Today, you can count on one hand the number of builders of contemporary production cruising boats—and by that we mean companies that regularly manufacture at least dozens and dozens of any particular model—that fully embrace the somewhat elusive notion of “performance.” However, by any measure or definition, Jeanneau is one of them. I’ve been a fan of its Sun Odyssey series for years, ever since sailing one of the company’s earlier 44-footers on a stormy trip up the coast of New Zealand. When Jeanneau introduced its new Sun Odyssey 509 earlier last year, I was eager to take a spin. And while there were a couple of small matters that gave me a moment’s pause, overall I came away duly impressed.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the Sun Odyssey formula: Design a sleek, easily driven, moderate-displacement hull that’s strong and well built, then load it up with good gear and systems and comfortable accommodations. Renowned French naval architect Philippe Briand took care of the platform, delivering a handsome double-spreader fractional sloop with a low coachroof/profile that carries its considerable beam well aft. The hand-laid hull is solid fiberglass, and the balsa-cored deck is injection molded (which saves weight and reduces emissions in the construction process). The long and complete equipment list includes a full Harken hardware-and-winch package, dual Lewmar helms and windlass, and a Yanmar diesel with saildrive. In other words, it’s all top shelf.
That broad transom accomplishes two things, above and beyond making the boat an absolute beast on a reach. (We made an effortless and powerful 7.5 knots reefed down in about 15 knots of wind.) First, down below, the voluminous interior features a pair of huge aft double cabins. Second, the wide cockpit and drop-down transom allows for a single centerline backstay rather than the dual backstays that’ve become an industry standard but which sometimes make for cramped driving conditions when you’re helming all the way aft and outboard (the best place to see the jib telltales). The entire cockpit layout is pretty nifty, especially the steering pedestals, which double as curved seatbacks for the cockpit benches. My only quibble here is that the double-ended mainsheet and jib sheets share the respective primary winches just forward of the wheels (coupled with dedicated rope clutches). You need to be extremely quick and dexterous when handling the lines in a windy jibe.
OK, one other thing peeved me: the hollow leech on the in-mast furling main (which is an option). Why in the world, I wondered, would you saddle a beautiful, slippery, state-of-the-art Briand hull with an inefficient power plant? I know the supposed reason—ease of handling—but I don’t necessarily buy it, especially in this age of electric halyard winches. As an aside, the folks at Jeanneau say the rig’s “drive power” has been designed for the furling main—one of the company’s most popular options—and isn’t at all compromised. Even if that’s true, I don’t think the trade-off is worth it; at the very least, the roachless main offends my sense of aesthetics. When I hit Powerball, I’ll take the standard conventional mainsail, thanks.
Otherwise, the 509 certainly put the “performance” in this performance cruiser. It was a joy to drive, with a buttery helm; the standard 106-percent jib was easily tacked but provided more than sufficient drive (if you sail in light-air territory, you can also specify a larger, overlapping genoa or opt for a code zero headsail); and on every point of sail, in a nice, stiff Chesapeake Bay northerly, we found it practically impossible to make less than 7 knots, even with the boat deeply reefed. And our test boat was equipped with the shoal-keel option. One has to imagine that the boat will really get up and fly with the deeper foil.
Down below, there are several layouts available, including a pair of twin cabins forward. The boat we sailed had a large owners cabin with a gargantuan bed in that space, which was terrific. There are lots of cool features, including a very interesting T-shaped galley, which allows a couple of cooks to work their magic, and an excellent aft-facing nav station, which shares a corner of the U-shaped settee as its seat. The traditional wood interior is fashioned with sustainable, teak-colored Alpi, which was quite appealing. There’s a wide range of interior fabrics from which to choose.
All in all, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 509 gets two thumbs up. The boat is a worthy addition to a fine line of vessels.