Clean decks and cockpit and open interior combined with a relatively long waterline, a powerful hull design and generous sail plan make the Bill Lapworth-designed CAL 39 a fast passagemaker that's also fun to sail--her Comfort Ratio (which cranks displacement, waterline, LOA and beam through an intricate formula contrived by naval architect Ted Brewer) of a solid 31.2 tells the story of a stiff boat equally at home on the typically boisterous Bay or offshore.
Anyway, back in the day, the CAL 39 RULED and over the decades it's become an icon; this particular never-cruised example has had the same owner since new, and with the hull and topsides Awlgripped, the brightwork ALWAYS professionally maintained and updated interior cushions (they show as new, actually!), cosmetically the boat shows BRISTOL today. Note low time (less than 1,000 hours) on Perkins 4-108 diesel, sails and canvas in fine shape, self tailing winches and newer traveler and rigid boomvang, dated electronics and no windlass.
This is an estate sale so we're limited in what we KNOW about the boat (we THINK it's the deep draft version for example but aren't SURE); you really must see the boat itself to appreciate, she really is a beauty.
Also note boat lying in potentially transferable Sausalito Yacht Harbor slip; there's a long wait to get in the marina here so this is a material benefit if you're able to take advantage...
Forward is V berth with hanging locker and private access to head which is port side just aft of stateroom (where head can also accessed) with another hanging locker across starboard.
Continue aft to salon with large L shaped settee and drop leaf table port side with 6' 6 straight settee over to port. Far aft starboard is U shaped galley, centerline companionway to cockpit then big nav and oversize quarterberth starboard.
Note 6'4 headroom, solid teak & holly sole, interior cushions redone and show as new.
Stainless steel deep sink with hot/cold pressure water, Gas Systems three burner stove with oven, icebox. Bemis manual pump toilet.
110V AC / 12V DC.
Signet wind direction indicator, knot meter, wind speed indicator, Horizon depth sounder, Icom VHF radio, Ritchie magnetic compass. Note electronic are all original and though they look great are in need of updating!
Aluminum single spreader keel-stepped mast with 1x19 stainless steel wire standing rigging, aluminum boom with rigid vang and Dacron mainsail with Schaeffer mainsheet with travler, 110% jib on Harken roller furler. Two Barient #32 self tailing winches, single Barient #22 self tailing, single Barient #16 self tailing winch, inboard and out board genoa tracks.
Heavily laid up solid glass FRP hull with balsa-cored decks, deep big fin keel and spade rudder. Stainless steel bow pulpit, stainless steel stanchions with double lifelines, stern pulpit and stainless steel folding swim ladder. Single bow anchor roller with claw anchor and line rode in anchor locker.
Jack Jenson, the builder, and Bill Lapworth, the designer, combined their unique talents to produce several memorable boats during the nascent days of fiberglass boatbuilding, otherwise known as the 1960s. Jenson Marine was better known by its brand, Cal, and just take a look at the company's boats for 1965: The Cal 20, 25, 28, 34, 36 and, of course, the 40--literally, a hall of fame lineup.
Yes, these were the glory days for Cal but they didn't last. Jenson sold the company shortly afterward to Banga Punta, a corporate monolith, which later sold it to Lear Siegler, an even larger, soulless conglomerate that built everything from vacuum cleaners to nuclear warheads. Somewhere along the way, as boats became inventory instead of the inspirations of idealistic men, the magic waned. And yet, if you ask yacht brokers around the country what model Cal they would most like to list, there is a good chance they'd say the Cal 39.
Launched in 1978, the Cal 39 was built during the hectic period when Cal's manufacturing shifted to Tampa, Florida, and then up to Fall River, Massachusetts, as the company struggled to re-establish its identity. Still, when all the glass cures, it is really the design that carries the day, and in typical fashion Lapworth was ahead of the curve with the 39. It was a genuine performance cruiser before there really was such an animal, and as such, the design not only seems less dated than others from this period, it is still highly desirable as a capable and affordable cruiser. Somewhere around 150 39s were built and unlike many forgettable boats of this time, the Cal 39 has maintained its financial value.
Like many Lapworth designs, the Cal 39 does not overwhelm you when you first see it bobbing between pilings. If you step back and look closely you'll note that the boat has a subtle but handsome sheerline and that the coachroof flows naturally with the curve of the deck. Freeboard is moderate, which translates into low when compared with today's boats, and there is a fair bit of overhang forward and a rakish reverse transom. The hull shape looks right, the boat rides smoothly in the water, like it belongs there, and the boat grows on you the longer you stare at it.
Below the waterline, the 39 has a moderate forefoot that trails into a large fin keel. Two keels were available-the standard 6 foot, 8 inch deep-draft and a 5 foot, 6 inch shoal-draft model. Displacement is 17,000 pounds resulting in a displacement/length ratio of 257, which means that the boat can be loaded up and still sail well. The spade rudder is placed well aft, a Lapworth hallmark, and results in excellent steering control, especially when running in big seas. Two rigs were offered-the standard keel-stepped spar with an air draft of 55 feet and the optional tall rig that adds a few feet to the mast and about 50 feet of sail area. The sail area/displacement ratio is a respectable 16.2, not a light air demon but a very good all-around performer-just what I want in a cruising boat.
The construction of the Cal 39 was in keeping with other boats built by Bangor Punta and later Lear Siegler, including O'Day, Jeanneau and Ranger sailboats, and they have held up well over the years. The Cal 39 hull is solid glass and laid up fairly robustly. The deck is balsa-cored in most places and plywood was used in high-load areas. The hull-to-deck joint is the conventional inward facing flange and is both chemically and mechanically fastened.
The interior bulkheads are securely tabbed to the hull and a molded liner is used on the cabin sides and overhead liner. The finish is quite nice, actually better than most would suspect with excellent joinerwork and teak trim. The ballast is lead and the rudder is foam with a thin layer of glass over it.
What to look for
There were actually several different models of the Cal 39; the one covered in this article went into production in 1978 and is sometimes called the MK II. The MK III was introduced sometime around 1981 and included an expanded aft cabin and other subtle changes. Finally, another 39 was introduced in 1994 when Cal made a brief, ill-fated comeback. These later boats, designed by C. Raymond Hunt and Associates, are quite nice but much more expensive than the MK II and IIIs. Also, production was very limited.
Early Cal 39s came standard with Perkins 4-108 diesels, a reliable engine that is easy to work on and still easy to find parts for. Later boats had a four-cylinder Universal and others had Pathfinder diesels. Almost without fail owners complain about the Pathfinder, which was a marinized Volkswagen Rabbit engine.
Draft, both water and air, drive used boat prices. For many cruisers the 6-foot, 8-inch standard keel is, all puns aside, a major drawback, the 5-foot, 6-inch shoal model is more desirable. Also, the hard-to-find tall rig is in demand as you can always shorten sail but it is harder to raise your mast. Some owners have noted deck delamination and leaky hull-to-deck joints but both seem more exception than rule. The rudder can also be a problem and should be carefully examined during the survey. One last item, try to find the history of the boat, quite a few 39s went into charter service.
The Cal 39 has a seagoing cockpit--that is to say it is small, especially by today's standards. However, the tradeoff is that classic argument that smaller is safer, it holds less water in dirty weather and a smaller cockpit results in a more spacious interior. It is also efficiently laid out, that is if the traveler has been moved to a position over the companionway. There is good visibility from the slightly raised helm seat and the winches can be reached from the helm.
There is a locker to port and one aft, which had been converted to a gas locker on the 1979 model I climbed through in Ft. Lauderdale. The companionway is offset to starboard to make room in the aft cabin, but not to a degree to make it dangerous when heeling.
The side decks are wide, although the nonskid is likely well worn. If you are considering painting the deck you will need to apply nonskid to the paint. There are teak grabrails along the coachroof and the stanchions and lifelines seem well supported. A teak toerail looks great when it is varnished or freshly oiled, but it is a pain to maintain, especially because an outer headsail track is mounted on top of it. An inner track on deck allows for close sheeting angles. Most boats have double anchor rollers forward and a shallow external chain locker. The single-spreader spar is beefy and keel-stepped. Be sure to check the wire terminals on the standing rigging for cracks and crevice corrosion.
The Cal 39 interior is surprising. This was one of the first boats to feature an aft cabin in an aft-cockpit model. The port cabin is small but the two private staterooms were a real attraction when the boat was new and still is today. Despite a typical teak finish, the cabin is fairly bright with two or three large overhead hatches and eight portlights, most of them opening. However, many boats have plastic portlights, so be wary of broken dogs and cracked frames.
The saloon has a settee and table to port and sea berth settee to starboard. The nav station is usually to port as well and features a decent sized chart table. Tanks take up much of the storage under the settees. The forward cabin is the owner's cabin with an ensuite head, hanging locker and large V-berth. The head can also be accessed from the saloon. The original teak-and-holly cabin sole is not well supported and may need work.
As noted earlier, the Cal 39 came with a variety of engines and many have been repowered. The original engine was the Perkins 4108, a 50-horsepower model that delivered about 30 horses at the prop, but that was enough to push the boat through the water at 6 knots. Fuel capacity is 45 gallons. Later engines include a Universal 44 and a 50-horsepower Pathfinder. Although I owned a boat with a Pathfinder and had little trouble, some 39 owners are not pleased with this marinized VW machine. Engine access is poor, from behind the companionway. One owner summed up this limitation succinctly, "That's why God made skinny people."
The Cal 39 is a very sweet sailing boat, at home in blue water or knocking about the bay. Many 39s have been retrofit into serious cruisers and owners rave about the seakindly motion and good turn of speed. The powerful hull shape can carry sail in a blow and can also be loaded up with stores without sacrificing too much performance. Owners report that the 39 needs a bit of a breeze to get moving. The narrow hull shape heels early and then stiffens up and also rolls running before a following sea. However, it also has enough oomph to surf when the conditions are right.
The boat is close winded, especially by cruising boat standards, and this is an under-appreciated feature. This past summer in the Mediterranean found me hard on the wind seven days in 10, and I was thankful I had a fast, nimble boat. Most stodgy cruisers we encountered were steaming along under power.
The Cal 39 is an ideal boat to consider for long-range cruising, especially if your budget is under $70,000 and you need private accommodations but don't want to sacrifice good sailing.
Nov. 2008 Sailing Magazine review by John Kretschmer
100 Bay Street
Sausalito, CA 94965