One of the advantages of reaching a certain age is that you know what you want and aren’t afraid to ask for it. The owner of this Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490, having owned a slightly smaller Jeanneau for more than 20 years, knew he’d come back for more when it came time to upgrade.
Frans ordered the 12m yacht two years ago, but due to a few hiccups along the way it wasn’t until November last year that his new baby arrived here in New Zealand. After a bit of Wednesday night racing and a spot of cruising last summer, he is now back out on the water again and starting to race her. In keeping with the X-Yacht naming tradition, she is named eXpatria – also a nod to Frans’ Dutch origins.
Previously the owner of the S&S One Tonner Young Nick and Young 88 Men at Work, he is not quite ready to hang up his racing hat in favour of cruising into retirement. He very much wanted a boat which offered racing performance – to which the ‘p’ in Xp refers – as well as creature comforts when it’s time to take it easy.
X-Yachts are highly-specced and the company’s been building performance-oriented cruisers in Denmark since 1979. While there aren’t a lot of them here, it’s a well-known brand in Europe.
For Frans, one of the draw-cards is the yard’s emphasis on safety and build quality. Since the early 80s, all X-Yachts have had a specially designed galvanised steel hull girder system, providing stiffness and it enables the vacuum-infused laminate hulls to withstand the shock load if the boat runs aground.
In the Xp series, this framework is made from carbon fibre, and carbon tapes are incorporated throughout the keel floors for improved rigidity and resilience with reduced weight. This ‘saved’ weight has then been put into the T-shaped keel, to enable the yacht to carry a larger sail plan and improve sailing performance. The Xp works out at around one ton lighter than the Xc cruising version.
It’s details like these that attracted Frans to the marque. As well as liking the look of the Xp38 and wanting something ‘a bit different’, it’s clear from his attention to detail and attitude to boat preparation that he has a passion for sailing — and any old boat wouldn’t do.
When speccing up the boat he ticked a few significant option boxes to improve performance: a deeper keel (2.4m rather than 2m, which improves the righting moment by some 16%, so fewer bodies are needed on the rail) and the ‘Sail’ package, with additional halyards and slightly bigger Harken winches than the standard boat, including an electric cabin-top winch.
He also opted for a racing-style deck setup, with the twin wheels on simple pedestals (you can choose to have nav screens mounted here at the helm) and a bank of B&G instruments on the cabin-top. “I’m not really a fan of gadgets,” he says. “I’m more into sailing by the seat of my pants.”
The traveller runs in front of the twin wheels, and the boat has a German mainsheet system running back to Harken winches on the coaming just forward of the wheels on both sides, making it easy to sail short-handed. The primary winches for jib trimming are forward of these, and a further pair of winches (one of which is electric) sit on the cabin-top for halyards and other controls.
To keep the everything clean and clear, the control lines, including the mainsheet, run in channels set under the deck. The jib furling drum is also set below the deck, with the furling line led back to the halyard winch. These systems also keep the cockpit largely free of sheets and rope tails.
The cockpit floor has a teak inlay, and the large boarding platform folds up to form a solid transom. When at anchor this can be lowered on a purchase system to provide easy access from the dock or to the water, using the integral swim ladder.
One box Frans didn’t tick was the one for a carbon mast; he went instead for the standard twin-spreader alloy Hall Spars rig, with a single hydraulic backstay.
Down the curved companionway steps to the cabin, he’s opted for the two-cabin layout rather than three, which provides a generous double in the bow and a double quarter-berth to port. On the starboard side, the head (manual, not electric – one less thing to go wrong), with a shower that pulls out of the sink, tucks into the space where the entrance to the third cabin would be.
The under-cockpit space where the berth would have run instead becomes a huge sail locker, accessed through the starboard cockpit seat. (The three-cabin layout pushes the head further forward and does away with the fixed chart-table space on the starboard side.)
There’s a decent-sized galley to port (“I feel a bit spoilt,” he admits), with a three-burner gas hob, oven, covered double sink, and a top-loading fridge-freezer set into the bench. Forward of the galley is an L-shaped seating area with an angle-edged table opening out to double in size and capacity – diners can also sit around it on the 2.2m long settee on the starboard side. Underneath the table, in the fixed single leg, is a pull-out wine storage area.
There’s plenty of headroom here and in the forward cabin, and lots of light coming through the high cabin-side windows and overhead hatches, and from LED spotlights. He opted for a pale, Scandinavian-style colour scheme combining blonded Nordic oak timber, white solid-surface benchtops, a teak-look laminate floor with holly stripes and olive grey upholstery, to keep a sense of lightness inside. It retains the look and feel of a yacht – practical for racing, but luxurious enough for comfortable cruising. Overall, the quality of finish is top notch.
The double quarter-berth offers standing headroom by the door and hanging locker space. The 30hp Yanmar, fitted with a folding prop, can be accessed from in here.
To get exactly the boat he wanted, he opted to have it delivered here minus a couple of fundamentals. The B&G instruments and other electronics, including the autohelm, were supplied and installed locally, so he could be hands-on and get exactly what he wanted, where he wanted it. The other major factor added once the boat arrived in Auckland was the sail wardrobe – he opted to have them made and fitted here by North Sails.
“I was really impressed with their service – we sat down behind the computer and talked over things like where to put the reef lines,” he says.
He opted for a NorLam laminated mainsail, for durability and its ability to hold its shape, a North 3Di #1 jib and a Norlam #2 jib (to cover light-medium and medium-heavy conditions). In addition to having a new spinnaker built, he bought a second-hand gennaker from a friend in Europe who also owns an Xp38. The boat has both a small fixed carbon bowsprit (with the anchor integrated beneath) for flying asymmetric sails and a traditional-style spinnaker pole.
But enough of looking around the boat – time to go out for a sail.
Frans’ been sailing the boat two-handed in the SSANZ Lewmar Triple series (finishing second on line in its division and winning on handicap in the opening race) but today we are four-up, with Andrew Wills from North Sails also along for the ride on a sunny if not particularly warm winter’s day.
The systems are well set up, and we get the main and furling number one deployed without drama, heading off down the harbour on the wind in a light to moderate easterly. The helm feels light and the boat responds nimbly as we feather into the puffs, getting into a nice groove while Wills runs around adjusting things here and there. X-Yachts designs its foils in-house to custom-fit its different hulls, and this deep rudder feels like it has plenty of grip while still providing responsiveness and feel.
After admiring Team New Zealand foiling back and forth nearby and deciding not to line up against them, we get the gennaker set up and bear away onto a reach. The jib, with its FlexiFurl battens from C-Tech, furls easily and we are away, increasing our speed from an upwind 6.5 knots to just over 8 knots under gennaker. Once again, that deep rudder feels like it’s hanging on no problem, and the boat accelerates smoothly as we bear away with the gusts.
It’s easy to see Frans’ pride in his new yacht, and the attention he has paid to its fit-out and setup. This is definitely a racer’s cruiser – stylish and comfortable, but still a ‘yachtie’s yacht’ at heart./>