MJM Yachts’ 35z punches way above her very light weight

Soundings - - Contents - By Den­nis Caprio Pho­tos by Onne van der Wal

Four-stroke out­board power and a finely bal­anced hull make the MJM 35z a Down East per­former.

L ightweight, agile, fast, seakindly, eco­nom­i­cal and quiet — you’ll find th­ese qual­i­ties and more in the MJM Yachts 35z. I met her at Newport Ship­yard in Rhode Is­land this past July. Tied stern-to-stern with the com­pany’s 50z, the new­est mem­ber of the MJM line seemed tiny. (Or maybe the 50z just seemed large.) What­ever the case, both mod­els share the ge­netic makeup of the 34z, which com­pany founder Bob John­stone, de­signer Doug Zurn and builder Mark Lind­say of Bos­ton BoatWorks es­tab­lished about 10 years ago. Pow­ered by a 380-hp Yan­mar diesel, the 34z was just enough boat for two — or one, which was John­stone’s goal. The 35z per­pet­u­ates this lin­eage but does so with a pair of 300-hp Mer­cury Ver­ado out­boards with Mer­cury’s as­ton­ish­ing SmartCraft dig­i­tal-boat pack­age.

The word as­ton­ish­ing may seem hy­per­bolic, but I cut my teeth on tiller-steered, out­board-pow­ered skiffs, and to me the breath­less de­scrip­tion falls short. As MJM’s Chris Hughes ma­neu­vered the 35z from her tight par­al­lel park­ing spot, I watched the out­boards break­dance to the joy­stick’s tune, each one turn­ing this way and that. We edged side­ways, cleared the clas­sic sail­boat on our bow and mo­tored to­ward the har­bor and Nar­ra­gansett Bay. With en­gines idling, the sound level at the helm was 65 deci­bels, roughly the same level as nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion.

Why out­boards? you might ask. Other than re­quir­ing you to cope with highly volatile fuel, mod­ern out­boards don’t have any short­com­ings. In ad­di­tion to be­ing quiet, de­pend­able and fru­gal, they open space in the hull for stowage with­out the need for ex­ces­sive free­board. You can per­form rou­tine check­ups in the open air, and if an en­gine suf­fers a se­ri­ous prob­lem, sim­ply pluck it from the mount and haul it to the shop for re­pair. The lat­est out­boards even look good, es­pe­cially when they’re painted to match the boat. From a boat­builder’s per­spec­tive, of­fer­ing mid­size out­board-pow­ered boats makes good sense be­cause the de­mand is grow­ing.

Newport Har­bor in sum­mer buzzes with to-ing and fro-ing, but at 0800 on this foggy Tues­day, we had the water nearly to our­selves, mak­ing our per­cep­tion of the no-wake zone grow as we headed to­ward Fort Adams. The wind blew 5 to 6 knots out of the south-south­east as we turned the cor­ner and headed to­ward Cas­tle Hill Light, its foghorn call­ing cau­tion ev­ery 10 sec­onds.

Mer­cury Marine’s in­line 6- cylin­der Ver­ado en­gines are su­per­charged, which gives them a rel­a­tively flat torque curve. (Torque peaks early and holds well into the rpm range.) Throt­tle re­sponse is close, or equal, to that of nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gines. An in­line 6 also has ex­cel­lent in­her­ent bal­ance char­ac­ter­is­tics, sec­ond only to a 60de­gree V- 12. This re­duces vi­bra­tion and the noise re­lated to it.

At last clear of the no- wake zone, Hughes opened the throt­tles to the stops, and the lightweight 35z lifted as a unit and darted to­ward the open North At­lantic. If she has a hump be­tween dis­place­ment and plan­ing speeds, I didn’t no­tice it. She also felt planted at all speeds, in tune with her en­vi­ron­ment like a good sports car.

She gets her ex­em­plary dy­namic sta­bil­ity and fine han­dling traits from Zurn’s jug­gling of weight dis­tri­bu­tion and bot­tom de­sign. Lon­gi­tu­di­nal cen­ter of grav­ity de­ter­mines a boat’s bal­ance, the point around which it piv­ots up, down and side to side. A poorly bal­anced boat may chine-walk, por­poise or broach. It may re­quire more time than is ideal to plane, in­crease the speed at which it planes or run at a less than op­ti­mum plan­ing an­gle. The 35z’s cut­away fore­foot keeps her from steer­ing by the bow, with the sharp en­try and steep deadrise soft­en­ing her ride in big seas.

From this fine en­try, the bot­tom tran­si­tions smoothly aft to 19.7 de­grees of deadrise, which re­mains con­stant over the re­main­ing third of the length to the tran­som. This is the pri­mary run­ning, or plan­ing, sur­face. A quar­tet of strakes and two down-an­gle chines cre­ate lift, re­duce spray and en­hance the MJM 35z’s dy­namic sta­bil­ity.

The water in East Pas­sage off Cas­tle Hill is deep and main­tains a high per­cent­age of max­i­mum depth close to the rocky shore. We had a lot of room to wring the MJM’s neck. Hard to port, the boat leaned on her in­side chine and carved a per­fect turn, los­ing only a hand­ful of revs in the process. Mer­cury’s Ac­tive Trim gets a lot of credit for this han­dling. Its built-in GPS is pro­grammed to match a va­ri­ety of the boat’s char­ac­ter­is­tics, en­abling Ac­tive Trim to ad­just the en­gine’s trim con­tin­u­ously to match speed and weight dis­tri­bu­tion. It’s sen­si­tive enough to change trim when one pas­sen­ger moves from the bow to the stern. As the 35z ac­cel­er­ates from full stop, Ac­tive Trim tucks the lower units to­ward the tran­som to in­crease lift, and as the boat gains speed, the sys­tem trims out and low­ers the bow. It’s eerie, but oh so pleas­ant. Steer­ing was silky smooth and can be pro­grammed to a va­ri­ety of ra­tios — from sports-car quick to tour­ing-car mod­er­ate.

Our test boat had the op­tional Sea­keeper 3 gyro sta­bi­lizer. It op­er­ates so seam­lessly that you don’t re­al­ize how ef­fec­tive it is un­til you switch it off. We cre­ated rollers with our wake, turned beam-to and dis­en­gaged the Sea­keeper. The 35z has a rel­a­tively quick roll, damped by the chines. It’s not un­pleas­ant, but you must be care­ful as you move around the boat. En­gag­ing the Sea­keeper makes the rolling mo­tion dis­ap­pear.

Lightweight con­struc­tion has been part of the MJM credo since the com­pany’s be­gin­ning. Lightweight boats are faster than heavy boats for a given power pack­age, burn less fuel and per­mit a low ver­ti­cal cen­ter of grav­ity, which lets the boat re­spond more quickly and eas­ily to in­puts from the helm. Also, the lower the VCG, the more ini­tial sta­bil­ity a boat will have. MJM uses wet prepreg, postcure epoxy com­pos­ite con­struc­tion to achieve its goals.

All mod­els are built to scant­lings of the In­ter­na­tional Marine Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Institute so they can be cer­ti­fied at the high­est pos­si­ble rat­ing for safety and sea­wor­thi­ness. The 50z and 40z are ISO-cer­ti­fied Cat­e­gory A Ocean. The 29z, 34z, 35z and 36z are cer­ti­fied Cat­e­gory B Off­shore, the high­est pos­si­ble for a ves­sel of less than 40 feet.

High-tech com­pos­ite con­struc­tion is ex­pen­sive, and some mem­bers of the marine in­dus­try think the ben­e­fits are lost on most buy­ers. On the other hand, stick-built fur­ni­ture be­low deck and var­nished teak or ma­hogany trim top­side also are ex­pen­sive — and heavy. Although the 35z doesn’t have any wood on the ex­te­rior, it has enough of it be­low to warm your heart and tickle your tra­di­tion­al­ist fan­cies. The cabin sole is teak and holly, and the join­ery is Her­reshoff-style cherry.

All MJM mod­els are nar­row for their length in the in­ter­est of per­for­mance and sea­keep­ing, and the char­ac­ter­is­tic re­duces the amount of vol­ume be­low deck. In­tel­li­gent de­sign, how­ever, makes the best of this space. The 35z’s gen­eral ar­range­ment plan places a V-berth for­ward, wet head to star­board at the base of the com­pan­ion­way and the gal­ley op­po­site. A filler cush­ion con­verts the V-berth to a dou­ble. Ev­ery space left over from hous­ing the main items goes to stowage — molded-in lock­ers un­der the berth, hanging locker, draw­ers at the gal­ley and shelves. Her gal­ley has a sin­gle-burner ce­ramic cook­top, a stain­less steel sink, a Vitrifrigo 2.6-cu­bic-foot drawer re­frig­er­a­tor and trash bin as stan­dard.

Own­ers will spend most of their time on the main deck, loung­ing on the set­tees, perched on the Stidd buddy seat or at the helm. Both Stidds pivot to face aft and lower to ex­tend the length of each set­tee for sleep­ing. Slid­ing side win­dows, which are big enough to step through, and the op­tional power-op­er­ated wind­shield pan­els keep the pi­lot­house awash with fresh air. The Sea­keeper is be­neath the helm, and the Wester­beke gaso­line gen­er­a­tor oc­cu­pies the lazarette. The area be­tween the two con­tains stowage lock­ers big enough to hold two full-size bi­cy­cles.

MJM’s boats of­fer a unique com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tional style, prac­ti­cal­ity and spir­ited per­for­mance. The 35z could be the per­fect boat for a cou­ple — or one — to en­joy for a life­time.

Mer­cury’s in­line 6-cylin­der Ver­ado out­boards are su­per­charged, and throt­tle re­sponse is close, or equal, to that of nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gines. Ex­cel­lent bal­ance char­ac­ter­is­tics re­duce vi­bra­tion and re­lated noise.

Be­low, there’s a V-berth for­ward, a wet head to star­board and a gal­ley op­po­site. Stowage spa­ces are plen­ti­ful through­out the 35z.

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