By Ken Koenig | Power and Motoryacht
A fast and treacherous passage past Hell Gate proves the MJM 4 nimble, stormworthy and fun as, well, hell.
Photos by Onne van der Wal
A pre-squall sprint from Connecticut to Jersey aboard an MJM 4 proves that comfort and speed can live in harmony.
A last-minute request from Dan Harding, editor-in-chief of Power & Motoryacht magazine, recently found me rolling around on the ground with pit bulls in Norwalk, Connecticut. It was the dying hour of the last day of the Norwalk Boat Show and walking the grounds, I chanced upon a PAWS adoption booth, and well, I’m a sucker for dogs. As two muscular pits bounded around me and play snapped their jaws at one another, my eyes drifted to the end of the nearest dock toward another athletic beast, the MJM 4 I’d be taking south to Jersey City that evening.
The MJM 4 is the latest launch from the builder after they made a sojourn south from their longtime home in Boston and opened a massive new factory in Washington, North Carolina. She’s a 46-foot, 8-inch bowrider with an enclosed helm, sleeping accommodations for four down below and twin 600-hp Mercury outboards at her transom (also available with a trio of 300 Mercurys or twin 440-hp Volvo Penta D6 inboards in 2024). Her setup piqued my curiosity. Bow seating is where you’ll find me when I’m not driving, and I’ve had a longstanding love affair with fast boats. However, it was the enclosed helm that grabbed most of my attention that day, as a massive storm was predicted either during—or perhaps just after—our trip through the Long Island Sound and down the East River before ultimately culminating in my native Garden State.
Minimalistic, beautiful and functional best describe the MJM 4’s storm-ready helm. That function (and speed) are tested outrunning a storm amidst busy and turbulent New York waters.
As I stepped aboard, the first thing I noticed, or perhaps more accurately, did not notice, was the sound of the engines. The cartoonishly large, naturally aspirated V12 Mercs are inherently balanced, and have less vibration than most other outboard options. The result, at idle at least, is an ambient brown noise that could lull a baby to sleep.
The next thing I noticed was how narrow this boat is. She really does feel like a sailboat in that regard, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that CEO Peter Johnstone’s family is among the most decorated in U.S. sailing history, with multiple members in the National Sailing Hall of Fame. The 4 is a mere 12-feet wide. Compare that to the similarly long Sabre 43 Salon Express, which has 26 more inches of beam, and you start to get the picture. Like a true sailor, Johnstone says the arrow-thin design and proprietary epoxy construction have everything to do with strength, stability and weight savings (her hull’s around 25-percent stronger and 15-percent lighter than a traditional molded fiberglass boat). My test boat displaced a feathery 17,730 pounds.
As we made our way out of the harbor, storm clouds began to darken the horizon. Our weather window looked rather bleak as we entered the Sound, with a quick stop planned at nearby American Yacht Club in Rye, New York, to drop off some potential customers who were also aboard. With conditions in question, Johnstone decided to make haste at the helm and pushed the throttles down to full tilt. The boat accelerated with a ferocity starkly juxtaposed against her decidedly genteel lines and pedigree. She shot up to a rousing 42 knots with a smooth acceleration that offered an exceptional blend of control and excitement. We made it to the yacht club faster than I think even Johnstone expected. As we drew nearer, a crowd of moored sailboats nodded in silent greeting as they bobbed on the gray water. A light rain began to fall.
After unloading our passengers we pointed the bow southwest and continued our journey. As we left the yacht club a Hinckley Picnic Boat had the same idea, cruising parallel to port.
“Watch this,” said Johnstone. He hammered the throttles once again. As we literally blew by the competition he shrugged and continued, “Sorry for the testosterone, but I had to do it.”
Out in open water I took the helm and really got to appreciate what MJM is working with. The responsiveness of the wheel was exceptional, in part due to its generous 28-inch diameter. There’s a real connection to the water with this boat that manifests in two important ways. The first was a genuine confidence in her capability that was vital, knowing we were fast approaching the notorious currents of the Hell Gate section of the East River. The second was simply pure fun, like driving a roadster over winding mountain roads.
The rain had let up as we approached the City. But off the bow, swirling charcoal clouds looked as if they were tented on poles atop clear, blue skies as the setting sun created a blinding, rose-gold, halo around New York’s skyline. That waning sun brightly lit the 4’s interior. The huge salon windows provide so much visibility from 360-degrees that the space feels more like a porch than a living room. Not that all the creature comforts—a dining settee, drop-down flatscreen, sink, refrigeration, teak trimmed staterooms and full head aren’t appreciated as well.
Though she’s defined as a day yacht, her teak trimmed living quarters—with a large forward v-berth, full shower head and double berth amidships provide comfortable shelter for weekend getaways.
I knew our spot in the sun was ephemeral, so I raced the MJM along at a fast cruise of 36 knots through a two-foot chop. The deep-V hull with a supremely fine entry and 19.5 degrees of deadrise at the transom cleaved the slop like scissors through wrapping paper.
We entered the East River, which is actually technically a strait, and breezed past Randalls Island. Soon, the water began to churn and roil with a current ripping so hard that it formed a small standing wave against the lifts of an elevated barge. We had reached Hell Gate, named for the giant whirlpools and underwater rocks that damaged or sunk one in 50 boats that attempted the passage until the river bottom’s granite was blasted to smithereens by the Army Corps of Engineers in the mid-1800s. (Reverberations from some of the blasts registered 50 miles away at Princeton University.) Even today, currents can tear through this narrow stretch of water at fake-looking velocities, sometimes passing in different directions at the same time.
The 4 was up to the task. I gave a little extra juice to account for the current, and the boat shot through Hell Gate, well, like a bat out of hell. Dodging ferry traffic, we ripped along past the Midtown skyscrapers and around the bend of the Financial District just in time to pound through the sizable wake of the monstrous Staten Island Ferry. By this point I had moved to the bow. Part of this boat’s appeal for me is that it’s a bowrider. I think this configuration creates a seriously fun and useful dimension for a dayboat/weekender. Not only do you get an extra entertaining space but riding in the bow adds a welcome dash of adventure to any outing. We soon pulled up in front of the Freedom Tower and Peter’s wife McKenzie shot a quick photo of me. There’s a big smile of relief plastered across my face—simply happy that the weather held, and the boat had been such a pleasure to drive. Soon we made landfall on the great state of New Jersey, and thus ended my day with the MJM 4.
The MJM’s bow is an inspired spot for outdoor entertaining.
An hour later I met an old friend for dinner in Hoboken. As we took in a late NFL game and tucked into some cheeseburgers, sheets of rain poured from the dark sky. Outside the streets began to flood and lightning illuminated the tightly packed, pre-war buildings in eerie flashes of yellow-green. But inside we were safe and warm, and I had the unmistakable feeling in my chest of a man who had gotten his timing right.
2/600-Mercurys; 3/300-hp Mercurys; 2/440-hp Volvo Penta D6 inboards