Jeanneau Sun Odyssey's named most innovative and best import boats in 2019

20 Dec 2018

From an eclectic fleet of 22 boats, the 2018 Cruising World Boat of the Year contest produced a roster of eight winners in dedicated size- and purpose-related categories.

There were big boats (the Oyster 745) and small boats (the Malbec 18) and everything in between. Now in its 23rd year of competition, this latest edition of Cruising Worlds annual Boat of the Year contest had a little something for everyone. It was also a year that defied easy categorization. In fact, in the entire history of the event, it may well have been Cruising Worlds most eclectic fleet ever.

Continuing a trend that has been on the rise in recent years, the lion’s share of entries were from non-USA boat manufacturers, with boats from China, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain and even Slovenia among the nominees. And there was a handful of U.S. entrants as well, including the aforementioned Malbec, a pocket monohull, and a pair of catamarans, the Maine Cat 38 and the Stiletto Xc.

Overall, however, there were fewer cats in the 2018 field, just a year after half of the overall entry list sported two hulls. But what they lacked in quantity was offset by the quality of the nominees, which included two otherworldly cats from China, the Morrelli & Melvin-designed HH 55 and HH 66; the wholesome Fountaine Pajot Saona 47; and the two U.S. boats previously noted.

Like every Boat of the Year competition, the 2018 edition took on a life of its own. And while the fleet defied easy characterizations, when all was said and done, a worthy group of winners emerged that represented a diverse collection of well-found cruising boats.

Sometimes a boat comes along that does so many things well and is such a downright joy to sail and maneuver, that its excellence simply cannot be denied. In 2019, one such yacht — a blend of innovation, intelligence and execution — rose to the top over a slew of worthy competitors. In a year when production boats ruled the roost, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490 — designed, conceived and built in France — took on and surpassed all the others, and in doing so, has been named 2019’s Import Boat of the Year.

That the 490 took the overall prize without winning an individual category is noteworthy. Making it's way to the winner’s circle in a devastating display of sailing prowess during Chesapeake Bay sea trials conducted in a stiff northerly gusting well over 20 knots. The yacht was comfortable, easily handled and hauled the mail. The judging panel agreed unanimously that it was a championship performance.

 “They’ve done so many really nice things,” said Tim Murphy. “It’s easy to move around the split backstays. Going forward, it’s the same with the inboard shrouds. And in those very gusty conditions, those twin rudders really worked. The boat answered its twin helms throughout the test sail. It was a real treat to sail.

 “This series of Jeanneaus marks their eighth generation of boats,” he continued. “They’ve built 18,000 boats by now, so this is a big company that’s put a lot of boats out there. They’re very aware of their market and their competition. And I really think they know what their potential owners are looking for in a yacht.”

“The deck access forward from the cockpit to the coach roof is one of the most revolutionary things I’ve seen on new sailboats,” said Ed Sherman. “The cockpit is spacious and uncrowded. At the helm, it’s one of the few boats where you can see the engine instrumentation. The company representatives made a big deal during our dockside inspections about how quiet the interior is underway. My decibel tests confirmed that. It wasn’t BS. Motoring along, at slow rpm we recorded 66 decibels and a speed of 5.6 knots. At fast rpm we made 8 knots, which is perfectly adequate, and only recorded 69 decibels. I loved it.”

“On some boats during powering tests, I throw the helm over and they’re immediately unstable,” said Alvah Simon.

“Not the 490. This thing was a sled, it just turned right on a track, with authority. And once we’d raised the sails, just look how it stood up to its canvas. The ergonomics in the cockpit, including the winches, were nothing short of perfect. And I’ve always been skeptical about the chines on modern boats, but not anymore. They had the courage to take the chine the full length of the waterline where it actually creates more stability and even lateral resistance. Once you heel to 10 degrees, it digs in and stays there. I think that’s what explains the stability. I’m not sure it would be as effective when scaled down to models with shorter waterlines, but with 49 feet they have the space to make these ideas work. This thing is truly a player. I think they’ve got a winner here.”

But Jeanneau’s recognition of excellence in boating did not end there.  The Boat of the Year judges do not award a Most Innovative prize every year, but the innovative deck design of the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440 was worth a mention in 2018.

It takes something particularly inventive and original that catches their collective eye of the content Judges. For 2018, there was such a boat, which is why they pinned the title on the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440, a pioneering, groundbreaking design.

“This boat impressed me both at the dock and under way,” said Tim Murphy. “When a high-production boatbuilder brings a new model to market, and because we’re considering this boat for an innovation award, we should ask two questions: Which ­features are innovative in the context of previous Jeanneaus, and which features are innovative in the entire market where this boat competes?

“Compared to previous Jeanneaus,” Murphy continued, “the 440 introduces the innovation of separating the mast compression post from the cabin’s main bulkhead, which is moved forward in this boat, trading more interior volume in the main saloon for less volume in the master cabin forward. That’s a major change from previous Jeanneau’s in this size range, and provides for a much more spacious main saloon, but this change alone wouldn’t merit a BOTY award for Most Innovative.” Murphy noted the portable 12-volt Isotherm cooler and portable grill as interesting features, but also not enough to warrant special recognition.

“What sets the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440 apart in the market is all in the aft quarters: innovative side decks and outstanding ergonomics at the helm, together with winged transformable coamings that convert to sun beds,” he said. “From forward of the mast, the side decks are kept clear, first with lower shrouds set inboard and upper shrouds outboard for easy passage. Most innovative in this market, the side decks slope downward as you move aft. To give an idea of the slope, forward of the cockpit, the lifelines are 24 inches high, typical of this class. But as you move aft, the lifelines and then the pushpit are 38 inches high. This makes for an eminently secure transition from the cockpit to the side decks — one of the most vulnerable places on any boat in terms of safety under way. On the 440, that transition feels uncommonly secure, not just compared to boats in this class but compared to the entire fleet.

“The helm seats are comfortable,” he added. “The rig’s split backstays terminate slightly inboard on the transom; instead of conflicting with comfortable seating at the helm, they provide a secure, comfortable handhold. Most importantly of all, the engine controls, gauges, and chart plotter are all laid out for exemplary visibility. The large-face engine tachometer was arguably the most visible in the fleet, and the navigation screens were set outboard from the helm so that you didn’t have to reach through the wheel’s spokes to engage them and you didn’t have to contort your body to see them. Also, the 440’s designers gave priority to foot traffic through the cockpit from the swim step to the companionway by making the cockpit asymmetrical. Flow-through on this boat on deck truly is exemplary.”

Bill Bolin also chimed in: “We did test several models that push the steering stations aft and outboard to snuggle the helmsman into the stern railings, but no one executed it as well as Jeanneau did with the 440. Eliminating stepping over the coamings to go forward by making the aft side decks on the same level as the cockpit sole also made for wonderful security sitting or standing at a wheel. Combined with the lower shrouds moved inboard and the asymmetrical cockpit layout, the boat was among the easiest monohulls to get around on deck. The flip-down coamings were also superbly executed, converting the cockpit from an offshore haven to an anchorage sun deck in just a couple of quick moves, with no redundant cushion issues.”

Philippe Briand’s design most certainly sealed Jeanneau’s trip to this years winners circle with ripping great sails.