Issue: March 2004
We have been for a sail on the Sun Fast 43 and we are headed for home. Ron Jacobs from Performance Boating, Sydney Jeanneau agents, has switched on the autopilot while he does the housekeeping in the cockpit. Ron is a handy man around a boat; I am daydreaming, which is what I do best.
With all the lines neatly coiled he eases the main right off and tightens the turnbuckle on the hydraulic backstay to make it more effective and because he wants the ability to flatten the main and generate more forestay tension. He sights up the mast and decides he will later ease the lowers as the lower mast panel is bending to windward and he also wants to flatten the main down low.
This 43-footer has an autopilot, furling headsail and lazyjacks, because the owner wants to day-sail and overnight with his wife and these pieces of equipment enable him to handle this quite big and powerful boat without asking his wife to wind on a winch. But he chose the Sun Fast 43, because as well as day sailing and weekend cruising he wants to go twilight racing and to have a go at passage racing with the ultimate objective of competing in regattas like Hamilton Island Race Week. And the Sun Fast 43 fills all these roles, as well as providing a complete and comfortable interior.
The modern IRC yacht is a remarkable thing. Jeanneau's range of cruising boats are grouped under the Sun Odyssey banner; the racer/cruisers are the Sun Fasts. The Sun Odyssey 43 and the Sun Fast 43 share the same hull and interior. Obviously the Sun Fast has a taller rig, deeper keel and different gear layout on deck to make it go faster, but it still amazes me that the hull, which can be used for offshore racing will also serve, perhaps with the four-cabin option, as a charter boat.
The 43s offer a choice of two, three, or fourcabin layouts. The two-cab setup with one cabin aft leaves room for what looks like, on the drawings, a big lazarette in the cockpit. The boat shown here has three cabins, but there is a surprise - the divider between the two aft cabins can be removed, creating a full-width stateroom of massive dimensions (and immense possibilities). All configurations have two bathrooms.
The bow cabin is intended for the owner as it has the en suite bathroom. The bunk is on the centreline and there is also a seat, a desk/vanity table with mirror, and a fullheight hanging locker. Not a big room, but big enough and well appointed. The aft cabins have big, almost square double beds and good lockers with hanging space on one side, shelves on the other. The portside cabin is en suite with the main bathroom, which also serves as the head for the boat as there is a second door opening onto the saloon. This main bathroom is a big space and features a shower curtain, a yachts most important feature if you plan to spend much time aboard, because wet bathrooms cause fights. The nav area is a good size, on the port side.
The galley is excellent, an L-shape which enables the cook to get support from the companionway structure when the boat is on starboard tack. The companionway steps should be carefully copied by every naval architect; the steps are heavily-radiused so they work when the boat is heeled and there is a wide step halfway for reassurance. The mast has three sets of spreaders and is supported by discontinuous Dyform diagonals and single lowers. The backstay is hydraulic, the vang is a gas strut. This boat has the optional Furlex headsail furler.
There are twin wheels, both with greenhidecovered rims, and both helm positions have nicely-cambered floors for support. Later I was to discover I needed to lean outboard a few inches to see the headsail tufts (I am short, but that is usually an advantage on boats though if you are short and light it means you are the one sent up the mast most frequently). Ron Jacobs suggested a strategically-placed teak block on the floor each side would help my cause. The mainsheet traveller is mounted low ahead of the helm positions, but is easy to step over and I do not remember that it ever got in the way and it certainly did not compromise the cockpit for recreational sailing.
The mainsheet is split and led back to winches mounted immediately in front of the helm stations so the skipper can control the sheet when sailing short-handed or if chaos has broken out on deck in a race (that never happens, does it?). The primary winches are Harken 50s; it seems to me that Harken is getting a lot of new-boat business these days. We had 14 knots of breeze, which was perfect, because the owner had left the No.2 headsail on the furler and with less than 14 knots the No.1 would have been a better choice. Hard on the wind we got 7.5 knots or so. The breeze was moving all over the place, faster than I - on the helm - could follow it, and when it lifted a few degrees the Sun Fast would accelerate immediately to 7.9 until I brought her nose up again. The steering was well weighted and well geared. The breeze was quite solid and we had no human ballast onboard, but the big hull tracked straight under the pressure of a sudden gust, the very deep rudder doing its work well.
The Sun Fast has had a great season in Europe, taking wins under IRC in several major regattas including La Trinite and Spi Ouest. She has an IRC rating of 1.090, which gives a basis for comparison with other boats. Ron reckons that, given a breeze, she will do better upwind than a Sydney 38 and be a bit slower downwind. If I got my sums right the displacement/length ratio is around 180 which is quite light. The owner of this boat wanted a capable craft, which would accommodate his learning process but with plenty of performance potential, which he could grow into and exploit as his skills improved. No point developing your own skills then finding the boat's abilities fell short of your ambitions, perhaps enforcing a trade-up.
The next Sun Fast 43 to be delivered by Performance Boating was ordered by an experienced racer who specified the standard twin-groove headfoil and had ordered a set of North's 3DL moulded sails. The boat shown here has a mid-tech Hood wardrobe. This Sun Fast 43 is an indicator of the state of cruiser/ racer design (and the IRC rule?) in 2004. The boat is quick, fully fitted out, comfortable, and it rates well, so the range of the boats abilities is wide. If performance is one of the requirements on your checklist, the Sun Fast 43 should be able to satisfy most of your other sailing requirements as well.
Words and Photos: Barry Tranter