The Morris 486 offers double-digit average speeds, elegance and comfort.
The owner of the very first Morris 486 and I have at least one thing in common: taste in boats. We like fast, weatherly boats that look the part but give away nothing to the aesthetic tradition of sailboat design. Although we want to cruise in comfort, neither of us is Philistine enough to require all the comforts of home in a decor that's more appropriate for a French brothel than for a high-performance sailing yacht. So, for Reindeer’s lucky owner, myself and dozens of other purists, including her designer Chuck Paine, she's damned close to perfection.
All of us react first to the way a boat looks. Every pair of eyes sees the same image, but each of us interprets this image according to our tastes. This is a roundabout way of saying that when you see the Morris 486 on the water for the first time, you're not likely to swoon, as you may over the Bermuda Series Paine has done for Able Custom Yachts. This is especially true of Reindeer, because she leans more heavily on the racing side of the equation.
Her most striking feature is her stark simplicity – this 486 is devoid of useless adornment. The only wood on the exterior is a pair of toerails forward to help keep the bowman on deck in a seaway. On the other hand, the boat doesn’t lack grace. Paine can't draw an ugly sheerline; the 486’s shows exactly the right amount of sweep to soften its seriously business-like profile. Her stem, short of plumb by about 30 degrees, reverse transom and saucy counter, too, but to draw a smile on a traditional sailor’s face.
Paine also is among the best at drawing a handsome house over the raised saloon. His Bermuda Series yachts are first-rate examples of the type. Although Reindeer’s house shares the elegance of those atop the Bermuda Series, it seems to have more rake in the fascia and less height. The shapes are definitely modern and will help define good design for the next millennium, but I'm not crazy about how this house mingles with the mare traditional cabin trunk. I prefer the house/deck treatment of the Apogee 50 and the way its deadlights are let into the topsides right below the sheerline.
The second most striking feature is harder to spot. I stood on the dock opposite the boarding gate in the lifelines starboard side and let my eyes scan the waterline from amidships forward. At DWL in the first few stations is a lovely hollow, reminiscent of that drawn by N.G. Herreshoff after he abandoned the spoon bow of Alerion and her ilk. Paine is convinced that hollow in the entry makes a boat faster in all conditions, but he also admits that his reasons for thinking so are speculative. The hollow reduces resistance by closely matching the shape of the water as it flows along the hull. It certainly improves the bow’s penetration through waves, which is most important in light air and leftover seas.
I sailed Reindeer on Chesapeake Bay in an unusual set of conditions for me - 20-25 knots of wind and nearly flat seas. These conditions don’t tell a person much about a boat, but I learned that she’s fast – a little better than 8 knots in 18 knots true, at an apparent wind angle of 23-25 degrees. And this with cruising sails. Keeping her in the groove was easy, because her balance is extraordinary. We may have been able to increase this speed if we’d rolled in a bit of the big genoa, but we had to present the boat’s best side to the photographer. She was a bit overpowered in the gusts, heeling beyond her optimum, but she was never unruly.
This level if windward ability generally is reserved for pure racing boats, mostly because everyone assumes that gentlemen don’t cruise to windward. Some of us aren’t gentlemen, at least in the yachting tradition, and love a good thrash to windward. It’s my favorite point of sail unless the seas are awful. I also like the notion of being able to go where I want to go, never mind the direction of the wind. I suspect that Reindeer’s owner feels the same.
The ability to point this high without slowing to a crawl comes from a very effective keel and rudder in combination with an equally effective rig. Both sets of foils enjoy great lift and not a lot of drag. The rudder is deep, asymmetrically shaped and balanced; i.e., the shaft penetrates the rudder some distance abaft the leading edge. The keel in profile resembles that of the International 210 designed by Ray Hunt in the late 1930s. the leading and trailing edges sweep back at a jaunty angle, and the trailing edge of the ballast bulb extends a considerable distanceaft. The top of the bulb describes an arc that appears to mimic the sweep of the buttock lines in mirror image.
Reindeer is a knockout belowdecks and arranged for sea duty.
A balanced helm contributes to the boat’s weatherlineess, too. If she has an abundance of weather helm, the rudder creates more drag than lift; exactly the right amount of weather helm improves feel through the wheel and optimizes lift. Reindeer’s steering clearly telegraphs what she and her rudder are up to, but the wheel never fought me, even when we were embarrassingly overpowered. Sure, the weather helm increases, a good warming that you have too much sail, but the load on the wheel never threatens to overpower the helmsman. The ratio could be quicker, though.
Reaching, which is always a joy, the 486 readily stepped into double-digit speeds. She would have been happier on this point of sail, if we'd reduced the headsail area. Damned photographers. Double-digit averages ought to be child's play for this 486 if she's thoughtfully sailed. Reindeer has a lovely fair hull to thank for her high speeds. Her amidships sections are very close to semicircular and the volume beautifully distributed, so she doesn't offer a ton of resistance. Her 12” and 24" buttock lines are parallel, which gives her plenty of bottom on which to surf.
She's also very light - displacement is about 23,000 lb. - and her vertical center of gravity is below the waterline. She's as stiff as a temperance judge and accelerates in the puffs like a melon seed squeezed between your thumb and forefinger. Boston BoatWorks molded the ultralight hull and deck, and Morris Yachts finished the boat with lightweight cored furniture.
The saloon is done in white Formica trimmed with cherry. The joinery is top drawer. Off-watch crew will love the pilot berths. Navigating ought to be a pleasure in this setting. It’s opposite the galley and within easy calling distance of the cockpit. Chart book stow easily under the desktop.
The cockpit is huge and set up to take advantage of a full racing crew. At the same time, though, the controls are handy for a smaller crew on a cruise. The traveler is right forward of the binnacle within easy reach of the helm (it will be on the coach roof in the production version).
The winches are manual Harkens, which return the physical exhilaration to sailing. I certainly understand the advantages of powered winches, even the need that older sailors have for them, but I love to break a sweat on the winch handle and to feel the soreness in my arms and shoulders at the end of a day's sail. This exertion makes me feel alive, vital and competent, as I'll guess it does for Reindeer’s septuagenarian owner. The day I feel as though I have to protect myself from the physical wonders of sailing is the day I want to check out. Prospective owners who don't agree with my philosophy need only to specify power winches in the contract.
Reindeer is a knockout belowdecks. She's arranged for serious sea duty, so doesn't have my double berths. The after cabin has a single on either side and standing headroom at the head of each berth. The companionway stairs are wider than normal and have a relatively gentle pitch. The galley is big enough to prepare gourmet meals and tight enough to keep the chef in place when the weather gets ugly. The wet locker, starboard side right abaft the galley stove, swallows the off-watch crew's oilies before they can track water all over the saloon as they head for the pilot berths port and starboard above the settees. The forward stateroom has a pair of single pipe berths for extra accommodations in port, but are sea, you'd want to use this space for stowing sails.
Reindeer, and I imagine the production Morris 486s, too, captures enthusiastic sailors the way a Venus fly trap gathers food - with the promise of something sweet. Reindeer's rewards are speed, comfort and style - sweet stuff indeed. Her only downside is a quick motion at sea, which is the result of her light weight, I'll live with the motion, thank you very much, and proudly learn to love it because the rest of her is irresistible.