Photos by Billy Black
Old School Cool
Reliant Yachts has tweaked a tried-and-true concept to produce a subtly distinctive down east yacht.
Rakish may be the best word to describe the persona of this Reliant 40 Commuter. In spite of her designers’ homage to workboats from an earlier era and the popular modern interpretation of their styling, the Commuter remains dashingly dissentient—a rapier in a sea of broadswords.
At first glance, you may miss her distinctive characteristics, because they’re subtle. She’s narrow, given her length-to-beam ratio of 3.3, particularly when stacked up against the 2.5 to 3.0 of other 40-footers. You’d see this difference clearly if the Reliant were berthed next to one of her broader cousins. Her sheerline sweeps aft, tracking inboard in plan view, from a proud bow to a tumblehome transom, creating a surprisingly low profile. This element of the design surprises me, because the concept of low profiles disappeared long ago, chased away by the need for increased interior volume. The compromise here is a tall trunk cabin, but by golly it doesn’t interfere with this yacht’s aesthetic harmony. Raising the overhead within the trunk cabin gives the 40 all the headroom it needs in all the right places—the galley, head, and foot of the berth in the stateroom. Portlights and a varnished teak eyebrow help disguise the height.
Narrow Hulls improve performance, but they sometimes leave stowage wanting. In the end, boats like this are about compromise.
Standing in the galley, it’s easy to imagine you’re aboard a sailboat. That nautical feeling can be a big plus to some owners.
The side decks provide plenty of room to get to and from the bow quickly and easily.
That large American flag looks sharp behind the flag-blue hull of the 40.
Deckhouses can be the bane of any designer’s existence. On any given express-style yacht, the house has to be tall enough to provide adequate headroom for its occupants, but it can’t be ungainly high. Reliant’s design team has drawn a perfectly proportioned house. Its upright stance fits the yacht’s overall appearance at the same time that it makes maximum use of the area within. Inside, you’ll find a comfortable settee on each side, a compact and an ergonomically arranged helm on the starboard side. Although the helmsman’s seat and its twin opposite are well padded, neither is ample enough to fully support the occupant’s thighs. A foldout footrest at both seats would solve the problem.
Lifestyle preferences have helped shape design maybe more than any other consideration. As is increasingly common these days, the cockpit and bridge deck of the Reliant 40 are on a single level. Steps between the cockpit and deckhouse/saloon separate the spaces the way a carpet and furniture arrangement divides an open loft into distinct rooms. A small detail, maybe, but the single level encourages easy mingling among guests.
That’s a Wrap
As darkness threatened, we headed for the International Yacht Restoration School so that David MacFarlane could go ashore for an appointment. Traffic at the school’s dock persuaded us to stand off while Billy Black ferried in our passenger aboard his Glacier Bay 22-foot catamaran. We held station at the edge of the mooring field, drifting with the wind and throttling up to correct our position. I was at the helm and Ewing was bustling about hosing off the salt stains with the Reliant’s freshwater supply.
After maybe 10 minutes of this barely perceptible maneuvering, Ewing spotted a mooring float wedged against the swim platform on the port quarter. He asked me to move forward. I complied and snagged the mooring pennant with the portside prop. Shudder, clang, clang. We were hooked. I shifted into neutral and felt the blood drain from my face.
Ewing called the harbormaster, and he arrived on the scene about 10 minutes later. Using the boathook to prod the buoy and pennant, we tried to free the prop, but it was a wrap. The harbormaster gave Ewing the number of a couple divers, one of whom would be free in 30 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, Black set up his lights and photographed the interior. I remain to this day hopelessly embarrassed. SIGH.
Each of the settees sits atop a large stowage bin that extends outboard to the adjacent inwale, and the designers have provided spaces for an entertainment center, bar, and beverage cabinet. On the afterdeck, a nicely padded bench nestled against the transom is a great place for a sunset drink, dinner, morning coffee, or a little conversation. The lovely varnished table, a bit farther forward, is most comfortable for two, but a couple of deck chairs placed opposite the bench could make room for more. Teak decking from transom to the main bulkhead provides secure footing and a touch of class.
Although the Reliant 40 wears the “commuter” moniker, accommodations two steps down from the bridge deck should cater to most short-term cruising needs. The portside galley has a 110-volt, two-burner cooktop and a 110-volt refrigerator/freezer. Although stowage space in the galley doesn’t rival that of a full-blown passagemaker, it’s enough for this yacht’s purpose.
Opposite the galley is a luxurious, human-sized head. It has a separate stall shower, a toilet, a vanity, and linen stowage. The luxury shows in the fine finish, towel racks, hand-towel rings, and holders for soap and a drinking glass.
Step into the stateroom, and you can’t help thinking “cozy.” Our test boat had a double berth on the centerline, but Reliant offers a V-berth with fill cushion as an option. I can’t go to sleep at night without reading for a while, and the double berth seemed like the perfect venue—add soft music, a finger or two of single malt in a crystal glass, and one of Ian McEwan’s novels, and I’m set. Drawers at the foot of the berth, deep double drawers below those, a hanging locker, and a pair of built-in cabinets should hold all the soft goods that a single occupant or a couple will need for a short cruise. If I were commuting from my home in Newport to an office in Boston, the Reliant 40 tied up in a slip is much more appealing than a hotel.
From experience, we know that choosing a boat is fraught with emotion, and that’s perfectly all right. Anyone who buys a boat solely based on test figures needs to think big picture. The best way to salve the horrors of our decision-making process is to go for a drive, and that’s how the Reliant 40 hooked me. Although I like nearly everything that floats, I’m particularly fond of narrow hulls—planing, displacement, or semi-displacement.
Narrow hulls have less wetted surface area than beamy hulls of the same length, and this benefits ride quality and fuel economy. A narrow hull of a given shape—even a deep-V—rides more softly in a seaway. It displaces less than a beamy hull, and that enhances fuel economy if the owner doesn’t overload it.
The Reliant 40 didn’t disappoint. The two principals of Reliant yachts, David MacFarlane and Jim Ewing, joined me for the test. We hitched a ride to the mooring with photographer Billy Black.
David MacFarlane and Jim Ewing began their longtime boatbuilding collaboration early in the 1990s at Alden Yachts.
“David was absolutely a mentor to me,” Ewing says, “and from the beginning, we shared sensibility for design based on scale.”
MacFarlane and Ewing have partnered with Su Marine in Istanbul, Turkey, to be the exclusive builder of Reliant’s yachts. This team understands that the boatbuilding world differs a lot from the way it was 30 years ago.
“It’s a global industry,” MacFarlane says, “and you have to compete on that basis. What hasn’t changed is the boating public’s passion for a beautiful boat. We know we can deliver that and also provide value and competitive pricing.”
Wide side decks, the Reliant’s modest freeboard, and steps, molded into the deck port and starboard immediately abaft the house, made easy work of transferring boat to boat. We had maybe two hours of good light for photos and hustled to get underway.
Reliant equipped the 40 Commuter with a pair of 320-horsepower Yanmar V-8 diesels. Although they aren’t as silky smooth as an in-line 6, these 90-degree V-8s have very good balance characteristics at all rpm. They also have a satisfyingly authoritative voice. We cast off and idled out, heading toward the mouth of Newport Harbor.
In open water and a chop of 1 to 2 feet, the Reliant 40 felt solid and sure, responding quickly to steering inputs. She seemed happiest in these conditions with neutral trim tab, which kept her forefoot kissing the surface, but she didn’t care how fast we drove her. We discovered later that trimming down in quartering wind and seas slowed her and allowed spray to decorate the foredeck and pilothouse windows.
Although the Reliant 40 doesn’t mind being thrashed at top speed, she was exceedingly pleasant cruising between 2700 and 3000 rpm, or 17 to 20 knots. I think that high speeds on the water are a waste of time and energy. I get my fill of that stress ashore.
In Mackerel Cove, we motored to and fro in the lee of the surrounding landmasses. What a fine setting for dropping anchor to enjoy a relaxing lunch break or some quiet time away from the bustling harbor. The Reliant 40 is perfect for that, but it’s also sporty enough to get one’s adrenaline flowing.
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Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 78°F; humidity: 65%; seas: 1-2'; wind: 8-12 knots
Load During Boat Test
265 gal. fuel, 80 gal. water, 3 persons.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/320-hp Yanmar 8LV-320 diesels
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.