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Hunter 45DS

2008 November 7

December 2007

With traditional good looks and ease of use this new cruiser fulfills the promise of sailing

I tried to act like I was working but it was a struggle. Perched in the cockpit of the elegant Morris M42, I had my notebook in my lap and was scribbling away as Tom Morris dutifully answered my questions. We were motoring out of Back Creek in Annapolis, Maryland. It was impossible not to notice the envious glares from sailors aboard other boats as we motored toward the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay. I did my best to look nonchalant. Clear of the channel, Tom put the boat on autopilot, loaded the main halyard into the electric winch and kept chatting as he effortlessly raised the LeisureFurl mainsail. When he offered me the helm, the game was up. This wasn't work, indeed, sailing the new Morris M42 was pure pleasure and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the wheel.

The Sparkman & Stephens-designed M42 was directly inspired by the surprising success of its smaller sister, the lovely M36. If the M36 is a daysailer, then call the M42 a weekender. Of course it is more than that, but what? It's a traditional cruiser by design, infused with the technological know how of one of America's most respected builders, and it's drop-dead beautiful. Not a bad combination. I'm not sure what to call it but I confess, I'd love to own one and would be quite happy to spend a lot longer than a weekend aboard.

We quickly fell off onto a close reach and sprinted toward deeper water. The M42 sliced through the Chesapeake chop like a finely honed blade. The hull shape, at least above the waterline, harks back to pre-fiberglass days and reminds me of some of Sparkman & Stephens classic designs from the 1930s and 1940s. I spent a lot of time sailing Magic Venture, a sistership to Stormy Weather, and the new Morris felt similar in the water.

The details
The M42 is narrow, low to the water, has a beguiling sheer and rakish overhangs. The short coachroof is classy, with four portlights per side and flows naturally into the cockpit coaming. Below the waterline the moderate forefoot trails into a high-performance bulbed fin keel with a standard draft of 5 feet, 8 inches. A deep keel at 6 feet, 11 inches and a shoal version at 5 feet are also available options. The high-aspect spade rudder is a carbon-epoxy composite.

The hull and deck are a composite construction with vinylester resin and vacuum bagged Core-cell foam. Like all Morris boats, careful consideration is given to blending weight, or lack there of, and strength. The stringers and transverse floors are also a composite construction. A high-density core is used to reinforce high-load deck fittings.

On deck
The long cockpit is subtly divided into a helming/trimming station and a sitting area. With full cushions in place, the helmsman's seat is sumptuous and allows for easy steering from both the high and low side, and for sitting directly behind the wheel. Efficient steering angles and unobstructed visibility is rarely the case with most wide-bodied modern boats. The primary winches and jammers are led to small pods just forward of the helm. The rest of the cockpit is built around a handsome teak table with plenty of room for lounging on 6-foot-plus benches.

As you make your way forward, the lack of lifelines becomes apparent. It's true lifelines would spoil the simple, elegant look but they are frightfully practical. Morris explained that the lack of lifelines can be a practical matter too, making the boat much easier to singlehand. When coming along side a dock, or picking up a mooring, there are no lifelines to interfere with lines or to scramble over and he pointed out the lock teak handrails on the coachroof. In classic Morris fashion there's a logical solution: Order the optional, easy-to-remove stanchions with a single lifeline and deploy as necessary.

While the M42 is not specifically designed for singlehanded sailing, that's certainly part of its appeal. The M42 may be 42 feet, 3 inches LOA but it is nimble and handles like a much smaller boat. You don't need to round up crew to go sailing. There is no reason not to pop aboard after work and enjoy an hour's sail before dark. It's incredibly relaxing and rewarding and an aspect of sailing that disappears with most big boats. They are too much trouble for a short, spur of the moment sail.

The fractional rig features a Hall Spars carbon fiber mast and a Quick Vang, a LeisureFurl boom (optional) and Navtec hydraulic backstay adjuster. The jib is self-tacking and all control lines are led to the cockpit and are easily accessed from the helm. The mainsheet is led to fixed point, a barney post arrangement, just forward of the wheel. This frees up cockpit space and eliminates the clutter of a traveler but it also reduces mainsail control, especially leach tension. However, it does make tacking easy, just turn the wheel, slip through the wind, and trim up. A contrasting color nonskid molded deck is standard but it would be a pity not to choose the teak deck option. If you really want to dress the boat up, Morris offers a teak cladding for the coachroof sides.

Down below
The interior arrangement, in keeping with the M series ethos, is simple, refreshingly open and beautifully appointed. The M42 is set up for a cruising couple. The forepeak includes a large double berth with full-length shelves on each side and drawers below and alongside. The saloon includes a handsome mahogany table on the centerline with straight settees opposite. There are lockers with table tops at the end of each settee and cabinets above as well. A large butterfly hatch overhead and the eight fixed portlights allow for plenty of natural lighting. Some arrangement for cross ventilation will be necessary if the boat is sailed south of the Mason Dixon line.

The galley, immediately to starboard when you drop below, is small but functional. It includes Corian countertops, a two-burner gimbaled cooker, 12-volt refrigeration and a single stainless sink. The head is opposite. The toilet is a Vacuflush model and the shower has a convenient temperature control on the wall. The finish is classic Herreshoff style with white composite bulkheads nicely accented with solid mahogany joinerwork. No matter where you may moor the boat, the interior makes you feel like you're swinging to a mooring in Northeast Harbor, Maine.

But we were on the Chesapeake Bay, and having a splendid time sailing the M42. The wind was light but steady. On a close reach we eased over 6 knots without trying. The ride was smooth, the helm balanced. The leads for the self-tacking jib allow for tight sheeting angles. Trimming up the sheets the boat was able to foot very close to the wind. The M42 is also set up for easy deployment of an asymmetrical chute with all controls led aft. We set the chute with a minimum of fuss and kept the boat moving smartly even on a deep reach.

Dropping the chute, we tacked our way back toward the harbor. Sometimes when a sailplan is simplified for self-tacking, its loses its punch. That's not the case with M42. It accelerated smartly each time we gained way on and I was impressed with its soft motion when we encountered nasty wakes spawned by impatient powerboats. Eventually we fired up the 39-horsepower Yanmar diesel fitted with a saildrive transmission. Fuel capacity is just 40 gallons but I suspect that will last most M42 owners a full season. This is a boat meant for sailing, not powering. Yet the two-bladed folding Flex-O-Fold propeller pushed the boat along at 6 knots without working up a sweat.

The M42 comes loaded with standard equipment, including a VHF radio, color GPS, and complete sailing instruments. Sails and a carbon rig are also part of the package. But the decision to purchase an M42 is not going to be made over which items are standard and which are optional. Buying an M42 is about choosing an uncompromising design that is focused squarely on what's important, sailing. With a price somewhere around $650,000 the M42 is not for everybody. The M42 is, however, an exceptionally high-quality yacht, one that reminds us that when properly executed there is nothing more beautiful, more filled with promise, than a sailboat.