Sunsail's 40 Sun Fast 36s will be changing to the new Jeanneau Sun Fast 37. Matthew Sheahan finds out what's in store for this charter racing fleet
While the hardcore racing world has been squabbling over everything from handicapping systems to whether people really want to go offshore racing, a growing army of less vociferous but fiercely keen sailors have been busy building what has to be one of the biggest success stories of the Solent. Now that group is creating a new story with the Jeanneau Sun Fast 37.
Driven initially by a desire to allow their customers to get out there and get on with it. Sunsail’s original plan to run a fleet of Jeanneau Sun Fast 36s looked to be wildly over-ambitious when they received their first batch of 20 boats in 1995.
Yet six years later the 40-strong fleet of identical boats is arguably the hardest working of its type in the Solent and has introduced thousands of people to racing.
Although Sunsail run their own highly successful season of racing, both for corporate and private individuals, Skandia Life Cowes Week remains the most prestigious event in the calendar, with boats booked up well in advance.
Repeat business is always a flattering sign of success but there can be few clearer signs that you’re on the right lines when 50 per cent of the Cowes Week Sunsail fleet returns for a rematch having invested in their own spinnaker, emblazoned with their company logo.
But as the Sun Fast 36 celebrates its ninth birthday this August, Jeanneau have moved on and now introduce their latest model in this size and style, the new Jeanneau Sun Fast 37.
Sunsail have clearly decided that it’s time to move on, too, and have ordered 40 of the new boats, which will be direct replacements for the 36s from spring 2002. So how different are the new boats and how do they sail?
We walked the course in the Solent with one of the first boats to arrive in the country to find out whether the evergreen 36 really could be improved on.
Out with the old, in with the new
Tweaking an existing design to justify a new model in the range is a common trick among production builders.
And may appear to be the simplest way of capitalising on the cost of developing a new model but it still remains a risky strategy.
Making cruisers out of racing hulls and vice versa is often a compromise too far, with neither really fully satisfying the brief.
However, over the years Jeanneau have proved themselves pretty shrewd in this area and owe much of their success to their reluctance to go to extremes in either direction. The new Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 is a good example.
It is a development of their Sun Odyssey 37. a cruising/charter boat launched in spring last year.
A handsome boat from any angle, the latter was designed by Jacques Faroux. And in the June 2000 issue of Yachting World we stacked her against the British competition, the Westerly Ocean 37, and asked whether a price difference of 70 per cent could be justified.
On the day we published, Westerly went out of business, which appeared to provide an answer.
The irony was that of the two boats, particularly when it came to performance, my favourite was the Westerly.
The Jeanneau Sun Fast 36, although pleasant and sprightly for a cruiser, didn’t really have what it takes to outstrip the Westerly.
So when it came to trying out the new pumped-up performance version, there was plenty to think about.
If you had both the Sun Odyssey and the Sun Fast sitting side by side, only the fractional rig of the Sun Fast would tell them apart (the Sun Odyssey has a masthead rig).
However, a glance at the respective specifications highlights a range of performance enhancing features.
The rig is taller by 1.3m (4ft 3in) on the mainsail luff, the genoa foretriangle is taller by 0.5m (1ft 8in) and the boom is longer by 0.6m (2ft), providing an upwind sail plan that carries 15 per cent more sail area.
A quick look below decks reveals that the mast is keel-stepped.
Below the waterline the Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 has a slightly deeper keel and rudder with a lead ballast shoe on the bottom of the iron fin keel, making her a slightly stiffer boat.
From here on in the differences are more subtle but all contribute to the performance slant, many of the details echoing those already found on the existing fleet of Sun Fast 36s.
For example, the mainsheet system is back where it belongs in the cockpit and comes with a decent traveller as well as a coarse and fine-tune system.
The sheet and halyard winches are on the coachroof either side of the companionway, leaving the side decks completely clear for backsides.
The genoa cars have pullers and there are several other additional control lines led back to the cockpit.
All the deck gear is of good quality, either Harken or Spinlock, and addresses one of my criticisms aboard the Sun Odyssey, where a few light-looking fittings let the side down slightly.
Ironically, one of the criticisms of the cruising layout turns out to be a benefit aboard the racing version because the spacious, uncluttered cockpit that is tricky to brace yourself within in cruising mode provides a decent work space for cockpit crew.
But for those who’ve sailed the Sun Fast 36, the big difference will be that the new Sunsail fleet has wheel steering as opposed to using tillers (although a tiller is an option on private boats).
Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 under sail
This is a major improvement. Great though they are, the Sun Fast 36s are heavy boats on the helm.
On a tight reach with the spinnaker up, the trimmers often have as much to do with the boat’s heading as the helmsman and an over-cager sheet grinder could easily overpower the helm and wind the boat into a broach.
The same is possible at the wheel of the new Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 but the good gear ratio on the steering allows the helmsman more chance of retrieving the situation without masking the feel of the rudder and the balance of the boat.
The only catch is that, although the feedback through the wheel is good, the steering is so much lighter that it’s easy to ignore the warning signs of a rudder about to stall.
Indeed, there were times when I felt that the pendulum had almost swung the other way as she twitched to each extra puff.
Sailing dead downwind in just 15 knots of breeze with the fractional spinnaker was telling and hinted at how sprightly the Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 might be in a big breeze.
But given the choice between heavy and light, I’d go for the lighter feel every time as it is much easier to feel the boat’s balance and hence sail her more efficiently.
She heels to the breeze more quickly and the irony is that this, coupled with the light helm, gives the feeling of a lighter overall boat even though the Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 is 200kg heavier than her sister.
In the end it is the better sail area to displacement ratio that gives the game away and confirms that this boat will feel a notch or two better than her predecessor.
Under engine the Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 has plenty to commend her, with either a simple Yanmar 3GM 28hp or Volvo 29hp sail drive providing as much power as you’ll normally need.
In terms of noise and vibration, the Jeanneau Sun Fast 37 follows the Sun Odyssey in that she is impressively quiet for her type and has a far better turning circle than the older Sun Fast 36, which might help keep the topsides in better shape for longer.
On deck she’s much the same to handle as the 36, with clear side decks and angled coamings making her a comfortable and secure boat for a racing crew.
Scrambling across the coachroof top through the tacks is neither easier nor more difficult than aboard the older Sun Fast and working the cockpit is much the same.
But when compared with the Sun Odyssey, in my book details such as the mainsheet system, the genoa car pullers and other control lines led back to the cockpit make her a far easier boat in which to cruise short-handed or with a young family than the so-called ‘cruising’ sun Odyssey.
She has plenty of on-deck stowage for her size and stacks of volume aft in the wide modern stern and a whacking great chain locker forward.
Accommodation and construction
At face value the interior of this boat is pretty straightforward, leaving little to write home about.
Identical to the three-cabin version of the Sun Odyssey, the U-shaped saloon seating is set to starboard with a forward-facing navigation station to port along with some further saloon seating.
The spacious head and shower unit is also to port and adjacent to the companionway, while the L-shaped galley is set to starboard.
The overall construction is up to Jeanneau’s normal good standard, with a solid laminate hull with its conventionally laminated longitudinals and transverse members providing a solid foundation for the rest of the boat.
The interior finish is smart and efficient, if a little short on style and sometimes lightly finished in places.
In fact, the only real difference between her and the older Sun Fast 36s is that the layout is a mirror image.
Although neither the Sun Fast 36 nor the Sun Fast 37 were built specifically for Sunsail, the demanding lives Sunsail’s boats lead provided some invaluable feedback when it came to producing the new boat.
Nick Parton is Sunsail’s manager in Port Solent, where the 40-strong fleet is based.
“Our boats get a hard life as they’re in constant use throughout the season, weekdays and weekends, and only go out of commission for one four-week period a year,” he said.
“Given that they’ve been in operation for six years, the boats have stood up really well, with few major mechanical or structural problems.
When we do have to carry out a repair it’s usually been the result of a collision either with another boat, a pontoon or going aground.
“Apart from that the only details we have to deal with are the more fiddly items such as locker catches, door knobs, that sort of thing.”
‘Having said that, it is the joiner work on these boats (the Sun Fast 36) that lets them down eventually and on the new boats we’ve specified more use of hard-wearing Formica areas, such as on the worktops, tables and around the companionway hatch area.”
With such a wealth of information on how their boats have been standing up to some rigorous use, it’s hardly surprising that the new 37 remains largely the same in layout and style. As the saying goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
But there’s always room for improvement when it comes to performance.
First published in the August 2001 issue of YW.
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With a starting price of £65,000 ex VAT for the Sun Fast 37, Jeanneau are clearly continuing to knock out good-value yachts. Normally this kind of value for money, coupled with production building techniques, would attract a few sharp intakes of breath from those more committed to good solid bluewater cruisers. But the Sun Fast 36 proved that a new modern production boat doesn't have to be flimsy. The evergreen Jeanneau Sun Fast 36 still looks great and doubtless will go on for many years yet and in replacing her Jeanneau have done well not to try to reinvent the wheel. The 36 is a hard act to follow but with her more sprightly performance the Sun Fast 37 could easily still be putting big grins on the faces of thousands of crews. I bet you'll see plenty next year.