NORTHEAST HARBOR, Maine — With temperatures well below freezing, the crew worked quickly Tuesday morning to launch Hull No. 1 of Morris Yachts’ new M29 sailboat into the frigid waters at the company’s service yard.
Once the crew had checked the engine and electronics, stepped the mast and loaded on the sail, company president Cuyler Morris and the crew were ready to go for a sail.
Shouts of “yeeha!” rang out across the water as the sleek green hull weaved its way among the empty moorings in the harbor, tacking back and forth to put the newly minted vessel through its paces.
The winter launch is unusual — in fact, it’s the first one for the company. But Morris said the boat was finished and they wanted to get it into the water for sea trials. The sailboat won’t stay in Maine waters for long. After the brief test run on Tuesday, it will be hauled and set on a trailer for a trip to the Miami Strictly Sail Show in February.
At 28 feet 11 inches with a maximum beam of 7 feet 4 inches, the M29 is the smallest in the boatyard’s M series. Designed by Sparkman and Stephens, the company that has designed all of the M-series boats, the new model has clean, classic lines combined with the latest construction methods. It has a displacement of about 4,600 pounds, Morris said. The light carbon rigging and rudder promise strong and comfortable performance.
“She’s 20 percent lighter than other boats in her class,” he said. “She’ll be the sports coupe of her class.”
Morris said the company began talking about the M29 almost two years ago, but didn’t begin work on it until April 2008.
“Nine months later, we have a boat in the water,” he said. “That’s a real tribute to what this crew has done.”
The new boat, he said, will fill a niche in the sailboat market and in the M series.
“All indications from our customers and from keeping a weather eye on the market was that there was an opportunity for an even smaller M-series boat, with a tiller, that could be trailered and will fit in a container,” he said. “People like small boats.”
Although the M29 has retained many of the features that have made the M series popular and is designed to get the sailor out on the water quickly, it is a brand-new design, according to Morris.
“We design each boat individually. Here we had to meet the requirements of the tiller, so the cockpit is different,” he said. “Each boat is distinctly different for the next in the line. We don’t cannibalize from one design for the other. This gives people choices.”
Given current economic conditions, the small M29, at $185,000, is a more affordable day sailer that still can keep people on the water. The boat was built as a “spec boat” — not for a specific owner — and will be used as a promotion model to generate new customers.
This has been a tough year for the boat industry in general, but Morris said he remains confident about the future of both the industry and the company. Morris Yachts had a flurry of activity last fall and sold eight boats and is positioned to introduce two more boats to customers this spring. Hull No. 1 of the M52, a 52-foot new-comer to the M-series family, is scheduled to be launched in March or April. The company also plans to build a smaller runabout, a rigid inflatable hull boat running about 22 feet and powered by an outboard motor.
“We’ve got three new boats coming out in ’09,” he said. “This is a cyclical business; we’ve been through this before. Now’s the time to start getting prepared for when it comes back. When it comes back, it comes back with a vengeance.”
The launching of the M29, he said, puts “an exclamation point on the beginning of the year.”
Morris will take the boat by trailer to Florida where he plans another series of test sails with representatives from U.S. and European boating magazines. The company also plans to take promotional photos and videos that will be used on the company Web site and other Internet venues to promote the new boat.
The schedule calls for the M29 to be back in Maine in time for the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland in March.