Editor’s note: to get our new blog going, we’re importing articles we’ve written in the past about our sailing adventures together. This article was written in January as the first in a two-part review of our week-long charter in the British Virgin Islands aboard a Sunsail 41. Part II of the series was a review of the charter as a whole, while this article focused on the boat itself.
For the past week I’ve been living aboard a Sunsail 41 (sold as the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409 to the retail market) during a week long, two-couple cruise of the British Virgin Islands. Before relaying too many of my reflections in print, let me share two iPhone video tours of the boat to give the reader a better sense of its layout:
Above Deck Tour:
Below Deck Tour:
Now that you’ve gotten a better look at the boat and heard some of our initial impressions of it (the videos were shot during our week and we gained additional insights about the boat subsequent to their recording), here’s a more in-depth look at the boat:
With a high-clew 100% jib and full main, we found the Sunsail 41 to be ideally canvassed for 15 knots upwind and an close reaches. As the breeze built we started feathering the main until it reached 20 knots, and pulled in the first of two reefing points on the single day where we saw sustained winds in the 20-25 knot range while sailing upwind. Given the extremely reliable trade winds of the BVIs, we thought the sail plan was pretty much ideal, but we believe that boat would be best with a genoa when operated in environments that frequently see less than 15 knots. As configured, our boat sailed upwind at just below 6 knots when encountering 15 or more knots of wind. Off of the breeze we longed for a spinnaker and tended to run the boat no lower than a broad reach to keep the jib pulling. During the only run we encountered during the cruise, we saw breezes in the lower teens and broad reached at five and a half knots or so.
Were we satisfied? A couple of caveats are important before answering that question. First, our crew was comprised of active racers, and as such our frame of reference may be a little distorted relative to most cruisers when it comes to performance. Second, our charter boat was towing a rib, had the typical ragged-out charter boat sails, and was equipped with a gigantic, fixed, three blade prop. As such, it probably provided the lower end of the performance potential for the model. With all of that said, in general we were pleased with the performance. My personal benchmark of cruising boats’ performance under sail is pretty basic: if the owner has a passage to make, how often does s/he find the boat performing poorly enough under sail that the owner gives up and motors? During our week we rarely quit and fired up the diesel, even when under time pressure to make a port before sundown (our boat would cruise at around 7 knots under power). So on a scale of “lousy” to “awesome” I’d rate this Jeanneau a sold “good,” and given our frame of reference that might adjust out to a “great” for a cruising-oriented audience.
Dynamics Under Sail
We found the Jeanneau to be enjoyable to sail upwind – and once again, this was a demanding audience. My own frame of reference here is a J/29 loaded with 8 crew on the high side, slicing upwind with a full genoa. As far as upwind dynamics, that is a high bar that I enjoyed for over six years – and even given those high expectations, I was greedy for the helm of this Jeanneau every time we had to go uphill. She is balanced and tracks nicely. As noted in the on-deck video tour above, we would have liked helming stations that were optimized for steering from the high side while sitting, but that shortcoming was a comparatively minor annoyance, and the dual helms are an improvement over prior cruising yacht generations’ single helms. With her 7 foot draft and hard chines, she wasn’t tender at all when the puffs hit. She’d heel over and take a set and stubbornly stick to it, preferring to round up into the breeze than to heel any further. She certainly inspired confidence in that sense.
Off the breeze the Jeanneau’s helm didn’t load up too much except in one situation: on a reach with a quartering sea. Of course any boat will give the helmsman a workout in that circumstance, but we found the Jeanneau’s combination of relatively small helms with an unbalanced rudder made for a serious upper body workout that would likely wear out the helmsman in short order on long offshore passages. As a coastal cruiser, the Jeanneau probably wasn’t designed with that scenario in mind, but any potential buyers with aspirations of long offshore passages should keep this handling dynamic in mind.
One additional addendum to my verbal commentary about the primary winches in the on-deck video tour: later in the week I adopted the convention of trimming my own main and jib while steering. When going to weather in a puffy breeze, I would simply brace the helm with my leg and ease the main in puffs, then grind back the sheet as needed – all from the high side winch. When the jib needed adjustment – for example during a sustained lull or period of stiffer breeze, I would go to the low side and use the same technique. It worked quite well and was easier than disturbing crew who had been lulled into faraway contemplations by the rhythm of the boat’s motions.
For relatively short cruises like our week in the BVIs, we found the 41 roomy enough for two couples who like eachother. We occupied the forward cabin and one of the aft cabins respectively, and used the third (aft) cabin purely for storage of baggage, spare towels, etc. That worked beautifully, and Sunsail’s capacity rating for this boat (8 berths!!) not withstanding, you would probably not want to bring along more friends unless all involved really, really liked each other and were very flexible and laid-back individuals.
The galley worked well but only when operated by one individual at a time. If we tried to combine activities like cooking and washing dishes with more than one person working, it got quite frustrating for all involved. Still, we were active users of the galley (both stove and oven) and fell into a routine of having a dedicated cook for any given meal (I monopolized pancake duty!) then handing off the galley to the wash-up team (one person manning the sink with a second standing outside of the galley drying dishes worked well).
Although the forward head was equipped with an extendable faucet that allowed for showers, using it as such soaked the cabinetry and counter tops. On other yachts with similar designs, we have learned to dry off these surfaces with a shammy after each shower.
The Jeanneau’s aft head is equipped with separate shower and toilet / sink spaces and that are more convenient. We had one gripe about the aft head design: the door opened to the inside. That meant that crew entering the head were forced to step into the shower area to close the door, wetting their feet and tracking dirt around the remainder of the head or cabin. It also meant that the toilet and aft cabinet could not be accessed without closing the door. We would have preferred that the door be configured to open out or that the shower area be blocked with the door opened instead of the toilet.
During our week we made scant attempts to conserve water and still only went through one of the two water tanks. We had started into the second when the cruise ended, so the 140 gallon capacity seems fine for two couples. By contrast, I remember draconian measures being enforced to conserve every drop of our Person 40’s 90 gallon capacity during our 10 day cruises when I was growing up.
Each head had a 21 gallon holding tank, and we found that even given spells ashore, one couple could fill a holding tank in a single two-evening, one day in-harbor stay (arrive on one evening, stay a full day, leave the next morning, for example). There are no pump-out stations in the BVIs, so we could simply dump the tanks once we were out in open sea during this charter. For extended cruising in the States, larger holding tanks may be on the wish list.
We ran the motor at least 40 minutes each day (20 minutes morning and evening, respectively) to charge the batteries, generate hot water, and to run the refrigerator. Even when combined with the ordinary use of the motor entering and leaving port, etc, we didn’t put much of a dent in the Jeanneau’s total diesel capacity.
Quality / Fit & Finish
We found the design of the Jeanneau to be very attractive. In fact, speaking purely for myself, I think the contemporary Jeanneaus are the most attractive of the major production boat designs. Like the other production boats, however, items like winches and hatches on our charter version of the boat were of entry-level specification. As a buyer of a new Jeanneau we would probably ask the factory whether higher-end deck equipment could be specified.
Down below we found a couple of items that Jeanneau could improve upon. The most important among them: some gaps between bulkheads and deck are filled with a white caulk. On our charter boat the sealer had attracted mildew like crazy, which discolored the caulk. We would have preferred that finish panels conceal these seams so that owners would not need to continuously clean these areas. We also noted some minor fit and finish issues with the cabinetry that could be improved upon.
Summing It All Up
The Sunsail 41 / Sun Oddyssey 409 made for an entertaining charter that we enjoyed both on a mooring and under sail. All boats are compromises. This Jeanneau favors an economical purchase price, an attractive and modern design, and solid sailing dynamics over higher-end items like premium deck hardware. If you’re considering a charter, we think you’d really enjoy it – but if you charter with Sunsail consider the “Premier Plus” charter which gets you a boat under 1 year old so you can avoid many of the minor wear and tear issues associated with our “Premier” (under 3 years old) charter boat. If you’re in the market for a purchase, the Jeanneau is a solid choice for coastal cruising – especially if the factory offers options such as upgraded winches and hatches.