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Built to last

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Powerboat writer Eric Sorensen was passing through my part of the world yesterday afternoon, so we met at a pub after work to kick around some future story ideas.

In the course of talking about one idea or the other, Sorensen asked whether I had seen the video of the MJM 40Z running in 5- to- 8-foot seas off Palm Beach, Fla. He was impressed by how well the boat ran in those conditions and liked the commentary by founder and CEO Bob Johnstone.

I watched the aerial video this morning (shot by Billy Black), and it does indeed show the 40-footer running smoothly and smartly through a good head and beam sea in 25 knots of wind.

That led us to another discussion on the longevity of today’s well-built boats, such as those from MJM Yachts, especially given the fact that the average powerboat and sailboat on the water now is 20 years old or older. If boats built with plywood decks and transoms are making it to the quarter-century mark, how long will the wood-free infused hulls built from vinylester last?

“They’re heirlooms,” blurted out Sorensen, who is the technical writer for Soundings and who was the founding director of J.D. Power & Associates’ marine practices. “You’ll pass them down from generation to generation. The boat you remember going out on with your grandfather — well, you can still have that boat when you’re 60.”

When it comes to the lifespan of today’s best-built boats, we are in fairly uncharted waters. I jotted down notes on a Revolutionary Ale beer coaster (the inn later brought me paper) as Sorensen forged ahead.

What might be the useful life of a boat like the one in the video? “It’s indefinite,” Sorensen says. “What’s to fail on an MJM? It’s an oven, post-cured epoxy boat. It’s as well built as a Dreamliner, as far as I can see. There’s no reason that a boat like that couldn’t be here in 100 years.” Maybe 200 years, he later added.

“What’s it mean for the industry?” I asked.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “At some point, are we going to reach saturation? Where are the good boats going to go?”

One question is, will there be a market for repowering and upgrading even today’s gems when they’re 30, 40 or 50 years old and older? If past is prologue, boats with a pedigree and boats with good bones will retain a loyal following of sorts well down the road.

To justify the costs, however, owners will have to have a long view of ownership. Repower, refurbish and rack up as many memories as possible and then hand it off to the next generation when the time comes.

“You can have the memories and the boat,” Sorensen says.

Maybe — or maybe we shouldn’t have had the second pint.

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