We can thank the European shorthanded sailing craze for boats like the new Jeanneau Sunfast 3200. Sure, the recently completed Volvo Race has attracted a great deal of global interest, but events with one or two-person crews are much more numerous. The most recent was the Transquadra, a French transatlantic race for two-handed boats, amateur-crewed by people 40 years and older. An entrant in this race was an Aussie on board one of the 15 Jeanneau Sunfast 3200s in the fleet of 100 vessels (more on this later).
The 3200 comes from the pen of Daniel Andrieu, who has been designing boats for Jeanneau for the past 20 years. His designs vary from large cruising yachts to 24 to 35-foot speedsters.
Although the 3200 is aimed at shorthanded events, the designer was conscious of IRC rating. The 3200 has already racked up a one-two finish in the Norwegian Two Star Regatta and some IRC race results, including a third in a 58-boat strong IRC Class 2C in the UK's Round the Island race, for a ninth overall in the entire IRC fleet.
In Europe, there's already some fledgling class racing developing with a tight weight-to-mainsail-roach formula, compulsory onboard equipment and limited go-fasts. There's also going to be a limit on the number of professional sailors in the class. Empty-boat weight is to be regulated between 3400kg and 3500kg.
Jeanneau has adopted resin infusion construction for the Sunfast 3200, to be able to guarantee consistent hull weight with a target of only 40kg variance.
DISSECTING THE 3200
With its fine entry and wedge-like shape culminating in a broad stern, with twin rudders, the 3200 looks like a shrunken Open 60. The vacuum-bagged construction embraces a foam-cored deck and balsa-cored hull. The main bulkhead and the watertight for'ard bulkhead are both composite moulded.
The spars are aluminium, in the interests of cost control, and the mast is keel-stepped on top of a stainless steel reinforcing frame to which the keel bolts. The iron-lead keel is L-shaped and tips the scales at 1300kg, for a ballast-to-displacement ratio of 38 per cent.
The rig is 19/20ths -- not quite masthead -- with wide, swept-back twin spreaders, upper and lower diagonals, and a tackle-adjustable backstay. A stubby, triangulated bowsprit is standard.
Our test boat was fitted with asymmetric spinnaker gear, but the sprit can just as easily mount a furler for a Code Zero or gennaker, in conjunction with a conventional kite and pole.
The vang consists of conventional tackle for tensioning, but is backed up with a curved boom support made from two lengths of composite tubing, clamped together. This 'crutch' supports the boom, but is designed to be flexible enough to kick up should the boom drag in the water when the boat is pressed hard.
The huge cockpit would do justice to a 45-footer, but has some design quirks that reflect the boat's vocation as a shorthanded racer or cruiser. The two tillers are different for a start, but it's just a visual thing. We're quite used to twin wheels, aren't we?
The port and starboard helming positions have comfortable seating outboard and the aft-set sheet winches are also within easy reach of the helmsman. This layout means the boat is easily sailed one-handed when cruising. When racing, the crew can rail-sit while the skipper steers and adjusts trim.
There's a large, lidded bin between the tillers for housing a liferaft. The bin's stern end is open, so water can't collect in it. The companionway entrance is raised, creating an inbuilt storm board.
A large deck hatch provides light and air in the saloon and a second bow hatch opens above a sail bin for'ard of the head/shower and aft of the collision bulkhead.
The layout below decks is French-minimalist, but quite comfortable for racing or cruising crews. The chart area has a moulded plastic seat that offers good support and the galley is shaped for the cook's stability at sea. Both these flat areas and the dinette table have simulated carbon-fibre surfaces and tall fiddles that double as hand-holds.
Six can sit comfortably in the saloon, but the table is tiny and needs to be supplemented with drop sides. The settees double as berths and there's ample, netted storage space behind the back cushions. (The proud new test-boat owners, Kate and Rory, have found the netted stowage bins make an ideal 'crib' for their baby!).
For'ard of the saloon is the head/shower recess, behind a lightweight, vestigial sliding door. The head opens onto a huge sail storage area.
The two cabins are set aft and come with double bunks and lined interiors. Instead of wooden doors are zip-open fabric panels, much like tent doorways, and the 'wardrobes' in the cabins are also made from zippered fabric. People with a camping background will have no trouble at all adjusting to this design touch!
The minimalist layout has one jarring note, we felt. In the interests of light weight the saloon roof is unlined, with projecting fasteners and a slightly rough, coated surface. It won't worry full-on racers, but it's a blast from the yacht-building past for cruising types and the houseproud.
ON THE WATER
The twin-tiller cockpit looked strange as I took control at the starboard steering station, where the engine throttle and gear lever is located, and we headed out of Pyrmont's Wharf 10 precinct into Sydney Harbour.
Under power, the Jeanneau motored happily at five-plus knots and easily managed six, albeit with some prop pulsing against the hull from the close-fitted saildrive. The tiller action was light, without any torque steering.
The mainsail went up easily, thanks to powerful halyard winches and a two-line lift, via a block on the headboard. The headsail was also simple to hoist, being rigged with piston hanks, rather than the more common forestay foil.
The boat bore away on a broad reach and once we were in the main channel, the heady was dropped and the asymmetric spinnaker went up. A gentle 13-knot sou'wester had us romping along at eight-plus knots, so it was soon gybing time.
Gybing a tiller yacht is normally straightforward, but the twin-tiller arrangement needed some technique modifications. The mainsheet layout points to the easiest method for crossing the boat to the new windward tiller, because there's a person-sized vee-shaped space between the mainsheet falls. The sheet runs forward from the aft traveller up to blocks on the boom and down to the mainsheet blocks and cleats, leaving room for the helmsman to duck under the boom, slip between the mainsheet falls and slide into position beside the windward tiller. The movement is made easier by the docile rudders that hold station through the tack, until the helmsman's hand resumes its control.
As I found out later, when on the wind, the sheet moves farther inboard -- particularly if the traveller is hauled up to windward -- so it can be steered comfortably from the windward or the leeward tiller.
When crossing the boat, the helmsman needs to tread on the lid of the central storage bin and this flexed noticeably under my 85kg weight. Future 3200s will have the lid strengthened, I understand, from the boys at Performance Boating Sales.
The asymmetric kite tacks to a triangulated mini-sprit that doesn't provide much space between the forestay and the kite luff. That made gybing the kite, with the sheet inside the kite, a tad tricky. The cure is gybing it outside and the Jeanneau boys are intending to fit a short-sheet catcher to the sprit.
The Jeanneau 3200 is designed for shorthanded sailing, so the mainsheet, traveller and backstay controls are oriented to the helm positions. However, a mainsheet hand can work the coarse-tune sheet from forward of the helm, because this sheet feeds through a swivelling cam cleat. The fine-tune runs through fixed cleats, but they are duplicated on both sides of the sheeting pedestal. The backstay adjustment lines are also duplicated for the helmsman to use on either tack. The traveller locks in place, so it doesn't need to be set before tacking to stop it rushing to the end of the track. The helmsman can reset the traveller after a tack, without having to grope all the way down to leeward.
The helm feel is one of the best I've experienced. It was light enough to operate with two-finger pressure in wind strength up to 16kts and any loading indicated incorrect sail trim or boat direction. The gang on the photo boat reported that the rudders were aligned with the boat's centre-line nearly all the time, so it wouldn't take a helmsman long before steering became instinctive. I was surprised at the lightness of the tillers' actions, because they're relatively short, in the interests of easy mobility around them.
Anyone with dinghy experience will feel right at home steering the Jeanneau Sunfast 3200, especially shorthanded, where the helmsman works the mainsheet, the backstay and the traveller. I found myself holding the free end of the mainsheet in my teeth as I reached down to pull on more line — ah, memories!
The Jeanneau pointed high when on the wind - around 30 to 32° - yet still managed respectable upwind speed of six-plus knots in 13kts of breeze, which is close to the designer's prediction. The outboard steering stations gave the helmsman excellent view of the headsail tell-tails and more sight of the chord than is possible with narrower-beam boats.
The Jeanneau 3200's broad stern implies stability and that's how it was. Even when deliberately over-sheeted the 32-footer was stiff and reacted favourably to crew weight on the rail. Incidentally, the toerail design is very clever, with a raised section inboard to act as a shoe-stopper and a comfortable, flat section on the gunwale that will please rail-sitters. The cockpit floor has raised, prism-shaped, moulded footrests for the crew and the helmsman, allowing slip-free hiking.
The Jeanneau Sunfast 3200 is a new breed of boat that is definitely a racer/cruiser, not a cruiser/racer. It seems strongly made, with long-distance ocean events in mind, yet is keenly priced. In all, a high-performance package that looks great, is a cinch to sail and will probably upset some larger boat owners.
WHAT WE LIKED
• Brilliant value for money
• Ease of shorthanded sailing
• Great performance
• Roomy cockpit
• Large aft cabins
• Spacious saloon
• For'ard 'wet' areas
NOT SO MUCH
• Unlined saloon roof
• Flimsy cockpit bin lid
• Small dinette table
The first Aussie 3200 sailor
David Whyte had just stepped off the deck of a Farr 40, following the Fremantle-Carnarvon Race, when he discovered that his mate, Chris Glossop, had bought a new Sunfast 3200 in the UK, had booked David's flight to England and entered themselves in the two-handed transatlantic Transquadra race.
So, a month later, the two men left Great Britain and using a set of borrowed sails, did a shakedown three-day run to St Nazaire for the start. It didn't start well for the boys when a major problem, caused by the computer installers, took out all their electronics except for the Tacktick gear. Without weatherfax info, they ran into a wild storm off Cape Finstere and suffered a couple of knockdowns in 65-knot winds. The rest of the fleet avoided the storm.
David Whyte said the boat didn't have a problem in the atrocious conditions and he hugged and thanked the designer, Daniel Andrieu, when they reached port.
The storm saga dropped the 3200 to 35th position on the first leg, but the boys were right in it, in fifth place, when the running kite brace block blew out.
Repairs took them some time and they resumed racing in 29th slot, but clawed their way back to 12th across the line and an overall 11th on IRC.
David Whyte reckons it was one of the best fun trips he's had and was impressed by a top speed of 22kts at one point and a 24-hour log of 267nm.
By the time you're reading this, the boys will be doing the Fastnet Race double-handed and then plan to ship the boat to Australia in time to do an 'alternative Sydney-Hobart'. The CYCA has no provision for an official double-handed Hobart race.
PRICE AS TESTED
Doyle Mylar headsail and main; asymmetric spinnaker; log, wind speed and depthsounder
$213,343 (no sails)
Material: FRP hulls and decks w/ balsa resin composite hull and foam resin composite deck
Length overall: 10.10m
Hull length: 9.79m
Waterline length: 8.55m
Ballast: 1300kg (iron/lead keel)
Berths: 2 doubles, 2 singles (settee berths)
CE certification category: C6/D6
Make/model: Yanmar 2YM15
Rated HP: 15
Prop: Saildrive SD20 with two-blade folding
Performance Boating Sales,
1710 Pittwater Road,
Bayview, NSW, 2104