Visionary Viking

Mark Rothfield | VOLUME 23, ISSUE 4

Fjord’s radically-styled 40 Open tends to polarise opinion. Some like its angular lines, some don’t...

Seldom has the ridiculous evolved so seamlessly into the sublime, with a liberal splash of the miraculous. This was offshore cruising performance raised to its apotheosis, at once mellow and melodramatic.

Ponder, if you will, a powerboat seemingly penned by racing yachtsmen, conferring a sensation akin to a maxi sluicing downwind beneath a sweetly tuned kite. Only the satisfied purr of Volvo IPS diesels betrayed its true intent.

Over crests the hull strode, landing ever so softly on deeply veed hips so as not to disturb the seafood platter or excite the champagne. The plumb bow maintained the dignified elevation of an aristocrat’s nose while looking down upon the minnows – strakes, chines and forefoot – doing the arduous labour. The wake remained unruffled …

An hour earlier, as I’d wandered the docks observing this visionary vessel from various angles, a thought struck me – if this boat is right, then the others may well be wrong.

And this boat is right. It has just been voted European Boat of the Year for 2008.

If anything, it’s too right, too radical, for the Fjord 40 is perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea. Folk either love or dislike it, such is its inimitable aesthetic. It’s a line-in-the-sand craft; one that could never stand accused of evoking indifference, apathy or ennui from onlookers.

I happen to be smitten, have been since clapping eyes on the Fjord at a boat show last year. I can appreciate what the designers have strived for and thus forgive their trespasses into the realm of fantasy and science fiction.

But where I see function, others merely see “ugly” or simply fail to grasp the dayboat format – cruisers this length, after all, are supposed to have cabins! And curves!

After testing the Fjord, I took a brochure to the pub for our weekly binge-drinking session to conduct a spot survey. Mates, Happy the car salesman and Hex the plumbing rep both disapproved, but Tangles the engineer gave it the thumbs-up. My wife liked it, my neighbour’s missus was indifferent.

What matters, I suppose, is that buyers love the Fjord. And love it they do. Five have been sold in the past year, and the owner of our test boat also keeps another in the Med. Half his luck (or is that double?).

That the Fjord name is linked to such a cutting-edge craft will surprise those familiar with the brand’s heritage. The Norwegian company was founded half a century ago on the Ford mantra of a “car for everybody”. Its emblem is a Viking ship, resolute and reliable, and traditional sports cruisers were its bread and butter … at least until Hanse Yachts chief, Michael Schmidt came aboard.

A design dream team was assembled for the 40, including Patrick Banfield and Perth-based Jim Wilshire, who’s renowned for his commercial ferry designs that thrive in WA’s notorious chop. Emboldened by a clean sheet, they let the creativity taps flow.

NEW GENERATION

The concept sees a narrow entry mated with wide chines and a pronounced rocker forward. Maximum beam (four metres) is at the transom, not unlike the new-generation Volvo round-the-world yachts. Like a good bra, it lifts and separates, displacing precious little wash.

The topsides are high and square, aggressively so when viewed in concert with a straight bow and hard-edged transom. Upon vertical posts sits a fibreglass hardtop; again largely devoid of curves. Only the raked windscreen provides angular relief.

Judging by sales, the design appeals to a slightly younger demographic – go-getting business types in their mid-40s. Most have waterfront properties so they go boating regularly, but rarely stay aboard. The one-level, full-walkaround cockpit with aft dinette, external galley and for’ard sun-lounge can’t be beaten for day entertaining.

As discerning individuals, the owners demand a degree of customisation. Accordingly, the commissioning process takes some six weeks. So far, every Fjord has been spray-painted in custom colours to enhance the overall uniqueness – a $20,000 expense. Coloured gelcoats or factory-sprayed hulls are available, though future colour-matching for repairs will be more difficult.

For all its open space, the Fjord can be winterised with optional biminis and infills. A mooring cover protects the windscreen and dash, plus the seats and table get their own covers. A custom-built fibreglass dash shield can secure the gauges and electronics when the Fjord’s berthed.

Base motors are Volvo IPS 450s, while 600s are the top end. The test boat had IPS 500s, developing 370hp at the dual props, and the $21,000 joystick docking option. For engine access, a large slab of the cockpit lifts on a hydraulic ram. It’s a mechanic’s dream, while helping owners to routinely check the fluids.

Further forward is a separate utility locker, where the genset, batteries and holding tanks can reside. The test boat didn’t have a genset, instead employing a 240-volt battery inverter and a diesel fuel stove. LPG is another option for the barbie hotplate.

DECK GALLEY

The galley is on deck as part of the one-level concept, comprising a teak bench to port, a stove, single sink and under-bench fridge to starboard. It’s sufficient because, in most cases, owners would take pre-prepared food aboard.

At the centre of attention, literally, is the helm station. Its placement amidships minimises the pitching motion, while allowing sufficient beam for three bucket seats and a cabin companionway. James Bond would be at home behind the wheel and sporty array of gauges and a C120 chartplotter.

Outwardly, there appears to be little more than a helm pod, but cabin space is deceiving. For a start, there’s full headroom, while a moulded headliner maintains the vessel’s square-edged theme.

With the removal of two lounge backs, a starboard-side settee converts to a double berth, while an island double fills the vee. The enclosed head compartment is to port, tastefully appointed with Corian benchtops, electric toilet, shower nozzle and bowl sink.

Timber trim is a mahogany, though cherry is optional, and it’s bathed in natural light from two opening hatches and a long skylight above the island berth.

Wherever you look, inside and out, there are little innovations. Like fold-out steps that help you climb over the waist-high coamings. Or an ingenious anchoring system – the forepeak moulding opens and you pivot the bowsprit up from its storage position and over the bow. The anchor line leads back to a windlass that, in turn, can be operated from the helm.

Not only does it keep the lines clean, but it facilitates access over the bow and also protects the pick in a seaway. Cleats, meanwhile, are pop-up and the filler caps nestle into the coamings.

LITE IS RIGHT

Construction also surpasses the production norm, employing an epoxy laminate over a foam core. A 40-knot boat can ill afford to carry unwanted fat, nor should fuel economy suffer, so a 7.5-tonne displacement is a good starting point. That’s not to say the hull is overly weight-sensitive, but there’s no escaping the physics – weight begets sluggishness.

Interestingly, a second boat that accompanied us on the test carted an additional tonne in genset weight, electronic options, and larger Volvo 600s (435hp). Moored bow-to-bow, it sat about 50mm lower in the water.

Weight distribution was apparently refined in the Mark II version, with a 300-litre water tank being moved closer to the bow and the 1000-litre fuel tank inching forward. Any hobby-horsing tendencies have been wiped out like a bad dose of equine flu.

QL trim tabs – the guillotine type – aren’t crucial to the performance, but the hull remains very responsive to their adjustment. Ditto its sensitivity to joystick commands, with dexterous use of the IPS helping us escape a perilously tight berth.

It’s noticeable (or rather not noticeable) how quiet the motors are from idling revs upwards. In Pittwater’s eternal eight-knot zone, the Fjord sat on 7.8 knots at 1000 revs. Minimum plane came at 1500rpm for 10 knots, 2000 brought up 15.7 knots, while at 2500, with the turbos on song, the hull was doing 23 knots.

But wait, there’s more – 29.7 knots is registered at 3000rpm, and at 3500 the Fjord is scorching along at 39 knots. You wouldn’t know it, for the driver is well protected by the screen and the fly-by-wire (electronically actuated) helm remains fingertip light.

Acceleration from scratch is instantaneous. You can actually feel it as the backs of your legs press against the bolster seats, and from go to “whoa” takes no more than five seconds – translating to a mere 100-metre runway.

The chines very quickly check heel in a sidechop and front-on swells are taken in a 30-knot stride. For performance, think BMW M3 rather than Ford V8.

Price-wise, the 40 sits around the $750,000 mark, as tested, so it’s in the German league there, too. If more accommodation you seek, then stand by … a Cruiser version will arrive by Christmas. As they say, double our luck!

SPECIFICATIONS: FJORD 40 OPEN

Length: 11.99m

Beam: 4.0m

Displacement: 7.5 tonnes

Fuel: 1000lt

Water: 300lt

Power: 2 x Volvo 500 IPS diesels

Price (base): $675,000

Price as tested: $751,000

Contact: Windcraft, tel (02) 9979 1709, email: boats@windcraft.com.au, web: www.windcraft.com.au.


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