CORBIN 39 SAILBOATS -- Review by Canadian Yachting Magazine
"I was looking for a boat that could take me safely and comfortably around the world," writes Marius Corbin, the
founder of Corbin les Bateaux Inc. in 1977. At the end of an extensive search for a serious long-distance cruiser,
Corbin chose a design by Robert Dufour of Dufour Yacht Design in Montreal. Dufour’s Harmonie – the prototype of
the Corbin 39 – had a canoe stern, a long, shallow fin keel with a vertical, skeg-supported rudder. Corbin and
Dufour agreed to modify Harmonie by adding higher topsides and a flush deck to increase the boat’s interior
volume. These modifications gave birth to the Corbin 39, and shortly after in 1979 Corbin les Bateaux pulled their
first boat from its mould. Corbin elected to use encapsulated ballast in his hulls – a common boat-building method,
but one that can make a hull vulnerable in a serious grounding as there is no external ballast to absorb the shock of
a big bump. Corbin boasts, however, that he has added eight layers of fiberglass between the ballast and the hull so
that his boat will not sink if the fiberglass keel is damaged. [Lester Note: In addition, a great working bilge keeps it
above water while water filters fast, keeping the boat afloat and ready for smooth sailing. As with every boat you
have to be sure the water filters out as everyone knows that boats sink when flooded. As water filters open waters
are ready to be sailed.]
Overall, the laminate schedule of the Corbin (the recipe for how much glass to use in the hull) is impressive, calling
for 11 layers of fiberglass mat or roving, in addition to a 16 mm Airex core. The deck is a wide and flat expanse with
a non-skid gel coat surface and a 3/4 inch marine-grade mahogany core. There are no interior hull mouldings, but
the plywood bulkheads are cushioned with foam core before they are glassed in. There were no changes to the
construction of the hull during the production run of the aft- and centre-cockpit models. Hulls number 1 through
#129 are recognizable by a small cockpit footwell, narrow side decks along the cockpit, and a low pilothouse trunk.
A fire at the Corbin factory at Chateauguay, Que. in late ’82 destroyed the Corbin’s deck moulds, and provided the
impetus to redesign the aft-cockpit version to create a larger cockpit and a higher pilothouse trunk. At the same
time, Corbin added a pilothouse to the initial centre-cockpit version. Both of these revised versions sported a taller
rig, with the mast step moved two-and-a-half feet further forward. Other modifications included leading the forestay
to the end of a three-foot bowsprit with dual anchor rollers. Everett Bastet of E.B. Spars Inc. in Hudson, Que.
provided most of the masts, rigging and related gear on the Corbin boats. He says the early rig was either a 46-foot
single-spreader mast, or a 51-foot double-spreader section. Subsequent versions had double-spreader 49-foot
masts, yet all the Corbin sticks were deck-stepped and stayed with 5/16 in. diameter, 9 by 32 wire. It is interesting to
note that the ketch rig had its main mast stepped in the same position as the mast step on the cutter rig.
Corbins were built in various shops in Chateauguay, Napierville and St. Paul de l’Ile aux Noix, Que., with the final hull
(number 199) built in 1990. The majority of these boats were finished by amateur builders from one of four stages of
completion: a hull and deck; hull and deck including six structural bulkheads and ballast; motor-away and sail-away.
In the motor-away package, the engine and tanks were installed but the interior was otherwise empty. The most
complete sail away package included engine, tanks, mast and sails, but no interior. About 15 boats were factory-
finished to a high standard to serve as demo boats for boat shows. All had custom interiors, and no two were alike.
The early pilothouse version had a conventional straight-shaft engine installation with either a Volkswagen
Pathfinder or Westerbeke 33 hp diesel engine under the galley sink, although some Corbins were built with the Bukh
36 hp saildrive. Centre-cockpit versions, however, placed the engine in its own room under the cockpit sole. A later
aft-cockpit model had a vee-drive connected to the Westerbeke or a Perkins 4-108 diesel. A mainsheet traveller is
mounted on the bridge deck of the earlier boats, but the cockpit is cramped by a boom gallows and a hydraulic
steering pedestal – a cosy setting for four close friends. In later aft-cockpit boats, the cockpit was widened and
lengthened, and the mainsheet traveller was moved to the pilothouse roof to make more room for lounging in the
cockpit. All the Corbins have enormous deck anchor lockers – perhaps the largest I have seen – with two hatches in
the foredeck that will comfortably hold all the anchors, chain, hoses and shore-power cables any long-distance
cruiser will desire. This excellent storage in the bow partially makes up for the Corbin’s tiny cockpit lockers. The
interior of the aft-cockpit model begins under a large pilothouse. Inside is a centre-line steering console, a nav
station, either a quarter berth or hanging locker to port, and settee to starboard. There are two steps down to the
main salon under the flush deck, with a large galley to port and a fridge/freezer to starboard. The dinette sits in front
of the fridge with a settee or pedestal chairs on the opposite side. The head and a hanging locker separate the
main salon from the forward vee-berth. Headroom is generous throughout and there are fixed ports in the topsides
of the hull. Eight opening deck hatches provide lots of light and ventilation in the interior. The aft-cabin model
features a double berth and choice of either an aft head, or increased stowage and a work area in the engine room.
As a general rule, boats that are built by amateurs fetch lower prices, although final finish is certainly the
determining factor to a Corbin’s value. Incomplete hull and deck kits start at around $35,000. Rough and poorly-
finished boats sell for $75,000. Factory completed vessels start at $150,000. Reg and Patricia Watts were looking
for a boat to retire on that could take them anywhere on the planet without concern for structural integrity. This
Mississauga, Ont. couple also wanted a boat with moderate draft that would be both comfortable to live aboard and
easy to handle. In the early spring of 1995, the Watts settled on an early Corbin, Dora Rose, built in 1980. (The boat’
s first owner, Rupert Cheeseman, finished this boat in a cherry wood interior to a decent standard, and took the
boat from Lake Ontario to the Caribbean three times.) "When you buy a boat for a specific purpose," Watts
observes, "you worry about making too many compromises, but this didn’t apply to the Corbin. In all, we are really
pleased with the boat. We did worry about the two of us being able to handle a boat of this size, but we find her
manageable because of her docile characteristics." Patricia Watts adds, "Dora Rose gives us confidence whatever
the weather. In fact, we are dry, comfortable, and are often out sailing when others stay at the dock." Terry Forsbrey
is the second owner of Stella, a later-model kit-boat that is one of the best looking and best-equipped Corbins I have
seen. Before heading down to Chesapeake Bay, Forsbrey had Wiggers Custom Yachts in Bowmanville, Ont. fair the
hull and paint the topsides – a job that included spraying on, then sanding back, five coats of epoxy primer before
the topcoat went on. This completely removed the fibreglass roving show-through that affects some of the Corbin
hulls. To be fair, however, the glass work on these boats is otherwise very good. "These boats sail well in light airs,"
Foresbrey adds, "and I find I can ghost along and pass many other more performance-oriented boats. She is not
sharp to windward in light winds, but get her moving and she carries her way."
Marius Corbin talks proudly of the global fleet of his boats. "We get postcards from all over the world – Japan,
Australia, South Africa, you name it – from owners who love the boats for their liveability and seakindly manner."
What better recommendation is there for a strong and seaworthy vessel that is ready for the world’s oceans?