The Morris 29: Ready to Dance on any Afternoon

Meet the M29, a modern classic daysailer built in Maine.

4th October 2009.
By John Burnham

Alongside the floating dock in Miami’s Coconut Grove, the new M29 stands out like the prettiest girl in your class. Dressed in green and white, the Sparkman &Stephens design carries off her low sheer line and graceful overhangs in a style that evokes feelings for any number of sailing beauties of yesteryear. Yet despite the shiny Dorade vents and classic woodtrimmed cabin house, the M29 is not the old-fashioned girl you might think. She’s the fourth, and the shortest,of a series of daysailers by Morris Yachts, and as with many younger siblings, she’s ahead of her time in many ways. Her nature was a bit of good luck for me, because on one warm afternoon in February, we had a date.

Cuyler Morris, president and son of founder Tom Morris, steers us across Biscayne Bay.

Cuyler Morris, president and son of founder Tom Morris, steers us across Biscayne Bay.

The easterly breeze on Biscayne Bay had backed off after lunch into the 6- to 12-knot range. With Cuyler Morris, the company president, at the helm, we started up the small Yanmar 14 hp diesel saildrive just long enough to clear the docks, then raised the mainsail up through its lazy jacks, unrolled the jib, and began sailing dead upwind out of the skinny channel.

The helm balanced easily and with the jib sheet led to a traveler car in front of the mast, tacking was as simple as pushing the tiller to leeward until the sails filled on the other tack. Each tack barely interrupted the conversation.

A jib track simplifies tacking.

A jib track simplifies tacking.

On either side of the channel were clearly visible shoals. Even with a draft of only 4 feet, 6 inches ,I needed to stay in the deep water, but the boat responded easily to my movements of the tiller and it pointed close to the wind – probably 40 to 42 degrees on average – so short tacking our way clear onto the bay presented no difficulty.

Beneath the waterline, the spade rudder and bulb keel encouraged quick turning compared to the more gradual arc of full-keel designs I often sail. Cuyler pointed out that the rudder is built of carbon, as is the traditional-looking white mast – both evidence of three of the M Series precepts: high performance, quality building, and great aesthetics. Looking around the cockpit at the controls, which all led to nearby stations, I remembered the fourth precept: this boat was dead easy to sail. I could as easily have been sailing by myself – or with young children, or non sailors– and having just as easy a time as I was with a crew of Cuyler and Marnie Read (another member of the Morris team). And there was plenty of room. We could have fit three more adults in the cockpit with us, no problem.

That about sums up the sweet spot hit by the M36, which was the first model in the M Series. There’s plenty of room to move a crowd from dock to boat, and then the systems are so simple that the skipper can manage the sails and entertain at the same time. The 36 model has sold 60 hulls and still counting since its introduction in 2004. “We hit it so right, right out of the box,” said Cuyler. “It’s been a matter of scaling the concept since.” The company has also built 20 M42s and is about to launch its first 52-footer.

An uncomplicated deck layout includes the "C.K.L."

An uncomplicated deck layout includes the “C.K.L.”

None of the models are inexpensive, and it would have cost $185,000 for someone at the Miami International Boat Show to sail away with the boat we were aboard. That’s not bargain-basement shopping, but for those who can pay a premium, the sailaway price looks reasonable given the combination of a quality composite hull construction, carbon appendages, a shippy little cabin with sitting headroom, and the Sparkman & Stephens design pedigree.

We sailed across the Bay, on which Cuyler had once done more than his share of Star boat racing. I asked him which way was fastest, and he said, “Always go left in this breeze.” Sure enough, after we sailed starboard tack toward Rickenbacker Causeway, the breeze piped up. I tightened the backstay to depower the boat’s prototype mainsail (the next mainsail was cut much flatter), and with little whitecaps on the water, the weather helm increased. However, in about a minute’s time we tucked in a quick reef with the single-line reefing system, and the boat immediately relaxed, as did the helm.

Turning for home, we shook the reef, and found that this little-sister Morris had some extra bounc ein her step when we set the asymmetric spinnaker. It emerged from an opening in the deck, forward of the headstay, dubbed the C.K.L., which stands for Cuyler’s Kite Launcher. Not only did the chute go up and down easily, but the C.K.L. is equipped with drains and baffles that apparently keep incidental white water out of the boat. We didn’t have serious waves to test the theory, but with what little waves we had plus the perky feeling in the tiller, I was pretty sure that in a few more knots of breeze we’d be moving a good bit faster than the 7 knots we were seeing.

One purposeful detail in the boat’s fit-out is that there isn’t a single winch aboard, which keeps things simple, as they ought to be on a boat this size. Using purchase and a bit of leverage, all tasks are easily accomplished, although I admit that we had a fairly mild breeze. The mainsheet, which is led to the back of the cockpit, might be a handful in heavy going, but I found that if I stood up and leaned against the sheet, it came in smoothly. Also, as I learned, reefing was easy, so it wouldn’t be hard to keep the sheet loads manageable in higher winds.

Just a light touch on the helm is all that's needed, even under assymetrical spinnaker.

Just a light touch on the helm is all that’s needed, even under assymetrical spinnaker.

This was only the sixth sail for Hull No. 1, so Cuyler was still dialing in a few pieces of deck gear, but despite the deadline of getting to the show on time, I thought the boat was well executed. She lives up to her billing as simple yet fast, spacious and elegant. I needed to hold the tiller or the boat would sometimes start to wander off course, and a singlehander might therefore want to add a tiller-pilot to his equipment list. On the other hand, who would ever want to let go of the helm?

As we motored into the marina area, I decided to finish our first date with a flourish by giving my partner a twirl. She obliged and easily spun 360 degrees inside her own wake.

Editor’s Note: John Burnham is the editorial director of and  For more information on the Morris 29, visit the Morris Yachts website.

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About the author:

John Burnham

John Burnham, Editorial Director, lives in Middletown, Rhode Island, on the East Coast of the United States and would rather be sailing, or afloat on any boat, whenever possible.
Connect with John Burnham on Google+

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