Peer Pressure: San Juan 40

What happens when two yachting enthusiasts and boatbuilding veterans join forces? Jay Coyle finds out as he puts the San Juan 40 through her paces.

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In the big business of boating, most builders are better at shuffling paper than sawing wood. That is why it was refreshing to meet Don Campbell and Randy McCurdy, owners of San Juan Yachts, who are more likely to be found out on the shop floor than behind a desk. The San Juan 40 Fly Bridge is their latest effort and one of just eight boats they will build this year. This hands-on, low volume, semi-custom approach is uncommon at this end of the market and the results are impressive.

Campbell and McCurdy dreamed of a company like San Juan Yachts as they were paying their dues in the boat business. Campbell served on the decks of two America's Cup contenders that he helped build in the 1980s. He moved on to become general manager of Admiral Marine in 1995. This is where he met McCurdy, who was serving as production manager. The two shared their desire to build a boat their way and launched San Juan Yachts in 1998.

Their first boat was a 38-footer and would set the tone for later boats. While it is tempting to pigeonhole San Juan Yachts as a builder of New England-style lobster boats, their designs have a unique left-coast patina. Campbell and McCurdy called on British Columbia-based yacht designer Greg Marshall to shape the 38. "Originally we felt there was a market for a New England-style boat on the West Coast," said Campbell. "When the phone began ringing we figured out pretty quickly that most of the business would be on the East Coast."

At hull number sixty-five, Campbell and McCurdy still handle boat-show duty personally, representing their products and listening to customers. "People tell us what they like and what they don't like. It's important to hear it first hand," said Campbell. Keeping their ear to the dock is what launched the 30- and 48-foot models and now the new 40FB.

So, it seemed fitting that I met Campbell and McCurdy at this past Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show to inspect the 40FB. Her dark-blue hull is shaped smartly with tumblehome aft and modest flare forward. A bright finished teak toe rail accents the traditional sweep of her sheer. Her softly shaped house and bridge lines create eye-pleasing balance. My first impression was of a classic 31-foot Bertram gone Downeast! When I mentioned this to McCurdy he smiled, considering it a compliment...as it was!

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I easily got on board via her teaksheathed swim platform and stepped through the transom door. Her cockpit is laid out with transom seating and the engine boxes are fitted with cushions. A Lexan bulkhead with a tempered glass door separates her cockpit and helm area. Inside the air-conditioned space is a wet bar with an ice maker and a dinette with a teak tabletop that drops with the push of a button to form a berth. The interior helm station has a power Stidd seat and room for a reasonable complement of electronics. A teak ladder leads below. The galley area has a sink, a two-burner cooktop, and a microwave. Instead of a mass-produced marine or domestic refrigerator and freezer, the 40FB is fitted with front-loading, custom stainless steel refrigeration. There is a queen island berth forward and a head with a separate stall shower.

"While some of our owners will use the 40FB as a day boat, we designed her so that cruising couples could wander away from the dock for a week in comfort," said McCurdy. The boat's satin-finished teak interior is trimmed with quality soft goods and hardware. Fit and finish is well above average.

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The Pacific Northwest was the cradle of lightweight fiberglass motoryacht construction. Located in Anacortes, Washington, San Juan Yachts has the advantage of this knowledge base and its 65,000-square-foot facility is home to 85 craftsmen. Like her sisters, the 40FB's major tooling was sculpted by computer to exact tolerances. Her hull is built using an infusion process with vinylester resin, Kevlar, E-glass, and core-cell foam. The hull is divided structurally into four watertight compartments. Her house, bridge, and decks are built in the same fashion and no wood is used in her structure. Infusion, the process of drawing the resin into the reinforcement in a vacuum, allows the resin and glass ratios to be carefully controlled. This produces more consistent results and structural properties that would be difficult to achieve by hand lamination in a production environment. Exterior surfaces are finished with AlexSeal in a climate-controlled spray booth. Here again, the net result is well above average.

The 40FB is hard-chined and has a fine entry with slightly convex sections and a transom deadrise of 17 degrees. Moderate tunnels shelter about 1/3 of the prop diameter, and maximum draft at her prop tips and forefoot are equal, coming in at just two feet, two inches. With her tabs set at fifty percent, she rose evenly to plane. Pushing her throttles hard ahead generated an acceptable puff of smoke before the turbos on her 480-horsepower Yanmars took up the slack. She reached full turns in about twenty seconds. I recorded a maximum speed of 35.8 knots at her prescribed 3300 rpm. While she cruises nicely at higher speeds, she is most comfortable and quite efficient while turning 2400 rpm at 25.3 knots. She cuts tight turns predictably at speed, and with bow and stern thrusters she will be easy to wiggle around the dock. Her flying bridge has Stidd helm and companion seating as well as bench seating aft. My only complaint is that I found the tab buttons a bit hard to reach since they are hidden behind the engine controls. Relocating them shouldn't be a problem.

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While the 40FB is semi-custom, her specifications leave little to the imagination and it is worth noting that equipment and component selections are all first class.

"We've tried to include everything that most customers ask for," said Campbell. "It makes pricing and production more efficient." If there is something that you feel the 40FB lacks that is not standard or offered as an option, Campbell and McCurdy would like to know about it. They are the kind of boat builders that pay attention to their customers and that's what makes the San Juan 40FB the sort of boat that deserves your attention.

San Juan Yachts, (360) 299-3790; www.sanjuanyachts.com