French sailboat builder Jeanneau might well look back on 2015 as the Year of the Yacht. First it launched its new 64-foot flagship to introduce the Jeanneau Yacht model line, and then it followed up with a 54-footer bearing the same DNA, which made its North American debut at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland.
Like its big sister, the lines of the 54 were drawn by longtime Jeanneau collaborator Philippe Briand, with a contemporary (and comfortable) interior fashioned by designer Andrew Winch. With this vessel, Jeanneau is going after a particular corner of the market: younger sailors who look for all the comforts of home whether they’re off to their slope-side condo or their summer home on the water. Erik Stromberg, Jeanneau’s sailboat marketing director, says the company’s new Yacht range is intended for couples and families who don’t necessarily want to take a crowd on vacation or pack the boat with friends while off on a charter. Topsides, there’s a big cockpit and multiple spaces dedicated to relaxation (more on that in a minute), while below, the owner’s cabin is premium, guest cabins are well appointed, and the galley is fitted out with the size and sorts of appliances one might find in an urban apartment, right down to a front-opening full-size fridge, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and vent hood for the propane stove and oven. In addition to the 64 and 54, there’s a 57 in the Yacht range, and Stromberg says more models will be added over time as the company plans replacements for its larger DS (deck saloon) models.
The idea, he says, is to provide a standard of living aboard that we have elsewhere in our lives. My life should be so good. Climbing aboard the 54 dockside or from a tender, one steps onto the “terrace,” which might be called a swim platform if not for the cushions to each side that, when unfolded, let you sit astern and take in the surroundings. Underway, the cushions are folded up, and the terrace folds as well, creating a level sole between the dual helms. A centerline swim ladder then becomes part of the transom lifelines.
While still at the stern, there are a couple of other noteworthy innovations. Jeanneau has solved the vexing problem of a lack of davits on wide-beam modern cruising boats by installing a pair that fold down and retract into the hull when not in use. The designer also moved the ends of the split backstay inboard, so they’re out of the helmsman’s way when he or she is seated. Sitting or standing, I found the sightlines from either wheel were quite good.
A centerline drop-leaf table fills the middle of the cockpit. There’s plenty of room to both sides to pass forward, and a life-raft storage compartment is located in the table’s center. Seating has been carried forward, past the companionway, to create two comfy lounging areas beneath the dodger, complete with armrests and cup holders. More cushions are found in a space forward of the mast, where there is also a fold-up bimini for shade. At sea, the area would make a handy nest for a RIB, keeping it safe from boarding seas, noted Boat of the Year judge Alvah Simon.
At the show, the 54 was introduced in conjunction with Assisted Sail Trim, Jeanneau’s new collaboration with Harken. Using Harken electric rewind winches, the companies are developing a system that can raise, lower and reef sails at the touch of a button; trim sheets automatically when tacking; and even react to excessive levels of heel by easing lines. A finished product is still in development, but the boat in Annapolis was fitted out with the reversing winches as a first step.
Call me an old-fashioned, winch-handle kind of guy, but under sail, I found the new winches a bit confusing to use initially. I had to remember to toggle switches to control speed and direction, though I guess that if I played with them a bit longer, they’d become intuitive. The benefit, of course, is that under load, sheets can be eased without removing the line from the self-tailer. Regardless, once the sheets were properly trimmed, we had a very pleasant and lively ride.
An electric headsail furler and an in-mast furling main took the work out of setting sail, and when the double-ended main and jibsheets were hauled tight, the 54 settled into a comfortable groove, with respectable numbers on the speedo.
“I actually like this boat quite a bit,” BOTY judge Ed Sherman reported after taking it out for sea trials. “There were some innovative things going on.”
The Yacht line offers owners a number of options not usually available from production builders. In addition to multiple wood and upholstery choices, the 54’s interior can be configured in a variety of ways.
The owner’s cabin forward, with a separate head and shower, can be divided into two smaller cabins; the in-line galley to port in the saloon can be moved aft to replace the starboard guest cabin; or an additional cabin with bunks can be substituted for the port head, located at the foot of the companionway.
The boat we visited had a double aft cabin to port and two single berths in the starboard aft cabin — a good setup for a family with kids or grandkids. It also had the in-line galley, which works well on a boat this size, keeping the cook in the midst of things. A centerline bench with a tall back at the L-shaped dining table provides a solid handhold and brace while whipping up meals at sea.
Other seakindly details include good nonskid on the scalloped companionway steps, multiple padeyes for jacklines and tethers, molded bulwarks and 30-inch-tall lifelines. Well-equipped and priced in the $600,000-plus range (base boat price is $475,000), the 54 brings a lot of sailboat to the dock, all wrapped up in a package that’s quite easy on the eyes.
Judge Simon spoke for the crowd when he commented on the lines: “As we approached, I thought, ‘That’s a very modern, very nice-looking boat.’”
Mark Pillsbury is CW’s editor.