Rhodes Reliant and Offshore 40

History and Accomplishments



Rhodes Reliant History
Offshore 40 Modifications
Accomplishments and Passages

Rhodes Reliant History (updated March 25, 2009)

LOA               40' 9"
LWL               28' 0"
Beam             10' 9"
Draft                5' 9"
Disp.             22,040 lb
ballast (lead)    8,240 lb

The Rhodes Reliant and its close sistership, the Offshore 40, are fast, comfortable cruising sailboats, about 40 feet overall, with 28 foot waterlines. They are secure under all conditions at sea, and have a classic beauty of form and detail. They have explored the harbors and islands of both coasts, cruised Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as inland lakes, circumnavigated the globe, and have been comfortable homes at anchor and at docks. They are, as Arthur Beiser said, "proper yachts."

The boats were built between 1963 and 1976, at Cheoy Lee Shipyard in Hong Kong. They had thick, strong fiberglass hull and deck moldings, but were covered with teak to give the appearance of being classic wooden boats. Most of these boats are close to or over thirty years old and are being restored, refitted, and modernized by their owners for the next three decades of cruising in style and comfort.

The Reliant was an evolution and combination of several of Rhodes's previous designs. It was, in some ways, the culmination of his insights after four decades of designing sailboats, both with respect to the hull form and interior layout.

Over the decades, Rhodes had designed two hull forms, a fairly narrow boat and a somewhat wider one with a centerboard.  The classic, narrow form included the 27 foot lwl Rhodes 27, developed in 1938. In 1955, Rhodes enlarged this design with Altair, a 29 foot lwl version. This was scaled down slightly to the 28 foot lwl Bounty II, later produced as the Pearson R41.  Rhodes had also designed a beamier centerboard model, the most famous example of which was Carina.  When the centerboarder proportions were applied to the 29' waterline  Altair, Erewhon was created.

The Reliant is a slightly scaled down version of a combination Altair/Erewhon, with 6" more beam than the Bounty II/Pearson R41. Although she is derived from other designs, to some extent, she is a distinctive new form for Rhodes, with more beam than his classic narrow boats, but not quite as much beam has his centerboarders.

Bounty II
Pearson 41
LOA 39'2" 42'3" 42'3" 40'10" 40'9"
LWL 27' 29' 29' 28' 28'
Beam 9'8" 10'6" 11'3" 10'3" 10'9"
Draft 5'10" 6' 4'7" 5'9" 5'9"

The Reliant's designed displacement was 22,040 lb.  It has been measured at 22,357 lb. at a waterline length of 28.67 ft. An inch of immersion displaces roughly 1,088 lb of water.  The design called for 8,240 lb of  lead ballast.

By today's standards, the Reliant hull configuration is relatively narrow and heavy.  When compared with other boats, she has a good turn of speed, but her distinctive features are that she is has unsually great ultimate stability and she has a very high "comfort index."  Comparisons with other boats are facilitated with this website for  comparing indices for boats.

The Reliant was designed with a sloop or a yawl rig, but most of the boats were sold as yawls.   The original sail plans show that the masts and fore triangles of the yawls and sloops are identical, but on the sloop the boom is a little longer. When the boat was sold as a sloop, the mizzen chainplates were often installed, making conversion to a yawl fairly simple.  The rig follows very closely what Rhodes had designed in 29' lwl yawls in the mid 1950's, most obviously Fair Winds, a sistership of Erewhon.

While the hull form and rig of the Reliant evolved from other designs, the Reliant's three cabin interior layout in a 28' waterline hull was a real innovation. An offset companionway somewhat forward and to starboard leads to a main cabin with a dinette to port and galley to starboard. On the port side is the head, with two doors providing private access from the aft cabin and general access from the main cabin. The aft cabin, with full standing head room, has two quarter berths and direct access to the head. A forward cabin includes two Vee berths, its own hanging locker and small sink..

It creating this unusual layout, Rhodes used ideas he had developed in previous designs.

  •  In Copperhead, a 48 footer from 1939, Rhodes had designed an aft cabin, a starboard side companionway coming down from the cabin top almost amidships, a head to port (with separate access to the aft cabin and main cabin), and a wet locker outboard of the companionway.
  • In Olsching (#618, 1953) Rhodes developed a dinette to port (converting to a double bed) and a linear galley to starboard.   By using this configuration for the main cabin, Rhodes could fit in a seating area as well as a galley in only 6 1/2 feet of space. In one of some supplementary alternatives for the interior for this boat that Rhodes penned in 1955, the ideas aft stateroom and midship head and companionway from Copperhead showed up again. Olsching also had a nice forward cabin.   Two years later, in Firande, the same linear galley and dinette were used. 
  • In Thunderhead (1959), he designed a sharply curved companionway.

To create the Reliant interior, Rhodes took the aft state room and midship head and companionway module from Copperhead-Olsching and combined them with the dinette/galley module and the forward cabin module for Olsching.

He then refined the blend in these ways:

  • He made a slightly curved companionway so it would be compatible with the galley.
  • He provided a side deck to the main companionway, so it could be used without climbing up on the cabin top (as in Copperhead-Olshing).
  • He removed a couple of lockers to reduce the length requirements.
Fiberglass construction, new in the early 1960s, freed up space that the earlier wood construction had used, and allowed this pathbreaking three cabin layout in a 28' waterline, whereas it had previously required 32' or 34' in wooden boats.

This arrangment plan shows how three modules from different arrangements of Design 618 were combined to make the Reliant plan.

During this period of adaptation of these Rhodes designs, it must be noted that Rhodes' office included his son Philip H. ("Bodie") Rhodes and James McCurdy, a  very talented designer who served as head of the Yacht Design Section. They were both directly involved in these adaptations and in the engineering work for the Reliant and, in reality, share the credit for the Reliant design..

(For a more detailed analysis of Rhodes' sailboat designs, use this link. )

The Reliant was immediately recognized as a special boat. It was one of the boats featured in Arthur Beiser's book The Proper Yacht (1st ed.) Beiser commented,

In view of (her) parentage, then, it is not surprising that Reliant should be a fine looking masthead sloop (or, alternatively, yawl) of obvious ability under sail. However, what really distinguishes Reliant from the hundreds of other auxiliaries of similar size and external appearance is the three-compartment accommodation, a triumph of meticulous planning. To sleep six on a boat with a 28 ft. waterline is no trick at all, but to do this with two double cabins, both small but not impossibly cramped, and without any serious sacrifice in the main cabin, galley, head, or stowage space counts as a real achievement.
Richard Henderson, in Philip L. Rhodes and his Yacht Designs has similar views:
Perhaps the most admired and sought-after fiberglass boat from the board of Phil Rhodes is the Rhodes Reliant....I have sailed on and against this boat in races, and she handles extremely well. In addition, she has great aesthetic appeal...But the most distinctive feature of this 1963 design is her deck layout and arrangement below...This layout affords remarkable privacy for a 28-foot-waterline boat...
Offshore 40 Modification

In March 1964, Cheoy Lee built a modified version, called the Offshore 40 in the United States and the Empire 40 in other markets. The boats have virtually the same hull form (check this photo of a Reliant and an Offshore 40 wintering together to see the virtual identity)  and exactly the same sail plan. All boats were offered as sloops or yawls. The differences between the Rhodes Reliant and the Offshore 40 are these:

    - A mirror deck plan and interior layout (main companionway and galley to port, dinette and head to starboard).
    - The Offshore/Empire 40 was 1 foot shorter. The Rhodes Reliant was 40'9" and the Offshore 40 was 39'9".  In reality, the hulls are virtually identical, but the overhangs have been reduced a bit.  The transom has moved forward about 4" and the bow has been pulled together a little more sharply.  The water line length and beam of the two classes are identical. The other minor differences are the keel and rudder, noted below. The hulls are so similar that the deck mouldings were interchangeable! Some Offshore hulls have Reliant decks. (See below.)

    - The Rhodes Reliant has external lead ballast, secured by bronze (some stainless steel) bolts that are fairly easy to replace.  In the Offshore 40, the ballast was changed to internal iron, weighing 340 pounds less. To compensate for the reduced density and thickness of the internal iron ballast, the Offshore 40's keel was 3" deeper, given a slightly different profile and a sharper leading edge.  The external lead ballast gives the bottom of the Reliant some protection in the event of grounding.  On the other hand, owners of the internally ballasted Offshore 40 don't have to think about deterioration of keel bolts.

    - Rudders are different in shape and in construction. (See  photo of rudders .)  On the Reliant, the rudder is a half-moon shape.  It is made of wood, and the rudder post is a solid shaft that can be detached from the rudder. On the Offshore 40, the rudder is more trapazoidal and larger at the bottom.  It is made of  wood-cored fiberglass and has a permanently attached rudder post that is a hollow welded pipe that is welded to a solid shaft. The Reliant rudder can be taken off fairly easily because it can be detached from the rudder post.  In contrast; removal of the Offshore 40 rudder requires extraction of the propeller shaft and lifting the boat high or digging a hole for dropping the rudder. On the Offshore 40, the propeller aperture is larger, making it far easier to install a feathering propeller.

    - The Rhodes Reliants were built as Rhodes specified, using a mat/woven roving combination fiberglass lay-up.  The Offshore 40 was built with fiberglass mat only (recommended by Lloyds). There are only a few reports of blistering for either hull.  The different lay-up plans (woven roving vs. mat) were also used on the deck moldings as well as the bonding straps joining the hull with the deck. 

    - The Offshore 40 has running lights mounted in the topsides of the hull, near the bow.  On the Reliant, running lights were attached to the bow pulpit. The Reliants have bow chocks built into the rail, while the Offshore 40 bow chocks are on top of the rail.

    - According to specifications, the sail plans of the Offshore 40 and the Reliant, including the lengths of all three sides of every sail, are identical. However, one owner ordered his Offshore 40 in 1970 as a sloop with the mast moved 11" aft. Whether this became standard on later sloops is not known.

    - Reliants had stainless steel water tanks which have developed leaks and have required replacement. Offshore 40s have fiberglass tanks. These seem more durable.

    - The Reliants had only the three-cabin layout, but the Offshore/Empire 40 was offered in both the three-cabin (mirrored) layout as well as three different two-cabin layouts:
    • dinette, galley, head to starboard; wet locker, quarterberth to port; centerline companionway.
    • straight transom and pilot berths with center table; icebox, chart table to port; stove, sink to starboard; centerline companionway.
    • (E-type) dinette, galley, head to port; chart table, quarterberth to starboard; companionway about 6" to starboard.

    In addition, some of the two cabin layouts have some larger windows.  It seems there was some variability her in size and utilization of opening ports, probably determined by the original  orderers of the boats at the time of manufacture.

    The advantage of the three-cabin layout is privacy. The advantage of the two cabin layout was that for ocean voyaging, the center line companionway was considered safer in the event of a knockdown, the aft galley may be a bit more convenient when under sail, and the midship cabin with settees and pilot berths are well suited for off-watch crew.  However, some offshore sailors find that the three-cabin layout, with its smaller spaces, provides more handholds and less liklihood of being thrown around below in a seaway.  Each type of interior has its devotees.

    Offshore 40s, as Reliants, were offered in both yawl and sloop rigs.  In fact, only one or two of the Reliants are sloops, but about a third of the Offshore 40s are sloops.  Of the Offshore 40s for which I have data, roughly two-thirds are three cabin yawls. Roughly one-third have two cabins.

    - On both Reliants and Offshore 40s, the basic boat came with wooden spars, and aluminium was an optional extra. The wooden masts have proven quite durable, and most original wooden masts are still in service.  The glues holding the boards together tend to disintegrate, and several masts have been disassembled and reglued without too much difficulty, or repaired by gluing splines into the joints.

    - The scrolls at the end of the cove strip might be different.  photos

I am pretty sure that the plug which had been used to make the Reliant mold was simply altered a little bit to make the Offshore 40 mold.  It was cut off and pinched in at the bow, the transom was moved forward a few inches, and the cut-out for the ballast was filled in and made a little sharper than the actual lead shape.  The basic hull shape was unchanged and is identical.

Actually Cheoy Lee seems to have mixed up and modified the components of the boats more than would appear from the marketing brochures, probably at the request of individual purchasers. Some  have Offshore 40 hulls and rudders, but Reliant decks! ("Offshore Reliant") Several Offshore 40s have the internal ballast in their keels, but the ballast is lead, not iron. Some Offshore 40s have the Reliant half-moon rudder, while some Reliants, seem to have an Offshore rudder!

The Offshore/Empire 40 was created to provide a boat at lower cost. Savings were generated in a few ways. Cheoy Lee claimed that the Offshore 40 was its own, novel design and refused to pay any design royalty to Rhodes, resulting in a lower price, ill will, and threatened litigation.  Secondly, the shift to iron ballast reduced Cheoy Lee's costs by 15 percent because lead was in short supply in Hong Kong and because of the costs of handling and attaching a four ton piece. In addition, presumably the Offshore 40's rudder system and water tanks cost less.

From 1963 to 1968, 44 Reliants were manufactured.  Production ceased because the hull mold was deteriorating and perhaps because of the potential litigation with Rhodes concerning lack of royalties payment of the Offshore 40.  Offshore/Empire 40s were produced from 1964 until 1976.  About 112 Offshore 40s and Empire 40s were produced.  Altogether, 156 sisterships were built.

Accomplishments and Passages

Rhodes Reliants and Offshore 40s have made extensive ocean passages. At least five have circumnavigated. The boats are very strong, built before designers and builders knew how strong fiberglass was. The narrow hull heels easily but has great ultimate stability. If knocked down, it will right quickly, and it can not stay capsized, as modern, wide boats can. One circumnavigator felt the boat motion at sea was remarkably gentle and comfortable. The relatively narrow hull, slack bilges, heavy rig, and full keel gives the boat a rather slow roll. She rolls far in the trade winds, from rail to rail, but the time period is long, and this makes all the difference. 

Here is a list of some of the boats and their adventures:

ANTARES cruised from Seattle down the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal, through Belize and Guatemala and through the Western Caribbean and Bahamas for six years.

ARETHUSA lived in England for some years, presumably sailed back and forth.

ASTARTE started a two year cruise to Azores and the Mediterranean Sea in 1969. Women mutinied, seized control of the boat, and turned her around after 44 beautiful but wet hours at sea. ASTARTE did cruise to the Bahamas and back in 1974 and to Bermuda in 2002.

BLUE STOCKING, based in Bermuda, has made many passages to the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, and Caribbean between 1966 and 1985

BRETT ASHLEY lives in Antigua and just won a race in her class in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta in spring 1998.  In previous years, she has sailed back and forth between Maine and Antigua a few times..

CAPELLA was purchased in St. Thomas.

DOLCE VITA has cruised to the Caribbean.

ELYSIA was sailed from her first home in Hong Kong to the Bahama Islands. She is now in the Virgin Islands.

FEMME DU CREUX has cruised the East Coast from Bras d'Or Lake Nova Scotia to Fort Lauderdale.

FOLKSONG circumnavigated in 1974-78  when she was named TAKE FIVE.  In recent years she has sailed to Bermuda.

GYPSY circumnavigated, 1970-74. 

HO'OHOLO, based in Hawaii, has cruised the South Pacific and Alaska.

HEARTSTRING sailed to Bermuda.

KEA LII has cruised to Tahiti.

LA EMBRA has cruised to the South Pacific.

CHERYL L has cruised the Pacific coast extensively and spent some years in Hawaii.

MARKADA had sailed and chartered in the Caribbean and Bermuda.

MARY T survived the very destructive storm between New Zealand and Fiji, June, 1994. This was one step in what now seeems like a liesurely circumnavigation.  MARY T started in California in 1992, explored Mexico, Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Australian, Southeast Asia, crossed the Indian Ocean, and was in the Eastern Mediterranean for a year or so.  After cruising the Dalmatian coast, she spent a winter in Venice and about two years in the Western Med, before sailing trans-Atlantic to Martinique.  She cruised in Venezuela (Jan. 2004) and Equador, and returned to California in 2006.

MATELOT has circumnavigated when owned by Mr. Jenkins.  She now has been restored and is based in Italy.

MURITAI was originally delivered to Singapore and sailed extensively in the South China Seas, Indian Ocean, and the coasts of Malaysia, where she once encountered pirates.  Later she was shipped to San Francisco and sailed regularly to Mexico.

OWL spent the winter of 1997/8 in the Bahamas.

PELAGIC, based in Seattle, cruised to Alaska in 1990, Mexico in 1998, and did an extensive Pacific Islands Cruise in the mid 2000s.

RAVEN has cruised to Bermuda and the Caribbean, enduring storms with the anemometer pegged at 90 knots over 12 hours.

ROBUST sailed from New England to the Virgin Islands, back to Chesapeake Bay, trans-Atlantic to the Med and back, then back to Europe (Bermuda, Azores, England) to her present home on the west coast of Sweden.

RUSALKA has taken several knockdowns in its "Pacific" sailing.

SALA-MA-SOND, in her previous incarnation as FLYING EAGLE, has been to the South Pacific and to Mexico twice.  Her current owner is refitting her for at least a Pacific rim trip and perhaps a circumnavigation.

SELENE has cruised from San Francisco to Canada and to Mexico and the Caribbean, 1980-81.

SERENDIPITY traveled from Texas to the Bahamas and up to the Chesapeake, and has cruised to the Bahamas again.

SHEARWATER maybe sailed transpac, and maybe more.

SHIBUI has taken her owners on thousands of happy and secure cruising miles in the Pacific Ocean from her home port of Hawaii.

SISKIWIT has cruised extensively in the Bahamas.

SONRISA cruised in Mexican waters for some years when she was named HESTER EMILY

TIRANTE has sailed twice to Bermuda.

TRINKA when purchased in the Caribbean had charts for the entire North Atlantic.

TSARITSA has cruised the Pacific Coast from Juneau to Acupulco.

WINDFLOWER has cruised extensively in the Bahamas.

WINDIGO circumnavigated 1986-89.

WINDRESS was in San Francisco Bay area, and sailed to Florida.

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