Alden Yachts' Brenton Reef 40

Well made, well designed and, well, almost perfect.

BRIGHT & QUICK: Under the gleaming oven-cured hull and deck beat twin Yanmars for a nice turn of speed.

BRIGHT & QUICK: Under the gleaming oven-cured hull and deck beat twin Yanmars for a nice turn of speed.Onne van der Wal

This isn't an easy boat to write about-no idiosyncrasies to explore, no design quirks to explain, nothing wacky or weird that makes for a grab 'em headline. This boat is just so darn normal it's almost boring-almost, that is, unless you're into quality, craftsmanship, value, those kinds of things.

Indeed, the Alden Yachts' Brenton Reef 40 practically begs you to talk about things like top-grade materials and cutting-edge processes, which it exemplifies, plus detailing and finish, which are nearly flawless. You put aside your thesaurus in relief, content with saying that the arrangement plan is simple but elegant; as for its engineering and systems, the best you can come up with is that they should be the envy of all other builders. That should be good enough.

All that is left, then, is to talk nuts and bolts: Instead of polyester resins, the Brenton Reef 40's sandwich laminate comprises epoxy resins and bi- and triaxial E-glass and Kevlar pre-impregnated fabrics, vacuum bagged to balsa and foam cores. Although polyester resin is cheaper and easier to handle, epoxy is more adhesive and less susceptible to water intrusion. Even fiberglass that doesn't show osmotic blistering absorbs water over time, adding unnecessary weight and impairing the strength of the laminate. Epoxy resin also shrinks less than polyester, so an epoxy hull is less likely to show print-through after exposure to the tropical sun-but Alden Yachts goes a step further and post-cures the Brenton Reef 40's hull and deck, gradually heating them to 190 degrees in a giant oven to ensure the laminate is thoroughly cured, a major advantage.

This process is carried out three separate times, both in and out of the mold, taking up to two days for each cycle; the final cure comes after the hull and deck are faired, but before the Awlgrip is sprayed on. The result is finish that will stay mirror-smooth whether the yacht travels to the tropics or the polar ice caps. The postthermal-cured laminate will be substantially stronger and lighter than a naturally cured laminate of similar fabrics laid up with polyester or vinylester resin. (Alden Yachts construction meets standards set by both the American Bureau of Shipping and the American Boat and Yacht Council.)

The Brenton Reef 40's systems are designed and assembled with equal care. The engineroom is a cornucopia of color-coded wiring and plumbing; conveniently situated filters, valves, strainers and switches; and labels-labels everywhere: Water pumps are labeled, strainers are labeled, seacocks are labeled, even obscure bits and pieces like the windshield washer solenoid are labeled. Even better, the engineroom, like the hull's interior, is faired and finished in gloss epoxy, so keeping things neat and clean will be easy. Even a drip or two of oil will show up like a strobe light under a new moon.

A hatch at the after end of the bridge deck provides drop-in-and-crawl engineroom access, fine for daily oil checks and visual inspections if your knees don't mind grinding against the aluminum diamond-plate sole. Me, I'll take the easier route: Touch a button and a large section of bridge deck lifts electrohydraulically to reveal the twin Yanmar diesels; you can drop in and stand between them. There's plenty of room, with easy access to their outboard sides, as well (although for that you can't avoid crawling). Maintaining the Yanmars will be almost a pleasure.

Once the engineroom is buttoned up, you'll enjoy the Brenton Reef 40's bridge deck. The test boat was what Alden Yachts calls the Open Express configuration, meaning the bridge is protected by a soft top, and is intended for outdoorsy pleasures. The helm and matching companion seats are spacious and comfortable; the port and starboard L-shaped settees aft will seat at least six guests, or lounge two. A varnished-top table serves for meals alfresco or sundowners after a day on the water. But you can choose among three other configurations: Hardtop Express, Saloon Express and Flybridge Express.

The Hardtop Express version uses a similar bridge deck, but under a molded top and glass side windows; the aft "bulkhead" is a curtain. If you want a more formal space, choose the Saloon Express, with a solid aft bulkhead and a different layout, losing the companion seat and one settee, but adding cabinetry and an easy chair. This turns the bridge deck into a proper saloon, thereby permitting a sumptuous level of joinery and decor. Finally, the Flybridge version adds-you guessed it-a flying bridge. All versions share a cockpit large enough for most waterborne activities, and a swim platform with retractable ladder stowed underneath.

Alden Yachts provides a very nice electronics array as part of the Brenton Reef 40's standard equipment. The package includes the expected GPS (Standard Spectrum with DSC) and speed/log/depth (Raymarine ST60), but also a Raymarine RL70CRC chart plotter with a 10-inch display and the ability to display a radar overlay when connected to a compatible scanner, and a Robertson AP22 autopilot. Add Mathers electronic controls and Hynautic power hydraulic steering, and you've got an exceptional helm station. Yes, there's a spot for a joystick to control the thruster, but the test boat wasn't so equipped; it's an option, and one I recommend, even with twin screws.

Belowdecks, the test boat was laid out pretty much like you'd expect for an express cruiser, with V-berths forward, head and galley to port, settee with a table to starboard that converts to a double berth. But there are options: Instead of the settee, you can specify a traditional convertible dinette, or a second cabin with upper and lower berths. In each case, you'll find the galley to be compact but well enough equipped with 110-volt appliances (a 5 kW genset is standard) to cook for a small crew. There's a two-burner cook top, a microwave oven, 110/12-volt Ôfridge and a double sink. Countertops in both galley and head are Corian.

Overall the decor is neat, clean and sophisticated: Light-colored panels combined with varnished cherry impart a traditional impression; the cabin sole is pale yellowish white bamboo with teak edging. (No, I'd never heard of bamboo used this way, either, but it works very well: hard as maple and very moisture-resistant.) You can have your bamboo natural or stained, or opt for teak and holly instead. You'll find no obvious means of lifting the sole panels to reach the hull beneath: In keeping with the clean look, Alden Yachts designers opted not to use finger-pulls, but to supply a suction-cup gadget like those used by glass installers to handle heavy panes; push this thing down onto the sole, flip a lever to apply suction and lift the panel. It's bizarre, but it works.

So how is the Brenton Reef 40 under way? There are no surprises-the boat performs as you'd expect from a modified V-hull of this size and type, although I'd say it's a bit more nimble in the turns than most, and doesn't lose as much speed when the wheel's put hard over. But how much time do you really spend doing figure eights? On the other hand, the test boat's twin Yanmar 440 hp diesels (370 hp Yanmars are standard) produced nearly 30 knots top speed and a comfortable cruise of 25 knots, plenty quick for most folks. The boat accelerated well, handled a three-foot Narragansett Bay chop smoothly, pirouetted daintily and predictably in close-quarters docking, and generally was completely satisfying from my viewpoint.

That pretty much sums up my opinion of the Brenton Reef 40: completely satisfying in all respects. It combines first-class design with excellent construction, solid performance and generous outfitting: You can literally buy the standard boat, no options and drive away; Alden Yachts will even paint the name on the stern for you. Oh, they'll also take $641,000 out of your wallet, which sounds like a lot, but is actually a bargain for a boat of this caliber. Which just might be the catchy hook I was searching for at the beginning of this review.

Contact: Alden Yachts, (401) 683-4200; www.aldenyachts.com. E-mail: inquire@aldenyachts.com.