The first, most critical thing to know about boatbuilder Peter Johnstone-who’s now twice entrusted his vision of the ideal offshore cruising catamaran to the highly capable design team of Gino Morrelli and Pete Melvin-is that he absolutely loves to sail. We’re not talking mere infatuation. What we have with Mr. Johnstone is an all-consuming passion for the art and science of propelling waterborne craft by the cleanest fuel of all, a fresh breeze.
When he decided to take his young family cruising a few years ago, Johnstone worked backward from a very simple question: What’s going to be the most fun to sail? Safety, reliability, and seaworthiness would all need to be inherent parts of the solution, of course, but that central tenet was non-negotiable. Why go cruising under sail, he reasoned, if sailing wasn’t going to be a focal point of the exercise?
Johnstone had a pretty good idea of what he was looking for: a big, powerful, no-holds-barred catamaran built of the latest, lightest materials, with ample accommodations, and manageable by a shorthanded crew. Ultimately, he formed his own company to produce such a vessel. When the seagoing Johnstones finally set sail for the Caribbean, they did so on the M&M-designed, South African-built Gunboat 62 Tribe. After returning from his 15-month cruise, Johnstone rolled up his sleeves and got back to boatbuilding in earnest. The Gunboat 48 is the company’s second model in production, and the next will be-yikes-an 80-footer, currently under construction.
Conceptually, the 48 hasn’t wandered far from the precedents established on its larger sibling. The deck layout is centered around a forward cockpit accessed through a door that separates it from the central bridgedeck saloon/wheelhouse/galley. The forward cockpit, as Johnstone acknowledges, wasn’t an original Gunboat idea; noted multihull designer Chris White successfully employed it on his Atlantic series of cruising cats. But it works well on the Gunboat, with almost all the relevant running rigging and sailhandling devices-including a suite of Harken blocks and winches and an array of Spinlock clutches and jammers-stationed at chest level near the base of the towering carbon-fiber spar.
The steering wheel, engine controls, chart plotter, and instruments are a couple of short steps away, tucked just inside the aforementioned front door. So, too, is a handsome folding dining table with veneers of Brazilian mahogany fronting a forward-facing settee that’s plenty inviting when the boat is coursing along under the Raymarine autopilot. When you’re peering out the front and side windows, it’s almost like watching a sailing movie on a big screen, and it’s a very enjoyable view.
In fact, the entire free flowing deck layout maximizes the use of space and is very well thought out. Moving aft, the bridgedeck leads to a roomy “back porch” for dining or drinks, and it’s functional, too, with easy access to the dinghy davits and the molded, transom-mounted steps providing access to the swim ladder and to the twin Westerbeke 35-horsepower Universal diesels.
Below, there’s a pair of staterooms complete with queen-size berths, and a third is equipped with a single. There are also two heads with showers, both stationed forward in the respective hulls.
As befitting a sailboat with a seven-figure price tag, the overall build quality of the vacuum-bagged, oven-cured monocoque hull and deck-a foam sandwich utilizing epoxy, biaxial and unidirectional glass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber-is quite phenomenal. The daggerboards and lifting rudders are also carbon fiber, as are the stringers, ring frames, and crossbeams.
There’s nothing else out there quite like a Gunboat. Peter Johnstone set out to build what designer Bill Lee has called a “hot-rod cruiser,” and he certainly succeeded.
Gunboat 48 Specs
LOA: 48′ 4″ (14.74 m.)
LWL: 45′ 11″ (14.00 m.)
Beam: 24′ 3″ (7.39 m.)
Draft (boards up/down): 1′ 1″/7′ 5″ (0.33/2.26 m.)
Sail Area: 1,106 sq. ft. (102.7 sq. m.)
Displacement: 20,100 lb. (9,117 kg.)
Water: 120 gal. (454 l.)
Fuel: 120 gal. (454 l.)
Engines: Twin Westerbeke 35-hp. diesels
Designer: Morrelli & Melvin
Sailaway Price: $1,680,000
Gunboat, (401) 619-1055, www.gunboat.info
Herb McCormick is the former editor of Cruising World