Passport 40

2008 November 10
March 2004

Sweet sailing cruiser designed for comfortable world cruising

Good things come to those who wait, or at least that's what my parents told me, and, worse still, that's what I tell my kids. Maybe it's even true. Take the Passport 40 for example. It has always been considered a top-quality bluewater boat, and now it is finally old enough to be considered a solid value as well. Designed by Robert Perry and built in Taiwan, the Passport 40 is well named, it is a boat that can punch your ticket to see the world. Yes, it's still pricey, an early to mid-1980s model will usually sell for somewhere between $120,000 to $160,000, but compare what that same money buys in a new, or even just a newer boat, and it isn't much of a comparison.

The Passport 40 was launched in 1980 and remained in production through 1991, with 148 boats built. Many have cruised extensively and all are still sailing. In some way, the Passport 40 and other similar vintage Perry designed cruisers trace their roots, or at least their basic underwater hull shapes, to the Valiant 40. Although not a double-ender like the Valiant, the Passport 40 was considered a performance cruiser in its day. Although it is heavy by today's standards, it remains a nimble, easily handled boat that performs well in the trade winds for which it was designed. Perry's combination of a traditional style deck with a modified fin and skeg underbody produced a very successful formula for cruising boats.

Wendell Renken commissioned Perry's design and was the original developer and distributor of the Passport line, which eventually included models ranging from 37 feet to 52 feet. Renken was one of many Americans in Taiwan in those days, and in their own, less than subtle way, these Yanks helped lay the foundation for Taiwan's world-class boatbuilding industry. Today Passport yachts are manufactured and imported by Wagner Stevens Yachts in Annapolis. Thomas Wagner, who has been associated with Passport from the beginning, is a great source of information on all Passports.

First impressions
The Passport 40 is a handsome boat. I remember spotting an early model in the St. Martin lagoon almost 20 years ago. I hopped in the dinghy and rowed over and introduced myself. I just had to find out what kind of boat it was. The bow rakes gently aft and the reverse transom is broad-there is nothing harsh about Perry's lines. The beam is a moderate 12 feet, 8 inches. The coachroof extends well forward, in fact the foredeck is quite small, making it tough to stow a hard dinghy. The portlights are distinctive with two smaller bronze ports framing a longer one amidships.

Below the waterline a relatively deep forefoot trails into a powerful fin keel. As mentioned earlier, the rudder is skeg hung. I know this hull shape is outdated but I have logged thousands of offshore miles with this type of keel and rudder arrangement and I have great confidence in it. Two keels were available, the standard draft is 5 feet, 9 inches while the shoal model slices all of 6 inches off the bottom of the keel. A sloop rig was standard, although almost all boats have been fitted with a staysail stay, usually the removable type. Part of the original design objective was to allow the boat to be sailed under main alone and be easily sailed singlehanded. Total working sail area is 771 square feet.

The hull is solid fiberglass, heavily layed up with layers of 24-ounce roving, 1.5-ounce mat and polyester resin. The Passport 40 predated the switch to blister preventing vinylester resins yet blisters do not seem to be much of a problem, even with boats that have toiled for years in the tropics. A look below the teak-and-holly cabin sole reveals stout transverse floors. The hull is further stiffened with longitudinal stringers. The iron ballast is encapsulated in the keel cavity. Lead would have been better but most Taiwan boats of this period used iron because it was more widely available and much cheaper.

Early boats had marine plywood cored decks. The plywood was cut into small sections and infused with resin around the edges. Later boats were cored with Airex foam. Most of the boats have or at least had teak side decks, which were a thick, five-eighths inch and applied with a lot of Thiokol. They're not the usual problem they are on other boats of this vintage. Some boats, especially later models, came with molded nonskid. The hull-and-deck joint is through-bolted on an inward flange and incorporates a raised bulwark. Bulkheads and furniture facings are securely fiberglassed to the hull. There is a lot of external teak besides the side decks, including handrails, eyebrows on the coachroof, and a lovely caprail. Also, the teak joinerwork below is exceptional.

What to look for
The prime reason the Passport 40 has held its value so well over the years is that it has aged very well. Another factor cannot be ignored. The Passport 40 has never been a cheap boat and in most cases owner's have been able to afford the required maintenance and often lavished their boats with care. There are, however, a few specific items to watch for.

Teak decks are a mixed blessing. They look great and provide terrific nonskid when wet, but they are also a maintenance issue and a potential source of leaks from the myriad of fasteners that hold them in place. Be sure to have the decks carefully inspected although old Passport 40s rarely if ever turn up with delaminated subdecks.

Another area to check is the chainplates. A recent sale of an older 40 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, revealed badly corroded chainplates during the survey. The chainplate covers are easily removed from the deck, and this is the first place to look. If the caulking is old or missing, probe the area further from down below. Like all boats more than 10 years old, the standing rigging should be carefully inspected, and if original, it should be replaced before heading offshore. The fuel tanks on early boats were made of black iron and were usually glassed over, which in theory stopped them from rusting from the outside in. Later boats had aluminum tanks.

The brightwork is a big job on a Passport 40 but it is also a big part of why the boat looks smart when all trimmed out. A boat whose brightwork has been let go might save you a few shekels, and although it's not expensive to bring the wood back into shape, don't underestimate the time and work required to prep teak and meticulously apply multiple layers of varnish.

On deck
The Passport 40 has a near ideal seagoing cockpit. It is comfortable for three or four people with wide seats and angled coamings that are nicely trimmed in teak. There is a stout bridgedeck and large drains should an errant wave or two crash aboard. There is a large locker to port. The standard 36-inch Epson destroyer wheel seems a bit undersized and the boat I examined in Palm Beach had a larger, teak-rimmed wheel that was lovely. Individual engine controls require reaching through the wheel to manipulate, I'd prefer a single-lever control on the pedestal base. The primary winches are positioned fairly far aft, allowing the helmsman to trim the headsail without leaving the wheel. All other sail controls are led aft through a beefy coaming that provides a perfect base for the cockpit dodger. The mainsheet and traveler are just forward of the coaming, clearing space in the cockpit but still rigged far enough aft on the boom to provide good purchase.

The side decks are fairly wide and the molded bulwark lends security when going forward. The stanchion bases are vertically mounted for strength and overall the deck fittings are robust and top quality. I like the bronze fairleads that are fitted through the bulwark and caprail; they're handsome and practical. The mooring cleats are huge at 10 inches. Deck hatches were originally Atkins and Hoyle, later in the production run they were replaced by Lewmar hatches. A husky stainless steel stemhead fitting with a single anchor roller was standard along with a manual windlass. Many owners opted for the double roller and most boats will have upgraded to an electric windlass by now.

Down below
The interior of the Passport 40 is simply lovely. The woodwork is superb, from the solid teak staving on the bulkheads to the rounded joints fashioned into handholds in the galley and nav station. Remember, the rich teak finish coated with many layers of satin varnish makes for a fairly dark interior, however.

It is hard to generalize about the interior plan as each boat was more or less custom built. According to Wagner, about half of the Passport 40s came with a head-forward layout followed by a Pullman berth. The other half featured a traditional V-berth, followed by a head with a separate shower. Owners seem to favor the head-forward plan as it allows the forward hatch to be left open longer (a little spray in the head is no big deal, a little spray in your bunk is not nice) and pushes the bunk aft a bit, which is always more comfortable when sleeping under way.

The saloon has either a U-shaped or L-shaped settee draped around a lovely teak table. Some boats mount the table along the partial bulkhead dividing the galley, allowing it to fold up, creating a roomier saloon. There are lockers and bookshelves above and outboard of the settees. Thick, four-inch cushions were standard. The nav stations vary, usually they're opposite the galley to starboard and can be forward, aft or outboard facing. All boats feature a double quarter cabin aft. The large galley invariably includes two deep stainless sinks, a very well-insulated top loading icebox/refrigeration and a propane stove and oven.

The old reliable Perkins 4108 diesel was the original engine and you will still find them on some Passport 40s. Boats with the U-shaped settees usually feature the Perkins due to the clearance beneath the table, while boats with the L-shaped settee had Yammers, which were used on later boats. Either way access is terrific, and good access almost always translates into better maintenance. Parts are still widely available for the 4108 and it is an easy engine to work on. With that said, a boat with a quieter, more efficient Yammer would be preferred. The fuel tanks were originally black iron encased in fiberglass to prevent corrosion with a total capacity of 105 gallons. A three-bladed prop was standard but most boats on the market seem to have upgraded to a feathering propeller. According to several owners, performance under power is more than adequate, with 1,800 to 2,000 RPMs on the 4108 translating into 5 to 6 knots depending on conditions.

Under way
The sweet sailing characteristics of the Passport 40 just may be its most endearing feature. Almost all owners boast how well the boat handles. Words like "predictable," "swift" and "nimble" dominate their comments. Fast passages are de rigueur for Passport 40 sailors. They also speak highly of the soft ride, and as my readers know, I am always extolling the merits of an easy motion at sea. The less the boat works, the less the crew works, and the more enjoyable the passage.

Specifically, the Passport 40 sailplan allows it to make way in light going, but it really thrives when the wind perks up. Most owners report reefing the main at around 20 knots and others talk about the nice balance when the staysail is in use. The boat does not make much leeway and easing the traveler usually eliminates weather helm. For a cruising boat the Passport 40 is reasonable close winded. When conditions turn nasty, it is nice to be able to drop or roll in the headsail, set the staysail and carry on with a deeply reefed main. One owner noted how he skirted deadly Hurricane Mitch offshore and came through unscathed.

The Passport 40 is a world class cruising boat, equal parts rugged voyager and elegant yacht. It is a boat that you can be proud of and one that can carry you to any corner of the globe. Now that the price compares with a new 35-foot production boat, it's even affordable. It was worth the wait.