The legendary designer/builder Charley Morgan allegedly conceived this boat in a fit of pique when the IOR supplanted the old CCA rule as the racing rating rule du jour back in 1970. If so, it was an auspicious tantrum, as the Out Island 41 turned out to be an extremely successful boat and ultimately helped transform the business of fiberglass sailboat production. The OI 41 was not only one of the first designs targeted at the emerging bareboat charter industry, it was also one of the first center-cockpit boats and one of the first to blatantly discount sailing performance in favor of maximum accommodation space.
As such, the OI 41 is a boat many serious sailors love to hate–for its bulky plastic appearance, for its less than mediocre performance, and for the profound change it wrought in mass-production priorities. It is also, however, still much loved and prized among more pragmatic cruisers who value comfort, space, and nice low purchase prices.
Many different variations of the OI 41 were created during a 20-year production run (1971-91) that ultimately saw the launching of some 1,100 boats. The biggest change came in 1986 after Catalina Yachts acquired Morgan Yachts and fundamentally reshaped the OI 41’s hull, replacing the full shoal keel and attached rudder with a somewhat deeper long fin keel and skeg-hung rudder. About 150 of these redesigned boats were built–they were branded (ironically) as the Out Island 41 Classic–and they are fundamentally superior to their predecessors. They sail much better, but the interior lay-out and appearance of the deck and topsides is much the same.
OI 41 models prior to the Classic are differentiated by three-digit numbers: the earliest was the 413, the last was the 416, which was introduced in 1981 and featured a much larger sailplan. Many of the changes made in the intermediate 414 (1973-76) and 415 (1977-80) models involved relatively minor interior alterations. The most important changes were the introduction of a walk-through interior in 1974 and of a sloop rig as an alternative to the standard ketch rig in 1977.
Having once spent two weeks aboard an older OI 41 ketch during a bareboat charter in the Bahamas, I can attest that full-keel OIs are not quite as unwieldy under sail as their detractors claim. It is often said they cannot even tack without a push from an engine, but this is only true if you are a poor sailor to begin with. Many boats unfortunately have hydraulic steering systems, and this only reinforces the impression that the OI sails like a pig. If helm feedback is important to you, look for early 413 and 414 models with cable steering or for later boats retrofitted with push-pull systems.
Though sheeting angles are wide, I found it is in fact possible to sail a full-keel OI closehauled at about 45 degrees off the wind without making too much leeway in flat water. In rough water, however, the boat slides off at an alarming rate, so motorsailing to windward is usually the order of the day once the waves are up. Not surprisingly, the OI loves a good reach and tracks well with the wind on or near its beam. On this point of sail I found it easy to balance out the boat and leave the helm unattended. The OI also does well enough off the wind, particularly if you’re willing to fly a spinnaker to keep her moving.
Structurally the OI 41 is fairly solid, though not as strong as it could be. The hull is solid laminate with bulkheads and all furniture securely tabbed to it. The bulkheads, however, are not tabbed to the plywood-cored deck, but instead are bonded to the molded deck liner. There are transverse deck beams that help keep the deck from lifting when the rig is loaded, but still bulkheads on some boats may show some twisting and/or cracking where they join the liner.
The through-bolted deck joint on boats built before 1975 is below the fat cove stripe under the sheer line and thus is vulnerable to damage from docks and Travelift slings. Later it was moved up to deck level where it belongs. Other areas to pay attention to are the mainmast step over the keel, which is iron and may cause the aluminum mast heel to corrode once the insulation between the two breaks down, and the tanks, which are polyethylene and are prone to fail over time. Because the tanks were originally installed with the deck off and are sized accordingly it is usually necessary to replace them with smaller tanks that can fit through the companionway.
What’s most attractive about the OI is its expansive interior. Its basic accommodation footprint, with a large segregated owner’s stateroom aft, lots of communal living space in the middle, and another guest stateroom forward, has been mimicked by most of the center-cockpit boats that have followed in its wake and has not been substantially improved upon. Theoretically on most OIs it is possible to sleep seven people in all, but it works best as a family boat or as a spacious home for a couple who like to have a spare cabin for visitors.
Interior details vary quite a bit from model to model. Some forward staterooms have V-berths, some have overlapping over-and-under single berths. Most have dinette tables in the saloon, but some have fold-down bulkhead tables. Most have full-length settees in the saloon, but some have a pair of captain’s chairs on one side. And so on. Finish quality on older boats is apt to seem dated and a bit rough around the edges, but some old OIs have been remarkably well cared for, with thoroughly updated interiors and lots of new equipment on board (e.g., see the note from John Howard below). On the whole, however, interiors on the newer Classic boats seem fresher and more attractive.
Ultimately, the OI 41 is one of the most comfortable, most affordable shoal-draft coastal cruisers you are apt to come across. Some folks take these boats offshore, but others might feel circumspect about this. Earl Hinz, who earned a large reputation cruising the Pacific in the 1970s and ’80s, did all his ocean sailing in an OI 41, but he and his wife Betty were conservative in picking weather windows and rarely experienced strong conditions. Hinz’s own evaluation of the boat probably sums it up best: “It was a Tupperware charter boat, but it had shoal draft, lots of storage, and we could afford it.”
Editor’s note: Since first publishing an earlier version of the above post on WaveTrain two years ago, I have been in touch with John Howard, current owner of Earl Hinz’s old boat. He sent the following note, plus some pix:
You referenced Earl Hinz’s South Pacific voyages in a Morgan OI back in the 70s/80s. I can add a bit of additional information to that boat’s history. The boat is a 1973 Morgan OI 41 ketch, hull number 95, named Horizon. Earl ordered a few modifications to the Morgan’s production specifications, such as a door between the aft stateroom and the engine room, which allowed access to the forward cabin without going topside. He also increased the fuel tankage to 180 US gallons and fresh water to 175 gallons. Earl and Betty sailed the boat extensively throughout the South Seas in the ensuing years, as chronicled in several of Earl’s books.
Earl sold Horizon to David Komish in 1989 in Honolulu, Hawaii. David retraced all of Earl’s previous voyages in the South Pacific down to New Zealand and made additional voyages to Australia and Hong Kong. David then moved his home port to Guam and made voyages with Horizon as far north as Hiroshima, Japan.
In June of 2005, Dave struck a business deal (long story) with an acquaintance he had met on Guam to sail Horizon to Okinawa, Japan, for a sum of money and to put her up for sale. The voyage took 11 days in less than ideal sailing conditions. My wife and I bought Horizon eight days after she made port in Okinawa Marina. We moved her over to the other side of Okinawa and hauled her out at Kadena Marina and spent the next two years doing a refit and some additional modifications.
Horizon now sports a pilot house, a radar/solar panel arch that add 30 inches to the stern, stainless steel rails and a modified pulpit, along with a laundry list of other improvements. The key to making an OI 41 go? Add an inner forestay and carry the largest sail that will fit in the triangle. As they say, every boat is a compromise, but after talking with the two previous owners and considering our feelings, it’s hard to find fault with this 39-year-old Tupperware boat. Thanks, Charley Morgan!
John and Naomi Howard
–Pre-1986: 9,000 lbs.
–Classic: 8,500 lbs.
–Pre-1986: 27,000 lbs.
–Classic: 23,000 lbs.
–Pre-1981 ketch: 683 sq.ft.
–Classic sloop: 780 sq.ft.
Fuel (Classic): 85 gal.
Water (Classic): 215 gal.
–Pre-1981 ketch: 12.12
Nominal hull speed
–Pre-1986: 8.1 knots
–Classic: 8.5 knots
Typical asking prices
–Pre-1986: $47K – $80K
–Classic: $80K – $125K