I spent 3 years looking for the perfect cruising sailboat. And I found it – at least my version of perfect - and soon my husband and I become the proud owners of a Celestial 48 center cockpit ketch named Indigo. Sure, I made tradeoffs – I wanted a cutter and Indigo is not that. I didn’t want teak decks and Indigo has those. And I wanted a swimstep – no such luck. But hey, I can still work within the parameters of perfection that Indigo provides and we’re looking forward to untying the docklines as soon as we win the lottery.
The Celestial 48 line of moderate displacement center cockpit cruisers is from the Chinese yard of Xiamen Celestial Yachts originally based in Hong Kong. Not many of them were built so they are relatively rare and the details of their history are murky or downright inaccurate. The design has been attributed to anyone from Sparkman & Stevens to Ted Brewer to Robert Perry. But it was Bryce Fuhriman who based his first boat, a 46, on a Brewer design and then added his own changes. He then put together an international team of American ownership, Australian management and Chinese craftsmen to build this line of semi-custom bluewater boats destined for the North American market.
Unfortunately, Fuhriman started his venture in 1980 and the next five years proved to be difficult in terms of generating sufficient funding and fighting a troublesome market in the US, so production was slow. He experimented with several sizes including 42s, 43s, 44s, 46s, and 48s. By 1985, the line mainly focused on the 48 foot ketch.
Celestial 48s proved to be a strong boat with a sought-after layout, excellent storage and good sailing characteristics and they have been seen cruising the world anywhere from Australia to the Mediterranean. They are absolutely a contender for a couple or family looking for a bluewater passagemaker.
RIGGING & PERFORMANCE
The Celestial 48 is good light wind performer and is surprisingly agile for a center cockpit cruiser with a displacement of 27,000 lbs. (36,000 lbs in the slings on the last haul out). Because the jib sheets are led to tracks on the caprail, sheeting angles aren’t particularly tight so the boat will point to about 45 degrees, much higher than that and she will stall, especially if pushing into head seas. With all canvas up, the boat will do 6 to 7 knots on a close reach and 8-9 knots on a beam or broad reach in about 15 knots of true wind. Although she needs to be reefed early, in light wind, she moves like a luxury car and will scoot along at 5 knots even in only 8 to 10 knots of breeze.
The sail area is 990 square feet on a Kenyon, keel stepped double spreader main mast which is relatively tall at 56 feet above the waterline. She also has a large mizzen sail on a deck stepped, single spreader spar. On a beam reach, the boat stays on her feet and does best under a jib and jigger configuration, using the headsail and mizzen, but keeping the mainsail furled. Because of the split rig, this boat is easily managed short handed.
When examining these boats, check the main mast step as construction techniques varied and evolved from hull to hull. Early models had only a block of wood covered in fiberglass and if the glass was compromised and moisture seeped in, it has been reported that the mast step rotted and made the rig unstable. Access to chainplates is not easy so check the condition and evaluate the expense of any fixes or changes prior to purchase.
The mainsheet was originally led to the forward end of the cockpit much like on an aft cockpit layout. However, this does not let the helmsman have control within reach and there was always a bit of friction in the line. Unfortunately, given the cockpit layout and the ketch rig, there is no convenient place to install a mainsheet winch so some clever owners have added a cascading purchase which allows for end-boom sheeting to fine tune the mainsail trim without a winch.
Under power, the Celestial 48 is very maneuverable due to her large skeg hung rudder. With a 3-blade fixed or folding propeller, she will turn in her own length using a back and fill technique. The boat will power up to 8 knots depending on sea conditions and is pretty controllable.
DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
The Celestial 48 is actually 50 feet LOA, and 48 feet on deck. She has a beam of 13’ 6” and draft of 6 feet with a fully encapsulated, elongated fin keel consisting of two solid lead castings. The underbody has very full and round bilges which means there is lower form stability. This makes the boat initially a bit tender so you’ll need to reef if the wind is forward of the beam and in excess of 18 knots. But the 44% ballast to displacement ratio kicks in and ensures she stabilizes and stiffens up.
The hull of the 48 is balsa cored to the waterline with solid glass reinforcement at the chainplates, rudder shaft and propeller shaft. The balsa is cut away and sealed with epoxy around the through-hulls and is omitted entirely in the keel sides and on the centerline. Osmotic blistering has been reported but usually as a few spots on the hull and rudder, most smaller than a quarter. Adding an epoxy barrier bottom coat will help as in most boats of this vintage.
The 48 has substantial bulwarks for good foot bracing offshore and strong hawse holes that minimize chafe on the teak caprail. However, the placement of the scuppers leaves much to be desired as water traveling down the gunwales misses the scuppers and is left to pool about eight feet from the transom.
Most of these boats came from the factory with teak decks screwed and glued in place which some owners have since replaced with glass and nonskid. The teak is fairly thick, up to 3/8” in places so sanding and re-caulking is also an option for deck rejuvenation if there are no known leaks.
The cockpit is compact but will seat 6 for cocktails. It is well laid out to easily add a complete bimini enclosure, making this a great covered patio, protected from the elements. The companionway has a bridge deck and is offset a bit to port with engine gauges below and within sight of the helmsman. The sole of the cockpit is removable and is directly over the engine in case a future repower is necessary. Visibility from the helm is excellent in all directions.
One of the highlights of this boat is the layout which is a modern fore and aft cabin design featuring 6’2” headroom in the saloon, galley and aft stateroom. A traditional 6’6” long V-berth is forward but some owners have modified it to be more of a Pullman-style berth with added cabinets on one side or the other.
The saloon has a centerline drop-leaf table with a built-in eight bottle wine rack and will seat 4 comfortably or 6 in a pinch. An L-shaped settee is on port with a straight settee on starboard and in the early models, good storage behind these settees made them a little narrow and uncomfortable. Later hulls minimized the outboard storage but made the seats more comfortable with angled backs.
The U-shaped galley is to starboard and the main complaint here is limited counter and drawer space but food storage space is good. A gimbaled stove and a top-loading reefer were standard but owner changes over the years mean boats on the market vary greatly. The sinks are on the centerline and close to the companionway steps so the cook doesn’t have to go far to get food to the crew in the cockpit.
The companionway has a built-in locker in each step and room for 2 8D batteries underneath the bottom step. Owners who have added battery capacity have typically placed them under the nav seat or the port settee or even under the master bunk aft.
The forward facing nav station is on port, across from a small wet locker and just at the head of the passageway that provides access via a door to the large, crawl-in engine room. This dedicated, well-insulated and well-lit, machinery space allows access to all sides of the engine – originally a 62HP Perkins 4-154 or a 62 HP Lehman. Starboard of the engine there is a cabinet and room for additional equipment like a watermaker. To port of the engine, there is enough room for a small genset and the forward bulkhead has plenty of room for equipment installation including an inverter, battery charger, fuel filters and the raw water strainer. This is a very large engine room by sailboat standards, and it’s great to have dedicated access without disrupting the living spaces.
Originally, some of the 48s had a separate freezer located outboard in the passageway but many owners removed the reportedly poorly functioning freezer and replaced it with a large storage compartment for tools and spares, a good feature as it is directly across from the engine room.
The owner’s suite aft on the 48 came in a variety of layouts in terms of storage options but primarily there is a king-sized centerline bunk which allows sleeping fore and aft and a variety of drawers, lockers and shelves. A large lazarette behind this bunk spans the entire transom and is 4’ by 8’ x 3’, accessible via two deck openings. This space provides good access to the steering quadrant and the emergency tiller that attaches on deck. Unlike on many center cockpit boats that have the connection to the rudder under the aft bunk, with the Celestial, emergency steering means you can be topsides rather than be peeking out the aft hatch while standing on the bunk.
Both heads, forward and aft, are a fiberglass pan with teak trim. The aft head has a dedicated (not a walk-through) separate shower with a seat. It has an opening port, but no overhead hatch which would help in the tropics.
The entire interior is solid teak or teak veneer with a teak and holly sole. A vinyl headliner adds a nice finish but creates problems with access to deck hardware. For example, if you want to add a liferaft cradle or granny bars by the mast, you will need to remove the headliner below, usually a messy job.
Storage throughout is worthy of a bluewater boat and can be found underneath and behind settees, underneath bunks and in 23 hand-caned lockers. Ventilation is provided by fifteen opening ports and seven hatches.
Tankage on these boats is phenomenal. Originally, the Celestial 48s were spec’d with 250 gallons of fuel in one tank and 250 gallons of fresh water in two tanks. All the tanks are fiberglass, low and on the centerline beneath the cabin sole. However, many owners requested different tank configurations so you may want to investigate the actual capacity on any boat you consider.
The 48s were built with a minimal number of through hulls which is good from the perspective of having fewer holes in the boat. It does mean however, that grey water is stored in the sump and then pumped overboard. The cook must be extra vigilant in wiping off dishes before actually washing the rest of the debris into the sump and potentially clogging the pump.
Celestials were built until 2002 when the Xiamen yard was re-organized and focused on building Passport and Outbound Yachts. The final 48s were sloops and cutters and were primarily sold in the European market. Several US brokerages imported the Celestial 50s in the 1990s which were also sloops but with a large deck house that created the look and feel of a tall motorsailer. If you look closely at the hull shape however, you’ll still see the same lines as the 48, graceful, clean and powerful.
Celestial 48 prices range from $130,000 to $210,000 for mid-eighties models. A 1985 boat in good condition would have a BUC value of around $160,000 depending on location and market conditions. Since so few of the old 48s were built, the relative obscurity of these vessels depresses the market price for this class of boat which means there is a tremendous amount of value to be picked up by anyone looking for a serious, comfortable, performance-oriented bluewater boat.
Specs for Celestial 48 Ketch
Designer: Bryce Fuhriman et al
Ballast: 11,800 lbs
Displacement: 27,000 lbs
Sail Area: 990 sq ft
Fuel Tankage: 250 gallons
Water Tankage: 250 gallons