Dream Weavers: How the Jeanneau 64 was Conceived and Produced
Jeanneau’s most audacious sailboat design yet began as many artistic endeavors do, with a hand-drawn sketch, in this case on a large sheet of paper in the Philippe Briand design office in London.
At the time, Erik Stromberg, Jeanneau’s American-born director of sailboat production, was looking to expand the French builder’s line to address what the company believed was a growing demand for larger yachts. In the process, Jeanneau would also be making a radical departure from all it had done before in the course of its nearly 60-year history.
“We started this project because many Jeanneau owners told us they wanted something more than the biggest boats we were building at the time,” Stromberg says, referring to the feedback his company continually receives from its hundreds of customers at boat shows and rendezvous. “We knew this project had to be much, much more than just a bigger Jeanneau 57. Our mission was to build a small superyacht rather than simply a stretched 57-footer.”
To this end, Stromberg not only brought in long-time Jeanneau partner Briand—whose office has helped create everything from the Jeanneau 57 to the 40-foot Sun Odyssey 41DS—but also UK-based Andrew Winch Designs, which specializes in top-end interior design for everything from megayachts to luxury villas and private jets.
Among the specific features Jeanneau identified as being necessary for a “next-step-up” yacht were a well-laid-out engine room that isn’t just accessed by lifting up companionway steps; an opulent owner’s cabin; multiple VIP staterooms; an ensuite head and separate shower compartment for every cabin; a dinghy garage aft; and expansive lounging spaces on deck.
As a “small superyacht” the boat also had to strike the right balance of style, luxury and function to impress buyers interested in a type of sailboat that pushes the limits in terms of what Jeanneau was accustomed to.
“We knew the potential owners of this boat would expect a higher level of comfort and sophistication in the accommodations than is found in your average production boat,” Stromberg says, summing up the early design brief. “And, of course, this all had to be contained within a boat that also performed well under sail.”
Unfortunately, not long after Stromberg brought Briand and Winch together in early 2008 to discuss what he originally envisioned as a 62-footer that would launch in 2011, the global financial crisis hit, and the project—like so many others at the time—was put on hold. In the end, though, the delay proved to be a blessing in disguise, as the team was able to approach the project from an entirely fresh perspective when Stromberg reassembled it in mid-2010.
What followed was nearly 10 months of back-and-forth talks between Stromberg, Briand and Winch, as the trio worked out an ideal large yacht for a newly resurgent market. Among the changes that resulted from these discussions was the decision to enlarge the boat to 64 feet, after the team realized they couldn’t address the demands of their target customers within the confines of anything smaller. Throughout this period it was just Stromberg, Briand and Winch focusing on big picture, leaving the details for later. “The fastest way to do a boat is with as few people as possible,” Stromberg says.
Eventually, though, it was time to bring in additional resources, especially after Jeanneau upper management signed off on an outline for the new 64-footer in the summer of 2011.
What followed was an increasingly demanding period as representatives from Jeanneau, Andrew Winch Designs and Philippe Briand’s office began meeting monthly—both remotely and face-to-face—to work on everything from hull form, rig and basic structural engineering to cabin configurations and cockpit dimensions.
After that came management approval of a “marketing brief,” which included everything from a finalized hull to detailed accommodations plans, pricing and even an options list, in February 2012. Then over the next four months the intensity ramped up even more as team members worked out the details of things like wire and conduit runs to joinery assembly and materials costs as part of an engineering study phase to ensure the marketing brief would work in the real world.
By now the level of detail was precise indeed, as Jeanneau, Andrew Winch Designs and Briand set about solving the thousands of design and engineering problems that are inherent in any boat design, using digital tools like CATIA 3D design software—a tool originally developed for use in the aircraft industry.
“She was evaluated a lot,” Briand says of the Jeanneau 64’s gestation. “We did at least four loops of exterior lines designs until we were all satisfied with the aesthetic. The boat has existed virtually for years now, and this has given us time to refine all the details before launch. There is no room for improvisation and surprises when it comes time to go into production.”
“I’m always blown away when I work with these designers and their teams,” Stromberg says. “Watching these creative guys sketch out an idea on paper that we eventually end up building in the factory is amazing. I’m good at planning and logistics and market analysis, but they come up with ideas, styles and solutions to problems that are as clever, functional and ergonomically correct as they are beautiful.”
Stromberg adds that with every step forward, the design process also becomes exponentially more expensive. And it only becomes that much more expensive as the company starts building molds and other tooling: which is why the company invested a cool $40,000 in building complete mockups of both the cockpit and accommodations in a corner of the Jeanneau plant that fall.
“Even with sophisticated design tools like CATIA, it makes sense to invest the time and money in things like this,” Stromberg says. “There are still things a machine will never figure out. There are things you can’t know without building a full-size model, sitting in it and seeing how it works.”
In the case of the Jeanneau 64, these mockups proved critical in nailing down the final configuration of both the cockpit and aft stateroom. Initially, the Briand team drew a long sleek “minimalist” cockpit, with L-shaped benches running the length of the 15-foot space. But as soon as the mockups were complete, it was apparent something was wrong. Topsides, the cockpit was too stark and open, so that it didn’t feel as comfortable as desired. Directly belowdecks, the configuration intruded into the master cabin in a way that made it much less inviting than the team had anticipated.
“We had to struggle to effectively combine [a large stateroom] with a huge and very comfortable cockpit right above it,” Briand says. “In the end, though, the yacht provides the same owner stateroom aft as that of a center cockpit yacht, but with a larger cockpit and without the big inconvenience of lost internal space amidships.”
Stromberg agrees, noting that although this proved one of the trickiest balancing acts of the entire project, the solution—which includes a pair of shorter U-shaped cockpit benches to better enclose the guests and separate them from the helms—proved a success. “The mock-up was vital to this process and was worth every penny!”
Beyond that, the interior, as crafted by the Andrew Winch team, is not only light, airy and refined, but can be customized with a wide range of woodwork and upholstery options. The master cabin, which runs the width of the hull, is a cut above what you’d expect on a “production” boat, and the saloon has plenty of room for unwinding.
As for the galley, it features cavernous stowage, large work areas and significant refrigeration/freezer capacity, reflecting the input Winch’s team received from a number of professional yachting chefs. Similarly, the well-marked, highly centralized and easily accessible system installations in the engine room will be to a standard that should make any owner drool.
“[The] design software and the full-scale 3-dimensional mockup of the interior allowed all the design teams to review and optimize the various shapes and spaces,” Winch says. “This level of research has resulted in a great design, of which we are all very proud…this boat will bring enormous pleasure to future owners by offering both the ultimate in performance and lifestyle.”
BUILDING THE DREAM
Of course, at some point Jeanneau had to take all those drawings and 3D digital files and build an actual boat. To this end, the engineers and designers spent countless hours addressing design-to-build issues, so that the shipyard’s job would be as simple as possible.
This is an area in which both Jeanneau and its parent company, Group Beneteau, excel. Indeed, the companies specialize in using economies of scale—both in terms of purchasing power and manufacturing techniques—to produce boats priced more competitively than those of low-volume builders.
In the case of the Jeanneau 64, however, the company took a slightly different tack, as a consequence of the boat’s size and complexity. Most noticeably, Jeanneau broke with its tradition of building sailboats on a moving production line and is instead building each 64 in a single designated work area. In addition, instead of building a full-scale mock-up of the entire boat to fine-tune the production process before building hull #1, Jeanneau chose to hone its build process by constructing a pair of “pre-series” boats—basically hulls #1 and #2.
According to Stromberg, foregoing a manufacturing mockup made sense because production volumes for the 64 will be substantially less than, say, a 40-footer—maybe a score of boats per year as opposed to two a day. He adds it was made possible by the incredible detail that is inherent to modern design software. To ensure Jeanneau didn’t end up painting itself into a corner, Stromberg notes the design team also put in a little extra CATIA time. “Otherwise, you can get yourself into a world that you just can’t get out of,” he says.
I had a chance to see this prototyping firsthand, during a visit to the Jeanneau factory in Les Herbiers, France, where shipwrights were hard at work on hull #1, and it was obvious that everything was very much going according to plan. Speaking over the hum of cranes and power tools, Stromberg pointed out workstations where joinery work and other subassemblies were being completed prior to installation into the 64-foot hull, which launched soon afterward in early April.
He also allowed me a glimpse of the super-secret tooling department—where everything from the hull mold to the molds for various galley components are built on-site with the help of a battery of computer-controlled 3D cutters—and of the automated varnishing work-stations and robotic cutting machines that have long been a part of Jeanneau’s super-efficient manufacturing process.
As for the boat itself, the many parts and pieces that go into a Jeanneau 64 are nothing less than bewildering in their complexity. At the time, the 180-horsepower diesel had just been installed, and plumbers and electricians were laying the wire, pipe and ductwork that are part and parcel of “superyacht” style cruising. There were also a number of aluminum jigs in place to secure the hull while the bulkheads were bonded into place so that the woodworkers could start installing furniture modules.
The plan was to sail trial hull #1 at about the same time this magazine went to press and at the same time begin work on hull #2, which should take about three months. The new boat is expected to go into full production in September, at which point build times are projected to be around seven weeks.
Amazingly, thanks to the team’s pre-production CATIA work, Stromberg, Briand and Winch all said that putting together hull #1 proved surprisingly easy.
“It’s part of the challenge,” Briand says. “A good designer is the one who gives true value in his work by providing the customer with comfort and performance and at the same time creating something that is easy to build.”
He adds that this has become increasingly difficult, thanks to advances in the boatbuilding industry as a whole. “If you look at, say, 50-footers from the ‘80s and 50-footers today, they are vastly improved in everything from performance to design to comfort to pricing.”
Meanwhile, the Jeanneau 64, which will make its U.S. debut this fall in Annapolis, is already making waves in the larger sailing world. At the time of my visit, Jeanneau had a dozen firm orders in hand with plenty more on the horizon. “We had a feeling this boat would fit a gap that we saw in the market. The response has been fantastic. In fact, one of our biggest challenges in the coming year will be meeting the growing demand,” Stromberg says.
“Because so many people’s jobs are riding on the success of our designs, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, ‘What if we’re wrong?’ But then I come to work and see what we’re accomplishing with the 64 and I realize this is something special.”
The Creation of a “small superyacht”
Jeanneau contacts Philippe Briand and Andrew Winch Designs with an eye toward launching a new 62-footer in early 2011.
After some early conceptual work, the project is put on hold in the wake of the financial crisis.
Development begins anew as the global economy stabilizes. It becomes apparent a larger boat is needed to fulfill Jeanneau’s strategic vision, and LOA increases to 64 feet. Thus far, the working group consists almost entirely of Erik Stromberg, Philippe Briand and Andrew Winch.
Jeanneau management signs off on the outline for a new 64-footer. The development team begins to expand as designers and engineers become involved, and structural features, an accommodation plan and cockpit dimensions start taking shape.
February 2012 Stromberg presents a detailed “marketing brief” on the new boat to Jeanneau management. Hull form, underwater appendages, rig, deck layout, basic accommodations and a target price are close to being finalized.
Management approval of the engineering/study phase: following approval of the marketing brief, an ever-growing team of designers has been honing the general concepts and translating them into digital files—3D CATIA design files in particular—filling in the engineering details required for actual construction of the boat and interior furniture.
Work begins on a plug for the hull mold. Full-scale mockups of the cockpit and accommodations are built, and the original cockpit concept is modified.
Work begins on the molds for the hull liner and deck.
Work begins on a “pre-series” prototype, hull #1.
Hull #1 is launched in early April and is extensively sail trialed a few weeks later after being brought back to the plant for minor re-working. In May, work begins on hull #2, which is scheduled for a late-summer launch.
The Jeanneau 64 goes into full production.
Photos and images courtesy of Jeanneau