Jefe oozes attitude. Owner and designer Jerry Gilbreath, a nine-time world offshore champion, would not have wanted it any other way.
Jefe idled at dawn on a glassy mountain lake in northern Idaho. Thirty-four feet of custom crafted mahogany, representing a year and a half of labor and a million dollars of detail and muscle, waited in the solitude of a crisp morning mist. Miles of mirrored calm waters lay ahead, sweetened by the fragrance of Ponderosa pine. Lake Coeur d’Alene echoed the throaty purr of Jefe’s twin 400-hp Mers, gurgling as though Nat King Cole was warming up the pipes.
Jerry Gilbreath, owner and designer, was at the helm. A nine-time world racing/offshore champion, holder of more than 25 speed records and a frequent driver over the 200-mph barrier, Gilbreath eagerly anticipated unleashing Jefe on the flat waters of the Idaho panhandle.
“Sometime during the peak of my racing career I was relaxing at a friend’s villa on Italy’s Lake Cuomo, and was seduced by those classic wooden speedboats,” Gilbreath says. “After a lifetime running fiberglass boats neck deep with competition I thought a lot about those beautifully crafted wooden boats.”
It was expected that any creation, even a “gentleman’s runabout,” from a nuts-and-bolts guy like Gilbreath would not just be a pretty face, even if one inspired him.
Gilbreath had just retired from racing and moved from the pizzazz of Southern California to the quiet Idaho shores when he spotted a dazzling custom 60' wooden sailboat on the lake—Sizzler. He and his wife Donna dashed down to the shore and hopped on board for a sail. They learned it had been built nearby at the Resort Boat Shop and, long haunted by visions of those Lake Cuomo classics, decided to visit the yard. After witnessing the shop’s meticulous attention to detail in Sizzler’s high-tech composite package, they spoke with manager Craig Brosenne about building a version of a gentlemen’s runabout with an unmatched performance profile, and launched the Jefe project.
Duane Hagadone, former owner of the megayacht Lady Lola and lifelong Coeur d’Alene resident, owns the Resort Boat Shop. A fan of classic launches and wooden boats, Hagadone had commissioned Tony Castro years earlier to create Sizzler, and as the build progressed brought the Resort Boat Shop up to speed with the intricacies of sophisticated wood composites.
Gilbreath’s plan was to build a vintage-style boat with the heart of a champion by collaborating with the yard’s craftsmen. The result was a cold-molded, vacuum-bagged hull of western red cedar and three layers of African mahogany with epoxy resin, teak detailing, 30 finish coats, a sumptuous Bentley-inspired interior and a customized power plant that would knock the socks off an Indy pit crew.
“Jefe is not about speed,” Gilbreath says. “It only goes 70 mph….It’s about performance, so I promised my wife it would be a civilized boat with a silky smooth ride…and efficient.…We’re able to run 45 mph all day, hardly burn fuel and still have a conversation without even blowing her hair above the windscreen.”
Gilbreath, who was VP at Fountain Powerboats for five years and a consultant for Mercury for 25 years, noticed while watching runabouts that the drivers often sat on the back of the seat or stood in order to see where they were going. He resolved to design a boat with a center of gravity that would allow the boat to ride flat without drag. He shaped a 15-degree deadrise hull with a stepped transom and fabricated lifting strakes and a rocker, which altered the V shape as it moved astern, engineering the center of gravity so there would be no bow rise throughout acceleration. He reconfigured the rocker-arm assemblies over the valves and the camshafts to produce more torque at lower rpms, using a hydraulic-roller cam to reduce engine friction. Instead of the common straight shafts found on most classic speedsters, he installed MerCruiser Bravo One stern drives, with the exhaust vented through the props to reduce noise.
“We’ve had loud boats through the years, but that doesn’t fit in around this area,” Gilbreath says. “At times you can’t even hear the engines running and that’s how we wanted it….One of Donna’s things was being able to idle into a cove, not disturb the wildlife….and enjoy nature.”
Gilbreath reduced weight by using a small aluminum-block Chevy engine and using cold-molded construction, saving up to 4,000 lbs over a typical wood boat this size. By adjusting the trim, Jefe lifts out of the water without increasing throttle at 8 mph and releases, staying level with a third of the hull riding free through 25 mph, at which point it remains flat all the way to the top end of 70 mph.
“We burn 8 miles per gallon at a 30-knot cruise,” Brosenne says, “That’s a 300-mile range for a custom rocket that rides like a Rolls-Royce.”
Long and lean, with a foredeck cambered like a cat ready to pounce, Jefe’s hull mirrors the hillsides. It’s finished with15 coats of Awlgrip epoxy, four coats of Epifane and 10 coats of clear Alexseal, all wet-sanded and topped with a five-stage buffing process.
The 8'6" beam keeps it slender enough for a trailer, while the wide transom step provides easy access to either a stern tie or the water, and the cockpit features a mirrored bar and a removable cocktail table.
Jefe has classic, old-world comfort. The teak decks and tufted Bentley-style upholstery, the wood-grained dash and finish, and the custom Livorsi gauges, Latham throttles and a tilting Latham helm, look almost retro. A half-inch safety-glass windshield is distortion-free and framed in custom stainless steel, the same polished stainless that trims the engines, which glow beneath the hydraulic hatch like a beast in waiting.
Jefe will never be mistaken for a polished relic of a past era. Unmistakably modern, it oozes attitude. There are lots of great-looking classics restored to run like champs, but none run with Jefe’s pedigree. Gilbreath’s obsession with power-plant mastery, his blend of high-tech design and on-the-edge engineering resulted in an adrenaline-charged marriage of classic luxury and performance able to weaken the knees of any throttle jockey.
“Competition drives me, I can’t help that,” Gilbreath says. “I want to be the fastest…and if not that, then the smoothest, quietest, best-running, most comfortable.”
Jefe stepped smoothly onto plane in the solitude of the wilderness and, with an increasing murmur, flew over the mirror-like water. The horizon ahead stayed fixed as we accelerated to 30, 40, 50, 60-plus mph without lifting the bow. Early risers stood coffee cup in hand on their docks, watching in awe as Jefe sprinted down the middle of the lake. It was eerily quiet in the cockpit’s open air as the sound rocketed far astern, and Jefe flew to the far shore barely skimming the surface. Gilbreath’s touch on the throttle was so soft it was almost telepathic until he playfully carved a turn just to see Jefe’s response. Jefe is the total package. ■
Length: 34' (10.36m)
Beam: 8'6" (2.59m)
Deadrise: 15 degrees
Weight: 7,000 lbs
Power: 2 x MerCruiser, 383 cu-in 400 hp
Propulsion: Bravo One Outdrives
Top speed: 65+ mph
Fuel: 85 gallons
Design: GMT @ Coeur d’Alene Custom Wood Boats