Penned by Bob Perry, best known for associating the term “performance” with cruisers, the Lafitte 44 deviates from Perry’s performance formula to focus on comfort and style. She’s a heavy displacement double-ended cruising yacht specifically “overbuilt” to travel the world in comfort and safety.
During the mid 1970s, the boom years for cruising boats, many American designs were being outsourced to boatyards in Taiwan. It made sense to utilize the good exchange rate and the Taiwanese craftsmanship was both inexpensive and competent. Designer Bob Perry, arguably the most important designer of the modern cruising boat era was on the forefront of this trend; some say nearly every boat to come out of Taiwan had Perry’s name attached in some way. The Lafitte 44 was one of the larger boats to result from this era.
The initial concept came from Mike Lewis of the California-based Pacific Far East Industries. He commissioned Perry to design the boat and chose Taiwanese boatbuilder Chung Hwa Boatworks to build it. To oversee production, George Olivet was appointed and much of the boat’s consistency of quality can be attributed to him. Olivet went off to oversee the entire production run, enduring two ownership changes of the parent company as well as a mysterious 6 months in Taiwanese prison where he managed to continue work on the project. With Olivet, the Lafitte became one of the first Taiwanese-built yachts to enjoy continuous US onsite supervision to ensure quality. It is said that Olivet’s supervisory skills and management talent was used as an example to help move Taiwan boatbuilding from the “Dragonboat” era.
Perry penned the boat in late-1976, during this time he was in the middle of a string of of 44 footers including the Norseman 447, the Nordic 44, and the Cheoy Lee 44. He comments, “I got to know what you could do in 44 feet quite well”. Interestingly, the Lafitte just happened to be Perry’s design number 100 and urban myth has it that the night after Perry finished the design, the owners of PFEI went out to celebrate and named the boat after the Chateau Lafite wine they were drinking, but they drank too much and misspelt the the name. Lewis informs us that Lafitte is the name of the godson of one of the PFEI investors.
The first boat was introduced in 1978. Initially the boats were built without fittings installed, to be completed in California because Taiwan did not yet have enterprise zones to allow duty-free foreign hardware. Later boats were completed in Taiwan when this situation was remedied. In 1981 ownership of the concern passed from Lewis to Tom Flemming who changed the name to “Lafitte Yachts” (owners can check their hull serial numbers; starting at hull #30 the serial prefixes switched from PFE to LFT).
Ownership changed again in 1983 to Bernie Wahl who owned a dry cleaning business in upstate New York. Wahl’s vision was to turn the boat into a “Taiwanese Swan”. With close attention to detail he made many small changes that improved the boat, such as a propane system to accept 20 pound gas bottles, drawers that extended full length, and better thought out lockers. Additionally hardware suppliers were changed from West Coast to East Coast companies.
The boats continued to increase in price from 1983 due to these improvements and rising costs in Taiwan, culminating with the last hull which Wahl built for himself. (His boat had fully integrated sliding screens for each hatch and a larger more robust LeFeil mast among several changes).
Production ceased in April 1987 with a total of 56 boats, of these 53 boats remain in existence; three have been lost*.
* A record of known boats in existence is maintained on this site by LaFitte 44 owners (via wiki), feel free to contribute. Credit goes to Roy Wessbecher and Roger Young, for putting together most of the records.
The Lafitte 44 follows the double-ended theme that Perry popularized with his first design, the Valiant 40. However the lines of the Lafitte look distinctly more modern, with its high freeboard. The bow has a moderately fine entry and sits fairly high above the water. Going below the waterline, you’ll find a deep and long fin keel drawing 6’4″ and a skeg-hung rudder.
Up above, the boat is close to being a flush-deck with its short and low cabin, faired gracefully into the deck and 22ft of foredeck that is clear and unobstructed. The side decks are 2 feet wide with well placed handholds.
Entry below is served via two companionways, one amidships and one aft. The interior is extensively fitted out with teak trim, flat surfaces and walls are in teak laminated ply. The quality of workmanship is very high. Ventilated lockers and drawers abound, providing more than ample stowage space for extended voyaging. The wet locker is warmed by the engine. The galley is very large and functional, fit for the gourmet many would say. It’s one of the most prominent features inside the boat and is set up very extremely well.
The Lafitte 44 is loaded with systems and modern conveniences from its air conditioning / heat exchangers, generator, watermaker, and many other cruising goodies. There are no less than 16 seacocks and through hull fittings.
It’s noted by some that the LaFitte 44 has a pleasant ambiance that is rare to find in a boat this size. The thick hull with its foam core and ample use of heavy wood has lead to a good amount of acoustic dampening, there’s a quiet hush as you go inside and the atmosphere is pleasantly quiet.
Standard hulls were built from hand-laid fiberglass cored with Airex foam, while it was an option to have the hull constructed of solid fiberglass laminate. The hulls were built very strong and reinforced with foam-filled frames, longitudinals and also with glassed-in bulkheads. The frame under the deck-stepped mast was reinforced with a stainless-steel plate. The decks were cored with Baltek balsa.
The ballast was cast in lead and externally mounted with stainless-steel bolts. Some owners have reported nonstructural hairline cracking at this join.
The boat is setup to make passages without fuss, it’s a stiff and dry boat with a comfortable motion. Honest 160 mile days are reported.
The LaFitte 44 is a high quality cruising yacht with many luxurious comforts and associated systems. In this regard, expect higher than norm maintenance costs. Most examples on the market tend to be in very good condition.
» The Lafitte Story, Bob Perry’s recollections of the story and people behind the Lafitte 44
» Cruising World Magazine, Feb 2009, Boat Review
» Yachtsurvey.com Lafitte44 review by David Pascoe
» David Dodds’ SV Tenacious website, Lafitte 44 documents, magazine reviews, and links.
Thanks goes to Lafitte 44 owners Roger Young (SV Ballerina) and Roy Wessbecher (SV Breta) for their help in researching the history of this boat