A Cruiser Steps Up to a Challenge

Put on the spot, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379 cruising sailboat goes rail-to-rail with its racy rivals.

BIRW Cruising Spinnaker start

Heather, a Jeanneau 379 at the cruising spinnaker division start on Day 3 of Block Island Race Week 2013.PhotoBoat.com

In the four days following the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis each fall, we sail a lot of boats. Cruising World's Boat of the Year judges, with an editor or two in tow, conduct sea trials on two dozen or more of the latest models, and in addition, the various editors might hop on a half dozen more sailboats in order to review them. It's hectic, and the boats, all fresh from the show, are typically in top-notch condition, even if they're not brand-spanking new.

To put it another way, the warts we see are minimal, and more than once I’ve wondered what a particular boat might be like once it’s been, well, used a bit. You know, once the fresh styrene smell’s gone, how would it be to just hang out on it for a while?

So aside from the allure of beating it out of the office to go sailing with pals and colleagues for a couple of days during the 25th running of Block Island Race Week, it was with some, a-hem, professional interest that I joined the crew of Heather, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379 Performance whose sistership was named CW's 2012 Domestic Boat of the Year and Best Midsize Cruiser, 36 to 40 Feet.
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Heather is part of a charter fleet maintained by Bluenose Yacht Sales in Newport, R.I. Still relatively new, the boat had at least a few trips in her wake, or so the fishing net that a diver pulled off the folding prop would indicate when he dove to clean the bottom midway though the week. Still, on deck and below, except for a few minor rust stains, Heather appeared to have weathered her rental days well.

Demons did lurk behind the electrical panel—you had to turn off and then on the main breaker to get the accessory plug to work and ghosts swirled between the chartplotter and VHF, but who knows who’d been in there tinkering with things. Overall, a squeaky floorboard aside, at first inspection, the 379 appeared to deserve the praise our BOTY judges had lavished upon it.

Here then, are just a few observations made over the course of two days of fairly intense sailing—and sitting.

During lengthy fog delays, the cockpit was quite comfortable. The large centerline table held numerous cans and equipment and its end pockets made a handy place to stash things. When at last we did begin sailing, the table made a sturdy brace point when heeled, though it did create a bit of a traffic jam as the crew shifted from side to side when tacking. There was also speculation about gaining lift on the weather legs by raising its leaves to act as wings.

The main winches—there were just two—were properly sized to handle both the double-ended main and the jib sheets. Tacking took a little choreographing, however, as one end of the main sheet had to be locked off and removed from the leeward winch in order to wind on the soon-to-be loaded jib sheet. Setting and jibing the cruising spinnaker was, by comparison, akin to synchronized swimming. Clearly this was a cruising sailboat being pushed to its limits by a crew that ranged between 5 and 8 in number during the course of race week. Used as intended, this winch setup would be just fine for the short-handed couple or skipper going it alone.

The V-berth and mattress were wonderful, big, and comfortable, as were the aft cabins.

Had previously departed crewmates left water in the tank, I'd imagine the shower would have been refreshing. (Editor's Note: Being one of the "departed crewmates," I can attest that, yes, the shower is awesome -- Jen Brett)

And now to the heart of the matter, how did Heather fare in battle? Actually, just fine. In a 13-boat cruising spinnaker class that was dominated by a Swan with nearly 20 feet more waterline and a classic wooden boat with what appeared to be a generous rating, skipper Ted Ruegg steered to a third place finish overall. Not bad for a three-cabin cruising boat that comes with all the comforts you'd need to sail well past the buoys we were bent on racing around all week.