Morgan Out Island 41: Affordable and Comfortable

The legendary designer/builder Charley Morgan allegedly conceived this boat in a fit of pique when the IOR supplanted the old CCA rule as the racing rule du jour back in 1970. If so it was an auspicious tantrum, as the Out Island 41 turned out to be an extremely successful boat and ultimately helped to transform the business of fiberglass sailboat production. The OI 41 was not only one of the first designs targeted at the emerging bareboat charter industry (the original “charter barge,” if you will), it ...

29th April 2010.
By Charles Doane

Morgan Out Island 41

The legendary designer/builder Charley Morgan allegedly conceived this boat in a fit of pique when the IOR supplanted the old CCA rule as the racing rule du jour back in 1970. If so it was an auspicious tantrum, as the Out Island 41 turned out to be an extremely successful boat and ultimately helped to transform the business of fiberglass sailboat production. The OI 41 was not only one of the first designs targeted at the emerging bareboat charter industry (the original “charter barge,” if you will), it was also one of the first center-cockpit boats and one of the first to blatantly discount sailing performance in favor of maximum accomodation space.

As such, the OI 41 is a boat many serious sailors love to hate–for its bulky plastic appearance, for its less than mediocre performance, and for the profound change it wrought in mass-production priorities. It is also, however, still much loved and prized among more pragmatic cruisers who value comfort, space, and nice low purchase prices.

Many different variations of the OI 41 were created during a 20-year production run (1971-91) that ultimately saw the launching of some 1,100 boats. The biggest change came in 1986 after Catalina Yachts acquired Morgan Yachts and fundamentally reshaped the OI 41’s hull, replacing the full shoal keel and attached rudder with a somewhat deeper long fin keel and skeg-hung rudder. About 150 of these redesigned boats were built—they were branded (ironically) as the Out Island 41 Classic—and they are fundamentally superior to their predecessors. They sail much better, but the interior lay-out and appearance of the deck and topsides is much the same.

OI 41 models prior to the Classic are differentiated by three-digit numbers: the earliest was the 413, the last was the 416, which was introduced in 1981 and featured a much larger sailplan. Many of the changes made in the intermediate 414 (1973-76) and 415 (1977-80) models involved relatively minor interior alterations. The most important changes were the introduction of a walk-through interior in 1974 and of a sloop rig as an alternative to the standard ketch rig in 1977.

Having once spent two weeks aboard an older OI 41 ketch during a bareboat charter in the Bahamas, I can attest that full-keel OIs are not quite as unwieldy under sail as their detractors claim. It is often said they cannot even tack without a push from an engine, but this is only true if you are a poor sailor to begin with. Many boats unfortunately have hydraulic steering systems, and this only reinforces the impression that the OI sails like a pig. If helm feedback is important to you, look for early 413 and 414 models with cable steering or for later boats retrofitted with push-pull systems.

Though sheeting angles are wide, I found it is in fact possible to sail a full-keel OI closehauled at about 45 degrees off the wind without making too much leeway in flat water. In rough water, however, the boat slides off at an alarming rate, so motorsailing to windward is usually the order of the day once the waves are up. Not suprisingly, the OI loves a good reach and tracks well with the wind on or near its beam.  On this point of sail I found it easy to balance out the boat and leave the helm unattended. The OI also does well enough off the wind, particularly if you’re willing to fly a spinnaker to keep her moving.

Structurally the OI 41 is fairly solid, though not as strong as it could be. The hull is solid laminate with bulkheads and all furniture securely tabbed to it. The bulkheads, however, are not tabbed to the plywood-cored deck, but instead are bonded to the molded deck liner.  There are transverse deck beams that help keep the deck from lifting when the rig is loaded, but still bulkheads on some boats may show some twisting and/or cracking where they join the liner.

The through-bolted deck joint on boats built before 1975 is below the fat cove stripe under the sheer line and thus is vulnerable to damage from docks and Travelift slings. Later it was moved up to deck level where it belongs. Other areas to pay attention to are the main mast-step over the keel, which is iron and may cause the aluminum mast heel to corrode once the insulation between the two breaks down, and the tanks, which are polyethylene and are prone to fail over time. Because the tanks were originally installed with the deck off and are sized accordingly it is usually necessary to replace them with smaller tanks that can fit through the companionway.

What’s most attractive about the OI is its expansive interior. Its basic accomodation footprint, with a large segregated owner’s stateroom aft, lots of communal living space in the middle, and another guest stateroom forward, has been mimicked by most of the center-cockpit boats that have followed in its wake and has not been substantially improved upon. Theoretically on most OIs it is possible to sleep seven people in all, but it works best as a family boat or as a spacious home for a couple who like to have a spare cabin for visitors.

Interior details vary quite a bit from model to model. Some forward staterooms have V-berths, some have overlapping over-and-under single berths. Most have dinette tables in the saloon, but some have fold-down bulkhead tables. Most have full-length settees in the saloon, but some have a pair of captain’s chairs on one side. And so on. Finish quality on older boats is apt to seem dated and a bit rough around the edges, but some old OIs have been remarkably well cared for, with thoroughly updated interiors and lots of new equipment on board. On the whole, however, interiors on the newer Classic boats seem fresher and more attractive.

Ultimately, the OI 41 is one of the most comfortable, most affordable shoal-draft coastal cruisers you are apt to come across. Some folks take these boats offshore, but others might feel circumspect about this. Earl Hinz, who earned a large reputation cruising the Pacific in the 1970s and ‘80s, did all his ocean sailing in an OI 41, but he and his wife Betty were very conservative in picking weather windows and rarely experienced strong conditions. Hinz’s own evaluation of the boat probably sums it up best: “It was a Tupperware charter boat, but it had shoal draft, lots of storage, and we could afford it.”

Morgan Out Island 41 profile drawing

Specifications

LOA:  41’3”
LWL:  34’0”
Beam:  13’10”
Draft
–Pre-1986:  4’2”
–Classic:  4’10”
Ballast
–Pre-1986:  9,000 lbs.
–Classic:  8,500 lbs.
Displacement
–Pre-1986:  27,000 lbs.
–Classic:  23,000 lbs.
Sail area
–Pre-1981 ketch:  683 sq.ft.
–Classic sloop:  780 sq.ft.
Fuel (Classic):  85 gal.
Water (Classic):  215 gal.
D/L ratio
–Pre-1986:  306
–Classic:  261
SA/D ratio
–Pre-1981 ketch:  12.12
–Classic:  15.40
Comfort ratio
–Pre-1986:  34.62
–Classic:  29.49
Capsize screening
–Pre-1986:  1.84
–Classic: 1.94
Nominal hull speed
–Pre-1986:  8.1 knots
–Classic:  8.5 knots

Typical asking prices
–Pre-1986:  $47K – $80K
–Classic:  $80K – $125K

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About the author:

Charles Doane

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Charles Doane is an editor-at-large for SAIL, where he previously was a senior editor. He also served as managing editor at Offshore and associate editor at Cruising World. Charles has logged more than 40,000 miles as an offshore sailor, including six transatlantic passages and some single-handed passages. His blog posts appear courtesy of his website www.WaveTrain.net.
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