The Starratt Jenks 45 began life as the Morgan 45, a no holds barred CCA era rule beater (which translates to narrow beam, short waterline length and a sail plan that favored very large jibs and a comparatively small mainsail, as in a boat that takes gorillas to sail). In the guise of the Morgan, 45 these boats had deep cast lead keels, half way decent lay-up, first-class hardware for its day, and in the racer/cruiser version, a reasonably nice interior. (For the record neither of these are full keels by any traditional sense of the term, but are actually fin keeled boats with attached rudders, which means all of the negative attributes of both full keels and fin keels with few of the attributes. Some Scarratt Jenkses have gone to skeg hung spade rudders to try to improve their otherwise less than wonderful handling characteristics.)
Anyway, the Morgan 45 did not sell very well and the molds were sold to to Starratt Jenks, who cheapened the construction and sold them as kit boats. SJ shortened the keel, depending on who you believe, went to an encapsulated keel with boiler punchings and concrete, (at least according to the one survey that I read.) These were tender boats when they were Morgans and had cast lead ballast, and would be even more tender in the shallower draft, low density Starratt Jenks version.
Which of course brings up all of the kit boat issues. Like any kit boat some were finished by people who knew what they were doing and did a careful job, but most were finished by amateurs who did the best they could. I had access to surveys on two different Starratt Jenks over the years, and I don't think that I have ever seen a more critical survey report on a boat that hasn't been through a hurricane.
So to answer your questions:
Are they a well built boat?
The hulls were half way decent but the actual build quality beyond the hulls is a crap shoot. My sense is that a larger proportion of these boats were bought by comparatively new sailors than some of the other kit boats of that era because experienced sailors that I knew shied away from them due to their mediocre design.
How do they perform?
They perform like a much shorter boat with inadequate sail area for light air performance, that has a cut down rig and keel, and a higher center of gravity than the orginal design, which is to say, quite mediocre.
Are the hard to handle?
From what I gather from conversations with a number of owners over the years, they are not easy boats to handle.
That said, they were often modified by the individual builders, so for example I exchanged email with a fellow who claimed his was easy to handle. As we talked about it he indicated that originally the boat was miserable in high winds or a chop, but he eventually added a bowsprit (going to a cutter rig) and reduced the mainsail, which balanced the helm some and made his easier to handle. He also said that he needed to reef really early and that was why so many people considered SJ 45 to be poor heavy weather boats.
I also talked to a fellow who claimed that his boat was built the same way as the original Morgan 45, low deck house, aft cockpit, deep draft and lead keel and he loved his, and took her all over the place, although he did tell a couple stories suggesting that the boat was miserable in the Gulf Stream and on the Banks in the Bahamas, but then again those can be some very choppy waters to sail in no matter what you sail.
I guess I would say this, These are big boats and boats that are likely to need vast quantities of skillful remedial work to bring into reasonable shape (unless some prior owner has done that, but the people I have met seem to buy these boats because they wanted a cheap 45 footers and do not know much about boats, so that is not all that likely) and will be tough boats to sail. In other words, not even close to a good choice for a first boat.
I would think that if you have your heart set on a fixer upper then perhaps you would be better off for the money buying a boat with a better design than a cut down, obsolete race boat as a starting point.
Last edited by Jeff_H; 08-11-2006 at 10:06 AM.