Top Hat

Handsome from any angle, refined in every detail, here is real quality.

Scientists calibrate their laboratory equipment to guarantee repeatable results. Engineers are careful to make sure that their equipment is "zeroed in," and even the police adjust their radar guns regularly.

And so it should be with boat testers, who sometimes need to realign their sensibilities dulled in a world filled with plastic look-alike boats. In that case, the San Juan 48 Flybridge is a yacht that can serve as a calibration tool because it is as close to perfect as you might find.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" goes the old saying; therefore, it takes a lot of courage to tinker with a successful yacht. San Juan Yachts principals Donald Campbell and Randy McCurdy had already set new benchmarks of quality, first with their San Juan 38 and then with the San Juan 48 express cruiser. A pretty boat from any angle, the latter proved very popular for this small Northwest builder.

But clients wanted a flying-bridge version and, after some soul-searching, Campbell and McCurdy decided it could be done without sacrificing the essence of the pretty yacht. And that's exactly what they've achieved. The added bridge doesn't look like a bolt-on afterthought, nor does it clash with the curves of the basic 48. If anything, the two have taken a great yacht and made it look even better.

Some people judge an object by its price and that's often a valid tool: A Rolls-Royce is unquestionably better than a Yugo; Godiva chocolates taste better than a Hershey bar; filet mignon is far superior to a Big Mac. But price alone doesn't ensure quality, and there are more than a few expensive yachts that can be found lacking when it comes to the subtle details that differentiate the mediocre from the superb.

The San Juan 48 Flybridge is quite expensive if you measure it just by the dollars-per-foot method. On the other hand, the 48 is arguably the best buy around when you consider the sheer quality of this new yacht.

OK, you say, what makes the San Juan 48 Flybridge such an outstanding yacht? As a starting point, the word "compromise" doesn't seem to be in the vocabulary of either Campbell or McCurdy. There isn't a single piece of equipment aboard the 48 that hasn't been scrutinized by one or both of the men and their decision to use it wasn't based on price: It was based on what would do the job best.

That means that every item from the anchor roller to the transom door latch earned its way aboard. In fact, the two builders often found that there wasn't a piece of equipment that met their standards and, in that case, they had it custom fabricated. Think you can buy a husky transom door latch like the one on the 48 off a marine hardware shelf? Not a chance; it's only available when attached to a San Juan 48.

But what about fit and finish, you ask? I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the world's megayacht builders making pilgrimages to little Anacortes, Washington, to see how it's really done. On one of the competitors to the San Juan 48, for example, the wood trim piece around the main cabin windows is fastened by dozens of stainless steel screws with finish washers. On the 48, the piece is blind-fastened from behind without a mar to the glossy finish. You decide.

Step aboard the wide swim platform of the 48 and, if you've been aboard the express version, you won't notice any difference-because there isn't any: still the wide and rugged transom door with that burly latch; still the clever transom that hinges upward hydraulically to reveal a garage for a 12-foot inflatable tender as well as the launching crane; still the comfy sun lounges facing the transom settee.

Step through the glass door into the pilothouse and you have the same airy feeling of a glass conservatory. The forward windscreen and side windows are large, of course, but the effect really stems from the butted glass windows on the after corners that make the cabin feel open even when buttoned up against the weather. All the 48s have a clever system for easily removing the cabin windows facing the cockpit, and there's scratchproof storage for both as well.

The dash is a gorgeous piece of glossy teak and the skipper has a comfy double-wide seat with a sturdy foot brace. Step down from the pilothouse and the galley is open overhead and spacious. Teak cabinets and drawers provide more than ample storage and, when you open them, you'll find the cabinets are lined in glossy teak and the drawers are fine examples of dovetailed craftsmanship.

Opposite the galley is what home builders might call a "bonus room." Opened, it provides comfortable sofa seating to watch the flat-screen TV on the galley bulkhead, as well as a place to read, work or simply keep the cook company. Sliding doors turn the area into a guest stateroom with either a queen berth or a queen with Pullman above.

The master cabin fills the bow with another queen-sized berth. It's an elegant space, indeed, with raised-panel cabinets, louvered hanging lockers and a teak-and-holly sole. The master head has a large shower with glass enclosure.

Between the two cabins is the day head, which also serves the guest cabin and, once again, it's spacious with a large shower. The Sealand head, like that in the master, is plumbed to the holding tank directly below so there is no need for vacuum or pumps-nothing to fail.

The new flying bridge is reached from a vertical ladder from the starboard sunpad. The ladder angle probably will be changed on future boats to make it a bit more user-friendly. Once on the bridge, however, it feels like you're on a concrete sidewalk with none of the usual springiness found on many boats. Part of this rigidity is from the husky support beam and part of it from the vacuum-infused one-piece house molded from E-glass and Corecell with epoxy vinylester resin.

A double Stidd helm seat is behind the low-maintenance fiberglass dash, and a wrap-around lounge provides plenty of choices for seating. Unlike most builders who try to crowd the bridge with barbecues and wet bars, San Juan Yachts has kept the flybridge restrained and simple: a place to run the yacht in fine weather, while most entertaining will be done in the spacious cockpit.

And run she does. We topped out on the privately owned Hull #1 at a zippy 36 knots even with full fuel and water, three big guys aboard, a full fridge, and all the owner's toys including a dinghy.

Naval architect Greg Marshall designed the hull to be both handsome and capable in all sea conditions, with a traditional flared bow and tumblehome aft. She's not a jet drive, yet the 48 has a draft of just 3 feet, achieved by using prop pockets that also improve efficiency. The engines are also mounted higher than usual (hence the big sunpads) yet at a flatter angle to add to the drive-train efficiency.

Dropping back to 1800 rpm, we were still skimming along at over 27 knots, so Marshall has clearly created a very slippery hull. We had only the occasional ship or tug wake on our test, but it was obvious that the 48 is a dry boat that slices cleanly through the chop and rises easily to the swells.

Close-quarters maneuvering is also very good, with electronic MTU shifters reacting to the skipper's merest thought, plus both bow and stern Sidepower thrusters that can turn the boat in its own length or slide the 48 sideways into a tight pier.

The engine room is a model of efficiency, maintainability and easy access. Our test boat had the standard MTU Series 60 diesels rated at 825 hp and that's what every San Juan 48 gets-no exceptions. The boat and engine are well suited for each other, and the parts and service network is as good as you can find. Each boat also gets a Northern Lights 12kW genset, a 600 gpd Village Marine watermaker, the previously mentioned Sidepower thrusters, and a custom Marol rotary actuator hydraulic steering system.

Just as not everyone appreciates a Rolls-Royce or Godiva chocolates, this isn't going to be a yacht for everyone. In simple terms, the San Juan 48 Flybridge provides first-class luxury in a yacht that can be handled by a couple. It isn't intended to take all your friends and their kids away for the weekend and, if that's your need, you can find it elsewhere.

Campbell and McCurdy aren't planning to build a lot of these yachts, so get your name on the list right away.

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