Matthew Sheahan sails Jeanneau’s latest cruiser-racer, the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35, and looks at what’s in store for the coming season in the mid-30-footers
Can the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 live up to the impressive legacy left by her predecessors? She certainly has big boots to fill.
Creating a design that becomes an icon is flattering for the ego and rewarding for the bank balance, but this kind of success also comes at a price.
Achieving the benchmark by which all others will be judged may come back to haunt you, for having built the boat, you’ll have to improve it next time around.
Few know this better than Beneteau and Jeanneau, two former long-term rivals now joined at the bank.
In the six years since her launch. Beneteau’s First 40.7 has proved to be a roaring success and demonstrated how modest styling and subtle design innovations can appeal to a wide audience of cruising and racing sailors alike.
Now every man and his dog seem to be producing the so-called next big thing in the 40ft scene.
Jeanneau set the ball rolling in the mid-30ft range with the launch of their elegant, simple, well-mannered and easy-to-handle Sun Fast 36 six years before the First 40.7.
She was as happy on charter as she was thrashing around the Canaries or Britain.
Designed by Philippe Briand, The Sun Fast 36 was also one of Jeanneau’s most successful performance designs at a time when the company were already enjoying success in the racing scene with their JOD35, a pure racer.
But even though she was more than capable of winning her own battles on the race course, the Sun Fast 36 appealed largely because she fell between two stools – she was part racer, part cruiser.
With her aft cockpit and tiller steering, she bucked the trend among many production builders who seemed more drawn towards centre cockpits for cruisers and the commensurate wedding cake styling.
As the 36 was withdrawn, the Sun Fast 37 look over and with it a more conservative approach whereby cruising and racing would share the same hull and deck.
Today, the lessons have filtered clown once more to two new 35-footers that share the same Marc Lombard designed hull and deck.
The cruising Sun Odyssey launched last year, and the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 fresh out of the bag for this coming season.
But for all the smart thinking and clever production tooling, Jeanneau won’t have it all their own way this time. Others have cottoned on and the market for a mid-30ft cruiser-racer has now become a busy and competitive one.
Dehler have a new 34 which will be out on the race course this spring to compete against the Elan 333, a Humphreys design that has been quietly bagging the silverware for a few seasons now.
The Bavaria 35 Match is due out later this season, the third and final part of the German giant’s race boat cloning exercise, and she, too, will doubtless be up there vying for attention.
And the heat doesn’t stop at the mid-thirties for Jeanneau. Also doing their best to attract your attention will be the new Elan 37 and the X-37, bigger and more expensive boats perhaps, but close enough to be appealing.
So why all the action in the 30ft league?
Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 on deck
To quote a tedious Americanism that has found its way out of the boardroom and into the club house, ‘downsizing’ appears to have taken hold in the boat business.
The hassle of organising large crews, the difficulty of finding a permanent mooring or even just something for the weekend, are among the factors that are thought to be influencing buyers.
Smart builders have also learnt how to produce a brand new boat for similar money to that of a worn-out Westerly.
That, and cheap money, have made buying new a no-brainer for many and the result is a boom in what has become the entry-level cruiser-racer.
Entry-level she may be, but as you walk up to the Sun Fast 35 there’s little doubt that you get plenty of boat for your money with this one.
Bulky, even bloated from some angles, the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 is nevertheless attractive in the same way as some believe a BMW X5 is handsome.
With a beamy transom, high freeboard and a wide coachroof, she looks far bigger than 35ft when you approach her from the stern.
Once aboard, you’ll find Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 is a boat of contrasts with her striking Jacuzzi-shaped cockpit that would give the impression of space, were it not for the long tiller and complex mainsheet system placed slap bang in the middle.
The result is a perfect example for those who advocate the use of a space-saving wheel and a mainsheet mounted on the coachroof. But thank heavens she hasn’t got these.
If you want to sit behind a wheel and have little chance of getting close to the mainsheet without resorting to the autopilot, buy the Sun Odyssey version.
The Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 is a performance boat where having the controls close to hand is the whole point. Yet this isn’t just about racing.
Despite the popularity of wheel steering, for others happiness is a tiller between the knees, leaving your hands free to take the reins, the halyards and sheets.
In this respect she’s perfect, better I’d say than the Sun Fast 36, which had a short tiller that loaded up quite quickly and felt more like a tough inner thigh workout on a multi-gym.
To those more used to a clutch on the coachroof, though, her mainsheet system, mounted on a central pod-type moulding, might look complex, but it’s really very simple.
A coarse and fine-tune mainsheet, along with traveller controls for the windward sheeting main sheet traveller car, make life very easy indeed once you’re under way.
The cleats are in the right position and the loads are easily managed. The downside is that there’s really only room for one person to weather in front of the mainsheet traveller, and while there’s room for another aft, three is about your lot when it comes to sitting on the high side.
Further forward, Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 has a wide coachroof top, which makes for narrow side decks, and with a boom that’s pretty low, space to move about the deck will be at a premium if you’re sailing with seven people.
Elsewhere, the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 is pretty straightforward on deck and inherits a few details – such as the anchor windlass, a removable transom section and decent-sized lockers – from the cruising Sun Odyssey.
Below decks of the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35
Nowhere is this link clearer than below decks, where her layout is identical to the cruiser. Not that this is a problem.
Once again she feels large for her overall length, with a big galley to starboard and a large saloon seating area forward. To port there’s a spacious head and shower arrangement.
There are just two main sleeping cabins, a forward owner’s-style double and an aft double to starboard. Both have plenty of space.
On the face of it the only area to suffer from small proportions is the nav station, which is a mini desk type, but does incorporate a forward facing dedicated navigator’s seat.
A clever gimmick here is that the nav table can slide fore and aft on tracks to allow slightly more space around the saloon table.
Another unusual feature is the large stowage volume under the port cockpit seating area.
Accessed via the head. and in a place where the second of two after cabins would normally be, this stowage area does offer a good dwal of space but feels more like an afterthought than a carfully planned feature.
This also raises the issue of cabins and berths as it seems strange that a boat primarily aimed at racing owners doesn’t provide more scope for accommodating the crew.
Sure, you can lower the saloon table to provide an extra double berth, but the option for twin cabins aft would surely be easier, as well as being much more practical.
As it is, if you include the saloon seating. you can only sleep two people to weather on starboard tack and one on port.
Surely this is not ideal for offshore sailing, but perhaps rm just old fashioned?
Other than this, she’s well finished for a production boat, with a simple, clean and traditional appearance.
With teak laminate trim and simple cream-coloured headliners, she won’t shock or surprise, but she’s unlikely to offend either.
There are a reasonable number of handholds below, and where there aren’t, there are places to brace yourself against.
Construction-wise, Jeanneau continue to adopt the solid laminate hull and glass-thestructure-in approach, instead of adopting the inner liner moulding of their sister company.
So far, this has helped to justify their unwritten claim as being among the high-quality production cruisers.
The Sun Fast 35 does have an inner structural moulding, but this is laminated to the inside face of the hull.
Elsewhere and behind the scenes she appears to be a well constructed boat, albeit with a few obvious niggles.
The first or these is the positioning of some fuses under the companionway steps which would be exposed in a seaway with the steps retracted.
Another is the awkward position of the gas shut-off valve, which is behind a locker door under the cooker.
It’s not ideal or easy to get to and, as such, easy to forget.
You can’t expect much from a 27hp engine and a 35ft boat, yet the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 gives a hint of her well balanced hull shape as you wind her up through the rev range. She’ll cruise happily at six knots and tops out at around 7.5 knots.
She has a reasonable turning circle, certainly better than her predecessor, the 36, which proved tricky in tight corners.
She has a shaft drive prop. providing her with some useful prop walk, which all adds up to a boat that’s easily managed under engine. But who cares, as it’s her handling under sail that’s of real interest.
Getting straight to the point, this is a great boat under sail. She’s balanced, well mannered and gets a move on with ease. Her sail proportions feel spot on for a boat of this size.
She has a modest mainsail that can be easily trimmed by the helmsman from the weather rail, a decent sized overlapping headsail and a near masthead kite.
ln a breeze of 15-17 knots true which felt more like 20+ given the cold conditions, she handled beautifully.
Downwind the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 is great fun for the helmsman, who can twitch and tweak her down the faces of waves while her rudder never feels as if it’s getting close to the edge.
And even when the boat and blade are pushed too far, she doesn’t let go with the kind of snatch that characterises many modern performance boats.
Given her beamy sections aft, I was particularly surprised at how well-mannered she was. Instead of pitching the bow down when she heels, as so many beamy boats do, the Sun Fast 35 seems to have enough volume forward to balance herself at high angles of heel.
Upwind, she’s easy to work and I liked the fad that the helmsman can play the main sheet without needing championship biceps to do so. However, there were a few negative points.
The footrest strip running down the centreline of the cockpit sole is woefully inadequate.
The tiller needs to be a few inches shorter so that it clears the mainsheet without having to lift it through the tacks, and on our boat the rudder had a dinghy-like vibration at around six knots.
I wasn’t sure about the backstay arrangement either, which seemed overly complicated with two sets of purchases.
Other than this the Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 is a great boat under sail and a great reminder of the fun that’s to be had with a lump of teak in one hand and a sheet in the other.
She’s big and bulky, but I liked her. Compared to the bland Euro styling of some of her competitors, the Sun Fast 35 has character of her own. Best of all, she felt like a real sailing boat.
The Jeanneau Sun Fast 35 is easily handled shorthanded, delivers plenty of performance for a boat of her size and type and would make a great offshore boat for four people.
At £75,500 ex VAT she’s not the cheapest around, but she’s still good value for money and very affordable if you split this between friends.
But while she feels quick and good fun on her own, we won’t really know how good she is until she squares up against some of her rivals.
First published in the April 2004 issue of YW.
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