Skip to main content

Cutting-edge technology, but don't forget the elusive beauty factor

Bob Johnstone — whose J/Boats consistently rank among the most popular sailboats — had a vision of the perfect powerboat, but its qualities were seemingly in conflict.

Bob Johnstone — whose J/Boats consistently rank among the most popular sailboats — had a vision of the perfect powerboat, but its qualities were seemingly in conflict. He wanted a boat that was lightweight but stout and seaworthy in rough water.

Johnstone pictured a vessel his wife could push off the dock and single-hand comfortably, with a layout that could accommodate three couples in a protected pilothouse and amenities for two to cruise for a week or more. He soon realized his boat was taking shape as a 33- to 35-footer.

To achieve the easy-to-handle objective, Johnstone, 73, reasoned that the boat had to be built using cutting-edge materials and processes — specifically, a Kevlar/E-glass laminate with epoxy resin — to reduce weight but with added strength. No existing boat met his criteria and, after a year of looking, he could find no powerboat builder that was using the techniques to his liking to produce such a boat.

So he looked to his sailboat-building roots to find someone he was confident could build the strong, lightweight boat he envisioned. Mark Lindsay — whose portfolio includes a string of sailing raceboats with world championships, Olympic gold medals and an America’s Cup (Bill Koch’s America3 in 1992) — got the job.

“A bunch of people said they could do this type of construction, but they hadn’t done it,” says Johnstone. “I wanted someone with the track record, who’d cut their teeth on other people’s boats.” Lindsay had 25 years of experience in epoxy construction. And Johnstone had one over-riding criterion. “The boat had to be beautiful, otherwise it wasn’t going to be worth it.”

He recruited Marblehead, Mass., yacht designer Doug Zurn — in large part because of his design work on Billy Joel’s Shelter Island 38 — to draw the lines of his vision, with the bow flare of a Carolina sportfisherman, the open cockpit and pilothouse of a Maine lobster boat, the tumblehome of a Hacker-Craft or Adirondack skiboat, and a trunk cabin reminiscent of a Matthews cruiser. The result was the MJM 34z, one of the most high-tech production powerboats in the world and built by — you guessed correctly —Lindsay at Boston BoatWorks.

“His design concept for a fast, fuel-efficient boat meant that it had to be lightweight,” says Lindsay, 62. “There was no way around it.”

The MJM 34z is built in female molds that are specifically designed so that the parts can be vacuum-bagged and post-cured for 24 hours at a high temperature (140 F). Precut Kevlar/E-glass cloth is impregnated with resin under 2,000 pounds of pressure per square foot, a pneumatic meter precisely controlling the resin saturation (approximately 60-to-40 glass-to-resin ratio). That low resin ratio is the key to keeping the weight down, Johnstone says, because the product of excess resin is excess weight.

Johnstone says 53 MJM 34z hulls had been turned out as of mid-July, along with 19 of the newer MJM 29z. Boston BoatWorks produces around one MJM boat every two weeks.

Johnstone says the 34z achieves about 2 nautical miles per gallon at a cruising speed of 25 knots with a standard Yanmar 6LY3 380-hp diesel engine, while the 29z, with a standard Volvo 260-hp D4 diesel with DuoProp, gets 3 nmpg at the same speed. He says that although fuel efficiency was a side benefit to the project, “It’s a tremendous side benefit, given the current price of fuel.” In fact, Johnstone markets the boat’s fuel sipping and handling with the slogan: “Twice the Fun … Half the Fuel.”

“There’s some real joy in running this boat. You feel like you’re one with the boat,” Johnstone says. “In that sense, it’s closer to the sensation of being one with the elements, as in sailing, rather than the more utilitarian mode of driving the family sedan or a cabin cruiser. To me, it’s halfway between a good sailboat and a good powerboat.”

And right where this veteran sailor was looking to land.

For more information, contact MJM Yachts in Boston at (617) 723-3629 or visit .