Cal 40 Sailboat Review PDF Print E-mail

Cal 40 -a fast classic enjoys a revival

Today, we have a guest blogger - Captain Karen Prioleau who often sails on the reknown Alaska Eagle from Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship.  Karen did a review of a special racing classic that still plies the waters today - the Cal 40.  (Pics are from various boats including ones listed on YachtWorld - may it help them sell.)

When the Cal 40 debuted it was known as a “downwind surfing machine”.  Stan and Sally Lindsay Honey’s “Illusion” was photographed crossing the Transpac finish line doing 16 knots.  Despite all the downwind press, owners uniformly refer to the ease of sailing her, even while single-handed. What owners universally say is that she’s a good all around sailor, proven by winning several upwind long-distance races, not just downwind runs.

How did the Cal 40 start? A man named George Griffith approached his friend, marine architect Bill Lapworth, and asked him to design a new type of boat.  They convinced Jack Jensen of Jensen Marine to build it, and the rest is history.  The first hull, Persephone, was completed in 1963 and was an instant success.  George Griffith has been quoted as saying, “I should have burned up the molds when I finished Persephone because we owned the local racing scene.”
In 1963 this design was considered somewhat radical for offshore and long-distance racing, even dangerous by some.  Her flat dinghy-like bottom, fin keel and high-aspect spade rudder, along with her lightness (remember, this was 1963) earned her lots of criticism.  The last laugh was on those seeing her stern on the racecourse.

There are several notable things about sailing a Cal 40 versus sailing a newer, lighter designed boat. On first glance, one is struck by her rounded, blunt bow. It’s a far cry from the sharp, fine entries of modern sleds, and is closer in appearance to a heavily built cruiser. Under sail, she proves just the opposite and is surprisingly nimble. Going upwind in moderate 10–15 knot breezes, she accelerates nicely, and can easily hit 7 knots in speed. Downwind, the Cal 40 surfs well on following seas, but she does tend to load up at the bottom of the wave when the ride is over. After all, the boat is just light (at least for its time), not ultra-light.

Another characteristic of the Cal 40 is the load on the helm. While most owners prefer the standard tiller steering for quicker reaction to stalling, the stock rudder and tiller can give you quite a workout when driving in big seas. Two years ago close to 20 owners joined together and commissioned Carl Schumacher to design a balanced elliptical rudder. The result is a rudder with similar surface area to the original.  The new design is better balanced, minimizing weather helm especially when reaching. The change also turned out to be a fortuitous action by several owners as some boats had water intrusion in their original rudders caused by cracks.

Deck Layout
The deck layout is a standard layout that you see on many boats.  The stock Cal 40 has the halyard winches located on the mast with the mainsheet winch on the cabin top. Many owners have changed the halyard arrangement to lead aft to the cockpit.  The cockpit is roomy with a bridge deck across both the forward and after ends, and the tiller attaches to the rudderpost on the floor aft. The cockpit coaming on each side are built of a 1-inch teak plank, which can provide an uncomfortable edge to sit on if you don’t choose to use the cockpit seats, but do a good job of keeping water out. Also, like the Cal 48 & 36, there is a hatch on the aft deck that provides easy access to the rudder post and storage spaces in the transom.

The sail plan is moderate, with a medium aspect ratio mainsail due to its single spreader mast and relatively long boom. The rigging is fairly simple, with its 3 shrouds on each side and a forestay and backstay.

The mahogany interior has been optimized for offshore racing, being heavy on bunks but missing a dedicated, sit-down navigation station. In the original version there are two ‘torpedo tubes’ or ‘coffins bunks’ aft on either side under the cockpit, which were designed to maximize bunks on the low side during long-distance racing. The galley on the port side is adequate but small, lacking counter space, however the chart table/ice box on the starboard side can also be used for food preparation. Forward of the galley are pilot berths and lower berths with a folding leaf table between them. In later model boats this configuration was changed to include a u-shaped salon on the port side with a drop down table that makes into a double berth.  Forward of the salon, the head is on port, a hanging locker on starboard, and a double berth is in the forepeak. Modifications over the last forty years are too numerous to mention.

Hand-laid fiberglass and resin were used in the hull construction. Some owners have reinforced the attachment points of wooden bulkheads and chain plate locations. Another common modification is found in the mast base, where the mast may be sleeved.  

The stock engine was an Atomic 4, later replaced by a Gray Marine, and finally a Perkins 107. As on many boats of this type, engine access can be difficult, especially as the engine is mounted backwards, and connected to a V-drive transmission. While the rear of the engine and transmission can be reached by removing the companionway, the front of the engine is tricky to access.

A few years ago you could get a heavily used Cal 40 for about $25,000. With a renewed interest in the class, those days appear to be gone.  Average prices seem to be around $55,000. You can expect to pay up to135,000 for an upgraded and well-maintained model. 

There is a reason that sailors of the highest caliber, like Stan Honey and Dennis Conner own Cal 40s. They are simply good, all-around boats that can take you safely offshore.

Specs for the Cal 40
Designer:  C. William Lapworth
Year Designed:  1963
Builder:  Jensen Marine Corporation
Length overall: 39’ 6”
Length Waterline:  30’ 6”, 30’ 4”
Beam:  11’ feet
Sail area: 699 square feet
Displacement:  15,000 lbs
Draft: 5’ 6”