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Sun Odyssey 49DS

2008 November 10

This stylish French-built cruiser is finding a home in U.S. waters

When French boatbuilder Jeanneau introduced the 54DS in 2002, it was met with "total silence" at a United States dealer meeting, said Paul Fenn, director of Jeanneau America. The styling of the first model in this distinctive-looking deck saloon class was a departure from the majority of yachts that populate American harbors, and dealers were unsure whether they would be able to sell the boat. But something about this modern design struck a nerve.

"Response to the 54 has been beyond our wildest dreams, especially on the West Coast," Fenn said. "The builder had trouble meeting demand for the 54DS and made a second set of molds to speed production. Hull No. 200 will leave the factory in western France later this year, by which time there will be more than 30 of the boats sailing in the U.S.

The company is anticipating a similar demand for the second deck saloon model, the Sun Odyssey 49DS that was introduced at the Annapolis Boat Show last fall. Jeanneau is planning to build 90 by the end of this year, 30 of which will be sent to the US. "The DS range is our future. This is our market," Fenn said. Jeanneau will announce a third boat in the line sometime this summer. (The Jeanneau 40DS and 43DS are of a different design.)

The cat-eye "window" on the rounded deckhouse grabs your attention-it's distinctly Mediterranean. Whether you know of him or not, it's hardly a surprise to learn that the designer's name is Vittorio Garroni, a name as European as the look. Combined with Garroni's stylistic input is a hull and deck plan from Phillipe Briand, architect of French America's Cup entries and Mari-Cha IV, and an interior designed by Jeanneau's in-house team.

The brochure for the 49DS describes the design objectives as "volume and comfort," and there is a good measure of truth in that advertising. This is not your father's yacht. Everything that defined a sailing yacht built in generations past has been turned on its head. The narrow beam, low freeboard, long overhangs and curved sheerline are all absent, as are the low-volume cockpit, small ports and dark, confined cabin.

Despite breaking all the old rules describing the design of a handsome, practical sailing yacht, there is no angle at which the 49DS looks ungainly. The boat seems well proportioned, particularly in the optional dark blue hull color. Even the cat-eye windows, which are so striking at first, soon blend into the overall smoothly curving shape that remains consistent right down to the rounded teak caprail.

On deck
Step aboard and the most obvious feature is the size of the cockpit. The maximum beam of 14 feet, 8 inches is carried well aft, so the long cockpit is also quite wide, and feels roomy. It's easy to imagine a division at the twin helms with plenty of space aft for kids to use the swim platform and deck shower, while adults relax at the cockpit table enjoying their lunch in relative peace. The table base is made of molded fiberglass and fixed to the cockpit sole. It is designed to mount an LCD radar screen or chartplotter on the aft end, and pre-wired with 12-volt power. The test boat (hull No. 14) had an optional handsome teak table top.

The swim platform is accessed through wide gates at centerline, made possible by the split backstay. Sail lockers under the cockpit benches are relatively short on the fore-aft axis but extend well outboard to make the overall volume acceptable. In any event, the vast majority of sail adjustments on this boat will be made through the furling systems rather than by changing canvas. The deep twin lazarettes house two cooking gas canisters and allow plenty of space for fenders and cleaning supplies.

The twin helms with 35.4-inch-diameter wheels are set well outboard with duplicate compasses and instrument readouts. Engine controls are at the starboard wheel. The primary genoa winches are within easy reach of the helms. The mainsheet and furling lines all run to cabintop winches mounted on either side of the companionway hatch. Forward of the winches and their respective line clutches is a molded mount for the optional dodger, the design and placement of which is meant more to shield the companionway than the helmsman or those sitting in the cockpit.

The deck-stepped Sparcraft mast stands 64 feet above the waterline and is supported below deck by a polished pipe strut that is bolted to the hull (hand-laid solid glass, while the deck is balsa-cored). The in-mast roller furling main doesn't allow for mast bend or active backstay adjustment, but there is considerable rake, which explains the 9/10-fractional headstay. The roller furling system is made by Profurl. A 1,200-watt anchor windlass and a huge chain locker allow for the use of some beefy ground tackle.

Down below
Below deck, it is the volume that really stands out. At the Strictly Sail boat show in Oakland the 49DS attracted a nonstop stream of visitors, most of whom commented immediately on how light and open the saloon is. Upon descending the companionway ladder the forward-facing navigation table is immediately to port. A nice curved seat keeps the navigator in place at sea. There is plenty of surface area on the table for a folded paper chart, but there is limited vertical area for mounting electronics, which reflects the move toward placing chartplotters and radar screens in the cockpit. The breaker panel is outboard of the table, and, as a reminder of where the boat is built, the labels are in both French and English.

The galley is immediately to starboard of the companionway and a small step down from the main cabin sole. The large, well-lit gimbaled stove and oven, top- and side-opening reefer, microwave and twin sinks are more modern home kitchen than bean-heating galley of old. There is a well-placed eight-inch-high Lexan barrier between the sinks and the saloon to keep those parts of the meal that should stay in the galley where they belong.

The saloon is another step down (there are several of these in the boat that take some getting used to), and it is spacious and bright as the name "Deck Saloon" suggests. There is plenty of headroom and the various hatches, ports and windows let in lots of light. The saloon is actually wider than it is long and it is designed more for relaxing and entertaining than for the grim business of wolfing down a meal while hove to, or doubling as sleeping quarters (which is possible but clearly of secondary importance). To starboard is a C-shaped settee, a table and two chairs. To port is a smaller settee and space to mount an LCD television.

There are two similar layout options available. The first places the owner's cabin aft of the companionway with its own head, and a convertible cabin forward with smaller twin heads. The convertible cabin allows for the installation of a thin divider that cuts the space in half forming two smaller cabins. The second layout places the owner's cabin forward with a larger single head and the convertible cabin aft, this time with a single head. Both layouts seem intended to accommodate two couples in comfort for an extended cruise, and more people for shorter periods.

Under sail
Moving the boat under power is accomplished with a 75-horsepower Yanmar (or an optional 100-horsepower Yanmar), a fixed three-blade 20-by-12 prop (or optional three-blade Max Prop), and the option of a bow thruster. The test boat was outfitted with the 100-horsepower, two-liter turbocharged motor and the Max Prop. It managed 7.5 knots into a 15-knot headwind without breaking a sweat.

Hoisting (or unfurling in this case) and trimming sail is as easy as pressing a couple of buttons with the optional electric winches. There is no reason to break a sweat on this boat unless you want the exercise of manually grinding winches. The deck and cockpit layout allow for easy sailing by two people, one at the helm driving and tending to the genoa sheet, and the other trimming the main and handling and furling lines. The boat ships from the factory with a set of Technique-Voile sails, including a 135-percent genoa, that sailors in windier areas will likely want to supplement with a smaller jib.

During our test sail on San Francisco Bay, courtesy of H+S Yacht Sales, Jeanneau's largest West Coast dealer, it was blowing 20 to 25. Part of the time we took the full brunt of the wind, but we also sought the lee of Angel Island where the breeze was less than 5 knots. Furling, unfurling, and furling again, of both the main and jib, is all accomplished in a matter of seconds, and minor, intermediate adjustments are encouraged by the ease with which they can be made. Without battens, cunningham or leach line, the furling main is shaped through a combination of sheet, traveler, vang and outhaul.

The steering positions are comfortable at both helms through a range of heel angles, and feedback through the wheel is moderate, neither twitchy nor dull. The low profile of the deckhouse does not impede visibility from the cockpit, which stays remarkably dry, even in choppy conditions.

The cockpit table, which first appears as though it might be an obstruction while under sail, in fact makes a convenient footrest for those sitting on the windward bench, and still allows easy passage, simply because the cockpit is so wide. The overall comfort under sail made a windy afternoon seem somehow more moderate. In fact almost everything about the 49DS seems designed to make the experience of sailing comfortable and enjoyable. Avoiding the temptation to appeal to globe girdlers, or racers, Jeanneau has targeted the 49DS squarely at cruising baby boomers, and it seems they've hit the mark.