words - Vanessa Dudley
Jeanneau's new flagship 54-footer is turning heads around Europe as it cruises from boatshow to boatshow. Editor Vanessa Dudley hopped aboard for a 200nm delivery passage along the yacht's merry way

What a life I'd have if all tests were like this one! Stepping aboard a big and luxurious, fully-optioned yacht worth more than a million dollars is always a treat. When the boat test involves sailing that big and luxurious yacht from Hyeres, near Marseilles on the south coast of France, roughly 200nm across the Mediterranean Sea to the Spanish port of Barcelona, you're talking something really special.

The Sun Odyssey 54 is a new flagship yacht for the major French boatbuilder Jeanneau and the boat I sailed on was the first to be launched. Tooling up for production of a big new boat like this is no minor undertaking, but all the leading production yacht builders seem to be at it these days and the market demand certainly seems to justify their investment.

Jeanneau says it had sold a number of the new 54s off the line drawings even before the first hull came out of the mould. I might have taken that with a grain of salt if not for seeing with my own eyes at least five of the 54s in various stages of construction when I visited the factory in north-western France, immediately after this test sail.

Jeanneau has been carving out a niche for itself over the past three or four years with its deck saloon models, and it has added bold new styling to the slightly raised, U-shaped saloon of the 54, providing panoramic views from within the saloon, plus the appearance of a much larger yacht due to the raised coachroof.

The 54 DS was designed as a joint effort by Jacques Fauroux (a noted French racing yacht designer) for the hull lines and highly-regarded Italian stylist Vitorrio Garroni for the deck profile, with project management by Jeanneau's own design office.

The target market would appear to be cruising enthusiasts who want a boat that looks good at the marina but also handles well at sea, is manageable shorthanded and offers a high degree of comfort, luxury and space, at production yacht rather than custom yacht prices. The level of fitout and finish indicate that it is aimed at private buyers rather than charter companies, although it could fit skippered charter applications with style.

I was able to join the new Sun Odyssey 54 for a two-handed delivery between boatshows. The yacht had been displayed at the Genoa boatshow in Italy and was now on its way to its next assignment, a boatshow in Barcelona.

We were on a tight schedule because the boat had to be delivered to Barcelona in time for the rig to come out for routine inspections prior to the show. I stepped from the plane to a hire car to the yacht in Hyeres harbour, where it had stopped over for a photo shoot, and we set out almost immediately at around 5pm.

Our course of 240° took us into the teeth of a 20-25kt south-westerly, which had whipped up a sharp, short chop. It wasn't quite the boat-breaking nastiness for which the Med is known, but it was bouncy enough to make us appreciate the dodger.

The fresh breeze lasted most of the night, moderating gradually towards dawn and ultimately giving way to absolute millpond conditions as we closed on the Catalan coast. Because of the tight timing, we used the motor whenever boatspeed dropped below 7-8kt. As a result, we made excellent time and entered the harbour of Barcelona around 7pm, after a 25-26hr passage of roughly 200nm.

Some snapshot performance figures from the journey: in 16-17kt true wind speed (TWS) and 80° true wind angle (TWA), our speed was 9kt through the lumpy chop. In 23kt TWS and 80-90° TWA, our speed was 9kt with the main and jib both part-furled. Under full rig when the wind lightened off to 9-13kt TWS at 100° TWA, we held boatspeed of 8-9kt under full rig plus engine at 2000rpm.

The most striking aspect of the passage was the capable performance of the yacht in a rough seaway. I was truly impressed by the way the boat handled the bouncy chop and would feel confident in taking it to sea in Australian waters.

In lighter winds it may prove somewhat under-rigged, particularly with the unbattened mainsail required by the optional in-mast furling system. We didn't muck around to find out, kicking the big Volvo Penta diesel into gear whenever things got quiet. Most cruising people tell me that's the way they do things on passage, too.

For the purposes of this sail, with just two of us onboard and a certain amount of night sailing and navigation required, I really appreciated the ease of handling on deck and the sophisticated instrumentation. The skipper and I took turns to sit up on deck while the other slept, letting the autopilot do its job or absorbing the pleasures of hand-steering under the moonlight. Because the boat handled the sea so well, it really was a sail to remember.

With a Raymarine Pathfinder RL80C display unit mounted on the back of the cockpit table, just forward of the twin steering wheels and within easy viewing of the steerer. It was possible to watch both the radar and the chartplotter on this split-screen unit. For a short-handed passage like ours it was absolutely brilliant to be able to sit up on deck and keep an eye on the yacht's progress and potential obstacles, without having to dart down the companionway at regular intervals.

At the port-side wheel was an in/out switch for the headsail furler, plus Raymarine ST60 Tridata (depth, sea, trip) and ST60 Wind analogue display of true or apparent wind, plus a big Plastimo Olympic 135 binnacle compass.

At the starboard side wheel were duplicate ST60 Wind and Tridata displays plus the ST6001+ autopilot. This worked via cables rather than hydraulics and the steering was very light and responsive when hand-steering.

Also within reach was a switch for the spreader decklights, the MAX Power bow thruster control and another Plastimo binnacle compass.

The controls for the Volvo Penta TAMD 31S diesel engine were on the starboard side of the cockpit in a perspex-screened recess, with a rev meter and a petrol tank gauge (not working). The throttle was on the starboard steering binnacle.

The cockpit table was a very substantial hollow fibreglass moulding, with a timber tabletop with large drop leaves either side, held out when required by a simple system using sliding aluminium arms.

The central part of the table had a stainless-steel railing with a cockpit light, four recessed glass holders and a central storage section that is self-draining. Good stainless-steel grabrails were positioned at strategic locations all around the cockpit and deck.

There was a dedicated liferaft storage compartment under the cockpit floor between the two steering stations. A block and tackle system was in place to enable the raft to be lifted out quickly if required.

Access to the emergency tiller was under the central transom moulding, which could be held up out of the way with its supplied tether and clip.

There were big lazarette hatches to either side of the transom, plus cockpit seat lockers with hatches supported by pressurised struts. Although shallow, the seat lockers stretched outboard a long way and held a surprising amount of gear, including deck wash hoses, buckets, spare anchor and chain and lots of cleaning gear (don't forget this was a boatshow demonstrator yacht).

There was a hot and cold water shower at the back of the transom, hidden away neatly when not in use.

The rig was by Marechal, with sails from a loft called Incidences. The mast was large section because it housed internal roller furling for the mainsail. This meant an unbattened mainsail that displayed some leech flutter no matter how much leech line we applied.

There were two separate backstays, each with two bottlescrew fittings for mechanical tensioning of the rig. I couldn't find any hydraulics anywhere on board.

The rig had three sets of slightly sweptback spreaders with some seriously heavy-duty standing rigging, including the shrouds, diagonals and two sets of lowers.

There was also an optional inner forestay that could be used to set a staysail or a Solent, as they call it in European waters, for a cutter rig or sailing in heavy weather. This inner forestay attached with a large snap shackle and was tensioned using a bottlescrew with twist handle. When not in use it attached to a dedicated deck padeye just forward of the starboard shroud base.

The genoa was set up with an electric roller furler unit. (The mainsail furler wasn't itself electric, but was controlled using the electric halyard winch to the port side of the companionway.)

The genoa tracks were set up with barber haulers to adjust the car position.

The mainsheet was set up on the coachhouse with a Harken ball-bearing traveller system (all the blocks and the genoa cars were Harken, too) and then back to the electric halyard winch.

The boom looked quite bendy under mainsheet load and Jeanneau apparently planned to replace it with a stronger section.

There were two big stainless-steel dorade funnels either side of the mast to air the forward master cabin, plus lots of deck hatches, the forward ones including twist ventilators to let some air into the interior even when there's water over the deck. All the hatches were Goiot or Gebo.

Halyards and sail controls were all run aft from the mast under a moulded fibreglass panel, which also covered the sliding companionway hatch.

The guardrails had openings aft onto the swimming platform and also to either side amidships, forward of the neat little steps moulded into the cockpit coamings on either side and very useful for moving in and out of the cockpit, given the height of the coamings.

On the front of the mast was the Raymarine radome, the spinnaker pole (vertically stored here) and the deck floodlights.

At the bow was a large storage area for sails, etc, accessible via a deck hatch. The bow had a split rail with teak seat and twin anchor launchers. The stainless-steel mooring line cleats looked custom made, as did the very stylish stainless-steel fairleads set into the gunwales. There were teak decks all round and high teak edging around the gunwales.

I puzzled over the purpose of the small clips all around the cockpit and the foredeck until being informed they were attachment points for the boat's "blankets" or protective covers, commonly used in Europe but less frequently seen on Australian boats.

The primary winches were Harken 66.2 two-speed self-tailers and the halyard winches were Harken two-speed 46s, with the primaries and the port halyard winch each set up with twin buttons for high and low geared electric muscle-power.

The first thing I actually did on this boat was take a shower, in my own bathroom, thank you. Each of the three double cabins had ensuites; my cabin for this delivery was on the port side aft, a mirror image of the skipper's cabin in the starboard quarter.

The aft cabins each had very big double bunks, which were comfy to sleep on and could also be transformed into two singles if required, using a cutout section in the bunk. There was also a large storage cupboard and the ensuite bathroom with manual flush toilet, sink with shower nozzle for hot/cold pressurised water supply and cupboards.

The interior was spacious, bright and welcoming, with attractive furnishings and ample natural light from the forward wraparound windows and many hatches. Light-veined teak veneers and teak-and-holly floorboards were featured alongside the bright white liners and cream furnishings. Personally I just wouldn't trust myself with settees that colour, no matter how washable, because I've seen so many food and drink "accidents" occur on boats over the years, but they certainly did look great.

The starboard settee could seat four adults comfortably plus another two in the handsomely crafted separate seats. No doubt Jeanneau had something in mind for fixing these seats in place when sailing, but nothing was yet in place, so we lashed them by their bases to the central table.

The table was very solid, with four long drawers in its base and two drop leaves, plus attractive detail work adorning the tabletop.

On the bulkhead above was a Sharp Aquos flat-screen TV with DVD/CD/video CD player. The panel this was mounted on could fold out, with storage space behind for remote controls, etc. There were speakers around the saloon and in the cockpit, and tucked away in a cupboard at the forward port-side corner of the saloon was a Sony 10-stack CD player On the port side of the saloon was a two-seater lounge with coffee table and central bench with high fiddles and storage inside. There were plugs for 240V appliances and switches for the optional air-conditioning, with three Clima units included on this boat.

An Onan marine genset was positioned under the floor forward of the engine, with the hatch set up with pressurised arms for easy access.

The batteries were under clear perspex hatches in underfloor compartments in the galley and near the nav station, and there was also underfloor storage space in the galley for cleaning gear, etc.

The L-shaped galley to port of the companionway had an Electrolux microwave and front-opening fridge/freezer, both stainless-steel-fronted, plus Corian benchtops. There was an Eno four-burner stove/oven on gimbals with a roller-wheeled benchtop, which slid away behind the oven when you wanted to use the hobs. A rangehood was also provided over the stove.

Something of a signature Jeanneau inclusion was the drying cabinet for dishes and cutlery in the forward outboard corner of the galley. There were also large twin sinks with hot/cold pressurised water via a mixer tap, as well as a freshwater floor pump. Hatches were supplied to cover the sinks if extra bench space was required.

There was shelving under the sink for storage, plus three small drawers and a dedicated rubbish bin locker at the outboard end of the galley.

A dishwasher is also offered as an option, although it was not included on this boat and there was a question mark over where you could put it. One suggestion was to move the fridge/freezer forward to replace the dish drying compartment, and then slot the dishwasher in where the fridge was.

These are some of the hard decisions involved in ordering a luxury 54ft cruising yacht, I guess.

The electrics, 12/24V converter and fusebox were behind the top half of the companionway, above the engine, with space also allocated for storing the perspex washboard when not in use.

The test boat had a big (optional) Dessalinator Duo D60 watermaker used under the aft end of the starboard settee.

The navigation station to starboard was a good size to please the most serious of long range "guessers". The chart table had space for charts and manuals and a separate compartment for pens and instruments, and there was a storage area outboard of the seat. On the outboard wall was the large electrics control board, mounted on a panel that could be unlocked to provide easy access to the back.

The test boat's nav station was set up with a second Raymarine Pathfinder RL80C chartplotter/radar, plus the genset control panel and ProSine inverter switch.

It came as quite a surprise to discover an optional washing machine/dryer hidden inside the the nav seat.

The Oceanair saloon blinds were very nifty, sitting inside a timber facia on the sides and vinyl panelling forward. The blinds concertinaed out of view Roman-style when not in use.

A hatch in the central saloon floor provided access to the water tankage, the water heater and bilge pumping system, while fuel tankage is aft.

Two steps down at the front of the saloon led to the master cabin forward, which was a private and self-contained area. To port was a table and seat for use as an onboard office or a vanity table. There was a hanging locker and shelved cupboard to port, more shelving outboard with cupboards housing another CD player, plus twin lamps.

The bed was set up on a futon-style base, presumably to allow air circulation into those areas that can be so prone to mould in tropical climates.

There was another hanging locker to starboard, next to the entrance to the ensuite bathroom, plus a full length wall mirror.

The ensuite had a separate shower cubicle protected by a curtain and with its own shower nozzle and taps. This bathroom had a Jabsco electric flush toilet (the other two were manual), plus a stainless-steel sink on Corian bench, hot/cold pressurised water via mixer tap and storage compartments above and below the sink.

Other details included a conduit strip along the inner edge of the door base, included to prevent water from trickling through from the bathroom into the master cabin, a towel hanger on the back of the door and a ring for hand towels above the toilet.

All three heads had moulded seats hinging over the toilet seats to provide a secure perch when brushing your teeth, etc.

Following this exciting expedition, I'm looking forward to my next sail aboard the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54 Deck Saloon. It is likely that we'll see the first boat in Australia during 2003, and buyers in the market for a cruising yacht in this price range would be well advised to take a close look.

Vanessa Dudley travelled to France courtesy of the Australian Jeanneau distributor, Euroyachts Pty Ltd.


  • More than just a floating apartment, the Sun Odyssey 54 handles itself impressively well in bouncy sailing conditions.
  • Styling is contemporary and fresh, both above and below decks.
  • Spacious and bright saloon includes storage space and facilities for cruising holidays.
  • Great for two-handed sailling as optioned.


  • Some teething problems with interior details such as the aft cabin doors and bathroom details, but this was the first boat out of the moulds.
  • May not be the most lively performer in light winds, but there's that 100hp diesel to ease the pain when the going gets slow.

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54 DS
Priced As Tested: POA
Options Fitted
In-mast furling mainsail, watermaker, air-conditioning, TV/DVD/CD, clothes washer/dryer, and more
Priced From: $903,000 sailaway includes sails, instruments, autopilot, electric windlass, safety pack
Hull type: Monohull cruiser
Material: Solid GRP hull, GRP/balsa deck, cast-iron keel
Length overall: 16.75m
Length waterline: 14.79m
Beam: 4.87m
Standard keel: 5000kg
Short keel: 5400kg
Displacement: Approx 16,000kg
Berths: Six-eight
Fuel: Approx 400lt
Water: Approx 900lt
Make/Model: Volvo Penta TAMD 31S
Type: Four-cylinder marine diesel
Rated hp: 100hp
Sail area
Standard mainsail: 63sqm
Furling main: 54sqm
Furling genoa: 85sqm
Spinnaker: 190sqm
Supplied by: For more information and dealer contact details, contact Euroyachts Pty Ltd, tel 1800 989 888, or visit

Published : Wednesday, 1 January 2003

Prices and specifications supplied are for the market in Australia only and were correct at time of first publication. makes no warranty as to the accuracy of specifications or prices. Please check with manufacturer or local dealer for current pricing and specifications.

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