Cheoy Lee 44 Classic Sail Review PDF Print E-mail

Cheoy Lee started building wooden, steam powered vessels for commercial purposes in 1870.  By the 1950s, the yard diversified into wooden sail and power pleasure craft and successfully entered the US recreational boating market over 40 years ago.  They have produced over 5,000 vessels of all kinds over the years and the majority of their business today is in motor yachts, of the 100 foot plus variety.  About 10 years ago, the yard moved from its location near the new airport on Lantau Island in Hong Kong to make room for the new Disneyland. The operation is now based 60 miles from Hong Kong on mainland China at a state-of-the-art facility at Doumen. 

In the late 1960s, the yard became a frontrunner in developing fiberglass and sandwich construction techniques and began working with an impressive group of name brand designers, Robert Perry among them.  Perry designed several boats for the yard between 1975 and 1978, and the 44s, which were built from the late 70s to the very early 80s, developed quite a following. 

The Cheoy Lee 44 is a moderate displacement cruiser with a low cabin top, a sleek profile and lovely lines overall.  Cheoy Lee’s strong owners’ association, and the 44s comfortable layout and visual appeal make this a very viable and affordable cruising boat for anyone looking to coastal or bluewater cruise. 

Owner associations are where Cheoy Lee really shines with a very well organized group of owners who like to discuss and share extensive information about their boats.  And because Cheoy Lee is a well established boatbuilder with a history over a century long, there is no shortage of owners to contact for information.  

The construction of the Cheoy Lee 44s is a balsa cored sandwich with solid glass below the waterline.  The underbody is a moderate fin keel with internal ballast and a skeg hung rudder.  The boat is heavily laid up without a liner.  The stringers and bulkheads are tabbed to the hull and deck and the design is stiff.  She has a fine entry, a wineglass shaped transom, and a relatively low freeboard.

Rigging, Deck and Cockpit
The Perry Cheoy Lee 44s were available with an aft or center cockpit and as ketches or cutter rigged sloops.  The boats came with a deck stepped, double spreader mast and since the 44s were mostly built 30 years ago, it is reasonable to expect the need for a complete running and standing rigging overhaul before taking the boat on an extended cruise. Most of these boats came out of the yard with wooden spars which is fine if you can keep up with the maintenance.  But if a boat was re-rigged with new aluminum spars, this will be reflected in its price.

The 44s carry around 880 square feet of sail area and are reasonable sailors.  They do best on a beam reach when they’ll sail at 6 knots in 15 knots of true wind.  Off the wind, they tend to waddle as do many cruising boats and speed will drop to 5 knots in the same breeze.   Although they do not pound to weather, the 44s aren’t the best at pointing (40 – 50 degrees) and will need to be reefed early, in around 16-17 knots to stay on their feet.  On a nice beam reach however, the Cheoy Lee 44 really picks up and goes and looks beautiful under sail.  The standard winches on the 44 seem a bit undersized and a cruiser may want to replace the original hardware.  Both the cutter and ketch rigs are easily managed short or single handed. 

The center cockpit is roomy and deep and has great angled seatbacks that make it very comfortable.  It will seat 6 easily and is a good width for bracing when heeling.  The companion entryway is slightly to starboard and there is plenty of good bulkhead space for the installation of instruments.  Overall, the cockpit provides excellent visibility out and forward and has a secure feeling to it.  The aft cockpit version also has a large cockpit with good foot bracing and a companionway off to starboard.

The 44s had teak decks and 30 years later, those decks will need attention unless they have been rejuvenated or removed and replaced with fiberglass.  The teak planking was screwed into the deck so check to see that there are no soft spots where moisture may have penetrated the balsa, but overall the decks are wide, clear and easy to get around. 

The cabin top is mostly gelcoat surfaces with hatches, portlights and dorade boxes trimmed extensively with teak which, when well maintained, can make the boat really shine.  However, for those who get queasy at the thought of sanding, oiling or varnishing, look for a boat where owners have removed some of the wood, opted for glass decks and minimized the teak trim. 

Something to watch for on these old boats is leaking portlights.  Cheoy Lees did earn the moniker “Cheoy Leaky” for a reason.  Most owners have re-bedded all ports and some have removed the teak trim around the saloon windows in the process.

Overall, this is a solid cruising design that will go the distance and can generally be acquired at a very affordable price.  Upgrades or condition of the rigging and decks are just some of the reasons for the wildly fluctuating prices on the used boat market since Cheoy Lee 44s from around 1980 have been listed anywhere from $60,000 to $120,000. 

Layout & Accommodations
Creature comforts are a real driver why these boats became, and continue to be, so popular and both the center and aft cockpit versions afford a lot of room below.  The Cheoy Lee center cockpit model has a modern two cabin, two head layout.  The master stateroom is aft with a giant fore and aft bunk that can also be slept in athwartships.  There is endless hanging locker space and an enviable number of drawers.  A vanity faces the bed and a full head with separate stall shower is on port.   A very large nav station combined with desk/office space is in the walk through on starboard. 

The Cheoy Lee 44 aft cockpit version is very open down below and makes the boat look long inside.  Moving forward from the cockpit, there is an aft cabin, a wet locker and head/shower combination to port and an open quarter berth to starboard.  Some owners modified this berth to make it into a workbench with tool storage below.  Just ahead on starboard is a large, outboard facing nav station that has ample room for electronics and desk space for charts and a laptop, but is a little far from the companionway for good communication with the helm. 

The galleys differed in layout in the aft and center cockpit boats but both were on port and both featured a three burner stove and oven, a top-loading reefer and plenty of countertop space and storage.  In fact, the counter space may be greater here than in some small condominiums and the only real complaint is the single sink on some of the models.  Both galley designs are well thought out as on most Perry boats because Bob Perry is a bit of a chef and makes sure the galley is efficiently laid out and still keeps the cook involved in the social activities. 

The saloon features an L-shaped settee on port and a straight settee opposite.  Typically, a double drop leaf table connects the two and can seat up to 8.  For the most part the saloon, forward head and shower combination on port and the V-berth guest cabin were the same in both the aft and center cockpit models.  Some of the 44s came with a hatch overhead in the forward cabin which provided quite a bit of light and air in the V-berth but for those models that are missing this hatch, it can feel a bit cramped and dark up there on hot summer nights. 

Some of the early Asian production boats had a reputation for questionable finish work.  In many cases, the boats were finished by families who literally moved aboard and lived in the vessel as they completed the work.  Cheoy Lee however, did not participate in that kind of production and the interiors were well finished and ahead of their time in many respects.  The open, sociable design, which was built 30 years ago, still speaks to the way we entertain and use the living space on a boat today.

In the aft cockpit model, the engine, (originally a Perkins 4-108 or an Isuzu 40) as well as the hot water heater, are accessed via the floorboards between the galley and the saloon.  Tankage for 90 gallons of fuel and approximately 120 gallons of water in two tanks is quite good and it also may be possible to add a fuel tank under one of the settees. Many owners have modified the fuel and water tanks over the years so it’s best to check if the vessel you’re considering will have the range you’re looking for. 

In the center cockpit model, an Isuzu engine was placed under the companionway steps, which provides good access all around but might benefit from some additional soundproofing.  Also, these engines were known for producing significant vibration so check to see if a previous owner may have taken the time and expense to install good rubber engine mounts.  Some owners feel that these engines were a bit undersized to really push the boat to weather, so a boat repowered with a bigger auxiliary will command a higher price.

Owning a sailboat is a complex state of mind.  If you can get over the first hurdle, that a boat is rarely a good investment, then you realize that the whole point is partly about sailing, partly about the fun of boat ownership and partly about being a member of a club of like minded individuals.  When asked what owners like most about the Cheoy Lee 44, a variety of things come up including the solid build, the camaraderie of the owner’s association and the number of compliments they receive from others.  But the measure of a man’s happiness with his boat can best be summed up by owner’s comment, “Every time I look at her, she makes me happy.”  Maybe a Cheoy Lee 44 can make you happy too. 

Specs for Cheoy Lee 44
Designer:    Robert Perry
LOA:   43’ 10”
LWL:   37’ 8”
Beam:   13’3”
Draft:   6’ 0”
Ballast:  11,400 lbs
Displacement:  27,200 lbs
Sail Area (ketch): 886 sq ft
Sail Area (cutter): 880 sq ft
Fuel:   200 gallons
Water:   150 gallons