The name Hinckley is known to every American sailor as the builder of America’s finest yachts. In his book, The World’s Best Sailboats, Ferenc Máté stated that the Bermuda 40 is “without question the greatest fiberglass sailboat of all time.” This is how the B-40 became perhaps the most classic production sailing yacht in history.
In 1927, Henry R. Hinckley, having just earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Cornell, returned to his family’s summer home in Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine. He founded a boatyard and began constructing wooden lobster boats and sailboats. During World War II, the Navy commissioned Hinckley to build more than 600 wooden boats of all types—an effort that substantially grew the boatyard’s capacity, expertise, and skill sets. At war’s end, the yard returned to building wooden sailing yachts.
In the 1950s, boat designers and producers began experimenting with fiberglass as a boat building material. At the forefront stood a well-known designer of wooden boats—William H. Tripp, Jr.—who became one of America’s most successful yacht designers. His designs were known for epitomizing the best aesthetic traditions of the Cruising Club of America yacht design standards: narrow hull and ample overhangs, yawl rig, and centerboard/full keel bottom. He drew custom ocean racers for distinguished clientele and smaller boats for production builders. He found enormous success with his design for the Block Island 40, a cruising sailboat.
True to his conservative Maine heritage, Hinckley did not rush into using fiberglass. In 1959, however, a consortium of wooden sailboat owners commissioned Hinckley to build a new yacht that combined Tripp’s designs and the latest fiberglass technology with his company’s first-class workmanship. Tripp evolved the BI 40 design with a gentler spoon bow, a slightly flattened sheer and graceful overhangs. Hinckley added his company’s traditional woodworking skills and exquisite joinery. The result of this marriage was the Bermuda 40—what some observers at the time called a wooden boat within a fiberglass boat.
The B-40 owes it success to its first-rate engineering and construction and the best materials and equipment. The ease of handling, shallow draft, and integrity of the hull and rigging are an incomparable combination. B-40s are ideal for comfortable bluewater cruising, and owners rate her seaworthiness as excellent. She has capably held up to the rigors of circumnavigation more than once. Though not particularly fast by today’s standards, she won the NorthernOcean Racing Trophy in 1964, the Marblehead to Halifax Race in 1965, and other important ocean races in her day. “You cannot ask for a better boat at sea than a Hinckley Bermuda 40,” wrote Ted Downing, skipper of Ballade, in an article for Yacht Racing and Cruising magazine.
The B-40 has the distinction having the longest production run in the history of U.S. yacht building. Over more than three decades, from 1959 until 1991, Hinckley built 203 B-40s, an average of just six per year. Their graceful lines are regarded as classic, and their long overhangs, pitch-perfect cabin profile, and distinctive transoms have inspired lust in the heart of sailors for decades. “Many people, myself among them, still consider the Bermuda 40 one of the most beautiful yachts afloat,” said Naval Architect Jack Horner, writing for BoatUS Boat Reviews. The beauty and elegance of the B-40 stands out today as one of the most classic sailing yachts ever produced.
Today, B-40s have a mythical standing and are prized as highly-functional collectors’ items. Current owners cherish them and enthusiastically maintain them to high standards. Obviously, Hinckleys are not for everyone and never have been. An appreciation of the boat’s great beauty and of the quality of its construction is required to justify the investment to purchase and maintain a B-40.
One could easily buy a brand new boat that sails faster and has more living space for about the same price or even less. As one owner said, “The B-40 is to be bought on the day that the full significance of ‘you only have one life to live’ becomes clear.”