A French Con­nec­tion

Our pick of French 34-36ft cruis­ers

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

Yachts be­tween 34ft and 36ft have long been pop­u­lar with cruis­ing and rac­ing sailors alike. Many pro­duc­tion boats of this size achieve a magic mix, com­bin­ing am­ple space and com­fort for fam­ily cruis­ing, ease of sin­gle- or short-handed sail­ing and the abil­ity to go off­shore in com­fort with mod­er­ate pur­chase and run­ning costs.

Those who also want ‘big boat sail­ing’ of­ten char­ter a 40- to 50-footer once a year, let­ting some­one else pay to moor it, main­tain it and pick up the big bills.

In the old days, 34- to 36-foot­ers were thought of as large yachts. How­ever, as Bri­tish brands Westerly, Snap­dragon, Macwester, Sadler, Moody and oth­ers pros­pered in the 1970s and 1980s, boats of this size be­came com­mon­place. They were the builders’ bread and but­ter, sell­ing by the hun­dreds. Then the French, Ger­man and Scan­di­na­vian yards ex­panded, com­pe­ti­tion hot­ted up and – slowly and sadly – the Bri­tish builders fell by the way­side. The mod­ern vol­ume pro­duc­tion meth­ods of their con­ti­nen­tal com­peti­tors left them wal­low­ing in their wake.

Th­ese builders – both Bri­tish and con­ti­nen­tal – fea­tured in ear­lier ar­ti­cles in this se­ries on 34- to 36-foot­ers. How­ever, there were four de­lib­er­ate and major omis­sions – Bavaria, Beneteau, Hanse and Jean­neau. Why? Be­cause th­ese four builders have out­lived most vol­ume pro­duc­tion com­peti­tors – mak­ing major con­tri­bu­tions to the demise of many in the process – and dom­i­nate the mar­ket. The ‘big four’s’ re­lent­less ex­pan­sion and drive to­wards ever-big­ger yachts has taken them to 60-foot­ers and be­yond. The times they are a’chang­ing.

So, any­one look­ing for a brand-new 34to 36-footer has lit­tle choice but to in­ves­ti­gate th­ese brands – un­less their funds stretch to a more ex­pen­sive yacht from a smaller yard. In­deed, a 34-footer from one of the ‘big four’ now tends to be near the bot­tom of the range, qual­i­fy­ing as a ‘starter boat’.

Im­me­di­ate suc­cess

Beneteau’s first model of this size – the Ber­ret-de­signed First 35 – hit the mar­ket in 1980 and was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess. Over 450 were built. Like many cruis­ers of its gen­er­a­tion, it evolved from an IOR racer – in this case a ¾-Ton­ner. With fine ends and a beam of 3.7m (12ft 2in) sit­u­ated amid­ships, good wind­ward per­for­mance is as­sured. The fore­peak is used for stowage with the heads com­part­ment im­me­di­ately aft. The sa­loon features set­tee berths and an out­board pilot berth (to port) while a gal­ley and for­ward-fac­ing chart ta­ble live by the com­pan­ion­way. Two sep­a­rate and en­closed quar­ter berths (‘friendly dou­bles’ at a pinch) lurk un­der the cock­pit.

Again typ­i­cal of the era, the mast­head rig features a small main and a large genoa. The slen­der IOR keel gives a draught of 6ft 3in and a healthy bal­last ra­tio (by mod­ern stan­dards) of 46%, while a DLR of 195 and SA/dis­place­ment ra­tio of 18.6 in­di­cate good per­for­mance.

The First 35 is still an at­trac­tive pack­age, promis­ing fast cruis­ing and club rac­ing po­ten­tial at a bud­get price. How­ever, a luff in­sert in the genoa is needed to re­tain a good shape when reefed. The 35 is a prime ex­am­ple of how an IOR-in­flu­enced de­sign still has a lot go­ing for it. Fur­ther­more, many re­gard it as eas­ier on the eye than to­day’s bulky and stubby ended of­fer­ings.

The larger First 375 de­vel­op­ment of 1985 – also by Ber­ret – has a more con­tem­po­rary lay­out down be­low, a higher DLR of 208, a lower bal­last ra­tio of 31.88%, and is equally pretty.

The same can be said of Ber­ret’s

First 345 (DLR 182, Bal­last Ra­tio 45%), of which 460 were built.

If you can find one, the cruisier 1983 Idylle 1150 shares the First 35’s hull but has a longer, shal­lower keel and a more lux­u­ri­ous in­te­rior. It gains a twin-berth fore­cabin and a larger double stern cabin, and the heads moves aft. It’s an el­e­gant yacht with a lot to of­fer.

The slightly smaller Idylle 1050 (from 1985), de­signed by An­dré Beneteau, has a sim­i­lar char­ac­ter and ‘look’. Not many Idylles were im­ported, but th­ese mod­els have a def­i­nite ap­peal.

Equally rare is the Briand-de­signed 1990 Eva­sion 36 (34ft 9in). This hand­some cruiser of­fers a deck­house lay­out com­plete with an ex­tra helm­ing po­si­tion lo­cated in the sa­loon with su­perb all-round vis­i­bil­ity.

Dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter

As the 1990s loomed, the Firsts be­gan to take on a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. The ap­pear­ance of the Océa­nis range had led to a clearer de­lin­eation be­tween cruis­ers and rac­ers, so the Firsts be­came a bit more ‘racey’. The 1988 First 35S5 is a good ex­am­ple. Com­plete with its un­ortho­dox Philippe Starck styling, this Ber­ret de­sign has a very dif­fer­ent look – both in­side and out. The wrap-over win­dows, sculpted stern plat­form and ‘winglets’ on the keel op­tions make it stand out from the crowd while its boldly styled in­te­rior fol­lows the now pre­dictable norm of aft heads com­part­ment and double stern cabin. They built 430, prov­ing that this ‘new look’ ap­pealed to many.

The 1993 First 35S7 (34ft 7in) took the next step into con­tem­po­rary yacht de­sign by adding a bulb to the keel and car­ry­ing its sub­stan­tial 12ft 6in beam well aft. So the boat of­fers twin double-berth aft cab­ins. With its CG-low­er­ing bulb on keel, the DLR is 173 and the bal­last ra­tio 32%. Then the slightly larger 1996 First 36S7 took th­ese trends a lit­tle fur­ther. Slowly but surely, the Firsts were chang­ing.

By the time the 2000 Bruce Farr-de­signed First 36.7 ar­rived, the slen­der bulbed keel had got even deeper while the SA/disp ra­tio rose to 19.28 and the bal­last ra­tio went down to 29%. Then Farr’s 2008 First 35.2 went racier still, putting a large T-shaped tor­pedo at the base of the keel.

In the mean­time, the Océa­nis cruis­ing brand was build­ing up a head of steam. Pop­u­lar with char­ter op­er­a­tors and pri­vate buy­ers alike, th­ese mod­els out­sell the sportier Firsts. The Briand-de­signed Océa­nis 430 (43ft) and 350 (33ft 10in) launched the range in 1986 while the 1990 Océa­nis 370 (35ft 8in) was the first in the pop­u­lar 34 to 36ft size band.

Un­like a First, this model of­fers a long fin keel or a shal­lower op­tion with CG-low­er­ing winglets. A DLR of 181, SA/disp ra­tio of 16 and bal­last ra­tio of 32% sug­gest steady rather than su­per­charged per­for­mance.

Océa­nis mod­els are de­signed for max­i­mum cruis­ing com­fort – not for rac­ing – so the gen­er­ous beam (12ft 5in) and long roof of­fer space ga­lore. Dif­fer­ent ver­sions are avail­able with one or two stern cab­ins and heads com­part­ments. The lon­gi­tu­di­nal gal­ley (to port) has am­ple stowage and all mod cons while the L-shaped set­tee (star­board) wraps around a large ta­ble.

The gen­er­a­tions of Ber­ret Océa­nis cruis­ers that fol­lowed evolved in style but shared sim­i­lar qual­i­ties. The 351 (34ft 9in; 1994), 352 (35ft; 1997), 361 (36ft 5in; 2000), 343 (35ft 5in; 2005) come with many op­tions and are all ca­pa­ble and com­fort­able. Those who like a cen­tre cock­pit and a spa­cious stern cabin should also con­sider the 36CC (1998). It shares the First 36S7 hull so it sails faster than its looks might sug­gest. It could make a great ‘live­aboard’ yacht.

Dra­matic changes

In 2008, Beneteau switched to Finot-Conq for the smaller Océa­nis de­signs and to Nauta for their in­te­ri­ors. The re­sult­ing changes were dra­matic.

The 2008 Ocea­nis 34 (33ft 11in) has a heav­ily bulbed keel, small-over­lap genoa, out­board-mounted chain­plates, short over­hangs and 12ft beam car­ried well aft. Amer­i­can Cruis­ing World mag­a­zine’s panel of read­ers voted it ‘Best Value Boat 2009’. In 15-25 knots of wind on the test day, CW wrote: ‘This af­ford­able per­for­mance cruiser is a blast to sail, with de­tails of­ten lack­ing on more ex­pen­sive boats.’

Then – fol­low­ing on from their award­win­ning 2013 Ocea­nis 38 – Finot-Conq and Nauta in­tro­duced more major new features that are now shared by the rest of the range, in­clud­ing the new 35ft Océa­nis. Twin

rud­ders and wheels, wide beam, main­sheet arch, chined hull, heav­ily bulbed keel and near-ver­ti­cal bow and stern add up to a strik­ing new look. Dif­fer­ent in­te­rior lay­outs also of­fer the buyer a wide choice.

Amer­i­can Sail mag­a­zine wrote: ‘Sail­ing on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay in 15-20 knots true wind with ap­par­ent gusts to 35, we hit a top speed of 7 knots sail­ing on a close reach to a beam reach with a par­tially furled main­sail. We main­tained 6.8 knots close-hauled at a 40° ap­par­ent wind an­gle, and when we pinched to 35° our speed dropped to 5.4 knots.

‘The helm was ex­tremely sta­ble, thanks to the twin rud­ders... Thanks to the pro­nounced hull chine, form sta­bil­ity was ex­cel­lent, and even in the ro­bust con­di­tions we ex­pe­ri­enced, heel­ing was mod­er­ate.’

A perfect fit

Don MacKenzie bought his Océa­nis 35.1 (34ft 3in, in­clud­ing sprit) at the 2016 Southamp­ton Boat Show, and told me:

‘We bought it be­cause we were re­tir­ing from our den­tal prac­tice and had funds to up­grade from our pre­vi­ous boat – a MacGre­gor 26 power-sailer. Quite a jump!

‘We wanted a boat to sat­isfy spe­cific re­quire­ments, which were: un­der 10.5m length to fit on the moor­ing, three cab­ins so we could take the fam­ily, a lift­ing keel for So­lent an­chor­ages, in-mast reef­ing, a bow thruster and power winch. Re­al­is­ing we wouldn’t find all this on a sec­ond-hand boat, we splashed out on a new one.’ Don en­joys the boat’s spa­cious­ness. ‘For 35ft, the ac­com­mo­da­tion is spec­tac­u­lar. All the berths are large and com­fort­able, in­clud­ing the fore­peak, which has room for me – 6ft 3in – to lie full stretch. And the qual­ity of work­man­ship and level of fin­ish are ex­cep­tional.

‘Gen­er­ally, we are thrilled with this boat. The qual­ity of the build has been re­marked on by ev­ery­body, as has the level of qual­ity fit­tings. Due to the wide beam, the amount of space be­low is fan­tas­tic with a greater sense of space than in older boats of this length. She is easy to han­dle de­spite be­ing very beamy, al­though I sus­pect close­quar­ter ma­noeu­vring would be chal­leng­ing with­out the bow thruster, be­cause with twin rud­ders there’s no prop wash.

‘In ad­di­tion, the level of pre-and post-sale help and ad­vice pro­vided by UK dealer An­casta has been ter­rific – re­plac­ing thin jib sheets and rec­ti­fy­ing mi­nor blem­ishes to sa­loon ta­ble and boom.’

Spa­cious and airy

Sis­ter-com­pany Jean­neau was ac­quired by Beneteau in 1995, hav­ing traded since 1956. With the ex­cep­tion of the fa­mous Gin Fizz 37 and Sun Fizz 40, it ma­jored on smaller yachts un­til the Es­pace 1000 (34ft 11in) ap­peared in 1980. This spa­cious Briand-de­signed deck sa­loon cruiser (with cock­pit and in­ter­nal steer­ing po­si­tions for all-weather sail­ing) comes with a lift­ing or fin keel. A DLR of 237 sug­gests com­fort­able cruis­ing per­for­mance, con­firmed by Bob Mullins, whose Es­pace has been in his fam­ily since 1983.

He says she ‘sails well for a mo­tor-sailer. I have re­placed the orig­i­nal main­sail and will soon take de­liv­ery of a new furl­ing genoa. I’m ex­pect­ing the pre­vi­ous 100° tack­ing an­gle to im­prove [which it will!]. Off the wind, she is good.’

Bob adds: ‘The ac­com­mo­da­tion is spa­cious and airy with lots of win­dows and light.

When we’re en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple have been im­pressed by how wide the sa­loon is. Not hav­ing two aft cab­ins means that the sa­loon isn’t so far for­ward. This also al­lows for two huge cock­pit lock­ers, so stor­age isn’t a prob­lem.’

He also loves the deck sa­loon, say­ing: ‘The in­side steer­ing po­si­tion is won­der­ful for Scot­tish sail­ing weather’.

Of course, the boat’s get­ting on now, and Bob says: ‘The foam-backed lin­ing has crum­bled and is part re­placed. There has been a leak where the babystay goes through the fore­deck that caused wa­ter dam­age/rot in the for­ward bulk­head where the tang is se­cured. This was re­placed.’

All the same, not a lot of grief for a 37-year-old boat.

In 1982, Jean­neau fol­lowed Beneteau’s fash­ion of bas­ing cruis­ers on top race boats. The Sun Shine 36 (36ft 5in) stems from a Tony Cas­tro One Ton­ner and is a good all-rounder. Its DLR of 183, SA/disp ra­tio of 18.8, bal­last ra­tio of 41% and fine ends give ex­cel­lent per­for­mance – yet there’s enough space aft to fit in two stern cab­ins.

Gen­er­ous gal­ley and nav­i­ga­tion area, sa­loon set­tees and pilot berths, a for­ward heads and fore­peak berth com­plete the pic­ture. It’s a great seago­ing lay­out and – com­bined with the 36’s per­for­mance and el­e­gant looks – makes this boat an at­trac­tive pack­age. More than 700 were sold, and French mag­a­zine Bateaux summed it up by say­ing it is ‘one of the best per­form­ing and most en­joy­able of its type; rec­om­mended to those keen on a lively sail­ing boat rather than to those look­ing for a placid cruiser’.

Sail­ing rep­u­ta­tion

The 1984 Fau­roux-de­signed Sun Shine 34 (34ft 6in) was an equally suc­cess­ful IOR-de­rived cruiser: well over 600 were sold in less than six years. One was even

sailed solo around the world by French­man Alain Maig­nan. Avail­able with a fin or cen­tre­plate keel, the Sun Shine has an ex­cel­lent sail­ing rep­u­ta­tion, and – like most Jean­neaus of this era – the wood fin­ish be­low gives a re­lax­ing feel to its ‘aft heads plus stern cabin’ lay­out. Def­i­nitely one to con­sider.

The 1988 An­drieu-de­signed Sun Dance 36 fol­lowed on. It dif­fers from the ear­lier Sun Shine 36, of­fer­ing twin stern cab­ins and aft heads com­part­ments and a large U-shaped set­tee fac­ing a lin­ear gal­ley to port. Its 27hp Yan­mar pro­vides ad­e­quate power un­der en­gine while its bal­last ra­tio of 34% fol­lows the down­ward trend.

Then in 1990 it was re­named the Sun Odyssey 36 as Jean­neau in­tro­duced a new ‘Twin Range’ mar­ket­ing pol­icy.

While Beneteau in­tro­duced its Océa­nis range of pure cruis­ers later than its sporty Firsts, Jean­neau did the op­po­site by in­tro­duc­ing its Sun Fast range later than its cruis­ers.

The 1994 Sun Fast 36 (per­versely, a smidge over 37ft

LOA) was the first ‘36-footer’ in the range. De­signed by Briand, this hand­some cruiser-racer has twoand three-cabin op­tions, a taste­ful in­te­rior plus a shoal or deep draught bulbed keel to lower the CG. Michael Thom­sen keeps his SF36 in Flens­burg, and says: ‘Be­ing an ac­tive sailor with a not-so-ac­tive wife and twin girls aged six, I was in the mar­ket for a boat that pro­vided some com­fort be­low decks while at the same time of­fer­ing at least club rac­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Also, the boat had to be sea­wor­thy enough for a sin­gle-handed At­lantic cross­ing – a plan for the fu­ture.

‘She’s solid, fast, re­li­able, com­fort­able and has ex­cel­lent cock­pit er­gonomics suit­able for short-handed sail­ing. Al­though more than 20 years old, she still looks hot. She’s ex­cel­lent value for money as even her stan­dard spec is very com­pre­hen­sive and the build qual­ity is su­perb!

‘OK, the in­te­rior maybe is not as fine-lined as a Hall­berg or Com­fortina – but after 20 years fly­ing a rod rig with quite high ten­sion there is no flex­ing in the hull and no soft spots in her sand­wich deck. You have a very solid yet fast boat: a cruiser/racer in the truest sense.’

Sprightly per­for­mance

Marc Lom­bard (an­other fa­mous race boat de­signer) came up with the smaller but sim­i­lar Sun Fast 35 (35ft 3in) in 2004.

With wide beam (11ft 9in), a DLR of 167, SA/disp ra­tio of 17.36, bulb keel and bal­last ra­tio of 26%, the 35 of­fers an ex­cel­lent mix of a com­fort­able teak-trimmed in­te­rior (two or three cab­ins) and sprightly per­for­mance. In short, ideal for the owner look­ing for stim­u­lat­ing sail­ing in a boat ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing well in club races and coastal cruis­ing.

For those look­ing for a more cruisey al­ter­na­tive, the Sun Odyssey 35 shares sim­i­lar lines but also of­fers a lift keel and twin rud­der op­tion. Andy Cox bought a 2006 SO35 in 2016, telling me he went for the lift­ing-keeler be­cause ‘for the type of sail­ing we do, based in Chich­ester Har­bour, a lift keel with the op­tion of dry­ing out – thanks to the twin rud­ders – is what it’s all about. They sail OK and can dry out at the end of the beer

gar­den in places like Tuck­en­hay on the River Dart and Ware­ham in Poole har­bour!’

When I asked what ap­pealed most, Andy replied: ‘Over­all looks – friends com­ment on how nice she looks down be­low – rea­son­able build qual­ity and sim­plic­ity of use at an af­ford­able price.

‘She won’t win any races, but she was not bought for that.

‘We have the two-cabin “Owner” ver­sion but started out look­ing at the three-cabin ver­sion. How­ever, the ex­tra stowage of­fered by the lazarette, ac­cessed through the shower, and the in­clu­sion of a rea­son­ably large hang­ing locker in the cabin swayed us away from the ex­tra ac­com­mo­da­tion on of­fer.

Built to a price

‘I’d love a Southerly, but one of a sim­i­lar age and length would be twice the price – though to be fair the Jean­neau is de­lib­er­ately built to a price to make it af­ford­able for many more peo­ple, not to a pre­mium spec­i­fi­ca­tion.’

And what about per­for­mance and han­dling with twin rud­ders and shoal keel? Andy said: ‘We took her round the Chan­nel Is­lands by way of a shake­down cruise this sum­mer, and she per­formed well’. He’s nows plan­ning a 2018 cruise to the Med via the canals, re­turn­ing via the Bay of Bis­cay.

‘As long as you reef early there is no prob­lem. She does not point as well as a fin- or long-keeler, but the com­pro­mise is fine for non-rac­ers like us. Com­ing from our old boat – a Jouet 760 which was also a lift keel, and thor­oughly rec­om­mended as a pocket cruiser – she seems so solid in a blow. We think we’re spoilt in com­par­i­son!

‘Close-quar­ters han­dling in mari­nas in a blow, though, does per­haps re­quire more plan­ning and thought than a boat with a rud­der in-line with the prop’.

On the main­te­nance front, Andy found that the dis­in­te­gra­tion of a small com­po­nent meant re­plac­ing the keel lift­ing mech­a­nism, and a faulty heat ex­changer on the Yan­mar 3YM30 had to be swapped.

His suc­cinct con­clu­sion sums up mod­ern boat buy­ing well: ‘There are things on the boat we don’t like, but you are go­ing to have to com­pro­mise on a mass-pro­duced boat at this price point. Con­versely there are things that we love, like the large shower com­part­ment and the slid­ing, de­cent-sized chart ta­ble. I am old school, so it gets used a lot!

‘The big deal for us is that she’s 10.7m long and draws less than a me­tre... which is of course why we bought her!’

Sleek and ca­pa­ble

The 2008 Lom­bard-de­signed Sun Odyssey 36i has also been a suc­cess. With a bulbed keel (deep or shoal), it has a DLR of 166 and bal­last ra­tio of 27.5%.

Its beam of 11ft 9in is car­ried well aft, and there’s space for one or two stern cab­ins and a com­fort­able ac­com­mo­da­tion lay­out. It’s a sleek-look­ing and ca­pa­ble mod­ern cruiser.

Mar­cus North bought his new shoal draught 36i in 2009 be­cause he ‘par­tic­u­larly liked the lay­out be­low and the large heads with sep­a­rate shower: we use the boat for hol­i­day and week­end ac­com­mo­da­tion as well as sail­ing it.

‘The boat also sails very well, and is eas­ily man­aged by my­self and my wife: 90% or more of the sail­ing we do is just the two of us. The worst we’ve en­coun­tered is a Force 8, and it han­dled it very well.’

Any nig­gles? Mar­cus said on his ver­sion the ac­cess to the large cock­pit locker is via a door in the shower, so the de­flated dinghy won’t get through – and the wa­ter tank po­si­tion in the fore­peak pre­vents in­stalling a bow thruster.

‘But over­all I’ve been very happy with my Jean­neau Sun Odyssey 36i and have no plans to change it for an­other boat.’ David Kramer sails his shoal-draught SO36i in the USA, and told me he did the fa­mous Baja Ha-Ha this year.

‘It’s a two-week cruiser rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lu­cas, Mex­ico; about 900NM in each di­rec­tion,’ he said. ‘The weather was a lit­tle rough at times, but the boat han­dled it all beau­ti­fully.’

His few nig­gles in­clude ‘poor-qual­ity sea­cocks that many own­ers have re­placed, a gap at the top of the rud­der that catches kelp, and poor in­su­la­tion around the fridge and com­pres­sor [that he has rec­ti­fied].’

And his con­clu­sion? ‘I’ve learned to reef my shoal-draught boat early and sail it within its ca­pa­bil­i­ties. In turn it treats us well and the per­for­mance is fine on most points of sail. I wouldn’t race it, for many rea­sons; one of which is that it doesn’t point well be­cause it’s shoal-draught. On the whole, we love our boat. It con­tin­ues to give us great plea­sure.’

Last but not least, if you’re in the mar­ket for a brand-new Jean­neau, the Sun Odyssey 349 should be on your list. It may be a smidge less than 34ft LOA, but its con­tem­po­rary de­sign pro­vides the space of a far larger yacht: and with over 600 sold in less than four years, it’s a run­away suc­cess.

And what about the Ger­mans? After all, the main com­pe­ti­tion for Beneteau and Jean­neau now comes from Bavaria and Hanse. Over the years they too have pro­duced fleets of fine 34- to 36-foot­ers. But more on th­ese next time.

Beneteau OcŽa­nis 35

Jean­neau Sun Fast 35

Jean­neau Sun Odyssey 349

The dark-hulled Beneteau Océa­nis 361 Wave Whis­perer tak­ing part in this year’s Round the Is­land Race

Jean­neau Sun Odyssey 36i

Beneteau First 375

Beneteau First 35

The Sun Fast 36 is one of the pret­ti­est and fastest Jean­neaus built. And the ac­com­mo­da­tion is ex­cel­lent

Jean­neau Sun Odyssey

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