Jeanneau Gin Fizz
A classic cruiser that's still capable of round-the-world treks
I felt old this summer. Cruising the Mediterranean Sea, from Gibraltar to Rome, I encountered one boat after another that had played a significant role in my past, some dating back, dare I say it, nearly 30 years. In Ibiza there was a nicely restored Ocean 71, reminding me of a long ago midwinter delivery to Sweden. In Corsica we moored alongside a sweet little Contessa 32, triggering memories of an even longer ago voyage around Cape Horn. In Cannes I chatted with an Aussie aboard a Hylas 49, a model that I have sailed all over the Atlantic. In Majorca there was an American couple cruising a vintage Gulfstar 50 and I told them about my delivery of a sistership to Japan in the late 1980s. Still, the boat that kept turning up, first in Palamos, then again in St. Tropez, Barcelona, Genoa, Sardinia and Port Grimmaud, was the venerable Jeanneau Gin Fizz.
Next to the Contessa 32, the Gin Fizz was the boat that most influenced my development as a sailor. It was in that boat, a beamy sloop called Epoch, that I made my first offshore passage. Epoch led me to my first tropical island landfall. I'll never forget a storm-tossed ride to Bermuda and a magical passage south to Marigot. When I moved on to other boats, my mother and her partner, Tim MacTaggart, sailed Epoch around the world. Amazingly, the two young brothers who later bought the boat sailed it around the world again.
So what is a Jeanneau Gin Fizz? It's a 37-foot, 6-inch, off-the-shelf production boat, built between 1975 and 1980 when Jeanneau was anything but a household name in the sailboat industry. More than 500 were built, although the boat was only sporadically pushed in U.S. market. It was touted as something of a performance cruiser. Early Jeanneau models were saddled with insipid names: Melody, Flirt, Fantasia, Espace, Sun Kiss and Gin Fizz among them. Fortunately the engineers were better than the marketing folks and those early Jeanneaus were solid, seaworthy and, for the most part, good-looking boats.
Your first impression of a Gin Fizz depends on the angle from which you view it. From bow or stern on, you think, "Wow, what a beamy son of a gun." Beam on from across an anchorage, you think, "Hmm, that boat has nice lines and sure is sleek." The maximum beam is 12 feet, 6 inches but it holds its beam well forward and especially well aft. Naturally this translates into a lot of room below. However, the sleek profile is a result of relatively low freeboard and an almost flush deck, which limit headroom to just about 6 feet. A long, thin Plexiglas portlight runs along the deckhouse. Ostensibly the Gin Fizz is a center-cockpit, although the aft cabin is really more of an oversized lazarette.
The fin-keel, partial spade rudder hull shape and the 15,600-pound displacement seemed radical back when we bought the boat in 1981, especially for an offshore boat. Times change, Gin Fizz shapes and numbers run right down the middle of the road compared to today's boats. The draft is 6 feet, 2 inches-a stumbling block, literally, for selling the boat on the shallow side of the pond. Early boats were almost all ketches, and later models were sloops. The ketch carries slightly more sail area but not enough to warrant the clutter in the cockpit.
Jeanneau has always employed a curious mix of modern design thinking blended with traditional construction techniques. This was especially true of the older models. The hull of the Gin Fizz is solid fiberglass laminate. I remember drilling a plug for a new speedo transducer and being impressed with the thickness of the hull. The deck is balsa cored, a potential problem on all old boats. Jeanneau did a good job of using end-grain balsa and isolating potential delamination with resin edges. The hull and deck are joined on a flange, and in addition to the normal bolts and chemical bonding agents, Jeanneau also fiberglassed the joint. After 50,000 bluewater miles, Epoch showed no evidence of hull-and-deck joint leaks or wear.
Bulkheads are tabbed to the hull and furniture facings. Molded pieces were not used in the interior. Fabric was used for headliners and locker covers. The keel was an iron section, coated with epoxy and externally fastened. The exposed keel bolts in the bilge were slathered in fiberglass, making them inaccessible. Floors were wood, glassed over, and the hull support system is robust. The rudder is wood, sheathed in a thin layer of glass and the rudder stock beefy stainless steel. The shaft strut support is a molded skeg.
What to look for
There are several specific items to inspect on the Gin Fizz. The main bulkhead may have signs of delamination and should be carefully sounded. Also, the original floorboards were glassed-over plywood with carpeting over that, not an ideal situation. Most boats will have changed this arrangement. The keel bolts should be inspected, or better yet, X-rayed. Check the rudder for signs of water and delamination. The original rudder bearings were nylon and tended to swell when the boat was left out of the water for a long time.
Most likely the standing rigging will have been replaced at least once, and maybe two or three times. If not, by all means consider it a must-do project. The original, deck-stepped Isomat spar may have spider cracks at the base, and the cabintop may be a tad depressed, so inspect the maststep area carefully. Hull blisters seem to be random; some boats have them, others never have. Epoch was treated to a couple of epoxy bottom jobs.
The interior fabric, used for headliners, locker liners and faces give the boat a kind of clean, simple, IKEA look, but they don't hold up well. Droopy foam-backed headliners are a mess. The original engine was the venerable Perkins 4108 or 4107, a seawater-cooled version that will likely be a pile of rust by this time.
As noted earlier, the production was roughly split between ketches and sloops. I'd look for a sloop, it's more practical and makes the boat more nimble.
The most striking feature on the Gin Fizz is the cockpit. It's huge, yet it works for both coastal and offshore cruising. The helm station includes a good-sized wheel while the seat doubles as the bridgedeck for the aft cabin companionway. With the low-slung deckhouse, visibility from the helm is excellent. The primary winches are a good stretch from the helm, and the mainsheet and traveler run across the cockpit along the main companionway bridgedeck. The boat is not well set up for singlehanded sailing. On ketch models, the mizzenmast is just in front of the helm, reducing that aforementioned visibility. I originally worried that the cockpit was dangerously large for passagemaking, but my fears proved unfounded. I was pooped twice in Epoch, once in the Caribbean and once in the cold North Atlantic. Both times the water drained quickly through the large scuppers and the bridgedecks kept the water from rushing below.
The side decks are wide, but there isn't much to hold onto once you leave the cockpit until you can grab the shrouds. Jeanneau has always done a great job with molded nonskid and the old Gin Fizzes I inspected this summer still had good nonskid on deck. Mom and Tim added a fixed staysail stay, converting the boat to a cutter and having a quick storm jib option. They also beefed up the anchoring arrangement. The large external chain locker was able to house their considerable ground tackle.
Let's start from the cockpit and work aft. The tiny aft cabin is only reached from the cockpit and consists of a double berth, a hanging locker and a few shelves. Still, if you can resist turning this area into a garage, it is a very useful cabin on a passage, especially for a couple. The berth is comfortable, it's in a position where the motion is easy and most importantly, the off watch is a moment away from the cockpit. With your companion just a few feet away, yet still out of the weather and sleeping comfortably, you don't feel as vulnerable when alone in the cockpit.
The main companionway is wide with broad steps. The relatively small galley is quick to starboard and features two absurdly small sinks, usually a good-sized stove and oven and a poorly insulated ice box/fridge. It has always amazed me that the French, the best cooks in the world, often design small, tough-to-work in galleys on sailboats. Still, my mom loved her galley and turned out some pretty nice meals. I remember one lovely Christmas turkey, served up in Bombay Harbor of all places, when I was visiting them during their circumnavigation.
Opposite the galley is a large navigation desk, my favorite aspect of the interior. It is big enough to lay an unfolded chart on, and the deep desk stores away all sorts of navigational trinkets. The quarterberth behind is often consumed with cruising gear but, if you can keep the clutter down, this too makes a great sea berth. The saloon features a centerline table with fold-up leaves, making a C-shaped dinette arrangement to port. The settees don't have cushion backs, just small upper back rests instead. There is plenty of storage behind the seats in cubbies and below in lockers. The water tank, usually a bladder, is fitted under the quarterberth.
Continuing forward, the head is to port but can be expanded across the cabin for more elbowroom. The forward V-berth is not overly large, and in my opinion this is the cabin that should get converted into a locker area. Just don't put too much up there, you need to at least try to keep extra weight out of the ends of the boat or performance suffers. The interior joinerwork is average, usually finished in flat mahogany, and it can seem a bit dark below. Two opening hatches provide just adequate ventilation and well placed 12-volt fans are vital.
The standard engine was the Perkins 4108, although some boats were also fitted with Westerbeke models with similar 50-horsepower ratings. Be wary of saltwater-cooled engines. This was the arrangement on Epoch. There was no heat exchanger. The engine ran cool and ran well, but eventually the corrosion did it in. Along the way, a new three-cylinder Yanmar was added. Access is decent, behind the large companionway steps. It is a challenge to maneuver the steps out of the way however. There is limited side access from the quarter berth, and the stuffing box is just plain tough to reach.
Epoch averaged 120 miles a day on her four-year circumnavigation. That's 5 knots day in and day out. And that's not too bad for a boat with a 32-foot waterline. The Gin Fizz is definitely at its best reaching, but what boat isn't? With its almost high-aspect rig, it is also fairly closed winded. However it does makes a lot of leeway negating any advantage of pinching up. The hull shape will definitely pound when beating, especially in a seaway. However, it feels solid in the water. I remember pounding the boat up the Red Sea, it was rough going, but Epoch didn't moan or groan. And despite the modest freeboard, the cockpit is dry.
The helm is well balanced, although the autopilot did a better job of steering than the Aires wind vane. Although rigged as a cutter, Epoch sailed best as a sloop. The ketch rig provides more options, especially in heavy weather. With a reefed mizzen and storm jib, the Gin Fizz can stand up to dirty weather.
There is no doubt that the Jeanneau Gin Fizz has been rediscovered, and this renaissance makes perfect sense. The boat is a capable cruiser with ideal accommodations for a couple, or small family. It is well built, looks nice when you row out to her on the mooring and is extremely affordable. You can find a nice model, usually with a new engine and rig, for around $60,000. The dollar's recent decline has made European boats a bit more expensive, but there is usually a selection of boats for sale in the U.S. and Caribbean. If you have been searching for a modestly priced cruiser, and can live with 6 feet of draft and 6 feet of headroom, check out the Jeanneau Gin Fizz.