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Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43

2008 November 10

This well-made cruiser longs for open water with its design and seagoing comfort

Jeanneau, the longtime French sailboat manufacturer, is thriving six years after being purchased by its chief competitor, Beneteau. Jeanneau will produce more than 2,000 sailboats in 2001 at its plant near Les Herbiers, Brittany. Of that number, many will make their way across the Atlantic to be delivered to American sailors.

"We have identified the U.S. market as our prime growth area," said Paul Fenn, marketing director of Jeanneau America.

Jeanneau has maintained its product identity while profiting from shared technology and the enhanced buying power that comes from being part of the world's largest sailboat manufacturing operation.

"We compete with Beneteau in the marketplace and cooperate in the factory," Fenn said. Without question, the beneficiary of this arrangement is the consumer. Jeanneau builds handsome, high-quality boats that are excellent values.

The Jeanneau monohull fleet (the company also builds catamarans and powerboats) ranges from the sprightly Sun 2000, a 22-foot daysailer, to the powerful Sun Odyssey 52.2. I recently sailed the new Sun Odyssey 43 on San Francisco Bay. The 43 follows in the wake of the highly successful Sun Odyssey 40, which pioneered the use of a single hull for three distinct models. The Sun Odyssey 43 employs the same concept, with the basic hull also available in a deck-saloon version called the 43 DS, and a racing version called the Sun Fast 43.

Why introduce one new model when you can offer three instead? Obviously, this is a highly efficient method of production requiring a single hull tool. Despite this clever innovation, Jeanneau continues to build boats in the time-honored and time-consuming way-by hand. It takes 1,200 man-hours to complete each Sun Odyssey 43.

The details
Although the popularity of the 43 DS has been a pleasant surprise and the market for the 43 Sun Fast is clearly defined, Jeanneau is confident that the bulk of its future production runs will consist of Sun Odyssey 43s. Designed by Daniel Andrieu, the boat is nicely proportioned. The lines are modern with short overhangs and a generous beam of 13 feet, 8 inches. The low-slung coachroof extends quite far forward but still tapers gracefully into the foredeck.

The masthead sloop has a working sail area totaling just less than 1,000 square feet. Although our test sail proved that the 43 is easily driven in light air, the boat is not a lightweight, displacing 20,503 pounds. A draft of 6 feet, 6 inches helps the boat track when sailing upwind. The Caribbean charter fleets are full of Jeanneaus that have crossed the Atlantic on their own bottoms, and I have no doubt that the Sun Odyssey 43 will be a comfortable and capable offshore boat.

I confess, I am slightly biased when it comes to Jeanneau's construction standards. Fifteen years ago, my mother and her partner, Tim MacTaggart, sailed Gin Fizz, an off-the-shelf 38-foot Jeanneau sloop, around the world. They encountered few boat problems during their four-year circumnavigation. After Mom sold the boat, the new owner promptly sailed it around the world again! When I inspected the boat in Ft. Lauderdale a couple of years ago it was in remarkably good condition.

Jeanneau is still building boats with integrity. The Sun Odyssey 43 hull is hand-laid fiberglass with Kevlar rovings in the bow sections for added impact resistance. Vinylester resin is used in the first two laminates for osmosis protection. Jeanneau does not use molded hull liners in any of its boats larger than 34 feet. Instead, floors and longitudinal stringers are made from laminated plywood and bonded to the hull, creating a strong structural grid. Bulkheads are securely tabbed to the hull as is much of the interior furniture.

The deck is balsa cored, a time consuming process as small blocks of end-grain balsa are hand placed on the underside of the deck. Hardwoods are substituted in high-load areas. A giant computer-controlled laser cutter efficiently trims all the interior wood to size. Once most of the interior components have been fitted, the hull and deck are married on an inward turning flange and bonded both with adhesives and through-bolts.

A Jeanneau trademark has always been intricate and well-executed fiberglass sculpting. The Sun Odyssey is no exception, from the diamond pattern molded nonskid to the subtle curves in the deck, the fiberglass work is excellent. The externally fastened epoxy-coated iron keel is attached late in the construction process.

On deck
As we waited for the photo boat and the morning breeze to arrive I took some time to carefully examine the Sun Odyssey 43 both inside and out. To say the cockpit is spacious is an understatement: It's huge. Twin helm stations open the way to the swim step astern, and a lift-out section facilitates access. Until a recent offshore passage, I underestimated the value of twin wheels. As a low-side helmsman, I discovered that I was actually able to see the sails from the lee wheel despite the typical cruising-boat blinders, including a full bimini and dodger.

A large table with folding leaves and handrails is mounted on the cockpit centerline and provides a good foothold for support when heeled. There are no coaming lockers, so winch handles and other small items are stashed in the table. Our test boat was fitted with Harken 53 primary sheet winches. In fact, about 80 percent of the deck hardware was supplied by Harken. The cockpit seats are ergonomically shaped to provide back support. There are a couple of lazarettes, and the port sail locker is almost too large and could stand a false floor. The visibility from either helm is excellent even while seated. The engine instruments and controls are at the starboard wheel, and there are molded consoles for instruments at both wheel stations.

A midboom sheeting arrangement places the mainsheet traveler forward of the companionway. Unfortunately, it's not long enough to be of much use, although it does keep sheets out of the cockpit. All sail controls are led aft to Spinlock rope clutches and Harken 44s at the aft end of the deckhouse. The genoa tracks and pod chainplates are placed well inboard for tight sheeting angles. The mast is deck-stepped and has swept-back double spreaders. An in-mast furling main or full-batten main with jiffy reefing is available; ironically the full-batten main is the option and in-mast furling comes standard.

A solid, polished aluminum toerail gives the boat a finished look. The rail has cutouts for chocks, including an amidships spring. Overall the deck hardware is beefy. There is a double bow roller forward for dual anchors and an external chain locker. Teak decks are an option, which sure dresses up the boat, although I would steer clear of them because of the added maintenance they command. The sleek teak handrails offer enough varnish work in my book.

Down below
Typically, Jeanneau offers two innovative layouts. However, the first thing that strikes you when drop below in the 43 is the warm, rich teak finish. Lighter woods and composite or molded finishes are de rigueur in new boats, but the Sun Odyssey is something of a throwback with its reliance on high-quality teak veneers. From the bulkheads, to the cabinetry, to the counter top moldings, to the saloon table and clever navigation station, the joinerwork is consistently good. Although the cutting and trimming may be done by laser, it has the same effect as an Old World craftsman.

The two-cabin arrangement features a spacious V-berth forward, complete with a seat and desk and en suite head. The four-cabin convertible plan places a small quarter cabin with over-and-under bunks just aft of the V-berth to starboard. Both models include a comfortable saloon. A large teak table is surrounded by a U-shaped dinette to starboard with cabinets above. The lockers have positive latches that will stay shut when things get bouncy. Opposite the dinette is a short, comfortable settee that shares the navigation desk on one end-a good use of space. The nav station is actually rather small, reflecting the new ethos wrought by modern electronics. The Sun Odyssey 43 is designed to be controlled from the cockpit, where all manner of electronics can be mounted and consulted. The interior is for living in style and comfort, but not necessarily for navigating.

Both plans include a head aft of the nav station to port, complete with a separate shower stall, which is also well positioned to double as a wet locker. The L-shaped galley includes forward-facing double sinks, 12-volt refrigeration and a two-burner propane stove with oven. Both the sinks and cooker have cover boards, adding to the counter space. The teak fiddles are substantial and a clever acrylic splashguard separates the galley from the saloon. There is a hatch overhead, one of several, and the ventilation is good throughout the boat. The two-cabin model has a large double cabin aft to port complete with hanging locker and bookshelf.

The four-cabin model has twin double cabins aft that can be converted to a single large aft cabin by simply sliding out the modular divider. A similar arrangement creates the quarter cabin forward. Jeanneau is the trendsetter in this modular approach to interior design.

The engine is accessed from behind the companionway and through the aft cabins. The standard engine is an 80-horsepower Yanmar with 56 gallons of fuel and a fixed prop. Water capacity in two tanks is 106 gallons. An additional 45-gallon tank is optional.

Under sail
Back on the bay we waited for wind. We were sailing in consort with a Sun Odyssey 43 DS, and to our chagrin, they were more than keeping pace as we searched for the much ballyhooed San Francisco Bay breeze. We finally found a consistent, if light wind, which was enough to get a feel for the boat. Every boat sails well in 15 knots; light air is usually more revealing of a boat's true nature.

We trimmed the sheets hard, sailing very close to the wind, and it was nice to feel the boat accelerate. Our speed inched up as we gathered way, and soon we were cutting through the water at 5 knots, despite an apparent wind of less than 10. As mentioned earlier, an advantage of twin wheels is that you can lean outboard without craning your neck from the helm. This is especially helpful in light air.

We tacked cleanly and then fell off onto a reach. The deck arrangement is clean and practical. Despite the midboom sheeting arrangement, trimming the main was effortless. The Harken sheet winches provide more than enough punch to reel in the headsail.

I gave up the helm and made my way below again. Although the conditions were light, I could still sense the solid construction as nothing creaked or groaned. I was pleased to see the handholds were well placed. Back on deck, I put some weight on the double lifelines and found the stanchions to be well supported. The test I really longed for was to head for the Golden Gate Bridge and put the Sun Odyssey 43 through her paces offshore. I hope to have that opportunity in the future. This is a boat I would love to deliver to a far-flung quayside.