Bristol 39/40

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The 1969 Bristol 39 Blue Moon, owned by Matthew Thomson.

With the Bristol 39 and 40, Ted Hood and Dieter Empacher created a sleek classic that still draws compliments and admiration nearly 50 years after the first boats slipped into the water.

The B39 was built between 1966 and 1971, and the B40 was built from 1970 on. More than 200 of these sailboats were built in all.


Blue Moon’s cabin.

“With her prominent overhangs, sweet sheer line, low freeboard, undistorted hull shape and narrow beam, this iconic 40-footer set high marks for seaworthiness and style,” Cruising World magazine said in making the B40 No. 23 on its list of 40 all-time best monohulls.

Some reviewers say the B39 and B40 were inspired by Finnisterre, a famous centerboard yawl owned by Carlton Mitchell and designed by Sparkman & Stephens that was a dominant force on the race course in the 1950s and 1960s.

It is also considered a larger version of the Bristol 32, another Hood-designed sailboat that draws praise for its beautiful lines.


Blue Moon’s dinette.

Like all of the first-generation Bristols, the B39 and B40 are narrow compared to sailboats of a similar length manufactured today. That means less cabin space and no luxurious heads and galleys or lounge-like dinettes.

Still, the interior sometimes was done in mahogany or teak (Formica was standard on the bulkheads), and the interior is warm and functional.

It’s a comfortable set-up for one cruising couple and is large enough for two couples without overcrowding.


Blue Moon’s head.

And the payoff is a sweet-sailing, seaworthy sailboat that could take you around the world or just down to the next anchorage.

The boats were built as yawls, cutters and sloops. They have long overhangs, full keels with attached rudders and wine-glass-shaped hulls. It’s a design that allows it to heel easily at first, then firm up as its waterline lengthens and its hull speed increases.

With the yawl, heaving to is a simple matter if you decide to take a B39 or B40 on a long voyage. It’s a strong argument in favor of the extra mast, even though yawls have been out of favor for decades.

As with all older sailboats, have it checked out thoroughly if you are considering a purchase.

Conditions vary widely because some owners didn’t do required maintenance, and vessels can require many thousands of dollars in repairs and upgrades if they were neglected.

Owners’ comments

From Tim Fuhrmann of St. Augustine, Fl.
Write Byte, a 1979 Bristol 40


Write Byte, a 1979 Bristol 40.

We chose the Bristol 40 because of her pedigree, her reputation for solid construction, her beautiful mahogany interior, her lovely lines and her ability to take us anywhere in the world we might choose to go.

I was a pretty green sailor when we got her. I’d only been sailing other people’s boats for less than four years.  Most of that in light-air races, and only occasionally at the helm or singlehanding.

Here are a few things I have learned about her in the 17 years we’ve owned her.  She loves 20 knots of wind. Up to about 30 knots, she points better as the wind gets stronger.  At 30 knots, I have to start reducing sail to windward, but rarely before that, unless it is gusty.


The cockpit of the 1980 Bristol 40 Antares, owned by David Robalino.

All the people who say she is tender do not know this boat.  She is initially tender, yes.  But, then she digs in and goes.  Fast.  Very fast for a 20,000-pound boat with a 27-foot waterline.

Every time I have her out in big air, she impresses me more.  I can’t imagine having chosen a better boat for us to travel aboard.

There are others that are faster, have more room and more luxuries. But this is a sailor’s boat.  And I love that about her.  When the wind is greater than 18knots, races are literally mine to lose.

She’s rated at PHRF 195 on the Chesapeake, where the air is light and usually 156 on the San Francisco Bay, where the wind hits 30 knots daily.  It’s like having a free 40 seconds per mile when the wind is up!


The cabin of Antares.

In 1999, we won the Deal Island Skipjack race in 30+ knots of wind by 17 minutes over the closest competitor in an eight-mile Windward / Leeward Race.  Hurricane Dennis was off the shore of North Carolina, there was a massive high off New England and the combination was funneling 30-knot easterlies through the Chesapeake.  It was magnificent.

And it doesn’t hurt that in nearly every anchorage we drop the hook, someone usually swings by to tell us what a beautiful boat, she is.  Thank you, Ted Hood.

What Sailing magazine said

“The (Bristol 40) sails quite well in moderate conditions, especially off the wind. The hull shape is designed for reaching, and the 40 has won its class in the Marion to Bermuda race twice.”

What the Bristol brochure said

“The most discriminating cruising families will be delighted with the Bristol 40. This auxiliary keel sloop measures up to the most exacting criteria. Check the Standard Equipment list against those of similar sized yachts. You owe it to yourself to see and sail (and own) one of these sleek beauties!”


Hull type: Full keel
LOA: 39.75 feet
LWL: 27.5 feet
Beam: 10.75 feet
Draft: 5 feet, 4 inches (keel), 4 feet (centerboard)
Displacement: 17,580 pounds
Designer: Ted Hood
Water tank: 130 gallons
Fuel tank: 31 gallons
PHRF New England: 168 (CB), 162 (keel), 156 (cutter), 162 (yawl)
Motion comfort ratio: 36.57

New book on cruising the Pacific in a Bristol 40

Bristol 39 in Bermuda race

Photos of a custom B40 built in wood

The blog of Black Magic, a Bristol 40

A Bristol 40 web site

Bristol 39/40 — one of the “45-year-old charmers”

Crusing World’s list of all-time best monohulls

YouTube video tour of a Bristol 40

Read the full Bristol brochure

Line drawings and more specs on the 40

Line drawings and more specs on the 39