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MJM 53z Test: Fast, fun and elegant

by Peter Janssen 9 Jul 08:50 PDT
MJM 53z © Peter Janssen

It's one thing to read about a new boat. It's quite another to actually drive it. I certainly had expected to enjoy the new long, low, elegant MJM 53z, with its four 400-hp Mercury Verado outboards. After all, I'd already driven its predecessor, the MJM 50z, with three 435-hp Volvo IPS600 pod drives, as well as every other MJM model. But once I got behind the wheel of the 53z I realized it was even better - and a lot more fun - than I had anticipated.

One of the main reasons outboards have become so popular lately, even on larger cruising boats, is their performance. They simply provide more head-turning acceleration than is possible on most inboards; they carve turns faster, and, as many people have noted, driving an outboard is similar to driving a sports car.

All that is true on the MJM 53z. But what's different is that the MJM 53z is a luxurious yacht, with two full cabins (with easy chairs), two large heads, a galley that would do justice to many a New York studio apartment, plus an enclosed helm deck that's essentially an extra salon up top, and a large aft deck/cockpit. (The second full cabin is new on this boat, and it's a major addition.)

On an early summer morning, before I climbed on the boat, I looked at it across the dock at the Newport Shipyard in Rhode Island and realized that this Doug Zurn-designed beauty with its glistening black hull and gold stripe was a big yacht. The four white outboards (painted in Mercury's "warm fusion white") made it look even larger, while promising a fun, powerful ride.

And they delivered. After we cast off, Bob Johnstone, who founded MJM in 2002, walked the boat away from the dock with Mercury's joystick and then drove out into Narragansett Bay. After we cleared the harbor, he nailed the throttles and the outboards spooled up an instantaneous surge of acceleration. The bow barely rose and the big cruiser sped ahead until Johnstone backed off the throttles at about 47 mph, as all five of us on board broke out in big smiles.

The point was that this was not a 30-foot sportboat. It was a full-fledged 53-foot ocean-going yacht equipped with everything you'd need for a week or longer cruise to Maine or the Bahamas (including the standard Seakeeper gyro stabilizer). And you'd be safe along the way. The MJM 53z has an ISO Category A Ocean Certification, attesting to its seaworthiness in some gnarly conditions. The company says the boat is the largest outboard-powered express cruising boat in the world.

We cruised up the bay at 46 mph, when I measured 79 dB(A) at the helm. I drove for a while, and then George Day, my Cruising Odyssey colleague, took over ("I've never driven a 50-mph boat before," he said later.) Mercury tested the boat earlier, hitting a top speed of 51.1 mph at 6,464 rpm with 800 gallons of fuel on board.

The highlights: at 8.7 mph, the boat burns 10.7 gph, and has a range of 740 miles. At 20.1 mph, it burns 55.2 gph, and has a range of 331 miles. At 42.4 mph, it burns 129.8 gph, and has a range of 297 miles. At 48.6 mph (6,000 rpm), it burns 142.3 gph and has a range of 272 miles.

The numbers only tell part of the story. Throughout the speed range, the MJM 53z provides a quiet, solid and smooth ride. There is no smoke or vibration. The hull performs the way Zurn's other boats perform, which is to say, very well. Zurn has designed all the MJMs, as well as boats for Lyman-Morse, Derecktor, Vanquish, Shelter Island, C. W. Hood, Bruckmann, Duffy, Williams, Lynx, Hylas, and Billy Joel's Vendetta commuter boat, among others.

Zurn's MJM hull is slender and fuel-efficient, with 18.6 degrees of deadrise at the transom. It slices through the waves while the chine flats direct water outboard, and there's a touch of Carolina flair forward to keep the boat dry. It's also light weight, displacing only 33,669 pounds, due to the expertise of Boston BoatWorks, which uses a proprietary epoxy composite pre-preg, oven-cured, vacuum-molding system to create the light, strong and stiff hull.

The boat's low profile, and long sheerline, add to its beauty, but also to its practicality. With only an air height of 10'7" it can slide under most of the bridges in Florida and along the Great Loop.

"There are two great things about this boat," Johnstone said, as we headed into Brenton Cove, for a picnic. "Performance and comfort." We had experienced, the performance; now we enjoyed the comfort.

He used the Skyhook feature to keep the boat in place for a few minutes in the middle of the mooring field there, before we picked up a mooring and shut down the outboards. We relaxed on the aft deck, seated around a glistening teak table, looking out at one of the most beautiful spots in the Northeast. And we enjoyed sandwiches and soft drinks, protected from the overhead sun by an awning stretching out across the aft deck. It doesn't get much better than this.

The 53z is definitely a cruiser-friendly boat. You walk on through side doors cut into the hull, both port and starboard, leading into the aft deck. You also can enter via the teak swim platform and transom doors on each side. A luxurious three-person settee is across the transom, facing the teak table, and two occasional chairs are on either side. A wet bar with an ice-maker is forward on the port side, an aft-facing seat on the starboard side.

You can raise the aft half of the deck here by pushing a button under the seat. It raises high to reveal a massive storage space. Another advantage of outpower power, of course, is that it opens up a lot of space inside the boat where the engines, transmission and drive shafts used to be (or the pods, in the case of IPS). The Seakeeper is here, as is the Glendinning Cablemaster that spools up the shore cord at the touch of a button, and an offshore liferaft. And there was still lots of space for a couple of paddleboards, water toys, supplies for a long voyage, whatever.

You walk into the helm deck through a sliding glass door; it's flush with the aft deck. There are aft windows on both sides; the starboard one slides down at the push of button. As on the 50z, a U-shaped settee on the starboard side (with a high-low table) and a straight one on the port side can convert into berths at night, and the entire area is enclosed and climate-controlled, with windows all around.

Forward, to starboard, the captain has a doublewide Stidd helm seat, facing two Raymarine screens. The large, teak, Edson destroyer-type wheel makes driving easy, while the joystick, mounted on the port side of the helm, makes for fingertip-controlled docking and low-speed maneuvering. The joystick for the bow thruster is on the starboard side.

To port, the navigator has a single Stidd seat, and another Raymarine display. The boat has stainless steel grab rails all around; two are on either side of the teak door leading to the cabin below. The top of the door folds out so it serves as a chart table, easily readable by the captain and navigator, a very nice touch for serious cruisers.

Visibility is excellent all around, as is ventilation. The two front windshields can be power-opened; there are overhead hatches, and the front windows on both sides slide back. You also can open or close the aft glass door or the aft starboard window.

Below, the master stateroom is forward, with classic Herreshoff panels. The island berth is large (a full 7 feet long) and has four storage cabinets underneath. What's most inviting is a combination desk and dressing table on the port side, with a big, plush reading chair. You can use this as an office or simply a great private space to pull out a good book and relax.

The master head is to port; it's large and bright with a shower (complete with a seat) behind a glass door. A matching head is to starboard and serves as the day head or the head for the second stateroom, a new - and appealing - addition to the 53z. It's a full stateroom in its own right, with standing headroom, not an area tucked under the helm or the galley. In this boat it had a queen bed, although you can get it with twins.

As in the master, it too had a big easy chair, next to a table with a lamp (and USB outlet), and it faces a desk. Johnstone was using this stateroom as a fully functioning office; his printer was in a drawer in the table. "There's not another boat under 60 feet with a second stateroom this size," he said.

The galley, on the port side, is large enough to support a long cruise or an extended time on board. It's the same as the galley on the 50z, and it has everything you need, down to the espresso maker in a teak cabinet.

After our picnic, Johnstone again used the joystick to walk the 53-footer back into a crowded dock, making it look easy. The concept of an upscale 53-foot cruising yacht with outboard power had taken hold. "MJM offers yachts that are at the pinnacle of the outboard world," Johnstone said.

Specifications: LOA: 56'3"; Beam: 15'0"; Draft: Drives up: 27"; Drives down" 35"; Disp.: 33,669 lbs.; Fuel: 910 gals.; Water: 150 gals. Power: 4×400-hp Mercury Verado outboards.

Here are some of the MJM 53z performance specs registered by Mercury Marine:

RPM - MPH - GPH - Range (statute miles)
1,000 - 6.1 - 7.7 - 718
2,000 - 11.0 - 18.5 - 540
3,000 - 15.6 - 40.7 - 350
4,000 - 26.4 - 72.1 - 333
5,000 - 37.3 - 114.4 - 297
5,500 - 42.4 - 129.8 - 297
6,000 - 48.6 - 142.3 - 272

Top speed: 51.1 mph at 6,464 rpm.

Acceleration:
0-20 mph: 6.65 seconds
0-30 mph: 11.97 seconds

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This article has been provided by the courtesy of the Cruising Odyssey.

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