By Peter Janssen
It was a Chamber of Commerce summer morning when we headed out of Newport Shipyard on Zinnia, hull number one of the new MJM 35Z, with a beautiful light blue sky, the wind coming in from the ocean at an easy 15 knots or so, the waves on Narragansett Bay just about two feet with gentle, breaking, white foam on top. Leaving the dock, Bob Johnstone, the founder of MJM Yachts (and J/Boats before that), turned the teak joystick under his left hand and walked the boat sideways, the twin 300-hp Mercury Verado outboards pushing the boat in any direction he wanted.
After we headed out the bay, past historic Fort Adams, and the wind and waves picked up a bit, Johnstone put the boat sideways, beam-to the waves, and asked if we had ever been on a boat with a Seakeeper gyro-stabilizer before. I had, of course, but my colleague, George Day, had not. The Seakeeper, an option on this boat, was tucked away under a hatch almost under our feet, between the captain’s seat to starboard and the navigator’s seat to port. “Watch this,” said Johnstone, as the boat barely rocked gently in the swells, the gyro smoothing out the action of the water. It was an impressive performance. Day, who’s sailed around the world on his Mason 43 but hasn’t spent too much time on powerboats, simply smiled. “I’d think everyone would want one,” he said.
A few minutes later Johnstone asked if I’d like to drive. Is the Pope a Catholic? I was happy back at the dock, simply looking at this low-profile, long-sheerline, blue-hulled, Down East beauty. Before I took the helm, I hadn’t realized how terrific the steering was on the MJM 35Z (the 24-inch teak destroyer wheel is the same as the wheel on the MJM 50, which I had driven last year), or how quickly the boat responded to the throttles with the twin outboard power. To put it simply, Zinnia is a treat to drive.
A big cruise liner was heading into Newport, so I cruised over to take the wake, and Zinnia simply powered through at 30 knots, totally under control, carving turns and providing one of the softest rides I’ve experienced in similar circumstances. This latest MJM, I realized, was pretty, fast (we registered just over 39 knots), responsive, quiet, comfortable and fun, all making it a particularly appealing entry into the day boat or weekend cruising boat market. And I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Indeed, Johnstone said that MJM had already taken 21 orders for the new 35Z, and this was before the very first one had been in the water for more than a few days.
The new MJM 35Z is a collaboration between Johnstone, Doug Zurn, the Marblehead, Mass., designer (and the “z” in the boat’s name), and Mark Lindsay of Boston BoatWorks in Charlestown, Mass., which has specialized in building high-tech racing sailboats. The builder lays up MJMs with wet, pre-preg, post-cure epoxy composite construction for a stronger and lighter hull. The 35Z is a classic long, low, slender Zurn design, with a 3.5-1 waterline length to beam ratio, and 19.5 degrees of deadrise at the transom. The gentle tumblehome is a nice Down East touch. The 35Z comes with an ISO Certified B “Offshore” rating for stability and seaworthiness.
The boat’s air height is only 9 feet, which makes it appealing to anyone contemplating sliding under all the bridges on the ICW or the Great Loop. And the outboards, aside from their performance, mean you can take the boat into skinny water anywhere or tilt them up if you’ve run into lobster pots in the Northeast. Outboards also open up a lot of space in what used to be the engine room inside the boat; it’s also a whole lot easier, when the time comes, to replace an outboard than to replace an inboard.
As I found out immediately, the MJM 35Z is a user-friendly boat. You don’t climb aboard. You simply walk through a side door (one on each side pf the hull) that is floating-dock height and leads directly to the cockpit. Johnstone says this has tremendous appeal to ladies and older owners, who quickly get tired of climbing over a gunnel or grabbing onto a handrail to steady themselves going over a step. Keeping to the same theme, the bridgedeck is all one level, from the outboards all the way forward to the companionway going down to the cabin below. You won’t turn an ankle or stub a toe here. Combined with the joystick control, the design makes it easy to single-hand the boat; you can get around quickly and easily, nothing gets in the way.
In the cockpit, the rear bench seat, where three adults would fit comfortably, is on a pod that lifts up, revealing a lazarette or storage area for fenders or water toys. A varnished-teak, double-leaf cockpit table opens to a full 24×36 inches for dining or enjoying a glass of wine at sunset back here. A pair of doors flank the seat, opening up to swim platforms on either side of the outboards; the teak-and-holly sole here runs all the way forward to the helm.
For socializing, there’s a bar and fridge on the port side of the cockpit, with glass storage, and an aft-facing seat to starboard. Overhead, the cockpit on Zinnia is protected by an optional Bimini. Going forward, the bridgedeck has matching settees on each side that can convert to full-length berths at night. The bridgedeck is protected by a hardtop overhead and roll-up Stratglass sides and a zip-up door aft. For sleeping there, a privacy curtain can surround the berths.
All the way forward are matching Stidd Admiral helm seats on swivel bases so they can be turned to face aft for socializing at the dock or at anchor. Visibility from the helm is simply excellent all around, even when the boat comes up on plane, when there’s almost no bow rise. The two large front windows open fully for ventilation, the windows on either side slide back, and two overhead hatches also open. Even with the boat all buttoned up for the performance and sound tests, Johnstone left the overhead hatches open and fresh air circulated in and then went out aft via an inch or so of open space below the rolled-down Strataglass door aft. The three of us were comfortable on a hot day, and we could talk easily until the very top of the speed curve; the boat registered only 77 dB(A) at the helm at 23 knots in a two-foot chop.
Below, the interior is in the classic Herreshoff style, with cherry-trimmed, off-white side panels and a teak-and-holly sole. The Ultraleather V-berth/lounge is forward, with an optional filler. Even with Zurn’s low profile, the cabin has standing headroom, with a few inches to spare for me and I’m more than 6’1” tall. And the V-berth was long enough for me to lie on it without having my feet hang off the end. The galley is to port, with a long Corian countertop, deep sink, drawers, a fridge (the icemaker is up on deck), a Princess single ceramic cooktop and a microwave. The head (with standing headroom and an opening port) is across to starboard.
Turning the boat around, we cruised up the bay under the Newport Bridge for the speed tests, as Johnstone explained why the 35 is an outboard boat. A while ago, he said he realized that many people were buying outboard-powered center consoles for their ease of operation and their performance. But he said what they were missing was a comfortable ride. He tested some center consoles last year, he said, “and even a little one-foot wave seemed like a collision.” The goal was to marry the performance of an outboard with the soft ride and cruising comfort of an MJM. “This boat slices through the waves,” he said. As we ran up and down the bay in a freshening breeze and a three-foot chop, Zinnia indeed did slice through the waves, even at a wide-open speed of 39.1 knots, providing a soft ride all the way.
As we headed back to the dock, I realized that the MJM 35Z is a Goldilocks boat. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s just right. It has all the zip and performance of an outboard boat, with the comfort, looks and luxury of a larger Down East cruiser. “It appeals to a lot of people who are downsizing, but who still want the luxury of their larger boat,” Johnstone said. “Here they get all that and outboard performance too.”
2 x 300-hp Mercury Verado outboards
Tested going up Narragansett Bay, above the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge. Going with the wind but against the current. Three people on board, 227 gallons of fuel and half water. Sound levels measured at the helm. Range estimated with a 10 percent fuel reserve. (In the reverse course, running down the bay, the boat gained a half knot, meaning the top speed was 39.1 knots.)