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By Arnie Hammerman

Have you ever looked at a classic boat with awe and admiration? Better yet, ever gone out for a cruise on a classic? Whether the classic is a vintage sailboat, a sturdy and seaworthy sportfish, or a varnish-covered commuter, they all have certain characteristics that define them. Spotting a true classic is not that hard, because nearly every other boat from that generation is gone. But did you ever wonder which new boats today will become the classics of tomorrow? Being a life-long boater and somewhat of a boat nut, I have spent many hours trying to figure out which boats today are destined to be classics.

Foremost, the boat should look good. We all know aesthetics are subjective, but a classic should have a profile that’s distinct from every other boat around. Her looks must also stand the test of time. Boat designs may change, but a true classic should look good when first launched and still be attractive many years later.

A classic boat should perform better than other boats in her category. Performance in this sense means she should excel at what she was designed to do. A classic fishing boat needs speed and seaworthiness to get out to the fish. She must also have the cockpit, bait wells, and other amenities to catch fish effectively. A race boat must be fast and agile. A classic cruiser should be able to handle all types of seas, and have the range and performance to complete passages comfortably, safely, and in style.

She must be well built. What good is a classic boat if it is falling apart? The best construction techniques, equipment, and amenities available at the time of build should be used. Which boats being built today are destined to become the classics of tomorrow? Using the criteria above, the answer, unfortunately, is not that many. Despite that sad reality, some boats do stand out and seem destined to become tomorrow’s classics.

The MJM Yachts 40z instantly comes to mind as a rare boat that could qualify as a classic. She is not new to the market. In fact, as of this writing, it has been eight years since the first MJM 40z was launched on a wintry day in Boston Harbor, in January 2009. This first boat proved swift and capable, and the 40z caught on fast. Since then, over 73 MJM 40zs have been launched and are still cruising today, with 11 more currently on order. That says a lot. Countless articles have been written about the 40z, and numerous boat tests and thousands of miles logged on her many hulls. What exactly is it that makes the 40z so popular? And is she truly destined to be a classic?

Founder Bob Johnstone picked Doug Zurn to draw the distinctive hull lines of MJMs. Reason? Priority #1 was a pretty boat. Based on the Shelter Island 38, Doug did for singer Billy Joel, he had the best eye in the business… good enough to earn a U.S. Design Patent (D475,338s).  With her flush deck design and large cockpit, her roots are definitely Downeast, but her powder horn sheer, flared bow, sleek profile and the tumblehome of an Adirondack runabout give her a contemporary freshness. Then add a high degree of functionality with side access hull doors, fully opening windshields, and the flush deck from wheel to transom. The MJM 40z is a sharp-looking boat that is sure to turn heads. 

To understand the performance of the MJM 40z, I spoke to some of her owners. They have the best knowledge of what the boat can really do, since they have run the boat in many different conditions and situations. They told me that performance is where the MJM 40z really shines. These owners, like most, had vessels equipped with twin Volvo Penta IPS. One owner admitted he was unsure about IPS when he first tried it, but quickly became a convert. The joystick control made docking simple and, I was told, the boat is “extremely maneuverable.” The flush deck cockpit layout and hull-side doors make it easy to walk the boat up to the dock, even in tight spaces, and then quickly and effortlessly tie up without running or jumping. There is no panic and no stress, whether the boat is loaded with guests or being cruised by a couple or even a single operator.

Dockside maneuvering is important, but how does the boat perform underway? MJM 40z owners spoke glowingly about the boat’s strength, efficiency, and remarkable seakeeping abilities. Interestingly, two different owners I spoke with kept their boats in New England in the summers and wintered the boats in Florida. While there was some shipping involved (which I was told was “so easy it is silly”), these owners made long passages. That included one couple that brings the boat back on its own hull from Florida to New England every spring.

The owners I spoke with extolled their boats’ ability to cruise at speed for long stretches with modest fuel burn. In fact, they claimed their boats burned less in real-life situations than the performance stated by the manufacturer. The fuel economy and range of the MJM 40z has been well-documented, so I won’t dwell on this topic but will provide examples. One owner said he ran two 9-hour days on the boat before filling up and was cruising at 33-35 knots in mixed conditions and getting better than 1.15 miles per gallon. He also said that, at one time, he was leading a group of four other boats and slowed down to around 25 knots to stay with the pack. At that speed, he was burning around 20 GPH which, he said, was around half as much as some of the other boats. Another owner bragged about going from Key West to Tampa into a reasonable chop in 10.5 hours and burning only 110 gallons for this trip of over 200 miles.

It is always difficult to determine how a boat handles in heavy weather, so I once again relied on owner testimonials. Owners I spoke with have covered thousands of miles on their 40zs and experienced rough weather conditions on numerous occasions.

One owner called the boat’s seakeeping abilities “extraordinary” and said he did not think there was a safer boat out there. Another said that on a rough trip with 6- 8-foot following seas, the boat “handled absolutely superbly.” He described being caught in some nasty weather off Hilton Head, S.C. and said that large sportfishers had to back down to 18-20 but that the 40z was comfortably running at 26-28 knots in the same heavy seas. The overwhelming commentary was that, while the boats were generally dry, they occasionally ship waves in the most extreme conditions, but they never shudder or pound. Owners said they never worried about the boat, even in the worst conditions. And they said “you feel comfortable” even when the weather is really bad.

We have established that the MJM 40z is highly maneuverable and fuel-efficient, and can handle rough weather. But performance, in the sense of a boat being considered a classic, is not just how the boat runs. It’s also whether she performs the mission she was designed for. I discussed this with MJM owners who have used the boats extensively. In addition to pride of ownership and praise for the boat, what I learned was interesting. The MJM 40z seems to excel at two distinct purposes. One is as a cruising boat and the second as a day boat for entertaining.

I wanted to know more about the comfort and accommodations on the boat and how they were suited for cruising. While owners at times cruised with friends or family (she can sleep six or more if you push it), what seemed to really work well was cruising as a couple. The flush deck single level up top makes it easy to get around, and it is only a two steps down into the cabin to make a sandwich or use the head. The proximity means that you can be driving the boat and still speak to someone in the galley when you are underway.

The cabin below also provides a well-fitted area to relax in private, read a book, watch a movie, or work on your laptop away from dockside distractions. The large island master forward has access on both sides, and owners say it is ample and comfortable. Having a shower compartment outside the head is a great cruising feature, as it allows one person to use the head while the other is showering in a separate area.

A great lay-out, an abundance of storage space, and high-quality fixtures and finishes help make the MJM 40z a popular cruiser. The MJM 40z is a great couple’s cruiser that not only can handle adverse conditions but is easy to maneuver and dock and has a lot of useful accommodation space.

40z owners really like to use their boats and they told me that, in addition to cruising and weekending, they do a lot of day trips. To start with, the large single-level flush deck that stretches from the helm to the transom has a lot of seating. In fact, sixteen adults can sit comfortably, and there is more seating below. Mix in children and you can really pack this boat full of people and still have a nice day trip. Owners talked about running the boat out for lunch with friends, taking kids and grandkids for a ride (including a chance to drive the boat for the young ones), swimming off the back while anchored, and so much more.

Whether having summer fun in New England or heading to a dockside restaurant in Florida, owners say the MJM makes a superb day cruiser. The boat is easy to handle and has a shallow draft so there is an abundance of places you can explore and show your friends. When entertaining, the many separate spaces where guests can congregate create different conversation areas, but the single-level flush deck in the pilothouse/cockpit area allows them to easily move back and forth. The hull-side doors not only make it easy to dock but your guests, whether they be children, dogs, or just clumsy friends, can get on and off safely.

Another important factor in determining whether a boat is a classic is its construction. Only a well-built boat can stand the test of time. Bob Johnstone, a lifelong boater, and the founder of both MJM and J Boats, knows what it is like to be at sea, and builds MJMs to endure any rigor they may encounter. The MJM 40z is the only Downeast yacht (and one of only two 40-footers worldwide) designed and built with the strength and stability to be ISO Certified Category A Ocean, the highest level of seaworthiness and safety available. The MJM 40z is built to exacting standards at Boston BoatWorks in New England using the wet pre-preg, post-cure, epoxy/Eglass/Corecell hull construction process. This high-tech construction is paired with incredible joiner work and top-notch finishes to create a boat that is both durable and eye-catching.

The MJM 40z is a fine-looking Downeast-style boat that performs well in a variety of conditions. She is easy to handle, a seaworthy, comfortable cruiser that also makes a great day boat. She is built tough but also has excellent fit and finish and quality accoutrements.

Is the MJM 40z destined to be one of the classic boats of today? Time is the ultimate decider of what truly is a classic, but all indicators are positive. You can wait twenty years to find out if the MJM 40z truly is a classic, or you can take your chances and buy one now! From everything I can tell, your odds are pretty good.

About the author
Arnie Hammerman has been boating for over 50 years. He grew up sailing on Lake Michigan with his family and soon expanded to bigger boats, powerboats, and the ocean. He ran charters in the Caribbean, delivered vessels on both the East and West coasts, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and captained private yachts. He is a licensed captain with a 100-ton USCG master’s ticket. In addition to his thousands of miles on the water, including numerous ocean passages, Arnie has spent the last 20 years in marine publishing. He worked for various magazines, including Yachting Magazine, and most recently was the publisher of Power & Motoryacht and Anglers Journal. He has owned a number of boats, toured hundreds of boatyards and factories, attended boat shows domestically and abroad, and been involved in testing countless powerboats.

A special thank-you to MJM owners Tom and Ruthy Dupont and Brian and Kate Tedeschi for relating their insight and experiences aboard the 40z.

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