Inspired by the sweet curving lines from the east coast fishing boats of Scotland, the Frances 26 is an early Chuck Paine design for his own use. Optimised for fast and simple sailing, the resulting boat is a peculiar mix of daysailer and offshore cruiser. Since her introduction in 1974, over 200 have been built on both sides of the Atlantic and at least one has circumnavigated.
Paine started by scaling down the size of a traditional double-ender, and then applied lessons from modern design thinking to produce a minimalist sailboat that would be affordable for him to sail. Her design draws heavily from her Scottish heritage with a hint of Norwegian double-ender thrown in for good measure. Most striking are her elegant lines – there’s a fine entry, a lively sheer, full bilges and a long keel.
She’s proven to be a great cruiser which can accommodate up to four in a relatively open-plan layout. Belowdecks the interior is all wood but her flush deck means she is missing full standing headroom at only five feet of clearance. A version was built in the UK by Victoria Marine which offered six feet of standing headroom by trading the flush deck for a coachroof. The production hulls were solidly built from fiberglass with 9 1/2 oz cloth, additionally a number have been custom-built using cold-moulded wood and many of these have also added a coachroof. Both cutter and sloop rigs were offered and some have been converted to gaff.
With a high ballast to displacement ratio, in excess of 50%, owners comment she can hold onto her full sail area well after many others have reefed. You’ll find this boat easily driven with excellent directional stability and surprisingly fast. Of the various rigs the ones with larger headsails and smaller mainsails tend to be faster and more weatherly (at the expense of more trimming work).
Plans for the Frances 26 are still available from Chuck Paine. More recently in 2011, as a “what if” exercise, Paine updated the design to be inline with more current design thinking.
“If I had it to do over again I’d change a few things, hence FRANCES II (Frances the second). The most significant improvement would be to replace the undulating profile shoal draft keel with a much more modern and effective one. With a slightly deeper keel and the “full flow aperture” I developed on the later of my offshore oriented custom designs, FRANCES II will stand up to a whole lot more sail and point much closer to the wind.”
Besides being slightly larger in all dimensions, the biggest change is a deeper, shorter and more effective keel. The rig has been updated to be taller with a masthead genoa. Additionally, the rudder has been fully balanced to reduce helm forces and a small cabin house added to give full standing headroom. With the new keel and rig the new Frances II promises to be a much better performer, being stiffer and more weatherly.
The design influence of the Frances 26 design came from a backpacking trip in the early 1970s when Chuck Paine, 30 years old at the time, was inspired by the sweet curves of the double-ended fishing boats on the east coast of Scotland.
Paine commented, “I wanted a boat that embodied everything I knew about the design of efficient cruising vessels of GRP construction. She had to be capable of yearly cruises to and among the Caribbean islands, small enough to fit my limited budget, but large enough to survive a gale at sea.”
Upon his return to the US, he laid up the first hull in 1974 out of fiberglass at his workshop in Maine. This first hull was destroyed by fire prior to completion, but fortunately Tom Morris from Morris Yachts had taken a mold and it was from this his yard built the subsequent hulls. Paine fitted out the fourth Morris-built hull for himself, which he took cruising down the East Coast of America.
By the late 1970s, the boat had also emerged in the UK. After first appearing in a review in Yachting World Magazine, Bernard Hayman, editor at the time, loved the design enough to encourage Victoria Marine (now Victoria Yachts) based in Southampton to win the rights for UK construction. In later years Victoria Marine made a few changes to the boat including a shallow well forward of the mast, a coachroof to enable full standing headroom and more accommodation. This version was initially called the Victoria 26, and as it evolved, later became the Victoria 800.
The UK boats were just as successful as the their US counterparts. Production continued through until the late 1990s until sadly, with a strange repeat of history, the moulds for both designs were destroyed by fire.
Paine also designed a couple of siblings based on the Frances 26 – a 24-footer called Carol and a 30-footer called Leigh. Leigh was later built by Victoria Yachts.
» Frances26.org, owners forum, information and reviews
» The official Morris Yachts website.
» Chuck Paine’s official website including the Frances 26 plans.
» The Best Boats to Build or Buy by Ferenc Mate
» Small Boat Journal #40, Frances 26 – Sophisticated Tradition in a Proper Yacht by Steve Callahan, January 1985