Corbin 39 Review: French Canadian Mystery

Corbin 39 PDF Brochure (Click to Download)

With Corbin 39’s you never know what you are going to get. First, the Quebec company made so many versions of the deck including cutter, ketch, pilot, aft cockpit, center cockpit, Mark I, and Mark II. Second of the 199 built 185 were shipped in varying states with unfinished interiors. You never know if you are going to see a walnut Formica interior or stunning solid teak joinery work. In 1977, Marius Corbin commissioned a design by Robert Dufour in Montreal. After seeing a one-off 39-foot Dufour design named Harmonie, Mr. Corbin asked Mr. Dufour to increase the freeboard and flush the deck. In 1979, the first Corbin 39 came out of the mold. They produced 129 Corbins until 1982. These had small cockpits, narrow side decks, a low profile cabin trunk, and weather helm issues. In 1982, a fire destroyed the deck molds providing the company an excellent opportunity to rectify these issues. Post-1982 Corbins have longer cockpits, a high pilothouse, and a mast stepped further forward to balance the helm. They produced the last hull number 199 in 1990.

First Impressions
The Corbin 39′ bow quickly broadens for a wide foredeck. The other day, I previewed a Corbin 39, then a Hylas 46, and was shocked at the broadness of the Corbin. The bowsprit was wide with dual rollers though many early ones did not have a sprit. These have above average freeboard, a modest sheerline, and canoe stern. Like in the photo, owners paint a wide cove stripe to helm minimize the freeboard. The canoe stern is not as pleasing as the Valiant 40’s to my eye. The deck is pretty flush with just a slight lip of a cabin trunk. This rises to a high pilothouse on some versions. The cockpit may be center or aft. Underneath, these have the classic long fin keel and skeg hung rudder combination with a shoal draft of 6′.

Corbin 39
Corbin 39 Center Cockpit

Corbin like Westsail sold these as kits. Only 15 of the 199 built were factory finished and used as demo boats. And even these had all different, custom interiors. Of the kit versions, they sold them in four different degrees of finish. Choice one, the most minimal version, was just the hull and deck. Choice two had the hull and deck along with six structural bulkheads and ballast. Choice three, called “motor-away”, had in addition the engine and tankage installed. Finally, choice four, “sail-away”, included all the previous installments along with the mast and sails. Even for the fourth sail-away choice, the interior was left bare. This leads to the wide variety of the interior quality. Like Bruce Roberts says about his designs, there are a third that are okay, another third that are spectacular, and a final third that Corbin would rather forget. None had factory interiors except the 15 demo boats.

But the work Corbin did do was exceptional. The hulls have an impressive layup schedule of 11 layers of mat and roving with a 16mm Airex core. The deck is a 3/4″ core of marine grade mahogany early on but later Airex foam. The ballast is 9,000 pounds lead encapsulated with extra layers of fiberglass around the keel for protection. Most spars are by Everett Bastet of E.B. Spars Inc. in Quebec. Early one this was a 46′ single spreader main or a 51′ turbo charged double spreader. Later on most had 49′ double spreader rigs. All rigs are deck stepped which may surprise traditionalists. If done right, a deck stepped rig is just as secure as a keel stepped one, and every indication shows that Corbin knew how to engineer a seaworthy sailboat. The rigging is 5/16″ diameter, 9 by 32 strand wire.

What To Look For
The one I saw had a beautiful solid teak interior by a famous carpenter. She had better workmanship than any production interior. But, you just never know what you will find, and it may be difficult for a proud owner or broker to see the harsh reality of a poor quality job. It would be a worthwhile try to ask which one of the four finish levels, the Corbin is but do not expect an accurate answer. Try to find, one of the 15 demo boats who would have most likelihood of a quality job. Watch for soft spots in the deck. Years ago in New York, I previewed a nice looking late model Corbin 39. The broker told me that the owner had recently put $70,000 into her which is a common story. He mentioned that there were numerous soft spots in the Airex cored deck that had to be dug out and sealed. The early ones had a marine grade mahogany cored deck that is more vulnerable to water intrusion.

The Corbin 39 is known for weather helm especially pre-1982 models. Designed when large fore triangles were the rage, these early cutter Corbins had fickle helms that needed constant attention to handle the weather helm. Subsequently by moving the mast forward, adding a bowsprit, and moving the forestay to the sprit, they were able to get the rig under control. While some owners discuss modifying the skeg, the only real way to reduce weather helm is to move the sail-plan forward. The early ketch versions are the worst with the main still stepped at the same cutter location. If she does not have a forestay mounted on a bowsprit, you might budget this into your purchase. This relieves the weather helm on the early models along with maybe a sharper cut mainsail. The idea is to move the sailplan forward to balance her out. The traveler was reported mounted on the bridge deck in early version, and with the small cockpit should be moved forward to the cabintrunk. Finally, the best rig is one of the double spreader versions while the single spreader version is under-canvassed.

On Deck
The bowsprit forward and raked bow make anchoring easy. Early versions had no bowsprit and a single roller. The foredeck broadens quickly along with the flush deck for great room forward to stoy a dinghy. An electric windlass is always a nice upgrade if she is not equipped with one. Corbin owners boast of the two anchor lockers forward which are spacious. Up forward 39’s often have self tacking, clubfoot booms. This clutters the foredeck on most boats like Cabo Rico 38’s but with the broad foredeck and flush deck this is not an issue. The one I previewed had nice mast pulpits which seems to be common. As you reach, the cockpit aft, the side decks narrow tremendously around the sharply rising trunk. Entry into the aft cockpit is difficult with virtually no side decks or aft deck. To access the cockpit, you jump over a forward combing.

The aft cockpit is a less desirable feature of the Corbin 39 though it is incredibly seaworthy. The seating curves into the canoe stern and is too short to lie down on. The curvature is generous and lacking good corners. If you want to prop yourself against the cabin trunk, unfortunately at least on this pilot aft cockpit version, aft facing portholes gouge into your back. The seating is skinny and combings low. The wheel is small but still with the tightly pinched stern too large to maneuver around. The cockpit lockers provide little storage. The companionway sill is moderate at a foot with three slats for access.

Corbin 39 Specifications

Down Below
Again here you never know what you will find. One one I previewed, French frilly headliner and mahogany beams gave the styling a European flair. The beautiful light teak joiner work was refreshing. Forward most was a stateroom with a portside double. Aft portside was a head and en-suite shower. Then, there was a small step down to the main saloon with a dinette portside and galley starboard. Another large two step up brought me into a deckhouse with two swivel chairs portside and an inside steering station with navigation port. The hatches and ventilation along with the pilothouse windows let in great light and air. Even though Marius Corbin increased the freeboard of the original Dufour design, headroom is slightly below usual at about 6’1″ throughout.

The engine location depends on the era and cockpit location. Early aft cockpits had access under the galley sink while center cockpits had access under the cockpit sole. I previewed a late model aft cockpit design where access was under the cockpit sole and behind the companionway. To move the engine this far aft, late model version were V-drive compared to the straight shaft early models. The engine really varied. According to owners early on, Volkswagen Pathfinders and a 35HP Westerbeke seemed popular. Some had Bukh 36 HP saildrives. Later V-drives were either a Westerbeke or Perkins 4-108. Looking at brokerage boats, three early models have a Volvo, VW Pathfinder, and Perkins. Of the late models, I see Volvo, Perkins, Universal, Mitsubitchi, and Kubota engines.

Corbins with their fin keel and skeg rudder combination can sail unlike many of their lumbering fulled keeled counterparts. They are pretty heavy tipping the scales at around 26,000 pounds displacement. They are meant as Marius Corbin writes to take someone, “safely and comfortably around the world…We get postcards from all over the world…what better recommendation is there for a strong and seaworthy vessel.” The cutter rig with a reefed main is arguably the most seaworthy rig combination and executed to perfection on late model 39’s. Rest assured, you will be safe, sound, and dry sailing around the blue planet in this tank.

Corbins 39’s come in many variations with custom, post factory interiors. This means they can be tough to sell in the brokerage market especially if the workmanship is below par. Even so, the quality reputation of Corbin, and Dufour’s design gives them a cult-like status. Be sure to ask about the history and finish degree of the hull. Take an honest look at the interior. Currently 11 are on the market with most prices within the $80,000 to $120,000 range. A good reference for more information is the Corbin 39 Owners Association.


4 Replies to “Corbin 39 Review: French Canadian Mystery”

  1. I must say; this is one of the best boat reviews I’ve ever read. It appears very fair and thorough. The Corbin 39 is certainly on my “short list”; and it is good to see a review that discusses, in equal measure, both the advantages and the shortcomings of a particular boat.

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