Boat Reviews

Blue Jacket 40

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Two noted designers collaborate on a sharp new cruiser

Tim Jackett, the longtime chief designer at Tartan/C&C, knows how to design a fast, sweet-sailing performance boat. Bob Johnson, owner and chief designer at Island Packet Yachts, has his own well-proven ideas about how a cruising boat should be built and designed. The end result of such a collaboration was bound to be interesting, and so it has proved. The Blue Jacket 40’s appeal can be summed up in two words: sailor-friendly. 

 

Construction 

Jackett, whose experience spans the developmental arc of modern composite boatbuilding, brought more with him to Island Packet than just his design chops. The veteran boatbuilders at the Florida yard, which has turned out hundreds of solid-fiberglass hulls, soon found themselves immersed in the weight-saving mysteries of resin infusion and foam cores.  The vacuum-infused vinylester resin/Divinycell foam/quadraxial E-glass hull and deck moldings are super-tough, and light, too; this 16,500lb 40-footer displaces a whopping 2,300lb less than the nearest equivalent Island Packet, the 37-foot Estero.

The inner grid molding is standard Island Packet practice, increasing overall hull strength while providing both a base for furniture and a low-maintenance, anti-skid sole surface in high-traffic areas like the galley, heads and the base of the companionway steps. Lavish and beautifully finished solid wood furnishings and trim avoid any “plastic” feel belowdecks. Systems installations are top-notch.

All Island Packets have full keels with encapsulated ballast, so the Blue Jacket’s bolt-on fin keel (shoal or deep draft) is a radical departure for the yard, as is the deep spade rudder. The latter is linked to an Edson double pedestal steering gear via a carbon fiber rudderstock. The rig is a Jackett trademark—a 100 percent jib set Solent-style abaft a 150 percent lightweight genoa—with the Island Packet touch evident in the carbon fiber Hoyt boom that carries the self-tacking jib.

 

On Deck 

I was impressed with the cockpit, which somehow manages to be bigger than it looks—there were eight of us on board, and yet we managed to move about freely and work the boat without getting in each other’s way. The helmsman has comfortable seats behind and to either side of the twin wheels with good access to the primary winches.

The trend in today’s performance cruisers is to conceal lines in galleries for a clean look, sink grabrails into the cabintop for added sleekness, hide furling drums below deck, and in general sacrifice some functionality for the sake of appearance. Not so on the Blue Jacket. Substantial molded toe rails border wide side decks that only become cluttered abaft the primary winches, where assorted sail control lines converge. Every line is visible for the entire length of its run, and long stainless steel grabrails stand proud on the whalebacked cabintop. Form follows function on this boat.

Gaze upon the hefty stainless steel fabrication that houses the anchor roller, provides a mounting point for the jib boom and also a tack point for a gennaker, and you’ll have no doubt that this is a serious cruising boat.

Accommodations 

The standard layout, as on the test boat, has the master cabin forward and a pair of not-quite-identical cabins aft—the one to port has a little more standing room and a hanging locker. Anyone who has spent time aboard Island Packets will feel right at home; the rich wood finish, the style of the trim, the saloon table stowed against the main bulkhead, is all familiar territory. Storage is plentiful and well arranged, and light streams in through  opening ports and hatches. In an age where too many cruising boats lack decent handholds below, I was gratified to see a pair of stainless grabrails on the cabin overhead, right where they’re most needed.

This is a one-head boat, something of a bold move in these days where even small boats often have two heads compartments, but a sensible one. Accessible from the forecabin and the saloon, it’s large, airy and has an electric freshwater-flush toilet and a sit-down shower enclosure. 

The galley is the focal point of the main living area. An expansive Corian countertop provides plenty of working surface alongside the deep twin sinks; underneath there’s a large fridge/freezer unit with pullout drawers. A microwave oven backs up the gimbaled three-burner Force 10 stove and there’s all the storage the sea cook could wish for. In the alternative two-cabin layout, the galley gets even more space, and the starboard aft cabin becomes a large locker-cum-workshop that can be entered from above or below decks.

On the debit side, the angled settees aren’t ideal for sleeping on, which you’ll occasionally want to do on passage, and a small electrical panel below the port settee is perfectly positioned to be damaged by a wayward foot.

Under Sail 

I stood behind one of the twin wheels while the Blue Jacket 40 steered itself to windward, its wake an arrow-straight line across Long Island Sound, and reflected that in this boat the noble art of compromise has been exercised to fine effect; Jackett likes fin keels and spade rudders, Johnson is a champion of long keels and attached rudders, and here I was sailing a boat that tracks like a long-keeler but has the legs of a fin-keeler. What’s the secret? A near-plumb bow and short stern overhang, efficient foils and a shallow canoe body that minimizes wetted surface, and a hull form that retains its balance when heeled. Its performance ratios are those of a cruiser-racer.

In a breeze that peaked in the low teens, the Blue Jacket displayed no vices but plenty of charm. The working jib on its Hoyt boom made for effortless tacking through 80 degrees or so; it set beautifully on a reach and was equally effective dead downwind, where it goosewinged easily. 

Just for kicks, we unrolled the 150 percent lightweight genoa and found it pulled like a draft horse. The only hassle was tacking this big sail through the narrow gap between the stays, an exercise that is better accomplished by first rolling it up. It will really come into its own on those days when you’d otherwise be thinking about firing up the diesel. The top speed we saw during our test sail was 8.3 knots in a relatively tame breeze, so the boat is no slouch.

The double mainsheet and single jib sheet are served by the Harken primaries by the helms, making the powerful sailplan simple to handle. The boat we sailed had the shoal keel; the deep-draft version will no doubt sail better to windward.

Under Power 

Cocooned in a snug engine compartment with all filters and other maintenance points easily accessible, the 40hp Yanmar diesel was well soundproofed. An optional three-bladed folding prop produced ample thrust to power the boat at 7 knots at cruising rpm, around 2,400. The boat turned almost in its own length and prop walk in reverse was minimal. 

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