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Morris M29

2010 January 4
This beautiful and superior daysailer is a fitting part of a founder's legacy

The sailing industry lost a gentleman, a visionary and a master craftsman when Tom Morris, founder of Morris Yachts, died last year. Morris built hundreds of distinguished boats during his long career, from nimble pocket cruisers to bluewater thoroughbreds. I have been fortunate to sail many Morris models over the years and I've never been disappointed. Morris Yachts are unfailingly handsome, humble, brilliantly engineered and above all, fine sailing boats.

Tom Morris did not tolerate poor performance. He was relentless about trimming unnecessary weight and a pioneer when it came to using innovative materials that made his boats lighter, stronger and faster. However, Tom Morris' legacy will likely rest with the striking daysailers that he began building in 2002. The Morris M series sparked the revival of a classic class and by emphasizing grace and simplicity struck at the core values of sailing.

It is fitting that the last boat Tom Morris was involved with was the M29, a beguiling daysailer designed by Sparkman & Stephens. Morris loved small boats. His own boat was a Francis 26, one of his earliest models. The M29 is the smallest of the M series fleet but that doesn't diminish its appeal. It cuts a nice figure in the water and it takes your breath away when you spy it lying on a mooring. The smaller, more affordable 29 means that there's now an M series boat that many can aspire to own one day. These boats are not cheap.

I sailed the M29 last February on Biscayne Bay after the Miami show. Cuyler Morris, Tom's son and the president of Morris Yachts, and his team had gone to extraordinary lengths to get the boat from the factory in Maine to South Florida in time for the show. Our Sailing Magazine boat test was one of the M29's first sails. Not surprisingly, the boat handled brilliantly right out of the box. And the way we sailed the boat, negotiating both the narrow stretches of the Intracoastal Waterway and gliding across the wider reaches of the bay completely under sail was just the way the M29 should be sailed. This boat is all about the pure value of sailing, whether you have an hour, an afternoon or a weekend.

The details
The M29, like her sisterships the M36, M42 and even the super daysailer M52, is a clever collaboration of engineering and conceptual thinking. As the brochure notes, the M29 may look like a boat your grandfather sailed but below the waterline she's thoroughly modern. The M29 features a rakish sheerline, accentuated by long overhangs, low freeboard and a clean deck layout devoid of even stanchions and lifelines. It's as classic looking as it gets these days. South of the waterline, the moderate-aspect fin keel has a small bulb and a freestanding rudder that provides deft steering control.

The construction ethos focuses on weight savings and structural strength, naturally, but also on the M29s unique ability to be transported by a variety of means. The hull and deck are a composite cored construction with vinylester resins used throughout. The rudder and stock are carbon fiber. Bulkheads and interior units are also composite construction. The result is a boat that weighs in at just over 5,000 pounds. A narrow 8-foot beam allows the boat to be "trailerable." A moderate sized vehicle can haul the M29 south for the winter, the towing package is just 6,875 pounds. More intriguing, the carbon fiber mast, which weighs just 75 pounds, fits neatly in a 40-foot shipping container along with the rest of the boat, allowing for the M29 to be transported across an ocean on a ship. The idea of sending your M29 off to meet you in the Mediterranean for the summer is delicious.

Sparkman & Stephens designed the tiller-steered M29 to be easily singlehanded. When I sailed with Tom Morris aboard an M42 a few years ago, he stressed the importance of being able to sail alone. The facet of the M series boats that he deemed most important was the ability to be rigged and underway in minutes, prompting an after-work sail; a restorative, rejuvenating sail, without fuss and muss. This design feature absolutely drives the M29.

On deck
The cockpit is the heart of any daysailer. The M29 cockpit sits four comfortably, partially because the mainsheet is aft. It's tacked to a single-point lead, a practical arrangement but one that eliminates trim options. There are no sheet winches because the headsail is self-tacking. This makes it easier to keep up the shimmering varnish on the coaming boards. All control lines are led below deck to the cockpit, within easy reach of the helm.

Making your way forward is a bit tricky. Although the deck nonskid is fairly aggressive, a lack of stanchions and lifelines leaves you feeling a bit exposed. But then again, the design is such that you're really not meant to leave the cockpit while underway. There are teak handrails on the low-slung cabintrunk. As noted earlier, the standard spar is carbon fiber. The single spreaders are swept back, limiting just how far you can pay out the main on a reach. The standing rigging is led to a single chainplate, keeping the overall deck profile simple and clean. The headsail furling gear is housed under deck as well. The CK (Cuyler's Kite Launcher), is a clever spinnaker setting system that can be accomplished by a singlehanded sailor from the cockpit.

Down below
There isn't much of an interior what is there is done with typical Morris quality. Upon dropping below there are two straight settees port and starboard. There's a porta potty head, a cooler and plenty of storage. The forward cabin, or V-berth area, has enough room to store a good-sized picnic basket, or if you wanted, room for a couple of berths. There is no provision for cooking, and a small galley, even a sea swing style stove would be a nice feature. Daysailing or not, a cup of coffee, tea or soup, can taste nice on a cool afternoon.

The engine is a Yanmar saildrive positioned just aft of the keel. This light engine makes perfect sense for the M29. Leaving the dock we slipped between several boats just inches away. The maneuverability was impressive. Hurrying back to the marina after our test sail we sped along at near 6 knots. A fuel tank that holds eight gallons will last most M29 sailors a season or two.

Under sail
Sailing in the shadow of Miami's Brickle Avenue skyline, the wind was fluky. A rare westerly allowed us to head south on starboard tack. The ICW was crowded with boats of every description and we tacked several times to avoid clueless powerboaters. I was impressed with how effortlessly we came through the wind and how quickly the M29 gained way on.
The helm was light. In fact, it was easy to over steer. I always have to readjust to tiller boats, but once I do I love the intrinsic seat-of-the-pants sailing they offer.

In Biscayne Bay the wind filled in from the northeast and we sped along on a reach. We kicked the speed up over 5 knots, then 6. Not bad going in less than 10 knots true. Beating back toward Miami Marina we routinely tacked through 90 degrees. Sailing on one last reach before the M29 had to meet writers and photographers from another magazine, I remembered sailing with Tom Morris. He treated us journalist sailors with kindness and respect. His keen eyes monitored every system on the boat and they sparkled with the pure joy of being under sail. The new M29 is a lovely blend of the features that he deemed vital in a boat: beauty, purpose and the need to sail well.

Morris M29

LOA 28'11"; LWL 20'10"; Beam 7'4"
Draft 4'6"; Displacement 5,230 lbs.
Ballast 1,958 lbs.;
Sail Area 372 sq. ft.

Best Boat Price $135,000
Morris Yachts
53 Granville Rd.
Bass Harbor, ME 04653
(207) 244-5509