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Camper & Nicholsons 42 Endeavour

If a magazine is only as good as its current issue, then maybe a boatbuilder should only be judged by its latest launch. And if that’s true, Camper & Nicholsons (C&N) looks to be in pretty fair shape. The world-famous yacht builder (not to be confused with the yacht brokerage firm of the same name), tucked into a corner of Portsmouth harbor on England’s south coast, is emerging from a painful period of changes in ownership, loss of focus, and plummeting profitability, which even its own public-relations department describes as “the wilderness years.” But a combination of new ownership, new management, and new ideas seems to have set the yard on the steadiest course it has enjoyed for a long time.

There isn’t much that Camper & Nicholsons hasn’t turned its hand to over the centuries—it’s been in business since 1782—but a 42-foot express definitely takes the company into new markets, even for them. The Endeavour takes its name from one of this illustrious boatyard’s most famous yachts, a 130-foot J-Class racing sailboat from the 1930’s, which underlines the new management’s understanding that the trump card in C&N’s deck is its heritage. The recent boom in retro-revival craft led by companies like Hinckley and Riva showed the way, and for this new venture, the Italian-owned British yard went to a design hou sse for whom such retro looks are second nature: C. Raymond Hunt & Associates.

It was an astute choice. The resonance of the Hunt name in modern powerboating is a perfect match for the rich associations conjured by C&N, and the two companies have strong, though well-hidden, historical links. The original Endeavours, I and II, were built between the wars for Sir Thomas Sopwith. His challenges for the America’s Cup are generally reckoned to have been the best of their day, but there was another eminent boating trophy for which Sopwith competed, with more success, in his youth: the Harmsworth, contests for unlimited hydroplanes—the Miss Budweisers of their time. In the pre-Gar Wood days before World War I, the young gentleman daredevil—taking a break from flying competitions and his aviation company that produced the famous Sopwith camel—twice won the Harmsworth Trophy for Britain at the helm of the fire-breathing, 55-knot, stepped hydroplane Maple Leaf IV.

Nearly 40 years later, Sopwith’s son Tommy took up powerboat racing himself. By then, the new sport of offshore powerboat racing had come to Europe, after the newspaperman Max Aitken saw the 1960 Miami-Nassau race from his villa in the Bahamas. That was the famous rough-weather contest won by Richard Bertram’s 31-foot Moppie, with Jim Wynne’s 23-foot stern-driven Aqua Hunter second. Both boats, of course, were pioneering deep-Vs designed by Ray Hunt. The following summer, young Tommy won Aitken’s very first Cowes-Torquay race in his 25-foot Thunderbolt, another Ray Hunt design.

Now, after another 40 years, the knot is finally tied. C&N’s Hunt hull is a constant-deadrise, 25-degree, deep-V inboard with a heritage that stretches back in an unbroken line to those world-beating raceboats of the 1960’s. The external styling is rather more contemporary than the innocent looks of those early Hunt designs, of course, but below she’s simplicity itself.

The overall scheme—white-painted obeche tongue-and-groove paneling contrasting with mahogany-face ply bulkheads—is not some retro fiberglass homage to the traditional Downeast look, but the genuine article. The layout is equally simple: a V-berth in the forward cabin, complete with traditional infill to make it into a double; a symmetrical saloon, like a sailboat’s, with sofas facing each other across a central folding table; an L-shape galley tucked in beside the companionway on the starboard side; and the head to port.

This traditional approach is more than just skin deep. Look closely at the way the cockpit is put together, for example, and you soon realize that this boat has been built the way all boats used to be: The furniture can come apart, and the sole is in two large sections that can be unbolted and lifted clear, in case major work is required on the engines or tanks. The quality looks traditional, too. The joinery throughout isn’t fancy and certainly wasn’t designed to be showy or ostentatious. It’s just flawless. Clearly not everyone will “get it.” C&N has the experienced buyer in mind for the Endeavour.

What everyone will get, though, is the buzz of driving this boat. Midship engines can give a boat great poise and balance, and shafts impart a sure-footed grip. (There are plenty of offshore aficionados who turn up their noses at stern drives for just these reasons.) Twin Yanmars provide ample power, and the Hunt deep-V is a thoroughbred among hulls—although on the day of our test off Santa Margarita on Italy’s Ligurian coast, it was difficult to find any lumps to give the hull a fair trial. The boat tracked well and accelerated beautifully, and the driving position was first rate. A slight hesitancy to the steering hydraulics had already been noted by the C&N test engineers—this first boat had 30 test hours on the clock by the time I caught up with her—and the rudders have since been modified as well, to tighten up the turning radius. I have no doubt that when all the tweaking and tuning are completed, the Endeavour will be a terrific driver’s machine, worthy of her name.

Tradition and heritage clearly have governed much of C&N’s thinking on this boat, but when it comes to hull laminates, the yard is right up to the minute. It uses a lamination technology called Sprint, developed by SP Systems, which is a combination of vacuum-bagging and hot-molding. Preimpregnated laminates are taken from a freezer and assembled dry on the mold at room temperature. The whole assembly is bagged and then baked, first for a two-hour “dwell” period at 140F to get the resin flowing (while sensors ensure it’s reaching all the places it’s supposed to) and then for another 12 hours at 176F. The whole process for one Endeavour hull, from opening the freezer to turning the oven off, takes around three days. The result is a strong structure, and the first Endeavour actually ended up significantly lighter than her designers anticipated.

C&N is building the first few Endeavour hulls on a male mold, or plug, for as managing director Giorgio Bendoni explains, there were originally no plans to go into production. “We just wanted to show the world that Camper & Nicholsons can still build beautiful things,” he adds. Bought in 2001 by Leonardo Ferragamo’s Nautor Group, C&N’s stock in trade was one-off sailboats, refits, and predelivery work on Nautor’s legendary Swan sailboats, which call in at Gosport on their way from the Finnish yard to their owners in the Mediterranean. But as enthusiasm for the powerboat project gathered momentum, the production manager was heard to say that the plug could easily do three or four more hulls, and one thing led to another. A female mold will be taken off one of these early hulls and used for subsequent boats.

Laminating a hull from the inside out involves an enormous amount of fairing and polishing of the hull skin, of course, but this first Endeavour’s flawless sheen shows no signs of its unconventional origins. C&N yard manager Ian Bowden confirms that even hulls from the new mold will undergo the same treatment, topped off with Awlgrip, to ensure a perfect finish: “Most of the hulls are likely to be dark blue or green,” he explains, and as we all know, dark, reflective surfaces show all imperfections, including the infamous print-through of the fiberglass mat.

But imperfections are not an option in this case. The venerable English yard prefers to do it the hard way, but do it right. Then again, that seems to be a C&N tradition.

Camper & Nicholsons Yachting
(44) 23 9258 0221

This article originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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