34Z — By Ben Ellison —
Mary Johnstone’s Motorboat
|How the bold, ambitious MJM 34Z is but one more creation from a father, and mother, of modern sailing.|
Back in the early 1970’s Mary Johnstone raced 470 class sailboats in the “trapeze” position, often cantilevering herself completely outboard from a masthead wire to keep the jittery, planing 16-footer dry side up. Husband Bob steered, while two of their children raced another 470 and the other two stood by in an outboard in case either team’s weight-versus-wind balancing act went awry.
The family that flips boats together stays together? If sailboat people do odd things, the scene above is just one of thousands in this family’s illustrious sailing career. Together and alone, the clan has amassed barrels of trophies, not to mention thousands of sea miles, in all sorts of sailboats. Johnstone is the “J” in J Boats. In 1977 Bob—a major marketing career at Quaker Oats already under his belt—and his naval architect brother Rod introduced the J24, an innovative, some said weird, design for racers wanting to go bigger without losing the small boat thrills. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Today there are more than 5,000 J24s sailing in fleets around the world, a total of 10,700 J Boats in 32 racing and cruising designs up to 53 feet. The brothers Johnstone still conceptualize/design new models, but a team from the second generation manages the company day to day. Mary’s retired from racing, Bob not quite, and over the last decade their time together on the water has been mostly enjoyed aboard a series of classic Dyer 29 inboards (which they fiddled with, as seen in Dyer’s DownEast model). In the normal course of things, this couple might now be enjoying an active retirement aboard one of those handsome semicustom power cruisers—think Hinckley, Legacy, Eastbay, etc.—that older Yankee sailors seem to favor.
Nah. Instead, the Johnstones dreamed up their own fairly audacious notion of a fun 34-footer and then created an all-star team to build her in volume and market her. While the couple has already enjoyed gunkholing around Maine on Hull No. 1, Grace, the boat also toured the season’s East Coast shows, including an October stop in Annapolis where I tested her. And while the vessel may be known affectionately in the family as Mary Johnstone’s Motorboat, marketing guru Bob hopes the simple, symmetrical “mJm” which fits neatly on a cove stripe or boating cap, is destined to become another widely seen J logo.
Like the original J24, the MJM 34Z will not be confused with any existing designs. Look how the bow flare and slightly reversed sheer of a Carolina offshore fishing boat twists into the sort of aft tumblehome that’s become a signature of New England lobster yachts. Yet the pilothouse, open as a porch with its straight up-and-down side windows and support post, is pure modern lobster boat, not yacht. Ayuh, with the Strata Glass side curtain rolled up, you could haul pots from the helm, or pick up a mooring, or—like a solo fisherman—step right from the wheel onto a float to tie up. Note that soft- and hardtop express versions—even a sportfish configuration—are available, but all the early buyers have chosen this Down East model.
This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.