Boat Review: Jeanneau 54

Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
A luxury cruiser that fires on all cylinders

A luxury cruiser that fires on all cylinders

To the untrained eye, a sailboat is a sailboat; they all look pretty much the same. Even to an experienced sailor, it can be difficult if not impossible to truly judge how a particular design will perform just examining it at the dock. Nonetheless, when it comes to boats—sailboats in particular—as soon as you cast off lines, it becomes immediately apparent that no two are the same, even if they appear superficially similar. Some, for whatever reason, don’t feel quite right. Others, through some strange alchemy, just work. The Jeanneau 54 is an excellent example of the latter.

DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION

The success story that is the Jeanneau 54 starts with solid construction, and a tried and true canoe body that doesn’t necessarily break new ground, but works well in a wide range of sailing conditions. The hull is hand-laid with a laminate schedule that includes an outer layer of vinylester to stave off blistering. Bulkheads are bonded to both the hull and deck with high-performance polyurethane adhesives to ensure rigidity, while a molded structural grid, which is both glued and laminated to the hull, makes the boat stiffer still. The cored deck is built in a two-part mold using Jeanneau’s proprietary “Prism Process.” This not only ensures the correct resin-to-glass ratio but provides a smooth finish on both sides.

The boat’s deck-stepped double-spreader rig includes a Z-spar aluminum mast and is slightly fractional, with discontinuous wire rigging and mid-boom sheeting. Our test boat came with in-mast furling and a 109 percent jib on a Facnor electric furler. The boat has a single, high-aspect semi-balanced rudder, and our test boat came with the shoal keel, which draws 5ft 9in. A deeper 7ft 4in keel is also available. Both are made of cast iron and encapsulated in epoxy.

Tracks, blocks and winches—including our test boat’s electric primaries—were all Harken, with Spinlock stoppers. There are a pair of folding padeyes that can be used to attach snatch blocks for sheeting in an A-sail tacked to the double anchor roller in the bow. Electronics on our test boat were Raymarine.

Like many of today’s cruising boats, the topsides are quite high in the interest of providing the requisite standing headroom. However, with 53ft of LOA, the boat doesn’t look in any way top-heavy, an aesthetic that is reinforced by the boat’s beautifully sculpted cabintrunk. The cabintrunk’s long, lean windows also segue seamlessly into the cockpit coaming creating a continuous line of curves that are well set off by the plumb bow, the gently angled reverse transom and what methinks is just the barest hint of sheer. I can’t say why exactly the end result looks so good, but it does. 

ON DECK

Jeanneau has built a lot of decks over the years, and the deck layout on the J54 is one of the best I’ve seen. Central to its success is a pair of cutouts in the aft cabintrunk bulkhead, which allow the cockpit benches to extend a foot or so forward of the companionway. Tucked in under the dodger, they quickly became the place to hang out for those not actively involved in sailing during the three-day South Florida cruise that I was lucky enough to take part in for my test sail.

There’s also a nifty “sun bed” up on the foredeck that even comes with its own bimini and voluminous drop-down swim platform. The latter is cleverly articulated, so that when deployed it creates a pair of gentle steps leading from the cockpit to the water. These, in turn, accept a pair of equally clever hinged cushions to create twin chez lounges.

Beyond that, Jeanneau simply gets it right in terms of general layout and dimensions. The spilt backstay, for example, is attached to either side of the swim platform, but inboard of the helm stations, so you don’t have to worry about them digging into your shoulder when on watch. The L-shaped helm seats (which hinge out of the way when not in use) are plenty large for two and include a stainless steel handhold inboard for people moving to and from the swing step—a nice touch. There’s a low bulwark/toe rail and the side decks are nice and clear for security when moving forward. The list goes on and on…

The in-line galley to port has been carefully configured to harmonize with the saloon

The in-line galley to port has been carefully configured to harmonize with the saloon

ACCOMMODATIONS

Not surprisingly, this smart design is also apparent belowdecks—especially in the saloon, which on our test boat was equipped with a large in-line galley to port that employed the back of a centerline bench facing the very large dining table as a brace point. The beauty of this configuration is that you can feel totally comfortable preparing a meal at sea, while still being able to slide out the way if something hot spills in your direction. It also grants you easy access to the dining area when serving drinks and meals. The fact that it opens aft right to the foot of the companionway steps makes it easy to pass food up to the cockpit as well.

Beyond that, the owner’s stateroom up in the bow was nothing less than palatial, with an en suite head and shower, and easy access to the berth from both sides. I especially liked the small desk to port and the cozy little lounge beside the hull window to starboard. The side-by-side hatches overhead admitted scads of natural light.

The two quarterberths aft also had their own heads and showers, and there was a good sized aft-facing nav table that shared a seat with the starboard-side settee. The latter would also serve as an excellent sea berth and can be turned into a double berth by lowering the dining table. The modern light-colored Alpi Teak joinery work was well executed throughout. Oak joinery work is also available. All interior and nav lights are LED.

UNDER SAIL

Three full days of sailing in the vicinity of Miami’s Biscayne Bay provided plenty of opportunity to see how the Jeanneau 54 did in a wide range conditions with its suit of Technique Voile sails. And I’m happy to say the boat never once let us down—whether it was ghosting along in less than 10 knots of breeze, or powering up when things picked up again. Despite not having an A-sail aboard, we managed 7 to 8 knots with ease on a broad reach in 14 knots apparent. Sailing on a close reach, we hit 6 knots with equal ease.

I was especially impressed as we made the 35-mile run from Pompano to Palm Beach on day three. The wind was blowing from the teens into the low-twenties out of the northwest, but the boat couldn’t have been happier blasting along on a close reach at 8-plus knots, occasionally touching 10. The twin helms and Jefa steering felt responsive and well balanced, even in the puffs. The boat’s motion through the chop was nice and easy, and after settling in at about a 10-degree heel angle, she charged ahead like she was on rails. Suffice it to say, there was never any need for the autopilot. Steering the boat by hand was just too much fun.

UNDER POWER

No surprises here, even when maneuvering in and out of a super-tight marina and slip at West Palm with the help of the boat’s bow thruster. The boat’s three-blade fixed prop on a saildrive pushed us into a slight headwind at 8 knots when set at 2,800 rpm. Throttling up to 3,250 rpm to hurry out of the way of an inbound liner yielded 9.1 knots of boatspeed.

CONCLUSION

Looking back over this review, it occurs to me I may be gushing a bit. So be it. The state of boatbuilding is such that there are very few lemons these days, but that doesn’t mean all boats are equal. Many boats are good, but only a few are truly great. The Jeanneau 54 is a great boat. 

What do these ratios mean? Visit sailmagazine.com/ratios

U.S. Distributor Jeanneau America, 410-280-9400, jeanneauamerica.com

sailplan-jeanneau_54_profile

November 2016

Related

180521-Lead2048x

Volvo Fleet Heads to Europe

After days of rain, calms and fog, the Volvo Ocean Race Race fleet enjoyed perfect sailing conditions for the start of Leg 9 in Newport, Rhode Island, on Sunday. It then promptly plunged back into yet more fog as it headed offshore toward the finish in Cardiff, Wales, a little ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comImpeller Practice Engine raw-water pump impellers don’t last forever. Even if they are not destroyed by running the engine dry following a blockage, they still deteriorate with the years. If you’ve never ...read more

Waves1(1)

Know how: Weather 101, Basics

OverviewThe first thing to know is that “Weather 101, Basics” is a science course. Its goal is to prepare boaters for a second course launching later this year called “Weather 202, Advanced.” Taken together, these classes are designed to teach boaters to become their own weather ...read more

05-Close-reaching

Light-Air Sailing

Some of the best times aboard a cruising boat are in light airs—those quiet, relaxed sunny days with gentle sailing that just wouldn’t be the same if you were motoring. However, many cruising yachts are not set up to truly fullfill their potential in these kinds of conditions.One ...read more

VOR-BoatYard

Volvo Ocean Race: the Boatyard

The Volvo Ocean Race stopovers are a chance for sailors to rest between grueling legs of the race and for fans to enjoy seeing their favorite boats in person. Behind the scenes of the festivities, however, Nick Bice and his team of expert riggers, boatbuilders, sailmakers and ...read more

20160711_Klampe_Alu_013

Nomen: Folding Cleats

Springtime for CleatsIt’s not every day you see a new take on the humble cleat. There are two problems with these essential items: lines tend to get snagged in them when you least want them to and they attract bare toes with painful accuracy. German company Nomen, maker of the ...read more

WS-POD-600

Watt & Sea: Power Pod Hydrogenerators

Power PodHydrogenerators are an increasingly common addition to bluewater cruising boats, but for all their benefits many sailors don’t like to mount them on the transom, where they may interfere with self-steering gear or drop-down transom platforms. Instead, Watt & Sea’s new ...read more