Firefly is a classic Little Harbor yacht with traceable pedigree, having been built by a world class yard for one of the sailing industry's premier sailors, Ted Hood. From the moment you step over the toe rails onto the weather deck, you feel the strength and beauty of this design. Clean, open decks, large cockpit, and meticulously maintained bright work draw the eye. Stepping down the offset companionway, you enter an open and classically detailed cabin. Designed to be strong and fast, Firefly is in great shape, benefiting from years of quality maintenance. This Little Harbor 46 offers fantastic value in today's market. Proven performance, strong, well maintained and classic — these are just some of the ways to describe this yacht, but no words can replace actually seeing her.
Call to arrange a viewing, you will not be disappointed.
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A 46-foot auxiliary yawl by Ted Hood
Firefly, formerly Robin, represents a turning point in the development of the CCA cruiser/racer. Ted Hood drew her lines in 1961, during a watershed period in yacht design. At that point in history, the ascendancy of the beamy offshore centerboarder was clear, and yet the deficiencies of too little draft and low ballast/displacement ratios in the type also were beginning to show.
Back then, as now, the trick was to build-in enough stability to carry sail in all kinds of offshore conditions, while keeping wetted surface to a minimum. In his experiments at the Stevens Model Basin in Hoboken during the design of the Twelve Meter Nefertiti, Hood saw that maximizing beam at the waterline would not necessarily affect wetted surface as long as underwater sections and profile were sufficiently cut-away. In Nefertiti, this produced a supremely stable sail platform and a somewhat radical departure from the norm in Twelve Meter hull design.
What he learned in the Nefertiti campaign would stick with Hood in his later yacht-design career. More so, by demonstrating how ample beam could be carried by a hull with moderate displacement, and by keeping the ballast of such a hull deep enough to count in heavy seas, he showed the design community the way toward the next generation of fast ocean racers.
Steel is Real
In Hood’s opinion at the time, the best way to develop the newer, more severely shaped underwater lines for a 45-foot centerboarder was to use steel construction. In an interview conducted in 1996, he said, “Fiberglass was pretty much untried in big boats, but alloy materials were proven. Frans Maas in Holland had been building major steel sailboats (Northern Light, for example) and was getting some beautiful results. We needed sharp cutaways and fairly radical bilges and garboard areas, and steel was a strong and relatively light way to go.” Hence the original Little Harbor 45’s, the “steel Robins,” were born.
The first boat in the series, christened Robin in 1961, went on to great success in the SORC of 1962 with Hood himself at the helm. It became clear, however, that there was room for improvement, and so there followed two more generations. The second steel Robin was longer by a foot, the result of stretching her bow to accommodate a bigger headsail. Additionally, she was slightly heavier than her predecessor, and somewhat deeper of draft (with her board up, she draws almost six feet, rather than the first boat’s 5’4”). Three boats were built using the second-generation design, all of them at the celebrated Maas yard in Breskens. Two were yawls, one for Ted (now the subject of this article) and the other for Pete DuPont. The third was a tall-rigged sloop for Bus Mosbacher.
Of the three sail plans, Hood himself had little or no apparent preference: “The sloop was fast, but maybe not so adaptable offshore. The two yawls were different in that one (Pete’s) was taller-rigged, with double spreaders. Mine was a bit shorter, with a single spreader setup. The ocean rig, we called it.”
He went on to say, “One of the things we liked so much about the steel construction is that it made such a stiff boat. And by that I mean not just stiff in a breeze, but stiff structurally. With the deeper keel and all its interior web-framing right up beyond the mast step, along with the big centerboard trunk, you could really pump up the backstay tension and put a lot of stress on the rig and not worry you were going to lose anything to the boat. With the oversized headsails we carried then, that was important.”
The system of construction developed right along with the boats themselves. The first generation were plated in mild steel. To add stiffness without adding too much weight, the next generation used Corten alloy. This nickel-rich blend has a tensile modulus almost double that of mild steel, and many times that of aluminum. In addition, Corten is somewhat less prone to deterioration.
Firefly’s hull was surveyed in 1996 for plating dimensions and presence of corrosion. (NOTE: Surveys have been performed at regular intervals, the most recent being 2010.) The dozens of plating-thickness measurements done on both sides below the waterline reveal exactly the builder’s original specifications. Interior framing has been maintained through the years, and much of it retains the thick epoxy coating applied by the Maas yard, as does internal plating surfaces. The boat is framed as a wooden one would be—that is, with heavy steel angles serving as true “ribs” and welded every fifteen inches along the entire length, coupled with heavy web floors and rigid longitudinal reinforcement of centerboard trunk and broad stem and stern members.
Firefly's 1996 survey was followed in '97, '98, '99, '00 and '01 (and lately in 2009-2010) by various inspections and re-coatings of interior framing. When her new engine was installed in '99 (a Westerbeke 63C diesel), all mounts and framing below were found to be in fine condition. Nevertheless, as long as they were exposed, they were taken down to bright steel and thickly primed and painted with epoxy product.
Outside hull surfaces have been similarly cared for. In 1991, Firefly’s hull below the waterline was stripped of its original fiberglass sheathing and taken down to bright metal. Then it was coated with sixteen layers of color-coded WEST System epoxy containing a high-density zinc filler. To this day, there has been no deterioration of this surface. (NOTE: In 2003, the bottom paint was taken down to expose the WEST surface, and five coats of InterProtect 2000 were applied, followed by two coats of bottom paint.)
It bears noting that Firefly carries no steel above her sheer line. Instead, heavy Corten flanges support white oak beams and Bruynzeel teak plywood decks. Toe-rail and cabin structure serve to strengthen the upperworks fore and aft, and heavy teak plywood bulkheads provide athwartships integrity. Cabin sides are solid teak, and the coach roof is one-piece molded teak ply which is 1¼” thick at the mast. Decks and cabin top are sheathed in epoxy/fiberglass with a non-slip texture.
(NOTE: In 2009-2011, decks were completely refinished in Awlgrip. All deck hatches were rebuilt, including the companionway; rudder and centerboard were removed and reconditioned, c/b trunk was stripped, sounded and blasted, recoated in epoxy; tanks were removed, hull framing inspected, cleaned and re-coated in thick epoxy.)
The Inside Story
Firefly’s interior features an open, almost loft-like arrangement: a full double stateroom all the way forward, a large head with shower to port and just abaft the stateroom (two generous hanging lockers opposite) and a spacious main accommodation amidships. This main cabin has settees port and starboard, a centerline dining table of varnished teak, and no fewer than four sea berths far enough outboard of the living spaces so as to be almost separate staterooms themselves.
All the way aft in the main spaces and to port, just abaft the refrigeration compartment, is a navigation table with enough space to lay out a full-sized chart, above which are electronics shelves and brackets. To starboard, opposite the nav space and separated from it by the main companionway is the compact and seaworthy galley. Countertops are clad in stainless steel, and cabinetry is ample enough to carry all the implements of a true home at sea. The stove/oven is a three-burner propane model by Luke, whose systems have been recently renewed. Refrigeration is supplied by a Grunnert fridge/freezer, the machinery for which is located just abaft the engine and accessed from the cockpit locker space (system rebuilt 2010).
At sea, roller furling jib and slab-reefed main allow quick response to changes in the weather. The autopilot is capable of steering in any sort of condition offshore, freeing the crew to work actively on deck. Winches are oversized, permitting one man to sheet home whatever headsail is appropriate for the conditions. Firefly’s standard cruising jib is a high-cut number-two, with some 15% of overlap. Light-to-moderate airs might call for the much larger Hood-built “Windward Reacher,” and perhaps the workhorse mizzen staysail. Three spinnakers are in Firefly’s lockers: a 1.5-oz offshore chute, a .75-oz broad-shouldered North racing chute, and a narrow-topped Dacron storm sail (“Flanker”) used for reaching or in downwind conditions exceeding 30 knots. The Flanker, though clearly made for extreme sailing, actually works handsomely as an all-purpose cruising spinnaker. Because of its relatively flat cut, it may be tacked at the bow and sheeted aft like a reaching chute.
Firefly is a fast boat, even by modern standards. It is not rare to see a steady nine or ten knots of speed under sail when passagemaking in normal conditions. Hard to weather in 20-knots of true wind, her lee rail is just beginning to get damp. Reefing for comfort seems appropriate at about 25. On a beat back from Maine in typical offshore conditions, one might bear away slightly so that the number-two stands five or six inches off the lee spreader. In that state of trim, Firefly handles the head-sea beautifully, with spray dusting only the forward third of the deck.
New Work: As briefly mentioned, Firefly has undergone a comprehensive refit from 2009 to 2011. Propulsion systems have been renewed and improved; hull appendages have been sandblasted and refinished; interior framing in the stern sections and middlebody in way of the centerboard trunk have been vetted and cleaned, blasted, primed and refinished heavily in epoxy; tanks have been removed, steam-cleaned, pressure tested and re-installed along with new piping and wiring; propane system has been re-worked with new aluminum deck-mounted tanks in a teak box; all spars (original to the Hood Company) have been stripped, refinished, primed and Awlgripped; decks have been stripped and Awlgripped; hull has been refinished. Recent surveys have shown all to be in 100 A1A Lloyd’s condition.
Firefly, as a CCA-vintage vessel, has many of the attributes seen as important in a long-distance voyaging sailboat. She is long-keeled, easy to steer, has a compact rig and is roomy as a house and stiff as a church. Her steel construction means she will be strong enough to resist accidental groundings, and that she will be readily repaired if such mishaps do occur. She is fully found and ready for sea.