Jeanneau’s distinctive new flagship, the Sun Odyssey 54 DS, was launched in France in the fall of 2002 with much fanfare and a bit of trepidation. “The company was looking to develop an elegant performance cruiser,” said Erik Stromberg, customer-support manager for Jeanneau America. “We wanted a boat with the hull volume to accommodate today’s system demands and cruising payloads, but it also had to sail well.”
The safe step would have been simply to scale up the successful Sun Odyssey 43 DS. Instead, the brain trust at Jeanneau took a risk. Blending the diverse talents of French naval architect Jacques Fauroux, Italian designer Vittorio Garroni, and Jeanneau’s in-house design department, they conjured up a striking new deck-saloon cruiser that marries the curvaceous deck lines of a sexy Italian motor-yacht with the long waterline and slippery underbody of an offshore thoroughbred. High freeboard and a maximum beam of nearly 16 feet created the volume necessary for a truly spacious interior. The result is an elegant performance cruiser, just what the company was looking for.
While the 54 DS design represents a leap into the future, Jeanneau continues to build boats the old-fashioned way. The hull is solid hand-laid fiberglass; it and the keel structure are supported by fiberglass over wood floors and stringers, which create a rugged internal framework. These individual floors are laminated directly to the hull, as are the primary bulkheads and the furniture facings, producing a rigid structure that can take a pounding. This time-consuming stiffening technique is in contrast to those that use molded hull liners.
The cast-iron keel is externally fastened with stainless-steel keel bolts, well spaced to efficiently handle the relentless load imposed on narrow-chord keel sections. The standard draft is 7 feet 6 inches; an optional 6-foot-6-inch shoal keel ups the ballast by nearly 1,000 pounds to 11,905 pounds. The balanced fiberglass rudder is supported by a beefy stainless-steel stock. A fiberglass rudder tube houses self-aligning bearings and is molded directly to the hull in lieu of a conventional rudder stuffing box. The deck is balsa-cored, both for rigidity and sound insulation; teak decks are optional. The hull/deck joint, which incorporates an inward hull flange, a small molded bulwark, and a handsome teak caprail, is bonded mechanically and chemically.
Last fall, I sailed Liberté, hull number 4, with owner Dick Gates on Narragansett Bay. From the dock, I noted that her sheer line was straight as a ruler, but the swooping deck softens the hard edge. The bow is nearly plumb, giving the boat a long waterline, and the design specs claim that the hull lines remain symmetrical to 15 degrees of heel. The aft sections are full. The 54 DS will be quick under most points of sail. The triple-spreader spar reaches 72 feet 2 inches above the design waterline (eliminating any thoughts of traversing the Intracoastal Waterway) and supports 1,431 square feet of sail with the standard furling mainsail and 135-percent genoa. The optional full-batten mainsail adds 139 square feet of sail area.
The 54 DS is nimble under power, and as Gates skillfully maneuvered us out of our tight slip, a few tweaks on the bow thruster made the job easier. The twin-level cockpit features double wheels aft. Whitlock cable steering is standard, and each binnacle contains molded consoles for sailing instruments. Engine controls are to starboard only.
The primary sheet winches are well placed on the coamings just forward of the wheels for easy helm access, and clever foot switches between the wheels activate the furling drum. The mainsheet leads aft to the starboard end of the trunk house. All other sail controls also lead aft through the coaming that supports the mainsheet traveler and a series of Spinlock rope clutches. Although it’s a bit of work and the loads can be heavy, the 54 DS can be handled by an experienced couple. One person aft steers and trims the headsail while the other person tends the mainsheet, traveler, and other sail controls near the companionway. Dick and I sailed aggressively in blustery conditions without much fuss. In fact, he told me that he often sails alone, a testament to his sailing skills, Fauroux’s forgiving design, and a reliable autopilot.
There is ample cockpit storage, including a dedicated life-raft locker that houses a lightweight valise-type raft and a propane locker that holds two bottles. Additional locker space is under each seat, and these lockers also provide access to the steering systems.
It’s a noticeable uphill step into the forward section of the cockpit, and this will take a bit of getting used to, although there’s a well-placed handhold on the cockpit table. Once there, however, this is a lovely spot to enjoy the ride. The seats are amply wide, and the seat backs are angled for lower-back support; there’s even a small bridgedeck to discourage green water from sloshing below.
A cutout in the cockpit coaming makes it easy to exit the cockpit. The side decks are wide and easily navigated, as the genoa tracks and shrouds are well inboard. The stainless-steel stemhead fitting includes double self-launching anchor rollers. The chain locker is almost ridiculously deep, but at least the ground tackle is positioned as low as possible, and an electric windlass is standard. Enclosed oval stainless-steel chocks, including midship leads for spring lines, will please the inspectors at the Panama Canal.
The standing rigging is discontinuous wire and includes double backstays. Stainless-steel turnbuckle covers are standard; they look great, but they trap moisture and hinder routine observation. ProFurl roller-furling gear is standard, as is a Marechal roller-furling mast. The nonfurling mast is optional. A quick-release inner forestay is optional. I’d recommend it strongly to anyone heading offshore; it’s the ideal way to fly a storm jib. (The chainplate is optional, too, if you might wish to add this feature later.) Harken blocks are used throughout, including at the mast collar and for the genoa leads, which are adjustable, even under load.
The main saloon is huge; in fact, it will require careful maneuvering to make your way from the companionway forward when at sea, but fortunately, there are full-length overhead handholds. The designers have maximized the beam by pushing the interior components outboard. The result is an airy, spacious saloon with sumptuous settees and elegant chairs rimming a lovely teak table to starboard and a minibar to port. The trade-off is in storage; for a 54-foot boat, storage is only adequate, especially considering the bulky items that passagemaking requires. Nice touches including foldaway shades, recessed halogen lights, superb ventilation with 12 opening hatches, lateral overhead windows for natural light, and even a handy coffee table contribute to the overall ambiance. The C-shaped galley is to port of the companionway, but beware of the step down. There’s plenty of counter space, more than in most small apartments, and it’s encircled by a handsome fiddle. In true French style, most of the amenities for preparing great meals are standard. You can access the large 12-volt refrigeration/freezer from the top or through a front-loading door. There’s a stainless-steel microwave and a four-burner stove/oven with a crash bar that can also support a harness. Food storage is outboard, in decent-sized lockers, while the cutlery is housed in drawers below the sink.
The nav station is opposite the galley. The curved seat keeps the navigator on an even keel when heeled. A once-folded chart can be spread on the wraparound nav table that also has a cutout for a laptop. The electrical panel is outboard, and there’s room for repeaters. Wiring looks tidy and is well labeled, albeit in French. A deep wet locker is located behind the nav seat. Access to the house batteries is beneath the floorboards between the galley and nav station. The electrical system includes both 12- and 24-volt systems (for the bow thruster and if the headsail furling is powered up) and 115-volt shore power as well. Most of the heavy equipment, the watermaker, generator, and tanks, is centered over the keel and positioned as low as possible. Most owners have chosen the 9-kilowatt Onan generator.
Jeanneau offers several different sleeping-cabin arrangements. It’s possible to convert the forward section from three cabins?including a crew V-berth forward, a single to port, and a double to starboard?to two by way of a removable wall section between the single and double cabins. A similar option is available aft, although most owners, including Liberté’s Dick Gates, chose the owner’s-cabin version. This arrangement includes a centerline queen berth, a vanity to starboard, and a reading/dressing seat to port. The cabin comes wired for an entertainment center. Gates chose to have the head to starboard and the separate shower compartment to port.
Liberté is powered by a 100-horsepower turbocharged Yanmar diesel. Access is from behind the companionway and through removable panels in the aft cabin. I inspected the engine while under way and was impressed by the soundproofing. A dripless stuffing box is standard, as is a fixed three-bladed prop, although Liberté was fitted with a Max-Prop. One battery is dedicated to starting. Fuel capacity is 191 gallons in two stainless-steel tanks; this translates to a maximum range of around 500 miles. Clearing the marina, we punched into a modest chop at 6.5 knots at 1,800 rpms.
Gusty southwest winds ranged from 12 to 21 knots as we unrolled the main and full genoa and shot off across the bay on a close reach. The acceleration was impressive as I watched the speedo arch past 7 and finally settle in at 8.3 knots. We were slightly overpowered with the 135-percent genoa, and the helm felt better when we shortened the headsail a tad. This is when you appreciate the load-bearing headsail leads. Hardening the sheets, we pinched up to inside 40 degrees apparent and kept the boat moving at more that 7 knots. The inboard shrouds allow for close sheeting angles. Even hard on the wind, the heeling was minimal, and there was no sign of pounding; of course, we were sailing in protected waters. The high freeboard contributes to the boat’s dryness.
The stylish 54 DS, which is certainly one of the best big-boat values afloat, places Jeanneau squarely in the big leagues of performance cruisers.
John Kretschmer, delivery skipper and author (Flirting with Mermaids, Sheridan House), lives in Fort Lauderdale.