The Bermuda 40 Boat Review

I’m going to be very up front with my prejudice here and tell you that, personally, I don’t recall a time when my sense of style, balance and proper proportion of sailing yachts has not been influenced by the design work of the late Bill Tripp. The Bermuda 40 is a quintessential example of Tripp’s art and masterful eye for near-perfect balance. I think it can be safely said that this boat has stood the test of time, and, although the design is now 40 years old, many people, myself among them, still consider the Bermuda 40 one of the most beautiful yachts afloat. It’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I have yet to meet anyone who would deny the classic style and elegance of the Bermuda 40. The Bermuda 40 was designed in 1958 as a refinement of Tripp’s earlier Block Island 40 design. The sheer of the B-40 is slightly flatter, the transom more vertical and broader, and the bow is slightly less spoon-shaped. Although the differences in the two designs are subtle, to my eye, the B-40 has a better balance and a less dated look than the Block Island 40. 

Henry R. Hinckley & Co. began production of the Bermuda 40 in 1959. Although Hinckley had experimented some with fiberglass boats prior to 1959, the B-40 was to become the bellwether for future production and established Hinckley as the premier North American builder of exceptional quality fiberglass sailing yachts. Over 200 Bermuda 40s have been built to date. 

There have been two relatively minor variations of the original design over the years. In about 1968, the flat plate centerboard was replaced with an airfoil-shaped centerboard, and the mast height was raised slightly, resulting in approximately 20 square feet more sail area. In 1972, the Bermuda 40 Mark III was introduced with a main mast over four feet taller and the position of the mast moved aft nearly two feet. The increased sail area and the raised center of effort that resulted necessitated the addition of nearly a 1000 pounds of ballast. And, likely to help offset the added weight as well as further reduce the center of gravity, the decks of the Mark III were constructed first with balsa and later with PVC foam. 

Construction of the B-40 is as good as it gets for custom or production built boats. Although not built to any specific standard, other than Hinckley’s own, that I know of, the scantlings are impressive by anyone’s standards. The hull of most B-40s is a solid laminate of fiberglass cloth and resin, although newer boats reportedly used some Kevlar fabric. Originally, the decks were also solid fiberglass and resin laminates but, as noted above, later models were built with a core material to reduce weight while maintaining strength. The hull and deck are joined on an inward flange. This is a fairly common method of construction but what sets B-40s apart is that the hull flange is nearly twice as thick and twice as wide as comparably sized boats. Another sign of the craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into the construction of the B-40 is the method of attachment of fittings and hardware. Fastener holes are drilled slightly undersized and then tapped for the appropriate sized machine screw. When bedded and secured, leaks are less likely than with conventional attachment. I could go on with details of custom fittings and craftsmanship but space doesn’t permit. 

Accommodations of the B-40 are comfortable for four people. Because Hinckley has always offered clients considerable latitude in choosing layout, finishes and furnishings, each B-40 I have seen is slightly different. The cockpit is very large and comfortable, and decks are wide, uncluttered and well laid out. 

Although the Bermuda 40 has achieved classic status as a cruising yacht, many of the elements of this design are the direct result of the CCA (Cruising Club of America) rating rule which was popular at the time. Unfortunately, the long overhangs, broad bilges, shallow draft and centerboards encouraged by the rule do not make for a boat that is particularly fast upwind. Hinkley’s own advertising once described the Bermuda 40 as "a great gentleman’s ocean racer" and everyone knows gentlemen don’t sail to weather. What the B-40 lacks in speed to windward she more than make up in other sailing qualities. Her performance off the wind is very good, and the full keel and centerboard make the boat easy to balance and comfortable to sail on beam and broad reaches. She is very well mannered in conditions that would give fits to the helmsmen of modern boats with high aspect fin keels and spade rudders. 

As for stability, I compared 11 boats, measured under the IMS rule, and found the average range of positive stability index to be 116.5 degrees. This is not bad for a centerboard boat with moderate beam and relatively shallow draft. Until 1992, the B-40 was powered by Westerbeke diesel engines ranging from 35 to 46 hp. Later models are powered by the 51 hp Yanmar. All these auxiliaries, in good running order, are sufficient for the majority of situations. However, as engines age and hours build up, older models will lose some of their ability to punch through choppy seas and strong currents. 

For all this beauty, class and quality there is a price. The bottom line is these are very expensive boats, but they do retain their value exceptionally well and under some market conditions may even appreciate in value. They’re out of my range of affordability but I can still dream of someday being able to own one or, better yet, design a boat of such lasting beauty.