centerline double bunk and a huge private head. The guest and “sea” cabin lies aft at the foot of the companionway. The chart table is positioned aft as well, next to the companionway, where the person navigating or on the radio can converse with another on deck. Chart tables positioned near the companionway always run the risk of getting doused with rain or spray, but, in this instance, the hard dodger over the cockpit will keep it—and all the electronics—dry.
The saloon has been laid out for comfortable and social living. Because the owners enjoy cooking and washing up together, the galley spans the width of the saloon with the stove, fridge and sinks to starboard and an open pantry area to port. A bench settee that will double as an excellent sea berth is positioned to port, with bookshelves and the TV built in behind it. To starboard, the dinette will seat five or six comfortably.
The bench in the dinette is long enough for a person to sleep stretched out, making another good sea berth. All told, this layout has three good sea berths, one of which (in the after cabin) can be left made up all the time.
The owners wanted the engine room to be as large and commodious as possible since they know they will be in there often, maintaining the engine, generator, watermaker and pumps. Entering through a watertight door next to the companionway, you find a sizeable tool room and spare parts storage area and then the engine room, which spans the width of the hull. Changing engine oil every 100 hours, replacing pump impellers, pickling the watermaker, topping up the battery fluids and all the routine engineering chores are made simpler by providing such open access to all the systems.
The fit and finish of the 51 is bright, airy and comfortable. The boat does not scream luxury at you but has the understated look of very finely built modern furniture. The overheads are white with varnished battens running athwartships. The main bulkheads are pale hand rubbed cherry veneer while the furniture has white panels trimmed with varnish strakes. The look is at once Bristol fashion in the old Herreshoff tradition and almost Bauhaus modern. In the end, the interior is simple, functional, light and very comfortable.
The Morris 51 has emerged from the original Apogee 50 as a proper cruising boat in every aspect. Often the creation of a new cruising design involves a number of compromises, particularly if the boat has to satisfy the realities of the production marketplace in which a variety of tastes and experience levels need to be accommodated. In the case of the 51, the hull, rig, interior and systems have been laid out with one uncompromising purpose in mind—to transport an experienced couple over the oceans swiftly, safely and in style. After spending the day sailing and looking through the boat, it is easy for us to report that the new Morris 51 fulfills this mission splendidly.
Draft 6’6” (5’10” optional)
Displ. 34,000 lbs.
Ballast 11,400 lbs.
Sail Area 1,066 sq. ft.
Base price $1,049,000
P.O. Box 395