I see a lot of intriguing new boats every year, and very much enjoy sailing them. As a committed solo and doublehanded sailor, however, I never see boats configured for shorthanded sailors coming from a major manufacturers. So it was with great interest that I first read about the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3200 earlier this year as it wracked up early victories in shorthanded classes in Europe.
I stepped aboard the boat for the first time at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis in October. For a shorthanded sailor like myself, this boat was pure catnip: a big, open cockpit, twin rudders steered by twin tillers, sail controls close to hand, a rig with swept-back spreaders with a wide spreader angle allowing for good sheeting angles and straightforward mast control.
The interior is simple and nicely finished, with settees on both sides amidships, a comfortable nav station to port, and a working galley opposite. The generous beam aft makes for a huge aft berth. Standing below, the large amount of forward volume is obvious. A watertight crash bulkhead forward shows the boat’s offshore capability. Harken winches and hardware are everywhere, supplemented with Spinlock stoppers (in the interest of full disclosure, I work for Harken. I’m the company’s token offshore singlehander.). With the big cockpit, there is plenty of room to go crewed racing as well.
I jumped at the opportunity to test the boat’s abilities in breeze when Paul Fenn, president of Jeanneau USA, invited me to join a crew of Jeanneau and Lagoon employees as well as the local Quantum rep for the Leukemia Cup race from Annapolis to Baltimore. The race is a bit of a treasure hunt; the buoys for the course are announced before the race, but not the order in which they need to be rounded. The race committee makes certain that a decent amount of upwind work makes its way into the race, even if, as this year, the predominant wind direction is downhill. We had seven people on board and did not find ourselves crowded at all. It was windy as soon as we left the dock, and we raised the main in the lee of a huge concrete bridge piling to make the hoist a bit easier. This was the first time the boat was to be sailed in anger and the sail inventory was a bit light, with just a #1, main, and spinnaker. With winds in the 20s on the way out to the start, we were wishing for a smaller headsail. We hoisted a “sacrificial” spinnaker (an old Mumm 30 kite) and brought down little but the tapes. It was going to be breeze on all day.
We started going upwind and most of us piled on to the rail. In the gusty breeze, the boat kept on its feet. The twin rudders kept working at an angle of heel that would have left a single rudder wagging in the air. As soon as we headed downwind, the boat really made tracks. With winds beginning to gust into the 30s, the 3200 handled the spinnaker well. Downwind, the volume forward kept the bow up in gusts that caused trouble for bigger boats in our fleet and made surfs linger just a little bit longer. The course required a lot of short upwind legs followed by new spinnaker sets, with frequent jibes and tacks.
Boatspeeds were…a lot of fun. When we first set the kite, we were happy in the 10s, then we enjoyed being in the 11s, then the 12s. Our top speed with the spinnaker up was 14.8 knots, and the boat was unflustered. We found the 3200 easy to handle off the wind, even when the wind started gusting at over 40 knots apparent and we were power reaching with the No. 1. We had no small jib, but we found that with careful sail control and the stability offered by the platform, we could hold our own upwind against bigger boats and power away from them off the wind.
Overall, the 3200 is an impressive boat, a true racer-cruiser. This was the first outing for the boat, and we had a lot to learn about sheeting angles, leads, and other things that are all partsof the new-boat learning curve. But going around the buoys was easy. Upwind, the boat was surprisingly strong. Downwind, it was exhilarating. And at the end of a long, windy day, everyone felt fresh. Now I just can’t wait to get those other six people off the boat and try it by myself!