Gunboat: Busting Barriers

Published on October 23rd, 2013

When you attend the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, the longest line to get onboard a boat – often the only line – is to see the Gunboat. And while most of the large catamarans at the show have no intention to mingle on the race course, the Gunboats have been doing so in increasing numbers.

This year Gunboat founder Peter Johnstone (yes, of the J/Boats family) was displaying the Gunboat 60. Here he shares some of the magic that creates the high interest in Gunboats.

What is the Gunboat formula that sets you apart?

We don’t cut any corners on materials or finish or how we build the boat, and we deliver true dual purpose. For the families onboard enjoying the boat on vacation, or if the boat is loaded up with friends, they are exceedingly easy to sail for both men and women because it’s all push buttons. I think for the first time since the early 70s, Gunboat provides a really good dual purpose boats. We now have a really appealing platform for people.

Are you surprised by the degree they are being raced?

The whole intent was to produce world cruisers, but we knew their performance was better than a grand prix keelboat. I think it is a natural evolution, as people really enjoy learning the boats and pushing them through the races. But the racing also brings everyone together for the parties and social aspect of Gunboat. This is a really strong aspect of what we are doing. People that would never have considered racing, they will try it the first time because I make them, and they find that they enjoy it so much.

Are you attracting people from the racing sector too?

We are getting a lot of inquiries from one design racers, particularly from J/105s, Melges 24s. Maybe as a mothership for their one design, and then to use in the Caribbean for the racing and cruising. We have reigning Melges 32 World Champion Jason Carroll racing his Gunboat 62 Elvis.

Have you sensed if the America’s Cup has heightened interest in Gunboats?

Most definitely. We in fact had Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill onboard during the show, helping a friend who was interested. More than anything, the America’s Cup has helped to break down barriers.

The New York Yacht Club called to invite the Gunboat class to participate in the 2015 Transatlantic Race. That sort of interest never happened before. There are only a couple races left that don’t invite us, like the Sydney-Hobart and Bermuda Races. I expect they will soon come around too. They can’t keep their heads buried in the sand forever.

Editor’s note: Phil Lotz, who is currently Rear Commodore of NYYC, has a Gunboat 60 on order, with plans to campaign it next winter at the Caribbean 600, etc and then race it in the 2015 Transatlantic Race. If the 2017 Commodore of such an esteemed establishment has a Gunboat, it is fair to say that would break down some barriers.

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