San Juan 30By Capt. Bill Pike Photos by Neil Rabinowitz
Due to life's vagaries and vicissitudes, I was warned that our test boat, a sporty little San Juan 30 with a super-gorgeous optional "wood package" (teak helm, sea rails, and seat caps), had endured more than a little wear and tear. For starters, she'd been trucked across the country from the Pacific Northwest for display in all of the major East Coast boat shows. And then, in addition to the two to three days of testing that San Juan honchos Don Campbell and/or Randy McCurdy regularly put on every new boat before delivery, she'd racked up a liberal slug of offshore hours traveling between shows, more hours doing demo rides, and, finally, once she'd been trucked back to San Juan's facility in Anacortes, Washington, even more hours at the hands of an enthusiastic new owner.
"I gotta tell ya, Bill—the boat's not totally new," noted McCurdy with an apologetic grin after scrolling through the Yanmar dashboard readouts until he'd pulled up a reading of about 100 hours on the optional 315-hp 6LPA-STP diesels. He then jumped ashore to release the mooring lines that tethered us to the fingerpier. My wife B.J. settled back into the passenger-side seat; she'd come along to take pictures and enjoy the evergreen islands, snow-capped mountains, and dark-blue waters that make the Anacortes area so darn pretty. Meanwhile I took a moment to energize the Side-Power bow thruster (just in case) and consider my immediate surroundings.
Not totally new? Frankly, the vessel I was about to put the spurs to looked like she'd just been splashed that very morning. Every little detail was fresh and pristine. Clamp-curved, laminated-teak side pieces decorating the resin-infused windshield receiver sparkled with a luster that seemed a mile deep, thanks to the 12 to 16 coats of Sterling linear polyurethane that San Juan applies to all exterior wood trim. Teak dashboard panels and accent strips shone with equal splendor, as did the precisely joined optional table at the rear of the cockpit. Glasswork evinced a primo finish as well, whether I was eyeballing the rugged little foredeck, the creamy corners of the trunk-cabin roof molding, the cushion-covered engine boxes in the cockpit, or the aspects of the interior I could see through the louvered companionway hatch.
The teak decking underfoot had been expertly and elegantly bedded in epoxy (no old-fashioned screws and bungs to sweat and swear about), carefully caulked with TDS (Teak Decking Systems) SIS 440 caulk, and finished with the sort of machine-grade smoothness that characterizes megayachts, not 30-footers. What's more, the stuff was 5/8-inch thick, according to my tape measure. Plenty of beef there to withstand the occasional sandings necessary to keep teak decks looking sweet.
I bumped the starboard main into and out of gear to gauge the result. Our 30 responded with the vivacity of a thoroughbred. "Fairly deep gear ratio?" I theorized aloud. "Yup," McCurdy replied, "two to one. Pretty good-size wheels, too; she moves when you put her in gear." I swung a port turn at the mouth of our slip by forgoing a twin-screw pivot in favor of alternating usage of the mains, i.e. bumping the starboard engine ahead briefly, then bumping the port engine astern. The point, of course, was to keep the turn slow and measured, a pace I favor with unfamiliar vessels especially. Then I proceeded out of Anacortes Marina, again using alternating bumps to keep my speed down as well as steer and corner. In open water I shifted both engines into forward gear, switched to wheel steering, and steadily advanced the ZF/Mathers electronic throttles. Before long we were loping across expansive Guemes Channel at a cruise speed of 30-some mph.
"Wow!" my wife exclaimed as I leaned the boat into a hard-over right-hander that was every bit as graceful as it was thrilling. A guy waved from the bridge of a fair-size tanker pulling her anchors off in the distance. The Cascades swerved crisply across the windshield. And my focus narrowed for a few seconds the way it always does when you've got one hand on the wheel, the other on the throttles, and there's absolutely nothing else going on in the whole world. "Double wow!" I yelled as I brought 'er around for a wide-open dash towards the distant white flanks of Mount Baker.
The 30 stuck to her course like Gorilla Glue. The Yanmars purred. The teak caps on the windshield deflected the brisk oncoming wind aloft, heightening the warmth of the Pacific Northwestern sun upon all and sundry. And the Furuno NavNet on the dash (which closely matched the radar gun readings we'd do later) registered a top speed of more than 40 mph.
Gathering our test numbers during the ensuing hour or so was flat-out fun, and the fun continued all the way back to the marina, although the dockside finale tossed a minor hitch into my git-along. While, as before, our test boat nicely handled the twists and turns necessary to safely negotiate the fairways of the marina and deal with outgoing and incoming traffic, actually backing her into her slip proved slightly problematic for me, at least at first. As noted earlier, our 30 had some oomphy handling characteristics at idle-speed. Toss a couple of 315-hp diesels into a light, fully resin-infused 30-footer, add a 2:1 reduction, and no trolling gears, and you're gonna have some exuberance on your hands. By shortening my times in gear and hanging tough with the alternating-engine-usage technique, however, I soon discovered I could better manage the boat's maneuvering power and, to my wife's relief, docked her with far less difficulty the second time around. "Lemme back 'er down a couple more times," I told McCurdy, as we all prepared to give the 30 a dockside examination, "and I'd have it down to a science!"
The ambiance below decks was classic. While the 30's layout is conventional, with a V-berth forward, hanging locker aft on the starboard side, and head (with SeaLand Traveler direct-drop MSD) opposite the hanging locker, its appearance is unusually attractive. Nothing's more yachty than old-school teak ceiling planks and louvered doors, for my money, and the 30's are crafted to perfection. Engineering details visible through the cockpit hatches—among them, a race-bred MarolPro hydraulic steering pump and oversize Groco ARG-2000-S main-engine sea strainers—were just as impressive.
After concluding our day onboard the San Juan 30 and saying goodbye to McCurdy, we lingered for just a bit. I shot a look at the elegant but powerful little cruiser and opined admiringly, "Racy little beast." After shooting a glance or two herself, B.J. said (not simply to have the last word, I'm sure), "But also a thing of beauty. Like a baby grand piano."
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Resin infusion is a hot, buzzy phrase these days, used by many manufacturers to denote (and advertise) some aspect of the boatbuilding process that often turns out to be comparatively small and insignificant. San Juan Yachts' take on the process is, however, the real deal. The company uses proprietary infusion techniques and clear, high-viscosity resins that engender see-through laminates (for superior quality control) on virtually all major components, not just minor ones. Thus our 30's hull, interior liner, cockpit/weatherdeck molding, and windscreen/coach roof were all infused. The only big-league component that had been wet-laid was her CoreCell-cored fiberglass stringer system, primarily because San Juan's not yet perfected infusion methods that will obviate resin buildup along the joints between the hull bottom and the stringer bases.
There's more to the tale, though. One of the virtues cited by manufacturers of resin-infused hulls, decks, and other parts is an optimized glass-to-resin ratio that significantly cuts weight and simultaneously boosts strength. But San Juan goes well beyond that. Randy McCurdy claims that San Juan's resin-infusion program yields a ratio that varies by no more than one half of one percent, boat to boat—less than a gallon for our 30. Experience also plays a part in such consistency. Says McCurdy, "As far as I know, we're the only production shop west of the Mississippi that's been infusing parts on a daily basis for over a decade now."—B.P.
This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.