Jeff Bolster calls it “the best of times.” For the 59-year-old professor and his wife, Molly, it was one of those perfect sailing days. They left their mooring at Marie Galante, southeast of Guadeloupe, and headed out for Les Saintes on a broad reach under warm Caribbean skies. Cruising into Cabrit Islet, they picked up a mooring under sail and went off for a bit of beachcombing and snorkeling.
“The trade winds were fresh but not overpowering,” says Bolster, a University of New Hampshire history professor. “The sun shone; the sea sparkled. The lunch buffet of smoked fish, cheese and fresh veggies seemed perfect. And nothing broke!”
Compare that, he says, with “reaching up the Great South Channel, east of Nantucket [Mass.] in 15 to 18 knots of southeasterly breeze, surrounded by dungeon-thick fog in the dark of night with enough fishing boats on the radar to keep things lively.” That can be the “worst of times.”
But that’s the life of a long-distance cruiser — taking the good with the bad. The idea is to have a boat that takes all that and more right along with you. And Bolster, who has spent a good bit of time offshore, found it in the Valiant 40, Bob Perry’s pace-setting performance cruiser, which was introduced in the 1970s. In the year and a half since he bought the cutter, he has logged more than 6,000 miles from his home port in Kittery, Maine, to the Caribbean and back. So far, he says, it has impeccably fulfilled its mission as a rugged, capable and comfortable offshore cruiser.
And that’s just what the couple wanted when they decided to move up from their beloved 36-foot Aage Nielsen yawl (built by Paul Luke in 1961). “We were looking specifically for a strong bluewater cruising boat, simple enough to be single-handed but large enough to cruise with our two children or with another couple, if we wanted,” says Bolster, who also cut his cruising teeth as mate and master on tall ships, including the brigantine Young America, the educational schooner Harvey Gamage and the National Historic Landmark schooner Ernestina. “I have been drawn to boats and the sea since I was a little kid and have spent my entire life rowing, sailing and operating school ship programs.”
The Valiant 40 was an easy choice. “My friend Bill Pinkney had solo-circumnavigated via the route south of the Great Capes in a Valiant 47, the larger cousin to the Valiant 40, and he raved about the boat,” Bolster says. “So I thought that if a Valiant could handle the Roaring Forties, it could handle pretty much anything. The boats had a well-earned reputation for being strong, stable and forgiving.”
Working with Annie Gray of Gray & Gray Yachts in York, Maine (www.grayandgray yachts.com), and Bernie Jakits of Rogue Wave Yacht Sales in Annapolis, Md. (www.rogue waveyachtsales.com), Bolster located a 1992 model in Florida and took delivery in April 2012. The price was $168,000.
The boat was in good condition, but, as Bolster puts it, any 22-year-old boat is “something of a project.” Although the inside was pristine and the hull and rig were sound, all of the Dacron and neoprene and canvas needed replacing, and the engine was “more tired than we had hoped,” he says. Bolster turned the boat over to Kittery Point Yacht Yard, which took care of the repairs and replacements and repowered the cutter with a 48-hp, 4-cylinder Westerbeke diesel.
The couple had cruising in mind when they bought the boat. The season began with the delivery from Port Saint Lucie, Fla., to Kittery. The second cruise was from Kittery to Beaufort, N.C., and on to St. John in the Virgin Islands, a 1,350-mile trip done in 9-1/2 days, Bolster says.
The Valiant 40 lived up to its seagoing reputation. “She has an easy roll and enough buoyancy forward that she is never wet and wild,” Bolster says. “Shorten down soon enough, and she is always comfortable, yet the boat can be easily driven so that she can foot in light air.”
Upwind, she is a rugged performer. “I have driven her to windward in a steep head sea twice, once in the Gulf Stream off Florida in a nor’easter and once in the notoriously rough Anegada Passage between Virgin Gorda and Saba,” Bolster says. “Both times the boat was more than up to the challenge.”
The Valiant 40 has a spacious foredeck and cabin top, easy for sail changes and sufficiently large to stow a hard dinghy or an inflatable upside down, the owner says. The decks are uncluttered and easy to move about, although the angle of the lower shrouds slightly impedes one’s progress walking forward. The cockpit is roomy enough to be comfortable for four people eating, sailing or hanging out, and it includes a folding table mounted forward of the steering pedestal. “Obviously the canoe stern, which adds flash to the profile of the boat, limits space aft,” Bolster says. “There’s no place for a swim platform, so we use a portable swim ladder hung off the rail.”
When it comes to serious cruising, it’s the on-water performance that counts, and the boat has proved to be strong and able yet comfortable below, Bolster says. “She has a lovely sheer and a graceful profile, clearly not a boat that was designed with the interior first,” he says. “My traditionalist’s eye finds her a good-looking small ship, yet I can sail her myself, if need be, in just about any conditions.”
The Valiant 40 was designed in 1973 and has a traditional look above the waterline that belies the then-modern hull design of naval architect Bob Perry. The profile shows a canoe stern, a trunk cabin and a noticeable sheer beginning at the tall, cruiser bow. The traditional cutter rig with twin headstays allows for various sail combinations to suit conditions. But the fin keel with a skeg-mounted spade rudder, the long waterline and light displacement with minimal wetted surface were traits more indicative of a contemporary racing yacht.
Below, she sleeps six with a standard V-berth, port and starboard bunks in the main cabin, and a double quarter berth aft. The head compartment is between the main cabin and the forepeak and comes with a shower. The C-shaped galley is set to port near the companionway, and the original equipment list includes a three-burner stove, a refrigerator and a sink. The dedicated nav station across the way has a cushioned seat and a large chart desk. The companionway is offset, leaving room for the engine compartment under the stairs. The ample cockpit has long bench seats and pedestal steering.
The Valiant 40 is among a small group of boats - the Bertram 31, the J/24, the Laser and the Hinckley Picnic Boat, for example - that have had a major impact on boating. It was the first sailboat of its day to add a permformance aspect to the typical slower cruising vessels of that era. With its raceboat underbody, handy rig and cruising comforts below, the boat proved a hit with the sailing community. More than 200 were built during a 20-plus-year produciton run. It should be noted that some early models built by Uniflite in Bellingham, Wash., developed severe blistering problems. Valiant stopped building new boats in 2011 but still supports existing models at its Texas headquarters.
LOA: 39 feet, 11 inches
LWL: 34 feet
BEAM: 12 feet, 4 inches
DRAFT: 6 feet (5 feet, 3 inches shoal draft model)
DISPLACEMENT: 22,500 pounds
HULL TYPE: fin keel, skeg-mounted rudder
SAIL AREA: 772 square feet (100 percent fore triangle)
PROPULSION: auxiliary diesel
DESIGNER: Robert Perry
BUILDER: Valiant Yachts, Gordonville, Texas
PHONE: (903) 523-4899.
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October 2013 issue