The Walter Schultz’ designed Shannon 43 first turned heads in 1986, and after 20 years of production her classic look, seaworthy construction and sailing performance have proven her to be a hardy bluewater cruiser with timeless appeal. After a summer in Narragansett Bay we joined Fortitude for her first offshore sail, a 400-mile passage from Newport, R.I., to Annapolis, Md.
Great Lakes sailors Paul and Annalee Morrison wanted a mix of class, performance and ocean hardiness. The Morrisons looked at all of the big names in high-end sailboats when deciding on the builder of their first oceangoing boat. Paul gathered advice, toured boatyards, questioned service agents and went on numerous test sails before narrowing it down to Alden, Hinckley and Shannon. “I wanted a boat that would sail across oceans,” explains Paul, and with their seaworthy reputation and attention to customer satisfaction, Shannon rose above the rest in the Morrisons’ assessment.
When I checked the weather report Wednesday afternoon before departure, the small craft advisory had been extended through Thursday and upgraded to a gale warning for the offshore waters. Waking up the next day to beat into a strong southerly was a far cry from the shakedown cruise I was looking forward to.
While weather waits for no man, we can wait for weather,which is exactly what we did. Luckily the front was fast-moving, and the strong winds that followed the frontal passage were from the north and west. By Thursday evening the rain began to ease and we pulled out of our slip just as the channel markers began to flash.
With wind in the high teens, we sailed down Narragansett Bay and shaped for the passage west of Block Island. The seas and wind picked up as we left the protection of the bay, but Fortitude maintained a comfortable heel and control at the helm, translating an increase in wind velocity to an increase in speed through the water. With the centerboard lowered to its full eight feet, seven inches she heeled over at about 20 degrees on a close reach with negligible leeway. The helm felt smooth and balanced with little tendency to head up as we zoomed along at better than 7.5 knots.
Fortitude carries a fully-battened North Sails main on a custom two-spreader aluminum Hall Spars mast that is stepped to the keel and supported by Navtec rod rigging. With all lines led to the cockpit, raising and reefing the main is an easy affair. The reefing lines each have their own line clutches and share a Lewmar electric winch.
Forward, Fortitude carries Shannon’s signature Scutter rig. The 130-percent furling genoa flies on the inner stay, run to the stemhead. The smaller furling Yankee flies on the outer forestay that runs to the solid teak bowsprit. Both genoa and Yankee run to the masthead, taking full advantage of the foretriangle. Rigging the heavy-weather sail on the outer forestay moves the center of effort forward, helping to offset weather helm and balance the boat in these heavy-weather conditions. In addition, Morrison installed a reinforced padeye aft of the windlass for a removable inner forestay. Run to the second spreader, the inner forestay is rigged to fly a storm jib.
Once we cleared the eastern tip of Long Island, we bore off to a broad reach and set a course for Cape May at the entrance to the Delaware Bay. Despite steady breeze in the low 20s, we continued comfortably under the full main and genoa. The helmwas smooth and responsive as she sliced through six-foot waves with speed and power, and no slamming.
With ample sail area combined with the long keel, centerboard and moderate displacement/length of 248, she tracked well. Even in puffs to 30, the helm was responsive, yielding over eight knots and hitting nine from time to time without feeling overpowered. Reefing proved an easy affair from the cockpit. Under a single-reefed main and 282-square-foot Yankee, we comfortably made 7.5 knots. The flared bow directed the waves and spray away from the cockpit where the hard dodger offered thorough protection.
When the high-pressure system moved in with lighter breeze, we shook out the reefs and rolled out the genoa. In 10 knots of apparent wind on a close reach, we made 5.5 knots. This with the same full main and genoa that had proved so hardy in the big breeze earlier.
The 62-horsepower Caterpillar diesel performed flawlessly during the 36 hours of constant motoring that marked the final leg of our journey through the Delaware Bay, the C&D Canal and down the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis. When power sailing turned into strictly powering, we easily made seven knots while turning over at 2,400 rpms. With 100 gallons of fuel accommodated in three tanks, we had little fear of running out. The Morrisons decided on a Caterpillar because they can be serviced in practically any port around the world. They also installed a Marine Air Systems Vector Compact, a reverse cycle temperature regulation unit that functions as both an air conditioner and heater.
Though the hull and deck on the Shannon 43 are standard, everything else on board can be customized to the owner’s specifications, a perk that Paul and Annalee took full advantage of. In building Fortitude, the Morrisons envisioned circumnavigating as a couple, perhaps in the company of their son Graeme. They didn’t need multiple heads or the privacy afforded by large cabins. Instead, they prioritized maximizing living space in the main cabin. With the settees pushed outboard, the saloon feels spacious and airy in part due to the 24-by-24-inch Bomar hatches that the Morrisons chose over the standard 20-by-20s. The galley on the starboard side has ample counter space that the Morrisons finished with a striking textured copper. The generous freezer and refrigerator are cooled by a Seafrost enginedrive compressor when underway.
The galley is Ushaped with lots of angles to brace against, and an inline double-basin sink promised to perform well in a seaway. Limited storage in the galley lockers is augmented by space under the floorboards and under the nav seats that are directly opposite on the port side. The nav desk features a unique booth-style that is open to the main saloon. With two benches facing each other, multiple people can comfortably sit, plot a course and plan a cruise, making navigation a shared activity. There is still plenty of room for a full suite of electronics, communications gear and DC and AC electrical panels in the lockers outboard of the nav desk. The desk itself will accommodate a chartbook with room left over for a small laptop; it also hinges open.
The main saloon is open and comfortably accommodated five adults at sea. Meanwhile, there were plenty of handholds and edges to facilitate easy movement in a seaway. The L-shaped settee to starboard surrounds a table with folding leaf that can be lowered to become a coffee table. Both settees can be pulled out six inches and rigged with lee cloths for comfortable-sized sea berths.
The forward V-berth will serve as the main sleeping cabin and is amply sized for a couple with plenty of storage room in deep shelves, drawers and lockers. The forward cabin abuts the only head, which is small enough to keep anyone from flying about in large swells. An unusual detail is the placement of the sink in the forward cabin instead of the head. Aft, there is a quarter berth to starboard with locker and drawers. Though wide, the cockpit floor forms the overhead for a quarter of the berth, which makes it difficult for a couple to share but ample for one person.
The port quarter berth is slightly forward in order to accommodate the large cockpit lockers. This cabin has limited storage and two bunked berths. The Morrisons will use this cabin to stow oft-used spares, access the deck lockers and occasional human overflow.
On Fortitude, the fine lines and traditional aesthetic of the 43 are juxtaposed with a very modern electronics package. Like all prudent sailors, the Morrisons believe in the importance of paper charts and the merits of hand navigation. However, they are also modern sailors and appreciate the convenience, efficiency and capabilities of modern electronic systems. In addition to a full set of paper charts, Fortitude is equipped with a Furuno navigation system mounted at the helm, with a repeater at the nav desk.
Both can simultaneously display a chart and radar image on a split screen. The Furuno system can be directly connected to a computer to upload waypoints, and on Fortitude is also networked to a 17-inch flat screen in the main cabin so that navigation information or DVDs can be broadcast on any or all of the three screens.
In every condition and point of sail, Fortitude felt responsive yet solid underfoot, and for good reason, she was constructed with years of bluewater service in mind. The hull is constructed of hand-laid fiberglass with closed-cell foam core, and Kevlar is used to reinforce highstress areas.
There is no external lead, and there are no keel bolts to fail. The lead ballast surrounding the centerboard trunk is encapsulated within the hull. The centerboard is lowered by hand with a winch handle from the cockpit. The drum and wire are easily accessed from the cockpit locker for inspection and maintenance. There is also access to the centerboard through the bilge in the main saloon.
The hull-deck joint consists of an internal hull flange upon which the deck is laid and affixed with polyurethane then through-bolted every eight inches with 3/8-inch stainless steel bolts. The teak toe rail and genoa tracks are also through-bolted to reinforce the hull-deck joint. Cleats, padeyes for the inner stay and other major deck gear have backing plates and are bolted through the deck. All can be accessed and inspected through panels in the overhead or in lockers. The teak-and-holly floor is supported by a mahogany grid that is lagged to the stringers and glassed to the hull. All bulkheads are glassed to the hull and provide structural support.
Shannon believes that teak decks put too much weight above the waterline; however, the nonskid deck features teak highlights. The bowsprit accommodates two anchors, offset for easy handling. Both lead back to the horizontal windlass.
The aft cockpit is long enough to easily sit six in the main section, and there is room for two behind the wheel. The deep benches are long enough to stretch out on while close enough to brace your feet against when sitting to windward. A hardtop dodger supports handholds and provides the crew with protection from the elements. A Bimini top covers the helming station. In port, a full Bimini can be rigged to cover the whole cockpit, but would inhibit visibility when underway.
Wire steering cables run to a quadrant that can be accessed through the voluminous deck lockers. The main nav unit is mounted above the compass and inhibits visibility when sitting behind the helm, a problem ubiquitous on boats with electronic navigation at the helm.
Six Lewmar winches, four cleats, seven line clutches and a host of fairleads make tidy work of the lines running to the cockpit, and we were never for want of additional gear. Two cuddies on each side of the cockpit allow storage for winch handles and keep lines out of the way.
After 17 months of planning, research and construction, Shannon handed Fortitude over to the Morrisons with a caveat. They told them to go sailing and make a list of everything that wasn’t just right. “They know there are going to be things that aren’t perfect, and they want to take care of them,” explains Paul Morrison of Shannon’s commitment to their product and customer satisfaction. “It’s been a lot better than expected. Working with them is like working with people I’ve known my whole life.” And on this passage we added a few items to the To-do list. Two bales broke off the mast collar, and the bobstay backed itself off a couple of turns. These things happen on all new boats. What set Fortitude apart was the responsibility Shannon took for the shortcomings and the determination and efficiency with which they set it right.
While average boat size may have increased over the past 20 years, 40-odd feet remains a perfect size for a couple with offshore-cruising ambitions. The Shannon 43 is just such a boat. She is easily managed by a single watchstander, offers comfortable living space for a couple or small family and promises years of offshore passages and coastal explorations. With a centerboardup draft of four feet, nine inches, the Shannon 43 will be able to find a place to anchor in most any harbor and explore coastlines where others stand off. Offshore, she will log 150-mile days with ease and 180 miles in a decent breeze, but she is not relegated to offshore work. Fortythree- feet, 10-inches long on deck and easily managed, she is a perfect size for a weekend cruise or impromptu afternoon sail. For the Morrisons, Fortitude promises to do a little of everything.
The Shannon 43′s easy motion and versatile performance are hard to match in a boat of her size. She is a delight to sail, whether it be for a day, a week or an open-ended voyage. While the custom details and commitment to customer satisfaction come with a high price, the 43′s seaworthy construction, sailing performance and eye-catching aesthetic ensure a high resale value, if you could ever bear to part with her.
Length Overall 47’6″
Length Waterline 36’9″
Draft (Centerboard Up) 8’7″
Draft (Centerboard Down) 8’7″
Air Draft 63’0″
Sail area (Scutter) 1,000 sq. ft.
Displacement 27,500 lbs.
Engine 75 hp.
Fuel 105 gals.
Water 200 gals.
Sail Area/Displacement 19
Designer Walter Schultz & Associates
Price with Custom Interior $786,000
Bristol, RI 401-253-2441