Boat Review: Jeanneau 54

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
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

101218BTSC-9887

Just Launched: Little Big Boat

Peter Nielsen looks at Beneteau’s latest entry-level boat and a new cruiser from Tartan Group Beneteau’s commitment to entry-level boats has been reaffirmed over the last year with the assimilation of the sporty Seascape line of pocket cruisers and the ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more