Revivals in the production boat business are an appealing trend today, inspired by the ability of modern technology and hitherto unavailable materials to breathe new life into dated designs. Sailors hooked on convention or even tradition, for that matter can satisfy the retro itch in any number of vessels made popular decades ago, without relinquishing the benefits of "new and improved."

Of course, not every boat so lends itself to a second coming. You can't make good soup without good stock. One boat that does fit the bill, however, is the Fast Passage 39, a circa-1970s canoe-stern cutter designed by William Garden and sailed to distinction by Francis Stokes in the inaugural 1982-83 BOC Challenge singlehanded around-the-world race. Aboard Moonshine Stokes captured a second-place finish in Class 2, one of 10 finishers in a fleet that numbered 16 at the start.

The 39 enjoyed a ten-year production run totaling some 40 boats in the 1970s and 1980s. Most were built at Philbrooks Shipyards in Sydney, British Columbia. A handful, including Moonshine, came out of Tollycraft in Kelso, Washington.

The reincarnation of this shining star has been undertaken by Jeremiah Mitchel and his Oregon-based Noah Corporation. Five years ago while on a business visit in his role as a marine-trades manufacturer's agent, Mitchel ran across idle Fast Passage tooling in the tall grass behind the Tollycraft facility. Bingo ... Lightbulb... He formed Noah, incorporated, acquired the molds and patterns, signed on Padden Creek Marine in Bellingham, Washington as builder, and set off to turn a timeless classic into a state-of-the-art passagemaker.

Three aspects of Mitchel's project really drive the idea and bear emphasis. First is William Garden's design, a capable amalgam of performance and seakeeping well suited to a sensible offshore voyaging mindset. Second is the role of advanced boatbuilding technology, applied throughout this newest edition of the vessel to optimize strength-for-weight and structural integrity from hull to deck, masthead to keel. And third is Mitchel's tireless appeal to the owners of original 39s for feedback on what works and what doesn't an approach that has netted him counsel on a wide range of incremental improvements, most of which continue to find their way into the new boat.

Safety by design

Considering the notion that Garden drew the Fast Passage virtually moments before yachting entered the glory days of the IOR, he should be commended for resisting the urge to flatten the boat's hull sections and cripple its sea legs. A development of a previous Garden design, namely the 40-foot Bolero built as a one-off ten years earlier, the 39 preserved enough volume below the waterline to dampen motion in a seaway and to aid tracking off the wind. Gone, however, was Bolero's long full keel, replaced by a low-aspect fin with cutaways fore and aft and a substantial skeg with a giant rudder beneath the stern.

Says Garden, "In hull form, the deadrise was reduced to the minimum required for non-pounding when powering into a head sea, the forefoot was cut away to reduce wetted surface, and the breadth was increased for initial stability and for sail-carrying power with proportionally less ballast and displacement. The lines faired in aft...with the form of the run terminating in a canoelike bustle which faired into the rudder's skeg."

Important to note is Garden's effort to combine seaworthiness with some appreciable measure of performance. Certainly this dovetailed nicely with Stokes' agenda in 1982. The Fast Passage was not intended to be a race boat per se, but to be a proficient voyager capable of cranking off miles safely and comfortably. Ballast/Disp tips in at a relatively stable 36 percent. Disp/Length at 249 puts the boat squarely in the moderate-displacement cruising boat category conservative by racing standards, though hardly relegated to the ball and chain. SA/Disp at 16.7 is generous but not overpowering, well suited to the versatile cutter configuration of the rig.

Among the 39's more noteworthy attributes is the skeg/rudder combo aft. "Big" is one adjective that comes to mind as we turn to this element of the design. Control is the byproduct. The size of the skeg imparts structural strength and laminar flow; the size of the rudder and its placement so far aft impart good response at the helm. At 5'6" the boat sports moderate draft, which places a higher premium on the steering foils in the interest of directional stability. Of crucial importance aboard any boat off the wind in bluewater conditions, says Stokes, is "quick response to the rudder to keep her square to steep waves coming up astern." He reports that Moonshine had this quality, which conferred obvious benefits both in hand-steering situations and when at the mercy of a windvane. "That big rudder well aft worked well," he wrote following the 82-83 BOC. "The boat seemed directionally stable when surfing. There was never any thought of towing anything to maintain control or slow her down."

So in terms of outward design, the Fast Passage 39 is a progressive double-ender with a performance-enhanced split-foil underbody. Twelve feet of beam contribute to buoyancy and form stability. Volume forward and a moderately deep entry keep the boat on its feet downwind and control pounding upwind in a seaway. It all adds up to a solid combination of post-CCA, pre-IOR thinking.

The modern touch

Mitchel has reinterpreted the 39 from the perspective of a boat builder with 1990s technology at his disposal. He had the entire rig re-spec'd by Spar Tech in Redmond, Washington. Baltek did the math on new laminate schedules for hull, deck and interior. A new casting for the ballast has resulted in a 7,500-pound chunk of form-fitted lead designed to fit precisely within the keel cavity molded into the hull.

The nearly 60-foot masthead cutter rig features double spreaders, fore and aft fixed lowers, and a smaller, more efficient section for weight savings aloft. Baltek's comprehensive analysis of the hull and deck brought about a construction scenario of closed-cell Airex core in the topsides, solid glass from the waterline down, and rigid AirLite core in the deck and hatches all of which confers weight reduction on the order of 15-to-20 percent, or 500-to-600 pounds in total. Lay-up is by hand using vinylester resins and a Duratec barrier coat for added protection against blistering. Core materials are relieved and faired to solid glass at all through-hull locations and wherever fittings and gear are secured. Bulkheads are structural, glassed to the hull and bonded to floors and deck.

Good bones, if done right. That is where Mitchel's fabricator, Padden Creek Marine, comes in. Noah has specified construction to ABYC standards, which is a reassuring strategy. At press time in January, the first of the new 39s was yet to roll down the ways.


The accommodations package features a companionway offset to starboard to allow for a generous owner's double in the port hip. Ladder access into the boat is steep by modern-day standards, but not out of line with what boats of this size typically adopted in the more spartan arena of 1970s production fare. Outboard of the entry and to starboard is a forward-facing nav station in convenient proximity to the cockpit; Garden's original plan allowed for a narrow navigator's berth extending aft from the chart table, but in our view the current scheme makes better sense by providing more secure seating and enhanced opportunity for chart storage and instrument installation. An offshore-optimized U-shaped galley faces outboard on the port side, opposed by the boat's single head and shower to starboard. Forward of that is the main saloon, with an L-shaped settee to port, drop-leaf dinette amidship and forward of the mast, and a longitudinal settee along the starboard side. Garden specified a woodstove at the bulkhead between the head and the starboard settee; Mitchel has replaced this feature with a smaller Dickenson Antarctic, allowing him to allocate more space to the head. Both settees with leecloths would make excellent sea berths. Finally, all the way forward is a 6'6" V-berth ventilated in port or at anchor by a large offshore hatch.

Taking advice

Down to the smallest detail, Mitchel has pursued improvements to the original design by means of feedback from owners of 39s still in use. A partial laundry list of suggestions and enhancements most of which developed out of this owner forum points to the builder's immersion in the project: Refiguring the laminate schedule purged the deck of balsa core, resulting in the vastly more solid attachment of fittings such as jib tracks and a stiffer, more rot-resistant part Moving the mainsheet traveler out of the cockpit to the cabintop, or alternatively from the cockpit to the aft coaming, has relieved cockpit clutter and allowed for a companionway dodger Utilizing hinges and slides on interior architectural components makes engine access easier Providing an optional engine upgrade including a larger shaft solves the problem of an underpowered auxiliary

Re-engineering a proper vented exhaust loop using proven Vetus parts solves an earlier problem of intrusion of following seas into the exhaust manifold The boat's tumble-home is beautiful, but makes for a vulnerable hull; optional rub strakes will offer protection
The fuel tank forward is subject to immersion, and when full it affects boat trim adversely; move it aft
Integrate HF radio bonding in the hull lay-up
Sweep the spreaders aft for better support and a tighter sheeting base
Install the cabin sole with easily removable panels for reasonable access to the bilge and systems
Using the emergency tiller on the original 39 was awkward (not good) and involved opening the after lazarette (unacceptable in a seaway); reconfigure ...
Blue Water thoughts
Details all, but they make the boat at the end of the day. What we like about the reawakening of the 39 are all the elements of hands-on, offshore "testing" that have played such a vital role in the evolution of this its newest incarnation.

The size at 40 feet is ideal for a couple or for a shorthanded crew on a bluewater passage. The cutter rig is versatile and manageable enough to perform in a wide range of wind and sea conditions. The cutaway underbody provides a welcome performance edge, as much an element of satisfaction as of safety. Internal ballast with a state-of-the-art FRP skin obviates the need for keelbolts and the potential complications of externally mounted foils. A design mindset that results in non-dimensional ratios that are sensible without being overly conservative points to balance and offshore savvy. The new 39 dubbed by her enthusiastic builder the Millennium Fast Passage may well prove a significant addition to the bluewater fleet.


LOA 39'6" (12.04 m.)
LWL 33'6" (10.21 m.)
Beam 11'10" (3.61 m.)
Draft 5'6" (1.68 m.)
Ballast 7,500 lbs. (3,402 kgs.)
Displacement 21,000 lbs. (9,526 kgs.)
Sail area (100%) 795 sq.ft. (73.8 sq.m.)
Mast above water 56'8" (17.3 m.)
Ballast/Disp .36
Disp/Length 249
SA/Disp 16.7
Fuel 53 gal. (201 ltr.)
Water 100 gal. (378 ltr.)
Auxiliary Yanmar diesel
Designer William Garden

Noah Corporation
4940 SW Dakota
Corvallis, OR 97333
phone (541) 752-4143
fax (541) 752-0581

Padden Creek Marine Inc
809 Harris Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225
tel (360) 733-6248
fax (360) 733-6251