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Morris 46

Jan 1, 2003

Stepping aboard the new Morris 46, designed by Chuck Paine and built by Morris Yachts of Southwest Harbor, Maine, one immediately gets a sense of solid reliability.

This impression is due to several factors: the boat's 13-foot beam, which provides excellent initial stability; its 23,500-pound displacement; and a hull that is built of solid glass with numerous longitudimals, internal frames, and bulkheads. This is a boat that will be dependable in a seaway.

I knew firsthand how solid Morris hulls were after visiting the Morris yard in Southwest Harbor and seeing several Morris sailboats under construction. During our visit John Correa, head of sales for the company, told me to try and deflect the hull on a Morris 46 under construction that had not been fitted with a deck and had only a partially completed interior.

I thought I was up to the challenge and started by pressing against the hull at the deck edge with my arms, expecting at least a little give, but found none. I then laid my shoulder against the hull, and still no give. I leveraged my knee and finally slammed my body against the hull, but it refused to acknowledge my presence. We concluded the hull was most likely sufficiently strong.

Morris Yachts' tough hulls are attributable to three main elements: a solid laminate hull, multiple internal frames and longitudinals, and interior bulkheads continuously bonded to the hull. Each hull is laid up using vinylester resin and knitted bi-axial fiberglass built of roving and mat. This material is advertised as having a lower mat content and a higher number of directional fibers. This arrangement results in a stronger finished laminate compared to traditional woven roving and mat, since less resin is necessary (mat is resin intensive). Morris feels their finished hulls have a fiberglass to resin ratio of 53:47. A traditional woven roving and fiberglass mat hull would have a fiberglass to resin ratio of 35:65.

Inside each Morris hull there four, full-length longitudinals laid on either side of the keel, two per side. These longitudinals, approximately five inches wide and three inches high, are cored with Baltek end-grain balsa and bonded to the hull with layers of bi-axial glass and vinylester resin.

In addition to longitudinals the boat has cored balsa frames, running athwartships on 20-inch centers and placed from bow to stern and gunwale to keel. Trapezoidal sides, on both the longitudinals and the frame coring, ensure that laminates can be laid over the core without producing voids.

These numerous cored ribsthere are 30 frames and longitudinals in the Morris 46provide stiffness to the hull while the solid laminate hull gives impact protection from grounding and collision. Another advantage to a solid glass hull is no chance of delamination, sometimes a problem with cored hulls.

To add more strength to their hulls Morris builds interiors completely within each hull. There are no prebuilt interior modules lowered into a waiting hull. Building an interior in place allows each bulkhead and panel that comes in contact with the hull to be continuously glassed to it, not just tabbed in place.

When a Morris interior is completed and a deck is installed, all of the bulkheads meeting at the deck are continuously glassed in place as well.

The only concession Morris makes to modules are head units which, though built outside its designated hull, are designed so all bulkhead edges are exposed and accessible, enabling lamination to the hull once in place. Morris builds head compartments outside a hull to allow for full waterproofing and sealing.

Squaring up

To ensure these head modules and other single interior pieces are perfectly square and will fit precisely within the hull, a special stand approximately eight feet by eight feet that is both level and square was built in the Morris carpenter shop. On this stand all interior pieces are dry fit before they are taken out on the production floor to be installed. Any slight misalignments can be corrected at this stage.

Additionally, custom mock-ups can be produced on this stand before the item is produced in its final form. This fact makes it no surprise that, when a bulkhead or other interior piece leaves the carpenter's shop for installation, it does not come back.

Since strength should not translate into excessive and unnecessary weight, Morris makes use of cored interior panels in low-stress areas. Main bulkheads, supporting the mast and keel, remain solid marine plywood, but elsewhere cored panels allow a weight savings of up to 450 pounds on a completed interior. This amount of weight is obviously better used carrying people and supplies. Though Morris Yachts owner Tom Morris is known for building hulls of solid glass, supported by internal bulkheads, frames and lon-gitudinals all glassed to the hull, he is not averse to building cored hulls or incorporating new materials into his construction. "I am only going to use a new material when I am convinced it is going to improve the quality of the boat by contributing to its overall strength and safety," said Morris. "We are always looking into new techniques and materials and seeing how they might fit into our construction. Ultimately, we are customer driven. We make the boat to fit the needs of the owner, using our knowledge of how a proper boat should be put together."In an example of embracing new technology, Morris recently retrofitted one of their 40-footers with a carbon spade rudder weighing a mere 35 poundsa saving of 250 pounds compared to the original fiberglass skeg-hung rudder. Both the weight savings, especially in the end of the boat, and the more aerodynamic spade rudder are expected to improve the boat's overall performance.

Inside the Morris construction building in late May, several boats near completion showed quite different features, reflecting the owners' specific desires and intentions for their boats. There was a Morris 46 with a fiberglass dodger, all stainless steel and aluminum deck fittings, and a monitor wind vane fitted to the stern. This boat's owner intended to circumnavigate and wanted a rugged, maintenance-free topside.

That boat contrasts with the 46 we sailed that was finished off with varnished exterior teak trim, a piano-quality wood interior, and a layout suited for day sails along the Maine coast. For example, the stainless steel twin bow rollers to feed out the mooring pendant have several design features that gave an indication of the detailed engineering that goes into a Morris.

First, the bow roller and headstay chain plate are built as one unit so the headstay has tremendous support both fore and aft and athwartship. The stainless steel used to build the bow rollers and headstay are a combination of 3/8-inch and 1/2-inch plate, providing a better than 2:1 safety factor.

Additionally, there are no butt welds in the fabrication between the headstay chain plate and bow rollers, since the headstay chainplate is fitted through a slot in the bow rollers and welded along both sides. The whole arrangement is bolted both through the deck and stem with massive stainless steel bolts.

Chuck Paine designed the bow roller not only to incorporate and support the headstay but to project past the bow by about one foot. "This provides the sail plan with the balancing effect of having a short bowsprit," said Paine. "But it does it without having all the problems and appearance of a bowsprit, and it allows the boat to sail with an almost effortless helm."

I recently sailed on Vixen, the first Morris 46 to be launched, with Tom Morris and Chuck Paine. After throwing off the mooring pendant, Chuck and I moved back to the mast to watch as first the Hood roller-furling mainsail and after that the jib were pulled out. Roller-furling mainsails are normally easy to furl and unfurl, but I have yet to see one that had the shape, performance, and reliability of a battened and fully roached main.

So, as the 885 square feet of sails came out, I looked up at the mainsail expecting to see a hollow leach and flat shape. But, while on a close reach, Tom adjusted the sheets, and I realized that these sails did not show the flaws often seen on rolling-furling units.

Vertical and tapered battens in the mainsail supported a leach that showed no hollow and maybe even a little roach. Built from vertical panels, the mainsail had a well-defined draft, which was forward in the sail. By the boat's quick acceleration to four knots in seven knots of apparent wind we all knew the sails were developing good drive.

Carbon fiber mast optional

This Morris was equipped with an optional Goetz Marine Technologies double-spreader carbon-fiber mast that was 1.5 feet taller than the aluminum masts that come standard. Carbon masts are an option that more and more Morris owners are opting for.

As we made our way out into open water, the Morris 46 easily tacked through 80° and lost little boat speed in the process. There was also little pitching as we began to encounter ocean swells.

"One reason why our boats perform so well is due to weight distribution," said Paine. "We keep weight low and in the center of the boat. The engine is placed in the middle of the boat, right over the keel. Being directly over the keel keeps the boat's overall center of gravity low, plus by the engine not being aft its weight is not in the end of the boat where it would contribute to pitching."

I knew Morris was serious about weight distribution when, in looking under the main cabin floorboards, we found a 70-pound Luke storm anchor securely mounted in a cradle that was specially built and fiberglassed to the hull. One hopes that the Luke anchor will never need to come out of its cradle, but should the occasion arise those on board will know where to find it. In the meantime, the weight of the Luke anchor isn't adversely affecting the trim of the vessel. Another factor in the boat's good performance is its low wetted surface and modern, balanced rudder and hydrodynamic keel. As we tacked and gybed throughout the day, the Morris 46 never showed boat speed below the true wind speed. "A rule of thumb I use is that boat speed should equal the true wind speed or be half of the apparent wind speed," said Paine. And as I watched the true, apparent, and boat speed indicators during the day I observed that we were always moving, within a knot, of the true wind speed.

Attaching a 8,200-pound antimony and lead keel (antimony is added to lead to harden it) to the hull is done using both a generous layer of 3M 5200 adhesive and 12, one-inch-diameter stainless steel bolts. Providing both flexibility and adhesion, 3M 5200 forms a watertight seal as well as a tenacious bond between the hull and the keel.

Distributed along the top of each keel are the tops of threaded, J-shaped stainless steel bolts which have been cast in the keel. These 12 bolts provide redundant security, since a single one-inch stainless steel bolt has a breaking strength of approximately 12,000 pounds.These bolts actually come through the hull at the bottom of a sump under the engine, which is about 1.5 feet deep. This sump could probably hold 50 gallons of water, and since the sump is fitted with both an electric and manual bilge pump it seems clear that any water that might accumulate in the boat could be pumped out before it sloshes above the floorboards.

"We try to build a fiberglass yacht that has the watertight integrity of a welded steel or aluminum boat," said Tom Morris. "With a metal boat you are not forced to drill holes in the deck to mount fittings, you just weld tangs or fittings to the deck and bolt on the gear. On a glass boat you have to drill holes through the deck for the bolts needed to secure stanchions, cleats, winches, etc. When leaks occur it is usually from these holes and fittings. Prospective owners ask us how we prevent leaks since they have frequently owned boats with serious leak problems."

Currently Morris Yachts taps and countersinks all holes drilled in the deck. A threaded hole allows a bolt to be tightened both by attaching a nut on the inside end and by the process of threading it into the tapped hole. Not allowing bolts the opportunity to move reduces the possibility of leaks starting. All backing plates are recessed into the underside of the deck so when sealant is put into the holes prior to bolts being threaded in, the sealant is not pushed out through the inside.

In keeping with the desires of Vixen's owner, who wished to navigate in the cockpit, a Raytheon 600XX combination electronic chart and radar display was mounted on cockpit's forward bulkhead. One display screen supported both systems and with a flick of a switch either the radar display or chart could be viewed. A useful feature on the charting system was a dotted track line showing the boat's actual track.

As we sailed throughout the many islands that make up Casco Bay we were impressed by the resolution of the chart image and accuracy of the track line. We all realized what a good aid this unit would be in thick New England fog given that the weather on the day we sailed consisted of rain, drizzle, and fog. Of course, the best device for navigating in the fog is a properly tuned radar set and a trained operator.

It takes nine months and an inpressive 6,040 man-hours to build a Morris 46. Morris Yachts makes sure it is a methodical process that is recorded on detailed flow and task charts tacked to the wall by each boat under construction. Having spent a day in the spotless building where these yachts are constructed, having seen the solid boatbuilding skills that were employed, and having talked with the craftsmen who create them, I have no doubts about Morris Yachts being ocean-capable vessels for the voyaging sailor.