At first glance, there’s a certain familiarity to the Jeanneau Yachts 55. Once upon a time, 50-plus-foot cruising boats were a rarity in far-flung ports, but they are now quite common. And of all the production builders, Jeanneau has long enjoyed a strong reputation for building boats that sail exceedingly well.
What separates Jeanneau’s new 55-footer—and ultimately sealed the deal as our pick for Overall Boat of the Year for 2024—is what happens when you step aboard. The experience brings to mind the title of that old Monty Python film And Now for Something Completely Different. Jeanneau’s design team, collaborating with naval architect Philippe Briand on the hull and interior designer Andrew Winch for the layout and accommodations, took a blank sheet of paper and created something fetching and unique.
But that’s not to say it was a slam dunk from the get-go. In fact, judge Herb McCormick said: “When I first stepped aboard and looked around, I was actually pretty confused. There were wide-open spaces topside, but the interior was compartmentalized. It just seemed rather incongruous. But once we got under sail and I spent some time getting familiarized on board, it all started to make sense.”
Judge Tim Murphy said: “It goes back to something the team at Excess catamarans, Jeanneau’s Groupe Beneteau stablemate, said to us. There, they built a catamaran to attract monohull buyers. Here, they built a monohull to attract catamaran buyers. As a marketing ploy, it makes sense. Jeanneau has many clients who start with, say, a 34-footer, then buy larger models. The sales side noticed that when clients get into their mid-50s, they start looking at the space of catamarans. They took a real flier with the interior accommodations, in that they’re very different from what we’ve seen in other monohulls. From the companionway forward is entirely dedicated to the owners. The two guest suites are accessed separately from the cockpit. In the end, Jeanneau tried a really new thing. And I applaud them for it.”
The deck layout is also well-thought-out and innovative. “Under sail on a crisp day, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting out of the breeze under the big hard dodger and Bimini,” added judge Mark Pillsbury. “The on-deck nav station and plotter is ingenious. At the wheel, I liked the way you could step to the side deck, lean against the rail, and get a clear view of the sails with the wind in your face. For cruising, the three-headsail rig that they put on the 55 gives the crew lots of options to shift gears as the boat changes points of sail. The self-tacking jib makes upwind work effortless. And the genoa and code-zero sails provide lots of horsepower once you crack off and sail deeper. I came away feeling that the 55 would be a fun boat to sail and also to hang out on with a pair of couples or the family. And that was the point, right?”
McCormick also came around to his colleagues’ way of thinking: “We’ve seen Jeanneau take chances before, and they always seem to come up aces. Their little 34-footer was a BOTY winner, and they’ve sold hundreds of them. They were on the leading edge of the deck-salon craze and executed those models extremely well. The side-deck arrangement they introduced a couple of years ago was a gamechanger that we’re starting to see adopted by other brands. And here they are again with something very fresh and new. I’ve learned to stop betting against them. I have the feeling that this yacht, above and beyond our contest, is destined to be a winner.”