A collaboration between composite specialists and designers, Jeanneau’s Sun Fast 30OD rips up established thinking for setup and build of smaller offshore racing yachts
The best racing I’ve ever done, whether inshore or offshore, has been in one-design fleets. However, in the offshore realm it’s been two decades since the last successful one-design class was launched. But maybe that’s about to change with the Sun Fast 30OD.
Conventional wisdom holds that smaller offshore racing yachts need to be relatively heavy to be competitive under IRC. Many solo and double-handed sailors are therefore deprived of the joy of racing faster planing yachts, even if today’s successful 30-36 footers are capable of surfing at speeds in the high teens.
Happily the Sun Fast 30OD breaks the mould in this respect – it’s 800kg (22%) lighter than the popular Sun Fast 3300, yet has almost the same sail area upwind and only 5% less downwind. A strict one-design rule is intended to allow close competition, while keeping upfront and long-term costs in check. It’s also the world’s first recyclable composite production boat – impressive given the weight goals.
A key design target was also to maximise performance in light airs. “Most of the polar chart shows minimising frictional resistance is the priority,” Antoine Le Provost of designers VPLP tells me, “so we needed to keep the wetted surface area down.”
The semi scow bow hull shape has a near full length chine and marked flare above the waterline. The underwater sections also have a lot of fore and aft rocker, lifting the transom out of the water at low speeds. These two factors markedly reduce drag resistance in light airs.
Placing so much emphasis on light airs performance might seem odd for an offshore yacht, especially given the last two Rolex Fastnet Races underlined the need to successfully handle heavy weather. But on average in July in UK waters the wind is actually 10 knots or less for 50% of the time.
My first sail on the newly launched Sun Fast 30OD was in only 2-4 knots of true wind, yet we were able to run rings round all the other boats off La Rochelle. Reaching with the Code 0 at a true wind angle of 100° we consistently maintained 90% of true wind speed, while upwind in 4.5 knots of breeze we made 2.9 knots of boat speed at a surprisingly tight true wind angle (for the conditions) of 42°. Even in these very light airs the helm was precise, with good feel and key controls easily to hand.
As the breeze builds the chine digs in at around 15° of heel, with form stability growing rapidly as heel increases further. The semi scow bow with a lot of buoyancy forward also gives a very balanced waterline shape when heeled, so weatherhelm doesn’t build as the heel increases. At the same time, very straight chines mean the immersed area when heeled has fairly straight waterlines, minimising drag at higher speeds and giving a flatter run aft to promote easy surfing and planing when sailing off the wind.
My second day on board provided 8-15 knots of breeze. Upwind with the J3 we consistently made an impressive 6.5 knots at true wind angles of 40-42°. This increased to 7-9 knots reaching with a Code 0 at 100-110° TWA, and we maintained the same speed with an asymmetric at a true wind angle of 125-135°.
The Sun Fast 30OD was quick to accelerate and responsive to weight distribution with a great direct feel on the helm. Steering is predictably light, but with ample feedback as the helm loads up. The boat proved almost impossible to broach, even on a very tight reach and when it happened it was a very gentle affair.
Sadly we didn’t have enough wind to experience full planing. Although lighter than most other designs in this market, the Sun Fast 30 is still proportionately a lot heavier than Mini 650s and Class 40s, so needs more than 15 knots of breeze or helpful wave action to fully break away from its stern wave.
The one design spec includes a Sparcraft all carbon rig positioned well back in the boat and sets a generous sized square-top mainsail. Jeanneau and composite specialists Multiplast say the running backstays are primarily for improving sail trim, especially achieving headstay tension, rather than being structural. This makes for easier and less stressful gybes, without worrying about dropping the rig in strong winds.
Proportionately more of the boat’s length is given over to the cockpit than usual, so it doesn’t feel cramped, even when sailing fully crewed with four or five people. A downside though is that no attempt has been made to provide any shelter on deck.
In general deck layouts on boats in this market are broadly the same. The Sun Fast 30OD follows a similar approach in terms of sheeting, including 3D jib sheet leads and the mainsheet traveller at the back of the cockpit, with mainsheet, backstay and traveller easily reached from the helm.
However, there’s only one coachroof winch at the companionway and just a single bank of clutches – a well proven concept in the Mini 650 fleet that simplifies the set up, while reducing weight and costs.
Attention to detail includes a Spinlock Diablo joint that automatically lifts the tiller extension vertically when released, ensuring it can’t get trapped in a corner of the cockpit when steering with the pilot. There are also rope bags and stowage for water bottles on deck.
To keep running costs under control membrane sails are banned by the class rules and the inventory of seven sails can only be replaced on a three-yearly cycle, at a typical total cost in the €15-€25,000 range.
Class rules also specify the electronics. These include B&G’s H5000 autopilot, the very popular Raymarine Type 1 ram in a watertight compartment accessible from deck (and from inside), plus a combined VHF/AIS.
The large cockpit, fairly narrow beam and low freeboard limit space below decks and the fit out is basic. But it’s well planned with bunks each side, pipecots for sail stacking, a big navigation station against the main bulkhead, plus a tiny galley with sink and space for a Jetboil. There’s even a heads area forward of the main bulkhead, with full marine toilet with holding tank and a fabric door for privacy.
Fore and aft watertight bulkheads provide an extra safety factor offshore, although the front bulkhead doesn’t qualify as a full crash box.
Building a one-design boat is a specialist process thanks to the high degree of consistency that’s needed. Jeanneau is well placed in this respect – the Sun Fast 30 is built at the Groupe Beneteau site just outside Nantes that has a long history of producing cutting-edge raceboats.
It’s also built using Arkema’s Elium thermoplastic resin that’s made from 20% recycled content and can itself be recycled at the end of the boat’s life. Importantly, small repairs can be carried out using conventional resins.
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The Sun Fast 30 has been long-anticipated since the Yacht Club de France, Royal Ocean Racing Club and Storm Trysail Club launched a tender for a new affordable offshore raceboat to broaden participation, especially among young sailors. In that context the €200,000 price tag for a ready-to-race boat might sound expensive, but it’s a similar figure to a new series-built Mini 650 and at least €100,000 less than a well-equipped Sun Fast 3300. While one-design classes have the potential to produce the very best of close racing, launching one in today’s market is a brave move as new boat sales are usually too slack to make the numbers work. However over 40 Sun Fast 30s have already been sold, almost half of them to charter operator Cap Regatta, which will have seven boats in each of three bases: the Solent, Lorient and Marseille. That’s enough to seed one-design racing in these areas, and with one boat per week leaving the factory, numbers look set to grow quickly. With an IRC rating expected to be around 1.040 it also ought to prove competitive in handicap racing as well. In summary, first impressions are of a very well thought out package that will be rewarding and fun to race, whether for specific events or a longer campaign.