Skip to content

The Cult of the Cal 40

The Classic 1960s Ocean Racing Legend

The Cal 40 is a roughly 39-ft 4-in fiberglass production racing and cruising sailboat, of which about 155 were built in Costa Mesa, California, starting in 1963. The first mass-produced sailboat that was capable of sustained surfing on waves, the Cal 40 dominated ocean racing during the 1960s like no other design before or since. It’s the original longboard, a Southern California surfing machine that is capable of sustained 15-knot downwind speeds.

The Boat That Changed Everything

This breakthrough design ushered in dramatic changes in offshore racing, from the moment that Cal 40 #2, Conquistador, won the 1964 Southern Ocean Racing Conference, the marquee big boat series at the time. “Wooden ships and iron men” had been replaced by fiberglass boats and kids, as Cal 40s, sometimes crewed by teams of teenagers, crushed the competition in the Bermuda Race, the Transpac and many others.

Cal 40 Shaman Haulout
A haulout reveals the Cal 40’s flat, surfing hull form.
© 2020 Tom Burden

The Cal 40 was created as the combined work of three men. George Griffith, a successful racing sailor and member of the Los Angeles Yacht Club, reportedly drew the outline of a new kind of racing yacht hull on the back of a napkin, and showed it to his friend, naval architect C. William Lapworth. Griffith observed that sailing dinghies, like the International 14 class, were extremely maneuverable with their rudders hanging on their transoms, unlike the typical 40-footer of 1962, which was a full-keeled, heavy beast with the rudder swinging on the back of the keel.

Radical Ultralight Hull

Griffith’s sketch showed a flat-bottomed, radically ultralight hull, lithe and canoe-like in shape, but with a brutal, trapezoidal 6,000-pound wing stuck to the bottom. And behind this wing of a keel, way back, was a separate “spade” rudder. The design that Bill Lapworth created, at 15,000 pounds, was considered questionable, radically light and dangerously underbuilt by many of the yachting authorities, not to mention its being built out of the avant-garde new boatbuilding material of fiberglass, referred to as “extruded snot” by the esteemed L. Francis Herreshoff.

Griffith and Lapworth unsuccessfully shopped their design around to several California boatbuilders, experiencing polite rejection until they showed the plans to Jack Jensen, who agreed to build the boat on the condition that Griffith could guarantee orders for at least ten boats.

Here is Shaman moving a lot of water molecules out of the way as she surfs to First in Class in the 2008 Pacific Cup, under the ownership of Steve Waterloo.
© 2020 Shaman Archives

Fast forward to the present, and today the Cal 40 has attained true ‘cult’ status as a design that is sought after, restored and passed down through multiple generations of families. Try searching for Cal 40s that are for sale on Yachtworld and other sites, and you’ll likely come up empty. Folks spend multiple years and a quarter of a million dollars restoring Cal 40s and fitting them out with the latest sails, gear and electronics.

Standing the Test of Time

The Cal 40 has endured because it is not only a relatively quick downwind raceboat, but also a sweet-sailing light cruiser that, in the words of Cal 40 owner Stan Honey, “has no bad habits.” It steers beautifully under autopilot — plus it is rare to find a tiller-steered 40-ft sailboat, especially one with a light helm.

​Cal 40s have twice achieved the record of being the biggest one-design fleet ever in the biennial Transpac Race, with 14 boats in 1966 and 2005. And the boat continues to rack up trophies in big ocean races too, as San Francisco Bay-based Cal 40s have continued to place well. Azure, Rodney Pimentel’s Encinal-based program, has been consistently near the top of the fleet in Bay, coastal and Pacific races. Green Buffalo and Red Head, from Richmond Yacht Club, have won at the top level. And no list of modern-era Cal 40 accomplishments is complete without mention of the husband/wife team of Stan Honey and Sally Lindsay Honey onboard Illusion.

skirting the genoa
Shaman the movie star: The Cal 40 Shaman appears in many of West Marine’s West Advisor videos and articles.
© 2020 Tom Barrett

​Many Cal 40 restorations are underway, or have happened recently. Fred Cook’s complete down-to-bare-glass rebuild of Sequoia, documented in a great series of videos, is the most famous one. He’s worked with Cree Partridge, Jim Antrim, Kame Richards and other top East Bay pros to create a virtually brand-new boat.

​A Swell Cal 40 Voyage

Perhaps the most well-known Cal 40 belongs to Liz Clark, who has been roaming the Pacific aboard Cal 40 #68, Swell. On what she calls, “a sailing surfer’s voyage of awakening,” Captain Clark has pushed the boundaries of solo cruising and sustainable living, all while attracting notice for her exciting adventures and sponsorship from the likes of Patagonia and North Sails. We have a copy of her excellent narrative, a book called Swell, onboard Shaman.

21 Comments

  1. Holly Scott 2 years ago

    I own #120, ‘Mahalo’ and have since 2007. Yes, spent lots of $$ but she was in great shape after two Transpacs in ’03 and ’05 as ‘Flying Cloud’. She’s small by modern standards but just a blast to sail. I don’t race but I love to sail a boat well and a 40 is just a joy. She’s a great cruising boat now too.

  2. Greg Clausen 2 years ago

    First I would like to thank Latitude 38 for providing the magazine over the years but its especially great now when away from the water! I did the Transpac last year on Bob Hortons Cal 40 “Highlander” from Tiburon. What a great ride out there on the Pacific, I can vouch for the surfing which became competitive on the boat to see who who get the highest speed, I won by topping out at 18.9 knots on a wave at about 3-4 in the morning!, We could gauge how fast we were going by the noise of the water and how high water was spraying above the lifelines.

  3. luc 2 years ago

    I like Cal 40s fine, but not the
    V drive most of them have.

  4. Dean Vincent 2 years ago

    I remember sailing with Jon Andron and his father Mort on their Cal 40 out of Santa Barbara in 1966-69. I was living aboard my boat GJOA in the SB harbor then. A fast boat ,but many “old school” sailors did not trust the FRP boats and I remember wondering if those boats would just fall apart while racing. How times changed.

  5. Michael Polkabla 2 years ago

    We love the Cal40 here on Monterey Bay as well where we have a group of solo sailors we call “The Usual Suspects” who enjoy slugging it out on a regular basis. The Cal40 is extremely well suited for solo sailing/racing with it’s long tiller, accessible trim lines, and ability to easily steer with one’s foot while grinding in the jib after tacking. Just ask Steve Gann on his Cal40, Boomer, who (at 78 yrs young) still has enough tricks up his sleeve to teach us “youngsters” a thing or two!!!

  6. Tom Horvath 2 years ago

    Love Cal 40’s. Sailed in 81 and 85 on Montgomery Street in TransPac. We won it all in 85. The boat is like a freight train on rails downwind in a blow. I have many wonderful memories. I love it that Cal 40’s are still competitive 6 decades later.

  7. Ron Landmann 2 years ago

    How about running some of the old stories about the Cal-40. One such story that comes to mind was about Stan Honey doing the single-handed transpac in his Cal-40. Something about him beating the time of all previous Cal-40’s that had ever done the trip.

  8. David James 2 years ago

    Splendid summary, thank you! It is extraordinarily impressive that almost 50 years later the Cal 40 remains an icon: a formidable racing boat that is also a sea-kindly and practical cruising boat without bad habits

    It is, perhaps, worth remembering that the Cal 40 did not spring fully formed from George Griffith’s imagination onto that cocktail napkin. The same George Griffith had collaborated with the same Bill Lapworth on a prototype for the Cal 40 which was also built in Cost Mesa. This was the Lapworth 36. George Griffith took delivery of hull #1. It shared many of the same characteristics, and 71 boats were built to become a premiere one design fleet on the West Coast. It too, was radically ultralight by the standards of the day at less than 11,000 pounds. It shared the same rig and sail plan, and many of the same hull and under-body characteristics. The L-36 still had a keel hung rudder so it was the spade rudder that was the quantum leap on the Cal 40. Like the Cal 40, a well maintained Lapworth 36 remains a formidable racing boat as well as a sea-kindly and practical cruising boat without bad habits.

    Full disclosure: my Father had #71 built. It is still in our family, and I expect my sons to be sailing her for many decades to come.

  9. Rev Dr Malama 2 years ago

    So additional articles must follow to describe the “cult” group of Cal 20s, 29s and other Lapworth models such as the Pearson 44, etc…. the man knew how to conceptualize racing vessels way beyond the design of the times.

  10. Capt John Granahan 2 years ago

    What about the 40’s hot little sister the Cal 39 (pic in 2-11-18 Lec Lat, Ode to Wet Bottom Girls), or “The Other Woman” Knot A Clew.

    • Gerald Sobel, ower and race Cal 24 "Grand Dillusion" and formerly, Cal 24 "Shpritz"...the ORIGINAL "CAL". 9 months ago

      Little? I believe the Cal 39 is both longer and heavier. Ask Saildata.com

  11. David James 2 years ago

    The Cal 39 is certainly a fine yacht, but it is fundamentally an offshore cruiser with good performance rather than a racing design that can also be cruised comfortably.

    • skip allan 2 years ago

      Guess I could tell a few “old” Cal 40 stories. In the ’67 Transpac (not ’66 as written in the article above), there were 14 Cal 40s on the start line. HOLIDAY TOO, #24, won class and overall, the youngest crew to do so, and a record that still stands despite MORNING LIGHT’s professional attempt at besting it. Before the 2007 Transpac, and movie of the same name, Robbie Haines of the MORNING LIGHT Disney project called me up and wanted all HOLIDAY TOO’s ’67 crew birthdates. I thought this a little strange without an explanation and refused his request. Another memory: Before the 2003 Transpac Stan Honey invited George Griffith and Bill Lapworth aboard ILLUSION for a little visit while tied up at the Griffiths’ dock in Alamitos Bay. As we sat around in the cockpit, a little contentiousness erupted. George told how Lapworth had designed the rig to be 18″ shorter, but George held out for the “tall” rig, saying Lapwoth’s “stump” would have “killed” the boat. Then the subject of who designed the Cal 40’s spade rudder, of which both Lapworth and Griffith claimed credit, arose, and was not resolved before our friendly little reunion broke up. Good times. -skip

  12. Marianne Wheeler. 2 years ago

    Good to read about the history and accomplishments, past and present, of the wonderful Cal 40.
    My family and I have enjoyed owning Chaparral, hull number 135, for more than two decades and agree whole heartedly with the positive statements and comments about this tried and true class of great sailboats.
    In over 50 years on the water, Chaparral has proven the point of being an excellent racer and
    cruiser by performing well in off shore racing, including crewed and single handed Transpacs, as well as sailing around the world in 16 months, with her previous owner, Hans Vielhauer.
    Cal 40s may be old, but they certainly are good, and so much fun to sail.

  13. Steve Hodges 2 years ago

    Jim Quanci’s beautifully maintained Cal 40 ‘Green Buffalo’ has a few miles and many wins under her keel! I enjoyed following GB out of the gate in the 2012 SHTP, which Jim and GB won. And of course GB has also competed successfully in several Pac Cups, and many Bay races. She’s a Cal 40 worth watching!

  14. Tom Keogh 7 months ago

    Can anyone fill in the history of Sally and Stan’s Illusion? There was a black Cal 40 on the East Coast by that name in the early ’70s – owned by Commodore Montesano and raced by him and Bus Mosbacher. Maybe you’ve enjoyed a famous Montesano Cooler on the lawn at Larchmont. Yup – one and the same. I raced on the East Coast Illusion as a junior and have wondered if it’s the same boat. Thanks for any ideas.

    • Stan Honey 1 week ago

      Yes Sally and my Cal40 ILLUSION is the same boat as owned by Bus Mosbacher and Vince Monte-Sano. We sailed ILLUSION around to the East Coast to do the Bermuda Race in 2020 which was cancelled. Our fallback was two terrific summers cruising in Maine. We’ll be racing ILLUSION in the upcoming Newport Bermuda Race in June 2022. Interestingly ILLUSION’s first Bermuda Race was in 1966 raced by Mosbacher and Monte-Sano in which she came second to the Cal40 Thunderbird. The seven Cal40’s swept the results that year.

  15. Ian Hutchison 4 months ago

    I am the keeper of hull 147 (I think) under the name EnFin, located on the Great Lakes. Although her specific history has gaps, it’s believed she’s lived in the fresh water of Lake Ontario for all of her life. In my opinion the Cal-40 has the best cockpit and is…. sparse down below. The cramped galley and curved floor can be difficult to get used to, but in a >15kn beam reach she makes it tough for boats far lighter and newer to keep up.

  16. Stan Honey 3 months ago

    It is the same ILLUSION as owned by Mosbacher and Montesano. Hull number 57. She used to be black. There are half hulls of her in the NYYC Model Room and in Larchmont YC. She used to have sail number 1700, probably because Weatherly, the 12 that Mosbacher sailed in the Cup had sail number 17.

    • Tom Keogh 1 week ago

      Thanks Stan, that connects the dots and brings back lots of happy memories. Glad to know you’re continuing the fun. Good luck in June. TK

  17. Ryan Anderson 1 week ago

    I crewed on an L40 owned by Dr. Ed DuBois out of Marina del Rey back
    In 1968 and 1969. It was a lot of fun even tough we weren’t very competitive. I’d love to know if that boat is still around. I have no remembrance of the name or numbers of the boat. Ryan Anderson

Leave a Comment




Messages to the Neighbors
"When you live in Sacramento like I do and miss sailing on San Francisco Bay with your buddies (like I do), what else was I supposed to do? I dug deep into my gear box…"
Sponsored Post
Washing, waxing, varnishing. Serving the entire Bay Area for more than 30 years. “I have never seen the teak look so good."
Commentary
Today, New Zealand went from its “Level 4” lockdown — the highest, most strict tier — down to “Level 3.” More businesses will be allowed to open, and more activities will be allowed.