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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

San Juan 40 FB

While casting about for a way to convey my overall impression of San Juan Yachts' new 40 FB (Fly Bridge), I kept coming back to my good buddy Don. Some years ago he and I had dinner in a waterfront eatery in Panacea, Florida, and our conversation eventually got 'round, as it usually does, to a favorite topic, my beloved trawler Betty Jane. "She's quite simply a work of art, that little boat," said Don, giving the restaurant's ceiling a brief but thoughtful look. "She's one of those things that by its very nature uplifts, brings joy."

Don's remark was genuine. He's a straight shooter on boat stuff. And I've often been reminded of that dinner, especially at those mysterious times when the normal course of events slows or stalls for a moment, or two or three. You know, like when you turn around to take one last look at your boat before leaving the marina on a Sunday. Or when you're overtaken with silence in a piney boatyard where she's propped on jack stands, her teak caprails glistening in the sunlight.

More to the point, though, I was reminded of Don's remark as I strolled down one of the docks at the Bahia Mar marina in Fort Lauderdale many months later. It was big-time windy, albeit warm and clear, and I was in a pleasant mood, what with a sea trial and some dockside maneuvering of San Juan's brand-new, $1.1-million 40-footer in the offing.

Then I caught my first glimpse of her, parked stern-to in a slip across the way from a bunch of roughneck charterboats. My cheery lope slowed to a crawl, and the phrase work of art bubbled unbidden from the depths of my unconscious and floated there for a bit.

The 40's 'glass work reflected light in a dappled sort of way. Her color scheme offered a delectable contrast of off-white creaminess and deep, dark, polyurethane-painted blue. An ineffable characteristic set her apart from the other vessels, old and young. She rocked gently—she's comparatively narrow, after all—and tugged alluringly at the lines secured to her starboard side.

I've never been one to let moss grow on the ol' backside. So I cranked the 40's twin 480-hp Yanmar 6LY3A-ETP diesels as soon as I'd come aboard with the PMY test gear. "You wanna handle 'er from the lower station or topside?" asked San Juan's Randy McCurdy, leaning against the dinette table on the port side of the pilothouse. I turned from the nifty start/emergency-stop engine switches at the lower helm and pointed upwards. "Visibility's fine here," I replied, "but it'll be better on the flying bridge...wind's blowin' pretty sporty today."

I settled into one of two cushy Stidd helm seats on the bridge and waited while McCurdy tossed our lines and jumped back aboard. When I got his all-clear from the cockpit, I clicked the starboard Teleflex Morse KE-4 electronic engine control into forward for a moment to gauge the response. The 40 eased ahead, undeterred by the 15-knot gusts pressuring her port bow. "Hmm," I whispered, "that was rather satisfying."

I tried a couple more clicks. The detents in the KE-4 were perfect, engine response was oomphy but not overly so, and the visibility aft was excellent. As the 40's transom cleared a concrete piling astern, I twin-screwed her to starboard and eased away with the wheel centered, gears only. Her balletic performance reminded me of something a guy once said to me while robustly twin-screwing his refurbished Bertram 31: "She'll turn on a dime and give you a buck's worth of change."

The same sense of playful abandon overtook me at the end of the fairway. Our test boat's indifference to the wind and her agility at the behest of a mere gear change put me in the mood to swing to port and starboard a few times, then rotate robustly, just for the heck of it. McCurdy came topside while this was going on, slipped into the passenger's seat from over the back, and knowingly said with a grin, "Play all you want, Bill."

Port Everglades pass was heavily trafficked when I got there, but not with recreational craft. There were ships and pilotboats mostly, some inbound, some outbound. As I made the turn at the landward end of the jetties, I could see the slate-gray mass of the Atlantic, veritably aleap with white horses. "Better switch to the lower station," I told McCurdy.

The ride was a honker. I throttled up the Yanmars about the same time I throttled up the windshield wipers, and in no time we were bopping past a pilotboat at about 25 mph in four- to six-foot rollers. "Little rough out here," I commented, heading south out of the channel between the tip of the southern jetty and the first green flasher.

Visibility in open water was excellent, if I ignored the spray and kept some tab on. The 40's got electric Lencos with stout, custom-made trim planes, and I had to deploy them to see over the bow, not only coming out of the hole but also upon those few occasions when I could run down-wind at top speed or fairly close to it. Nevertheless the boat put in a solid offshore performance. She tracked well and cornered broadly, with a turning radius of approximately four boat lengths. She also kept her head up in following seas, tossed six- to eight-foot head seas off with aloofness, and evinced no tendency to wallow in the troughs. For the most part I kept our speed at 25 mph or less, consistent with the conviction I formed while running oilfield boats years ago: It makes no sense snapping antennas off and overstressing a vessel when "the hawk's out," especially if said vessel retails for a pile of money. I sought calmer conditions to collect speeds, acceleration curves, and other data.

"Yeehaw!" I yelled while measuring an average top hop of 40.9 mph. As I'd expected the 40's wheel rotated effortlessly and precipitated near-instantaneous response even at slower velocities. There was only one negative: The position of the two Stidds on the bridge combined with the relatively limited space there made ingress and egress pretty tight. Getting into a seat or out of one often meant hopping over its back.

Thoughts of my friend Don came up one more time while I was finishing up my walk-through of the 40. "The Betty Jane's like a little jewel box, you know," Don had added during that dinner long ago in Panacea. "Being inside that cool little cabin of yours...it's just wonderful!"

I looked around. I was seated on the end of the queen-size island berth in the forward cabin. The notebook on my knee bulged with details I'd collected earlier during a stem-to-stern tour: arch-top doors with floating panels and dadoed, splined joints; Epifanes varnish on below-decks teak and Sterling urethane above, lots of it; a custom-crafted, holding-plate-type, stainless steel reefer from California's Glacier Refrigeration in the galley; and shaft brushes on the propeller shafts with heavy bonding wires secured to transom zincs.

A clock ticked beyond the bulkhead. McCurdy dragged a hose somewhere on the foredeck, cranking up an end-of-day freshwater washdown.

"Whew," I said to myself. "This boat's not exactly the Betty Jane, but her cabin's just as cool, and she's quite simply a work of art. Wonder if ol' Don's got an extra million bucks kickin' around somewheres. Maybe I oughta take the poor devil a brochure."

For more information on San Juan Yachts, including contact information, click here.

Our test boat had four Yanmar engine start/ emergency stop switches, one for each engine, both topside and below. They're a snap to use. Just slightly push the left toggle for about 30 seconds to warm its main, then push fully to start.

The right toggle? Should an engine-room fire or other engine-related emergency occur, you push it to stop its engine by cutting off the fuel supply. Moreover, should one of the two Teleflex Morse electronic engine controls onboard fail for some reason, the Yanmar switches will sense the failure and transfer throttle control to the rheostat-type dial between the toggle switches.

When the dial kicks in, the LED light above shows yellow and a notation arises on the Yanmar engine readouts on the dashboard. All you have to do is dial up the rpm you need.—B.P.

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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