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Sun Odyssey 32

2008 November 10

The latest cruiser from Jeanneau effortlessly blends style, function and sailability

There's something special about jumping aboard, slipping the lines and heading out to the lake for some relief on a hot July afternoon, which made a test sail of the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 32 on the Lake Michigan waters off Chicago seem more like fun than work.

Jeanneau, which has been in the boatbuilding business since the late 1950s, has launched a comfortable, seaworthy cruiser that's just the right size for a couple or small family. The boat packs a lot of living space-both above and below the deck-in its 32 feet and tops it off with innovative construction techniques and elegant joinerwork.

The details
Living and sailing in a place with Mistrals to the south and the rocky, storm-lashed Brittany Coast to the west, French boatbuilders have a reputation for producing sturdy craft, and the Sun Odyssey is no exception. The hull is solid fiberglass, laid up with a polyester resin, and structural hull liners have been added that provide both athwartships and fore-and-aft rigidity. In addition to the Sun Odyssey 32, Jeanneau has also launched the Sun Fast 32i, which is essentially the same boat only with a deeper 6-foot, 6-inch keel (as opposed to the 4-foot, 11-inch keel on the Sun Odyssey) and a taller mast, so the basic hull configuration has been beefed up to handle heavy-duty offshore conditions, around-the-buoys service and the forces incumbent in a more powerful rig.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the boat's construction is found in the deck, which is not laid-up in the conventional sense but created through an injection molding process similar to that used in the plastics industry, although executed at a much higher level. According to Jeanneau's Erik Stromberg, the process involves coating the sides of the mold with gelcoat and then injecting a resin mixture, which is cured for a specific time and at a specific temperature. He said that the process differs markedly from that used in lower-tech applications in that reinforcing cloth, similar to that in a conventional lay up, is placed between the two halves of the mold before injecting so that the finished piece will be that much stronger.

As you would imagine, the initial investment in the injection tooling is prohibitively expensive for any but the largest boatbuilders. But for a company as large as Jeanneau, which produces hundreds of boats a year, it provides economies of scale that help reduce the total cost of the boat. Stromberg noted that the process also allows for very careful control of the amount and thickness of the resin throughout the deck, which results in a high strength-to-weight ratio.

Being a hopeless traditionalist, I was a little skeptical as Stromberg explained the marvels of this breakthrough. But the finished product is impressive, and left me a believer. On deck the gelcoat surface is good and down below, wherever the molded surface was exposed, it looked workmanlike and even elegant. It's a testament to Jeanneau's confidence in its new process that the company has done little to hide the results. There is a headliner that continues along the sides of the hull. But over the shelves, along the insides of the cabintrunk and the above the quarterberth, what came out of the mold is what you get.

This injected deck and the hull are then attached on an inward-turning flange using a combination of bolts, screws and Sika-brand adhesive-sealer. The keel, a moderate-aspect-ratio fin with a bulb, is attached with stainless steel bolts sealed with Sikaflex. And the large, semibalanced blade rudder is mounted on a hefty stainless steel rudderpost, which is in turn mounted with a pair of self-aligning Delrin rudder bearings. The steering system offers smooth and effortless control through a cable and quadrant system below deck. The Sun Odyssey 32 is also available with a tiller, which would actually be even better on a boat this size for those who prefer a more sensitive helm.

It was refreshing to see the leather-wrapped wheel was mounted on a standard pedestal as opposed to the large curvaceous, molded consoles that have become the rage. The pedestal was equipped with an instrument panel mounted on the grab rail over the compass and a standard folding table forward-all you should ever need, especially for a boat whose first cousin is intended for racing.

In terms of hull shape, the Sun Odyssey 32, which was created by Philippe Briand, designer of the maxi Mari Cha III, has a nearly plumb bow and minimal overhang aft to maximize the 31-foot LOD with a 27-foot, 11-inch sailing length. Like many cruisers these days, the beam has been maximized at 10 feet, 9 inches, resulting in a 2.93 length-to-beam ratio. Also in accordance with current fashion, the beam has been carried well aft into a wide reverse transom, which is constructed with a swim step and boarding ladder.

The cabintrunk, like that on many French boats, is quite prominent and its height is carried well forward to provide standing headroom as close to the bow as possible. It is carefully sculpted and blends with the rest of the hull so it doesn't appear intrusive and appears as a natural continuation of the rest of the hull form in a way that establishes a satisfying harmony. The sculpted windows to either side further enhance this effect, resulting in a very attractive boat for these dimensions.

On deck
This quality and attention to detail is also evident on deck, where a well thought-out design has resulted in a boat that is both comfortable and easy to sail. The cockpit, for example, has seats that are both long and carefully contoured so sailors will be comfortable whether stretching out when the boat is at anchor or riding the rail during some casual Wednesday night racing. The helmsman's position, in particular, is comfortable whether steering to windward or leeward, and there is good visibility forward. Note that behind the helm is a removable but sturdy seat that provides easy access to the swim step. Although the side decks are surfaced with molded-in nonskid fiberglass, the cockpit sole and seats are surfaced in teak, which provides a little elegance and good footing without the maintenance of a vast expanse of teak.

The primary winches, both self-tailing Harkens, were a bit of a stretch from the helm, but still within reach for singlehanding. A third Harken self-tailer and battery of Spinlock stoppers to port of the companionway on the cabintop help control halyards, vang and the midboom mainsheet arrangement.

The boat comes standard with a split backstay to provide easy access to the swim step. A "lazy bag" on the boom that catches the mainsail as you lower it at the end of the day and zips up provides easy and convenient storage. These kinds of mainsail systems work incredibly well and are just plain smart and salty.

Moving forward, the side decks are wide and the cabintop equipped with sturdy teak handrails make going forward a snap. The boat's double lifelines are mounted on sturdy, tall stanchions, and a hefty aluminum toerail runs from stem to stern. The jib is mounted on a Profurl roller-furling system and there are jib tracks on either side of the cabintop so the leads can be easily adjusted as headsail area is reduced. In contrast to the mainsail, roller-furling up forward makes all the sense in the world. But adjustable leads are crucial for good sail shape.

On the bow, the test boat was equipped with the standard aluminum anchor roller and the locker was equipped with a Lofrans windlass to help bring in the rode at the beginning of the day. The bow pulpit, cleats and other hardware were all sturdy and well installed. This is clearly a boat made for sailing and not just serving drinks when recuperating from a long day at the office.

Down below
In addition to its reputation for building seaworthy boats, Jeanneau has a reputation for skilled craftsmanship below, and the 32 is no exception. Thanks to its large cabintrunk windows, a pair of ports in the hull, extensive use of light teak cabinetry and a whopping 6-feet, 4-inches of headroom, the overall effect is one of spaciousness and light. Jeanneau uses a computer-guided cutting rig for much of its carpentry, which results in an incredibly precise level of joinery, whether it be in the boat's bulkheads, or the large fiddles encircling the galley countertop or nav table.

Overall, the interior layout is a fairly standard one, with a generous V-berth forward and a large quarterberth aft. The boat's single head is to port and just forward of the quarterberth. The aft-facing nav station is to starboard and just forward of the galley, using the starboard settee for a seat. The U-shaped galley has a single sink, gimbaled stove and oven, top-opening icebox and a generous countertop area aft of the stove.

The proximity of the nav station and its attendant electronics and paperwork to the tap and icebox countertop is not ideal but a solid partial divider separates the two.

On the plus side, the head is absolutely beautiful, with woodwork rivaling that of the rest of the interior, with generous cabinets and lots of leg room. Throughout the interior, Jeanneau has taken the time to make sure that sailors will have easy access to both piping and electronics in the event of a break down. Engine access is through the standard removable companionway steps and removable paneling in the quarterberth. Settees are long enough to provide a comfortable berth during overnight passages.

Under sail
With an L/B of 2.93 the Sun Odyssey 32 is a little on the wide side, but the boat still sailed well with minimal weather helm, even as the boat began to heel when going to windward, thanks to the generous rudder. Even in the modest conditions that we experienced, the boat performed well, not just heeling before the extra pressure, but digging in and picking up speed. Again, it's important to remember that this same hull is designed to perform in a racing configuration as well. The boat's slightly fractional rig felt well balanced and was easy to manage. It would have been interesting to have been able to sail the Sun Fast 32i in similar conditions to see how much of a difference that deeper keel and increased sail area would have made.

Cracking off on a broad reach and then a run, the boat felt just as fine, and it also did well when we put it through a couple of tacks and jibes. Under power the 27-horsepower diesel and two-blade prop provided plenty of oomph, and the 32 was easy to maneuver, both in forward and reverse as we worked our way in and out of the slip. In fact, as we made the dock at the end of our sail I was reminded once again just why it is that I like boats of this size, especially when they are well designed and constructed. Everybody was relaxed, no one was worn out, and idling up to the pier and securing the lines was absolutely effortless. Back on land, glancing back at the 32 it looked that much better for the fact that it had treated us so well. I had that buzz that you sometimes get at the end of a truly satisfying sail.