European builders of production yachts evolve their products with a speed that can be bewildering if you try to keep up with the changes. I have to try to keep up, which explains my constant state of bewilderment. But these builders aren't silly. No matter how many alterations they make, they retain essential design and marketing identity. Although sometimes, all of that can suddenly change.
Take Jeanneau, for example. Until a few years ago, Jeanneau favoured conservative styling both inside and outside their yachts. Now, while Jeanneau's interiors are still quite traditional, the exteriors have been changed quite dramatically. But Jeanneau knows what its doing. It still claims 55 per cent of the French yacht market. And once I've spent some time on the Jeanneau 36i, I'm not in the least bit bewildered as to why.
CHANGE IN ATTITUDE
Jeanneau's change in attitude began with the 54DS (Deck Saloon), a production boat that looked like an avant-garde superyacht. It was a smash hit. Banishing the once-favoured squarish coachroof and window treatments, the new Marc Lombard-designed boats - including this Sun Odyssey 36i - leave behind Jeanneau's plain-but-worthy image. The new boats are worthy as ever, but pretty from all angles to boot.
The 36i's hull has wide beam aft, which creates the volume for a lot of accommodation below and a wide cockpit above. The 'i' in '36i' refers to the fact that the deck is injection-moulded to save weight and increase headroom below. Because it is moulded in one piece, it doesn't need any internal liner. The weight it saves can only benefit the boat's righting moment.
The boat we sailed is a cruiser, albeit with a bit of racer. It has simple gear and a very good price (the basic boat is $236,525). Ron Jacobs from Performance Boating of Sydney says that for next season he will give the test boat a No.1 headsail and sail her in twilight races. "She's a cruiser but the hull is fast enough to pace it with the other 36-footers," he says.
And if you want to go faster, say for club racing, there is a Performance Package which includes deeper keel, taller rig (for 7.8 per cent more sail), spinnaker gear, better running and standing rigging.
You can have three cabins, but Ron tells me he sells more two-cabin boats these days. This boat shows why. If you forego the third cabin you get a huge bathroom with a vast separate shower stall ("the girls just love it," he says) and a big lazarette for storage, accessible from the bathroom. "The dining table lowers to form a double bed for the two or three times a year when you need it," Ron explains. "Typically, owners go out with only one other couple."
There are clever design touches in the saloon. The dining table has a removable leaf to seat extra bodies at mealtime. And the navigation table slides aft when not in use, to free up settee space.
Other features include an immensely wide double bed in the aft cabin and a good galley with a terrific top-opening fridge boasting, in addition to its capacity, handy wire baskets and shelving so you don't have to rat around the bottom for that last can of beer. The fridge draws 2.5 amps an hour, and will make ice cubes in three hours.
The interior is wood-panelled up to the deck moulding with African Moabi as the solid timber. All the wood is coated with a UV-stabilised finish to ensure that it won't fade in exposed positions. There are exposed positions: in the saloon, for example, two fixed windows in the hull sides provide ample natural light.
There is nothing complex about the deck and cockpit layout. There's a nice double-roller bow fitting for the anchor and this boat has the optional electric windlass.
The helmsman's position is perfect. The builders acknowledge the boat's considerable beam and have installed moulded foot supports each side for the helmsman, plus there's an optional teak strip on the centreline. There are teak seats each side for the skipper's backside. The helmsman can reach the primary winches, so he can easily tack the boat without help, but the mainsheet is on the coachroof, ahead of the main hatch. To trim the main, someone has to go forward.
There is good storage beneath the mouldings right across the transom, including a full-depth locker on the portside that can hold the inflatable dinghy, and a bracket can be added to carry the outboard. There's a bit of teak around, enough to provide a bit of fun oiling or varnishing but not enough to become a burden. I really like the teak toerail with styish integral fairleads and cleats of a good size.
A JOY TO RIDE
The 29hp Yanmar will push this boat to 7.9 knots flat out, an easy 7-knot cruise. This is a tiny motor - remove the companionway and you can reach all of it from above and in front, though there are small access panels in the engine box sides.
The boat spins in its own length when going forward and in 1.5 boatlengths going stern. Performance Boating fit a three-blade folding prop to all their boats. "The cheapest performance aid you can get," according to Ron, "worth half to three quarters of a knot. It not only adds speed, it adds acceleration so that when a gust hits, the boat jumps forward instead of heeling."
Driving this Jeanneau is a joy. The helmsman's position is perfect, and so is the steering, a beautifully-weighted cable and quadrant system which has great feel. It is slower than some but that is not a negative. Differences in helm speed are noticeable only until you adapt. The binnacle is a tubular structure with Navpod instruments. The structure allows you to add instruments (a plotter, say) later.
In a gusty westerly, moving into the southwest, we had 7-15 knots which, as usual, makes it hard to sail a new boat well. Hard for me, anyway.
Sailing upwind, we saw around 6.4 knots of boat speed over the ground in 11 knots of true wind, according to Ron's GPS. In 13-14 knots the boat jumped to 6.8, good numbers for a 36-footer with only two on board and no crew weight on the rail. The polar diagram (the designer's performance analysis) shows these numbers are accurate.
This is a lively hull with good acceleration which, don't forget, is a cruiser. She is easy to sail because she is simple and she is a natural size for the weekend social sailor. Ron mentions how much easier it is to wind on the headsail sheets on this boat than on, say, a 39-footer. "We're selling a lot of 40-footers now with electric winches," he adds.
The Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36i is great value. The boat we tested, with electronics, folding prop and electric anchor winch, is worth about $250,000. "All it needs is a bimini and dodger," Ron said, "so a fully-kitted up boat is around $257,000."
Good looking and well priced, Jeanneau's 36i touches a lot of bases, but does so in a hull of modest size which is easy to sail and easy to moor and dock. There's an old waterfront adage that says your dreamboat is one size up from the one you own now. These latest, beamy hulls have so much volume that they prove the reverse of that theory: the best choice may be one size down from the boat you think you want.
WORDS : BARRY TRANTER