Judged by the numbers of its craft bobbing around Australian waterways, you might think that Jeanneau was a minor player in the world's production yacht market. At least compared to fellow French boatbuilder, Beneteau.
In fact, both companies are huge concerns, pumping out thousands of boats each year for recreational and commercial use. Both produce broad ranges of power and sailboats, including cruising and racing yachts. And both are in expansion mode, investing in plant and equipment as well as expanding workforces to cope with increased demand at domestic and international levels.
Jeanneau says it is investing FF120m to increase production capacity by 50% during 2001, having produced more than 5000 boats in 2000. It also claims to have quadrupled sailboat sales in the United States in the past two years, to become the leading sailboat importer to that major market.
Ironically, the surge in Jeanneau's fortunes comes as a result of its takeover by the Beneteau Group in 1995. The two companies had previously been fierce competitors in the GRP leisure boat market from the early 1960s until the early '90s, when Jeanneau began to falter in a straitened financial climate.
Overall management of both marques is now from the Beneteau Group, and all of their production lines benefit from their combined buying muscle when it comes to sourcing materials and equipment.
Yet far from being absorbed by Beneteau in the takeover, Jeanneau has been able to retain its own identity and gain a new lease of life.
In the leisure sailboat market the two brands appear to respect each other's territory in some areas; Beneteau has developed a centre cockpit cruising range while Jeanneau has introduced several deck saloon models. But in other areas - such as the aft cockpit cruising/charter and particularly the cruiser/racer markets - the two big French names continue to keenly compete.
FIRST PAST THE POST
A case in point is the subject of this review, the Jeanneau Sun Fast 37, which was introduced by Jeanneau's 'works team' on the French summer regatta circuit for 2000 before being launched to the market at the northern autumn boat shows.
This model is likely to go head to head with the new Beneteau First 36.7 cruiser/racer, which on the manufacturer's specs is just 0.46m shorter overall, around 300kg lighter and has virtually the same working sail area.
While Jeanneau has undergone major changes in ownership, there have been changes, too, in its representation within Australia. The brand has not had the continuity of local representation which, arguably, has been one of the major factors in Beneteau's superior sales history in Australia to date.
Recent changes have seen Steven Bond of European Marine (Vic) expand his role with the Jeanneau brand to handle sales in NSW as well as Victoria, with the support of the importer, Euroyachts. Also involved are dealers in Queensland (Ian Douglas in Mooloolaba and Peter Hansen in Raby Bay), South Australia (Barry Jackson in Adelaide) and Western Australia (Martin Box in Fremantle).
While the network has been putting a lot of effort into promoting the overall range, including the Sun Odyssey and Deck Saloon models, Bond is a racing sailor at heart and so it's no surprise that the first new Sun Fast 37 in Australia has been occupying his attentions.
He pulled Team Jeanneau's sails up for the first time on the way to the startline for the Quin Marine Adelaide to Port Lincoln Race in March and has since been sailing it in winter midweek races at Sandringham Yacht Club in Victoria. From here the boat heads northwards for the Sydney International Boat Show and then the Hamilton Island Race Week.
Bond will be under pressure to extract some good performances from the Sun Fast 37 in the IRC division, because race results can overshadow just about every other attribute of a cruiser/racer in the minds of potential buyers.
The model has already proven successful on the racecourse in Europe, in the hands of its designer Jacques Fauroux and with a competitive IRC rating of 1.007 (likely to undergo minor change before Australia's northern race weeks begin).
But Bond can also point to an interesting development in the UK signalling that race results may not be the entire story with the Sun Fast 37. Sunsail recently signed a contract with Jeanneau for 40 new Sun Fast 37 yachts to replace its existing matched fleet of 36-footers on the Solent, for corporate and individual yacht charter as well as training courses.
According to Sunsail, this will become the largest matched fleet of racing charter yachts worldwide.
FASTER THAN THE ODYSSEY
Improved sailing performance is the key to the major differences between the new Sun Fast 37 and the more cruising-oriented Sun Odyssey 37 (tested in Trade-A-Boat October 2000). There is a taller rig and a deep lead keel, plus a revised deck layout which is more appropriate for racing.
Instead of the Sun Odyssey's coachroof-mounted mainsheet traveller, for example, there is a powerful mainsheet system mounted on the cockpit sole, with coarse and fine tune and a traveller system which can be played from the windward sidedeck.
The Sun Fast 37 is equipped with deep draft 2.04m lead keel, a keel-stepped double-spreader mast, dieform standing rigging and mainly Harken deck hardware.
Like the Sun Odyssey 37, the Sun Fast 37 is available with two alternative interior layouts. The three-cabin version seen on the testboat will be the most likely choice for anyone planning to do some passage racing, and includes a fairly standard saloon layout with L-shaped galley and dinette on the starboard side.
There's a bathroom compartment to port and a relatively small navigation station forward of this. Forward of the mast is a large private cabin with double V-berth.
The optional two-cabin version offers one big double cabin in the aft section, plus a very large 'luxury' bathroom on the port side and a large hanging locker which is not included in the three-cabin layout.
Jeanneau prides itself on using traditional methods of hand-laid hull lamination, but also uses modern materials like Kevlar to strengthen the forward sections of its larger craft from 37ft LOA. Bulkheads are structurally reinforced and the wooden structural grid design (stringers, cross-frames) are fully bonded to the hull.
The company says that building with wood is a tradition among its workers, with in-house drying out of the logs and solid-wood furnishings as well as the veneer trim pieces (all Burmese teak) finished by hand, although each piece is cut and milled by a 'computer-controlled carpenter'.
SMART AND SIMPLE
The 37's fractional rig comprises anodised aluminium mast and boom with double swept-back spreaders and upper, intermediate, and aft lower shrouds plus backstay, but no runners.
There are winches for halyards and control lines on the coachroof and the primary winches for the headsail sheets are also placed up there, which might seem strange, but there is quite a large area around the companionway for crew to get in and work on the sail trim and it seems to function well enough in practice.
The cockpit has teak seating and is set up with large storage lockers to port and starboard, and separate gas bottle storage. There is access to the steering system from an aft locker. Walk-through access to the transom is provided by the removable helm seat.
The leather-covered stainless steel steering wheel is set up on a pedestal which houses a binnacle compass and has good grabrails.
The test yacht has been set up with a wardrobe of racing sails by Ross Lloyd of the North Sails Melbourne loft, who has been racing on the boat since its arrival. The inventory includes a Grand Prix panelled Kevlar mainsail (of the same design as the first Sun Fast 37 racing in the European regattas, Lloyd says), plus No 1 light and heavy headsails, No 3 headsail and two IRC-sized spinnakers.
Jeanneau has gone for a fairly traditional nautical look below decks with lots of teak, plush blue furnishings and clean white headliner.
The saloon includes a teak table with fiddles and settee seating to starboard, plus a smaller settee to port, plenty of storage compartments under the seats, and a good supply of natural light. There are teak floorboards, halogen lighting and full standing headroom.
The nav station faces forward and comprises a chart table with storage under the hinged tabletop, electronic instrument panel, bookshelf, curved navigator seat with storage, main electrical panel (12 switches with thermal circuit-breakers), and access to the central water system located under the chart table.
The L-shaped galley has a laminated countertop, stainless steel double sink with hot and cold water supply via a pressure mixer tap, two-burner Eno stove/oven with crash bar, and a 150lt capacity top-opening icebox with a 12V Frigomatic refrigeration system.
The bathroom is a moulded fibreglass unit set up with the usual facilities including hot and cold pressurised water to the washbasin and shower, Jabsco manual marine toilet and storage space for toiletries, etc.
The engine compartment under the companionway is insulated and soundproofed, with access to the 27hp Yanmar diesel through the hinged companionway and the sidepanels.
Team Jeanneau featured an all-star cast including North Sails' Ross Lloyd and Port Lincoln-based offshore navigator, Steve Kemp, for its inaugural Australian appearance in the Adelaide to Port Lincoln Race.
From the rail of another entry I was able to watch the Sun Fast 37 perform well during the first leg to Marion Reef in a 15-20kt breeze. Bond believes the boat's strength will prove to be its fresh wind performance, and that did look to be the case on that long windward fetch, particularly given the boat's low IRC handicap.
Lack of familiarity with the boat probably hurt its crew's chances, as Bond says they hesitated to set the spinnaker during the close reach which came next, while others blasted off into the night. This dropped Team Jeanneau down the placings, coming home 17th across the line and 10th on corrected time in the IRC fleet of 23 yachts, most of which were higher rating.
Team Jeanneau also took part in Port Lincoln Race Week, this year a reasonably low-key event contested by a mixed fleet of 24 yachts. The new Sun Fast 37 finished fourth overall on IRC behind a Farr 40 One-Design, a Sydney 38 Sports and a MBD43.
After its arrival in Melbourne, we were able to take the boat out for an afternoon no-extras race with Sandringham Yacht Club for the purposes of this test, but unfortunately the wind refused to blow more than 4-5kt and fizzled out altogether in the end. With a displacement of more than 6000kg and a high volume hull, the Sun Fast 37 is not likely to be a light airs screamer, but we were holding our own in the mixed fleet and during my short turn at the wheel, I found the steering very direct and responsive.
The proof will no doubt be in the regatta results for many potential buyers, so Team Jeanneau's results in the Whitsundays during August are likely to be far more closely analysed than those of our winter outing.
But even before the shouting begins, the Sun Fast 37 merits close inspection as a potential allrounder offering sailing performance, modern looks, a comfortable interior and competitive pricing, all wrapped up in a package which is distinctively branded Jeanneau...
- Initial reports are that the boat is powerful and stiff under full main and No 3 blade headsail.
- Lots of blocks and tackle to keep the mainsheet trimmer happy and drive the boat in race trim.
- The interior has a warm, traditional look without being dark.
- Like most high volume racer/cruisers, performance in light airs and reaching may not be sparkling.
|JEANNEAU SUN FAST 37|
|Price as Tested $326,740|
|Leather wheel cover, mooring kit, third cabin, shore power socket in cockpit, two opening portholes in saloon, electronic instrumentation (Raytheon ST60 tridata windwatch and Raychart 420), North Sails racing inventory.|
|Priced From $285,240|
|Material: GRP/foam sandwich|
|Length (overall): 11.40m|
|Length waterline: 10.95m|
|Max beam: 3.70m|
|Lead keel weight: 2040kg|
|Make/power: Yanmar 27hp|
|Furling genoa: 40.0sqm|
|Supplied by European Marine, Sydney & Melbourne, tel 1800 044 040.|