- Excellent sailing performance
- Luxurious and stylish
- Extra-large cockpit
- Nicely engineered landing platform
- Is this Jeanneau's best yet?
- Interior by Andrew Winch, superyacht designer
- Various mainsail options
- Larger engine worthwhile
Fortunate indeed is the boatbuilder who announces a proposed, new model and immediately sells out the entire first year’s production run of 50 vessels – without having laid up a single hull.
This remarkable turn of events happened last year when Jeanneau used the Cannes Boat Show to flag its plans for a new Jeanneau 54 (LOA 16.5m) – a smaller sister to its existing 64 and 57 models. Punters responded with enthusiasm, and filled up the first year’s order book before you could say “Jeanneau”.
Since then some 40 of the new models have been delivered worldwide, with one making its Southern Hemisphere debut at the recent Sydney International Boat Show. I was lucky enough to accompany local Jeanneau agent Lee Condell on her maiden sail – delivering the boat after the show at Darling Harbour to the Pittwater marina – about 35 miles up the coast.
There are two things you need to know about the trip: the mast had only been stepped a day before the show and the sails had never been unfurled for battle. And we set out in a brisk southerly, through the Sydney Heads into fairly boisterous seas.
It made for an exhilarating sail – during one memorable fivesecond surge we hit 19 knots surfing down a monster wave, with the sea boiling right around the boat. But the more impressive part of the trip, I think, was that she was able to be sailed at all. It says a lot about Jeanneau’s workmanship and the standard of factory preparation that she embraced the conditions without missing a beat.
So – what’s she like?
A real beauty. Aesthetically – superb. Standard Jeanneau DNA in the sleek lines and uncluttered decks with the flush hatches. Plumb stem and long chines down the hull for optimising waterline length. All enhanced by long, curved windows down the sides of the coachroof. All very easy on the eye.
But two components of the design are different. The first is the cockpit. It’s massive – and takes up about a
third of the overall deck length. Jeanneau is pushing the “family-sailing” concept into new territory.
It’s best illustrated by the recliner settees – complete with drinks holders – either side of the companionway, under the dodger. They extend the standard cockpit settees by quite a distance. The idea, of course, is to make the sailing experience more accessible to everyone. Those who prefer to hibernate below during sailing to avoid wind/spray/sun will be much more inclined-to-recline in comfort with this arrangement. It’s a much more “inclusive” space – especially for non-sailors.
The second difference is the boarding platform – a beautifully engineered piece of transom design which unfolds elegantly, creating a series of steps down from the cockpit. Jeanneau calls it a “terrace”. Access to the swim platform is much easier – your mother-in-law will look far more elegant as she negotiates her way into the water.
The 54’s generous beam (4.92m) runs all the way aft and the cockpit takes full advantage of the space. In the centre is a gorgeous table, with two similar-sized leaves either side. Deployed, these create a seriously large table for family gatherings and relaxed al fresco dining. I was intrigued by the large locker at the aft end of the table – the logical place for stowing a life-raft – smart thinking.
And while we’re talking about relaxing, check out the large, recliner sunbed on the foredeck, complete with its own mini-Bimini for shade. It’s hard not to imagine lying there with a cold beer, surveying the anchorage.
While space is the dominant theme in the cockpit, it’s also shaped around easy handling. The twin helms are positioned well outboard and afford great sight lines. Each is supported by nearby primary and secondary Harken winches. The primaries – closer to the helms – are manual. The secondaries are electric, rewind models. So you hardly need to move your butt for trimming and tweaking.
All the lines disappear at the base of the mast and reappear at the jammers just in front of the winches. Running in channelsbuilt into the coachroof, the lines are thus out of sight and accentuate the 54’s clean surfaces. Better still, the tails all disappear into bins next to the winches. Very tidy, and again, this helps to keep the cockpit uncluttered and family-friendly.
Ditto with the German mainsheet system. The sheet runs through two deck-mounted blocks just forward of the dodger, to the mast and back to the winches. It all makes for a very open, easy-for-relaxing cockpit, mercifully free of sheets.
Various mainsail options are available – traditional slab-reefing, boom furling and in-mast furling. Our vessel carried the latter and a 109 percent genoa, with a self-tacking jib on an inner forestay. This is a great solution for short-handed sailing – as the two of us discovered on our trip to Pittwater. Broad-reaching in about 25-30 knots, we settled on a full main and a slightly furled genoa.
And when we turned around the Pittwater headland to begin the long haul upwind to the marina, we swapped to a slightly furled self-tacker and a marginally reefed main. The changes were easy and quick – particularly with the help of the electric winches.
I’ve already hinted at the 54’s downwind speed. What surprised me was her upwind performance. The beat to the marina is up a long, narrow corridor, requiring plenty of tacks. With the self-tacker, this became a matter of flicking from one tack to the other. Even with the reefed sails, we clawed upwind at a steady eight knots.
All in all – a pleasure to sail. Fuss-free, very responsive and very fast.
Again, as is standard Jeanneau practice, the 54 is available in multiple layouts. The most popular among the first 50 buyers is the traditional three-cabin layout – a master and en suite up front, and two identical cabins aft. A four-cabin layout (no doubt popular in the charter market) is another option, as is a two-cabin layout. Ours was the latter.
This is an unusual layout, and I’m not sure it’s for me. Again, it’s worth noting that of the first 50 vessels ordered, only two selected this layout – the rest opted for the traditional three-cabin version. The two-cabin set-up sees the large master cabin up front with a massive double bed and spacious en suite.
The second cabin is port aft – though it’s more “centre” than port. It’s much larger than a traditional aft cabin, and has a double bed as large as the master cabin’s. So far so good – all very nice. But the oddity with the layout comes in the galley, which is located on the other side, where the aft starboard cabin would normally be.
There’s nothing wrong with the galley – it’s well laid out with good headroom, but it’s a little more cramped, I think, than what your average sous chef would like. I can see that the design might appeal to some owners – say the one who employs a skipper and chef. While the latter is beavering away unseen in the galley, the owner will be entertaining guests in the saloon.
With the galley tucked away aft, it does of course create a much bigger saloon and nav station, but I’m not sure
conventional sailors will find the layout appealing. Still, it’s an option – you don’t have to tick that box.
It’s by superyacht interior designer Andrew Winch and in the saloon the overwhelming impression is airy space,
accentuated by the natural light flooding in from the overhead hatches and large side windows.
Our boat was finished with pale oak cabinetry, light upholstery and charcoal floors/carpets. This appears to be a
popular choice. Of the 50 orders, only four specified the teak option. I’m sure the darker teak is equally attractive, but the oak certainly provides a “lift” and underscores the interior’s clean, modern presentation.
In the two-cabin layout, the saloon’s dominated by a large dining table to starboard, with generous seating for six or more. Opposite is a full length settee, complete with the all-important bar cabinet and wine chiller.
Standard 54s are powered by a 75hp Yanmar with a saildrive – ours was equipped with the upgrade, a 110hp Yanmar with shaft drive and three-bladed folding prop. We didn’t get to use it much, but having the extra horsepower is great if your budget can accommodate it.
The 54 was penned by Philippe Briand – Jeanneau’s longtime designer, and he’s created what I think might be my
all-time favourite Jeanneau. A very elegant yacht – luxurious and stylish, certainly, but also an excellent performer and pleasingly functional. I suspect the extra-large cockpit will strike a chord with many family-oriented buyers. I’m not sure when we’ll see one in our waters – but I hope it’s soon.