Early in 1966 a spectacularly beautiful new teak yawl appeared at the Washington Sailing Marina, directly across the dock from my wooden 35' gaff ketch. Her teak sparkled, her spruce masts shined, and her white hull was flawless.
When her owner showed up, I came to learn that she was a Phil Rhodes design....the Rhodes Reliant 41. The proud owner, a general recently returned from the Far East, saw me ogling the boat and invited me aboard for a tour of his new baby.
I'm afraid my jaw never closed during the tour, nor did my eyes return to their normal size. I'd never seen such a wonderful creation. Her lines
were classic and indescribably beautiful. The Cheoy Lee teak work was profuse and masterful. I could only gasp at each new feature I saw. The offset sliding hatches
At the end of the tour, the general finished up with, "And, of course, she's low maintenance!"
"Low maintenance?", I asked. "What do you mean?"
"Why, she's built of fiberglass, you know!"
You could have bowled me over with a feather. I hadn't guessed that she was anything but solid teak, the material Cheoy Lee had used on many other wonderful cruising yachts.
By the way, the new price in Hong Kong was then $29,000.
Immediately, I fell in love. That was the boat of my dreams. I entered the Foreign Service that summer, and took my young family abroad, leaving my gaff ketch behind for sale. Over the years, I visited the Cheoy Lee yard several times during my many trips through Hong Kong. I spent too many meetings doodling drawings of MY Rhodes Reliant that I'd eventually have Cheoy Lee build for me. Mine, though, wasn't to be a yawl. Nor a sloop. I was enamoured then of the cutter design.
Passing thru New York, I visited Phil Rhodes in his office to discuss how the Reliant might be rigged as a cutter. He was pleasant and helpful, but was very upset with Cheoy Lee for ripping off his Reliant design. Indeed, as the OP noted, this was the case. Cheoy Lee was producing an "Offshore 40" which was a Rhodes Reliant with a mirror-image cabin design, a few inches shorter, and an iron vs. a lead keel. The Offshore 40 was 33% less money, i.e., priced just under $20,000.
As time passed and new designs were appearing, my interest in the Reliant dimmed somewhat. She was still about the most beautiful thing afloat -- and still is some 45 years later -- but my lust shifted to a Perry design: the Valiant 40. Not nearly as beautiful, but fat and fast and a terrific voyaging design. Voted "voyaging yacht of the decade". Turns out, I wound up with a beautiful Perry boat...the Golden Wave 42...which pretty much has the Valiant underbody but looks more like a Swan, sails like a witch, and turns heads everywhere she goes.
While I love her to death and haven't seen a boat I'd rather have, the Rhodes Reliant still turns MY head every time I see one. Phil Rhodes was one design genius.