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The word “unique” is used too liberally. Uniqueness infers a point of difference that genuinely sets an item apart from its peers. The Johnson 65 was presented to us in this manner. The cynic in JEFF STRANG meant a firsthand look was required to see if it was justified. A trip to the Gold Coast was in order…

Johnson 65

A two-minute tour of the Johnson 65 before we departed to make our rendezvous with the chopper was all it took to confirm that this was no production boat. The four-point locking watertight sea-doors into the engineroom access were evidence of that.

Taiwan-based Johnson Motor Yachts (JMY), which hand builds vessels in the 55- to 125-foot range, has been in business for 20 years. The boats had been available in Australia for a number a of years before the current CEO of JMY Australia showed interest in the acquisition of the Down Under distribution rights around five years ago. It was the purchase and pleasure of owning a Johnson 58-footer that was his motivation. In his own words: "I liked the product so much I bought the company."  That's putting your money where your mouth is.

The relationship between the Taiwanese builder and its Australian agents flourished and discussions around changes in the boats to specifically suit the local boating conditions eventually led to a proposal to build the Johnson 65, and power it with pod drives. It would be the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

Pod drives have received their fair share of press since their introduction to the recreation market a couple of years ago. Their ease of response under joystick control, particularly around the dock, has significantly reduced the gulf of fear many new to boating carry as baggage when they consider a boat purchase of any size. That said, until recently the upper limit in terms of boat size for which a pod-drive system is a viable option has been around 55 feet due to the restricted horsepower options offered by the major players, IPS and Zeus.



Enter the mighty German transmission company ZF (Zeppelin Foundation). It's one of the world's two biggest transmission manufacturers in the medium to large recreational launch market (the other being Twin Disc). ZF take horsepower seriously and the research I did at the time of writing suggested the ZF Pod 4000 system is the only pod-drive unit available that is rated to more than 1000hp (the IPS 1200 series is the closest rated, for 900hp powerplants).

The bottom line is that if you want get all the advantages of a pod drive in a boat the size of the Johnson 65 - joystick manoeuvrability, two-person handling at the dock, and industry-leading fuel economy - as of today, the ZF 4000 is your only option. And that is what makes the Johnson 65 unique. It's claimed to be only vessel of its class in Australia and possibly the world propelled by pod drives.

So that in a nutshell, was the motive that resulted in us stepping onboard the Johnson 65 next to the Gold Coast's Marina Mirage, with a helicopter warming up in the background. I just had experience this 43-tonne displacement craft, which could allegedly be parked with style and dignity in the hands of a boating novice by virtue of its lanyard-harnessed joystick control and a pair ZF pod drives.



It's hard to know where to start on a boat of this quality. A detailed description would take volumes and could hardly do justice - especially if the reader falls asleep before finishing. At times like this I find the best approach is focus on the standout features.

My overall impression is that the Johnson 65 sits on the cusp of the superyacht category and it would be unjust to think of it as merely an oversized cruiser. The air-compressed, touch-sensitive saloon door slider is testament to that - no dubious-quality aluminium joinery here. The boat's side profile could be described as sleek and somewhat predatory, which is a change from the more traditional look of its older sisters. The three-tier layout is much like most in this class with a flybridge and outdoor aft deck on top; a saloon, galley and outdoor entertaining space in the middle; and the accommodation and engineering spaces on the lowest level.

It is refreshing to see that the temptation to shoehorn in extra accommodation has been resisted. The three double cabins, all with private en suites, will do an admirable job - after all this boat has been designed literally from the keel up not to require professional crew. The forward VIP cabin and queen-sized starboard cabin are finished beautifully as expected, but it is the master cabin that is truly fit for a king.



I see classy staterooms almost every month but this full-beam, centrally located oasis made my jaw drop. Strolling there is an experience similar to walking into a top-notch hotel room for the first time. Of course, the bed is massive (and embarrassingly inviting - I grabbed the opportunity to recline briefly), but it is space and ambience that gives the occupier that royal feeling.

With 5.58m of beam to play with, the furnishings on either side of the bed, including a full makeup cabinet (sorry ladies if my terminology is a bit off), has almost no impact. And ladies, you will be even more impressed with the walk-in wardrobe and bathroom in here. Yes, the master cabin en suite is certainly worth a mention as well. It's beautifully lit and furnished, but the icing on the cake would have to be the shower. It really is very large and comes complete with a teak-finished bench seat. Do I need to mention that there is room for two?



As you can imagine, with only three cabins in the design there is room for an extra feature or two in the lower deck accommodation areas. Of particular interest to me was the dedicated office space. The design principle behind the Johnson 65 was to build a boat capable of catering to the needs of the successful business person and his or her family in absolute style afloat, without needing to call upon the services of professional liveaboard crew. Those with means to live this dream are likely to having plenty of pressing business issues to contend with that may not be able to wait for a shore pass. This private office afloat comes complete with everything required to stay close to the action including wireless 3G Internet and an in-room Panasonic PBX phone system (there's a handset in every cabin). Just add your laptop and you're in business, so to speak.



The galley, dining room and saloon are on a single level and lead via the electronic sliding door to the outside lower deck lounger. This space is tastefully opulent in its presentation and is a continuation of the sort of quality we found in the accommodation areas. African cherry joinery and granite countertops are perfectly complimented by genuine cream leather upholstery.

As an enthusiastic chef who regularly takes on challenges beyond my ability, I was delighted to spend some time exploring the impressive kitchen. The counter space and extensive selection of quality appliances is notable enough but a feature that caught my eye was the coffee-machine lift. This sits in a tailor-made cabinet on an electric ram allowing it to be lowered out of sight, freeing up even more bench area while ensuring that even out in conditions rough enough to rock this boat there is no chance of a coffee-spill disaster. That kind of forethought and attention to detail speaks volume of the builders - yet more evidence that the Johnson 65 is no production boat.

The galley is perfectly placed to service a five-seat table, and once the fine dining is complete it makes perfect sense to lounge the evening way on sumptuous, full-leather couches in the saloon. That way you can immerse yourself in the genius that is the Kaleidescape entertainment system. At least I think its genius because it is well over my head. My rudimentary understanding is that Kaleidescape is an all-in-one complete system that manages all your media files seamlessly with an integrated menu and allows multiple viewers to enjoy their own selection to the fullest in a number of separate zones. Apparently it's child's play - where's that child when you need one? It's actually iPad controlled so even my mum could use it. Kaleidescape comes complete with an inbuilt library of already compiled selections such as the <I>Kaleidescape Critics 150</I>, so just switch it on and enjoy.



Elegant staterooms and luxurious furnishings are one thing, but there comes a point when you have to get down to business. It was a great pleasure to spend time with JMY Australia's technical and quality assurance manager, capt Roger Cooper, to discuss the serious business of hardware and horsepower on the Johnson 65.

Up front I could not have been more impressed with the engineroom access. A genuine watertight, four-point locking sea-door leads to a workshop/storage room, which in turn leads to the engineroom proper via another watertight sea-door. Initially I was critical of the placement of the first door as it could be exposed to the elements during a bluewater crossing, but I had to withdraw my comments when a second access hatch for just such circumstances was pointed out. Service access to the twin CAT C18s and ZF 4000 pods is generous and set-up in such a way as to make many arduous tasks easy, which is probably the best way to ensure preventative maintenance is conducted to the highest standard.

Up on the bridge Roger walked me through the wide range of technologies available to the skipper, including automatic trim tabs from Humphree, the ABT?TRAC digital stabilisers, FLIR night-vision and thermal imaging, a wide array of Raymarine electronics, and of course the lanyard harnessed ZF joystick controller.

I imagine there are plenty of people reading this with experience on 40- or 50-foot boats who struggle to understand why a 65ft boat is considered to be such a step up in size. It is only 15 feet longer after all, that's barely more than a small trailerboat. It's not the length that is the issue, it's the volume. The average 50ft flybridge cruiser displaces around 23 tonnes, whereas the Johnson 65 displaces more than 43 tonnes - almost twice the size. Stand next to it at the dock and you will know what I mean. It's intimidating. Hit something, even gently with 43 tonnes of inertia and things break, and there is nothing worse than mangled stainless steel, particularly on the neighbour's boat, to dent your confidence - no pun intended. This is the reason most people hire professional skippers when they start playing on toys like Johnson 65.



After experiencing the high-horsepower ZF 4000 pods for myself I see no reason why any amateur with some training and practice could not handle this boat, along with the help of just one other person, with ease. The lanyard harness on the joystick controller allows the skipper to control the boat easily from any position that affords the best visibility. This is also capt Cooper's views and he adds that any purchaser of a Johnson 65 gets extended hands-on instruction from himself during the agreed handover period.

At sea the boat was equally impressive. Any craft with this sort of bulk will ride well in the 20-plus-knots we trialled her in off the Gold Coast, but she is remarkably stable thanks to the cutting-edge electronic stabilising technology. I thoroughly enjoyed the way she made short work of a solid metre-high set at almost 25kts. She is quiet and vibration free, so-much-so it was easy to forget we were at sea at all when I left the bridge to continue my note taking below.



I test a lot of very good boats in my travels but in this case the Johnson 65 could actually be a great boat. It certainly stands out as one of the two best boats I have experienced in the last couple of years. As stated, the presentation is verging on superyacht status and I doubt many could find any faults in the interior that could not be rectified.

The Johnson 65 is handmade and that means many of the features can be altered to suit the client's requirements. Features like the electronic door openers, the extensive galley and the jaw-dropping stateroom all leave an impression, but the thing that really sets this boat apart from many other beautifully presented vessels in Australia is the joystick-controlled pod-drive on a lanyard. I cannot think of another boat of this volume that can honestly be parked by two novices with only a couple of days training under their belt.

That is what makes the Johnson 65 unique.


tradeaboat SAYS…

I cannot think of another boat of this volume that can honestly be parked by two novices with only a couple of days training under their belt.


The Zeppelin Foundation

ZF is a leading automotive machinery parts supplier with 121 production companies in 27 countries. In 2011, the Group will achieve a sales figure of roughly Euro 15.5 billion with approximately 72,100 employees. ZF is among the top 10 companies on the ranking list of the largest automotive suppliers worldwide. The company was founded in 1915 for the development and production of transmissions for airships and vehicles. Today, the group's product range comprises transmissions and steering systems as well as chassis components and complete axle systems and modules.
The ZF Group invests more than five per cent of total revenue in research and development every year. R&D investment in 2011 will amount to approximately Euro 750 million. With an investment program for 2011 amounting to more than Euro 1 billion, the ZF Group is taking long strides.  <IB>* Excerpt from the ZF website.</IB>








TYPE: Displacement monohull
DESIGNER: Dixon Yacht Design
LOA: 20.11m
BEAM: 5.58m
DRAFT: 1.03m
DISPLACEMENT: 43,000kg (half load)



ACCOMODATION: 3 double cabins with en suites
FUEL: 3500lt
WATER: 1000lt



MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Caterpillar C18
TYPE: Six-cylinder turbo-diesel
RATED HP: 1015
PROPULSION: 2 x ZF 4000 pod drives



CRUISE SPEED: 24kts at 80 per cent engine load
FUEL USAGE: Yet to be calculated.



Johnson Motor Yachts Australia,
Raymond Terrace, NSW, 2324
Phone: (02) 4964 8111
Fax: (02) 4964 8370


From Trade-a-Boat Issue 426, Apr-May, 2012. Photos by Ellen Dewar.

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