words - Vanessa Dudley
A second outing on the new big boat from Jeanneau confirms its credentials as a standout production cruiser, reports Vanessa Dudley

It's unusual for Trade-A-Boat to feature the same boat twice, but the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54 Deck Saloon is not an ordinary boat, and our first outing on the French cruiser wasn't a usual test sail.

The first time was a 200nm two-handed delivery across the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Barcelona, aboard the first 54 DS launched. Our full report of this sail, published in the January 2003 issue of Trade-A-Boat, assessed the boat as follows: "the target market would appear to be cruising enthusiasts who want a boat that looks good at the marina but also handles well at sea, is manageable short handed and offers a high degree of comfort, luxury and space, at production-yacht prices. The level of fitout and finish indicates that it is aimed at private buyers rather than charter companies, although it could fit skippered charter applications with style."

Our conclusion was that "buyers in the market for a cruising yacht in this price range would be well advised to take a close look".

Well, it seems that boat buyers around the world are responding enthusiastically to the boat and not only taking a close look, but also signing on the dotted line.

During the year since the 54 DS was launched, Jeanneau says it has received orders into triple figures worldwide for its new flagship, and the first one for the Australian market has arrived. It was on display at the Sydney Boat Show 2003, where it was one of the standouts.

We were able to get aboard for another sail, this time in Australian waters, just before the show. As a result of the original outing (which involved one day and two nights spent onboard), I felt like I was meeting up again with an old friend.

There were some differences: the first Australian boat is not as fully-optioned as the original one in France, so there was no bowthruster to assist with tight manoeuvring at Birkenhead Marina (capably handled by Lee Condell of the New South Wales Jeanneau representative, Performance Boating Sales - but nonetheless a reminder of just how big a boat this is).

Nor was there a miniature clotheswasher waiting to surprise nosy parkers looking inside the navigator's bench seat. But once again there was the welcome inclusion of an Onan genset under the saloon sole just forward of the companionway. And once more I was impressed by those three double cabins each with ensuite (the biggest one in the bow, plus two mirror-image cabins in the aft quarters), the step-down galley to port with all its amenities and dedicated space, and the bright and airy saloon with both lounge and dinette seating.

Before that delivery to Spain, the skipper lashed the two freestanding chairs to the saloon table base because we thought they would be thrown around in a seaway. This time around they were left standing, and it was amusing to watch them hold their positions without sliding an inch as the boat heeled right over on either tack before the blustery 10?20kt westerly on Sydney Harbour. Some means of securing these chairs still seems to be a necessity for offshore conditions, but they put up a virtuoso performance on flat water.

Meanwhile, the in-mast roller-furling mainsail option was foregone on the Australian boat for a conventional hoist mainsail, which might sound daunting on a cruising boat this big until you notice the electric winch mounted on the coachhouse for halyards, control lines and the mainsheet.

The Harken 66.2 primary winches are also electric two-speed to take the grunt out of handling the big roller-furling headsail, and are positioned near the twin wheels to make life easier when sailing short-handed. In-boom furling, while expensive, would be worth consideration if longer-term cruising is on the agenda.

Once again, performance was impressive under sail and motor. The yacht is manoeuvrable and answers directly to the helm, with steady acceleration under sail after tacking and impressive numbers on the speedo once fully powered up. Pushed up to 3600rpm, the 100hp Volvo Penta diesel had us thumping along at close to 10kt.

The handsome new styling around coachhouse windows and the like provides an eyecatching modern look, which Jeanneau is now extending as a signature on other new models.

Had I been asked to judge a 'yacht of the show' award during this year's Sydney Boat Show, the 54 DS would have received my vote in the midst of some very tough competition. But perhaps I was swayed a little by the rekindling of warm memories of that passage to Spain.

On second inspection, however, it seems even clearer that Jeanneau has come up with a very impressive package in the Sun Odyssey 54 Deck Saloon - one that ups the ante for the French builder and its competitors.

The boat sails well and displays a standard of finish and inclusions that make the price tag attractive - particularly against the custom-built craft that used to have this larger size range almost exclusively to themselves.

Price as tested: $1.042 million
Options fitted:
Navy-blue hull, teak side-decks, generator, bimini and covers, fully-battened main, deluxe cockpit and saloon tables and more
Priced from: $906,425
Hull type:Monohull cruiser
Material:Solid GRP hull, GRP/balsa deck, cast-iron keel
Length overall:16.75m
Length waterline:14.79m
Standard keel:5000kg
Short keel:5400kg
Displacement:Approx 16,000kg
Fuel:Approx 400lt
Water:Approx 900lt
Make/model:Volvo Penta TAMD 31S
Type:Four-cylinder marine diesel
Rated hp:100
Sail area
Standard mainsail:63sqm
Furling main:54sqm
Furling genoa:85sqm
Spinnaker: 190sqm
Supplied by: Performance Boating Services, Bayview (NSW), tel (02) 9979 9755

Published : Monday, 1 December 2003

Prices and specifications supplied are for the market in Australia only and were correct at time of first publication. makes no warranty as to the accuracy of specifications or prices. Please check with manufacturer or local dealer for current pricing and specifications.