C&C 39 Foot
I admit it, my choice of the venerable C&C 39 was based
primarily on appearances. While the old C&C 33 sold in more numbers and the 35 is considered a
classic, there is no denying it: The C&C 39 is one of the prettiest fiberglass boats
ever built. Although the 39 was in production for only three years, 1972 to 1974,
and less than 50 boats were produced, the 39 has a loyal following and has not only retained its
value, it has also retained a lofty perch among the cult of connoisseurs of eary '70s boats.
Designed by Cuthbertson and Cassian, the original manufacturer's brochure
brilliantly proclaimed, "The C&C 39 was designed to win races by going fast!". Though
there is no doubt that the 39 was build with the IOR rule in mind, she was not a rule-spawned
hydrid. Windquest, hull No. 2, took two firsts, one second and two thirds for first
overall in the 1972 SORC, and later that year took third in class in the Newport-Bermuda Race
and was the first boat to finish under 40 feet. However, winning races was just a bonus for
owning a boat that courts compliments at every encounter
While most C&C models maintained a handsome and disting look right up to
the company's last bankruptcy, the boats from the early '70s somehow seemed sleeker and more
elegant than many others of the day. This, was the period when C&C established itself as
a top-flight production builder. The 39 has a graceful profile with a subtle sheerline and
longish overhangs that disguise what is really a very fast full shape. The freeboard is
modest and low cabintrunk tapers to the deck just forward of the mast, resulting in a large
foredeck which, together with the long cockpit, gives the boat nice proportions. The plan
view reveals the pinched stern that the IOR favored and, while a narrow stern has little
to recommend from a performance or accomodations standpoint, it is pretty.
Below the water, the 39 has a moderate forefoot leading to an extremely
swept-back fin keel, formerly called a whale-tail fin, and a semibalanced spade rudder.
Although the 39 was designed to be fast, she wasn't particulary light for her day with a
displacement of 17,000 pounds, which was 10 percent more than the Cal 40 and only marginally
less than the Tartan 41, also introced in 1972. The 39 sported a tapered double-spreader,
keel-stepped spar with inboard shrouds and a working sail area of 726 square feet.
C&C was one of the first production builder to core hulls. The 39 has
end-grained balsa sandwiched between inner and outer skins of hand-laminated fiberglass.
In the early days of coring hulls, the balsa was usually about an inch thick and the skin
layers were anywhere from 1/4 to 7/16 of an inch. These hulls were layed up with standard
polyester resins and vacuum-bagging technology didn't exist. Consequently, older cored
boats my have problems with the bonding between the core and the skins. Older C&C hulls,
however, have held up remarkably well and there have been few reports of hull-core troubles.
In fact, Veracity, a 1972 C&C 39 owned by Carl and Pat Richards, spent 14 years and
nearly 100,000 miles on a circuitous circumnavigation after which a survey revealed that the
hull was still in excellent condition.
Bulkheads are solidly bonded to the hull and encapsulated by longitudinal
stringers. The external lead keel is bolted to reinforced hull sections. The deck is also
balsa-cored and should be thoroughly examined for signs of delamination. The hull-and-deck
joint is on a inward flange and incorporates the aluminum toerail. While C&C certainly
built boats with attention to detail, any 20 to 25-year-old boat will likely have a leaky
What to look for
I recently had the opportunity to visity with Carl and Pat Richards and
spent several hours looking closely at their 39, hull No. 32. The Richards have traveled the
world in their boat and, while they have had a few problems along the way, it is amazing how
well Veracity has held up.
The aluminum toerail was married to the hull with stainless steel
fasteners and electrolysis is sure to set in once the insulating bedding compound breaks
down. The fasteners should either be replaced with aluminum ones or rebedded. This process
serves two purposes - it will also help relieve any hull-to-deck joint leaks. Also, check
the deck carefully for delamination, especially around the winches mounted at the base
of the mast. In fact, many owners have changed this arrangement and led everything aft to
updated self-tailing winches. If the winches have been moved, make sure that the old holes
were properly filled and faired. Also, carefully inspect the standing rigging: the terminal
end, the turnbuckles and, from below, the condition of the chainplates. If the boat
has the original swage fittings, rerigging is a must.
Down below, be sure to check the keelboat backing plates, which are iron.
Richards replaced his recently, not because they were leaking but because they were
corroded. While you are probing around the bilge, sound the maststep, which spans several
floors, and look for signs of corrosion. Also, most 39s have been retrofitted with a diesel
engine, replacing the gas Atomic 4; be sure to look carefully at the installation.
Repowering boats is not always a simple, straightforward task. Note excessive
vibration or grinding on the sea trial. A slightly out-of-align engine can cause
excessive wear to the shaft, stern tube and strut.
One last item to be wary of is the listing sheet supplied by either the
broker or the seller. Typically with boats of this vintage, much of the gear listed should
be considered of little value. Unless the boat has been upgraded recently, look for a 39
with as little equipment as possible. This makes retrofitting easier in that you don't
have to tear out the old gear before adding the new. Also, most used 39s seemed to be the
Great Lakes area and I would surely choose a freshwater bot over one that has lived in
The first thing you'll notice on deck is the lack of an anchoring
arrangement. The stemhead fitting is certainly not robust and an anchor roller of some type
must be retrofitted if it hasn't been already. If it has, check to see that it is securely
through-bolted; many of these owner-added rollers are rather feeble. One appealing aspect
of the IOR rule was that it encouraged uncluttered decks. The foredeck of the C&C 39,
which was clearly designed to be worked, reminds us of what life was like before roller-
furling systems conquered all. The C&C 39 had double lifelines, five Barient halyard and
sheet winches and a roller-reefing boom as standard deck gear. Fortunately, most 39s
have long since been retrofitted to slab-reefing systems.
The 39 came standard with wheel steering and aluminum castings in the
binnacle, which should be checked for corosion. Overall, the T-shaped cockpit is very
workmanlike. Another nice aspect of narrow ends is that the genoa sheet winches are easily
reached from the helm. The mainsheet traveler spans the cockpit on the bridgedeck and
seems inconvenient by today's standards. It is possible to retrofit a mid-boon
traveler and sheeting arrangement, but I wouldn't. Part of owning an eary 70's boat
is accepting certain limitations.
The interior arrangement of the 39 was innovative for its day. The forepeak
had either sail bins or a double berth, but the owner's cabin was designed to be aft
and included the chart table and double quarter berth to port. Unfortunately, the
arrangement doesn't work well because there just isn't the beam aft to work with. Like
other IOR boats of the time, the interior is loaded with berths, anywhere from seven
to nine, depending upon the height, weight and friendliness of the crew. The standard
interior does have a good-sized chart table with a quarter berth behind, a handy wet locker
at the foot of the companionway, and a seagoing, U-shaped galley.
Although what was left of C&C has been merged with Tartan and any
manufacturing will take place in Tartan's new Ohio facility, there is still excellent
support service for older C&C's through South Shore Yachts in Niagara-on-the Lake,
Ontario, Canada. "We have a great inventory of parts and access to most original C&C
vendors," explains Shouth Shore's Rob MacLachlan. "Another aspect of what we do is to
design custom interiors for older boats. Typically, an owner loves the way his boat handles,
but every time he goes below, he has a terrible flashback to the '70s."
The 39's standard power plant was the popular Universal Atomic 4 gas
engine. And while ther is nothing wrong with the Atomic 4, it simply went out of fashion
as safer and more rugged diesels captured the sailboat market. Used 39s with gas engines
sell for about $5000 less than models retrofitted with diesels. The most common retrofit
is the Universal 30-horsepower diesel, which was specifically designed to replace the
Atomic 4 and utilized the same mounts. The fuel capacity is 28 gallons in an aluminum
tank and there are two 35-gallon water tanks. The stuffing box can be reached from
either the cockpit locker or from either quarter berth.
As a testament to how the 39 sails, the Richards found that the 28-gallon
fuel tank was perfectly adequate for the circumnavigation. "We really didn't motor much,"
Carl explained. "Unless it was completely calm, we could always coax 4 or 5 knots out
of the boat." Richards also told me that it was not at all unusual to race along
at 8 or 9 knots in the trade winds, usually with a reefed main and a poled-out genoa.
"The boat is so easily balanced that the Aires vane can handle her even in a downwind blow.:
Mark Williams, who races a 39 on Lake Ontario, claims that the boat
can track upwind with today's fast boats and only loses ground on a reach. The 39, with
her fine entry and moderate forefoot, doesn't pound upwind in a chop, although with a
relatively narrow 11-foot, 5-inch bean and deep 6-foot, 3-inch keel, she does roll
downwind. As a family cruiser, the boat still offers good performance, handles well, has
an interior that affords privacy for parents and kids and commands attention at the dock.
Besides, the 39 passes the most important litmus test, according to my friend Capt.
Bob Pierce, who says: "When you row out to your mooring you must be convinced that
you have the most beautiful boat in the harbor."
With prices ranging from the low 40s for the earliest models with gas
engines, to mid-50s for the last 1974 models with diesel engines, the hard-to-find C&C
39 offers an excellent value on the used-boat market. This is a boat I'd like to own.