Jeanneau Sun Fast 32i, Stealth Racer,


Courtesy Jeanneau

The best kind of compromise is one so smooth that nobody notices. In the world of yachting, that's what happens when a talented designer and an experienced boatbuilder put their heads together. The latest collaboration between Philippe Briand and prolific French boatbuilder Jeanneau Yachts has succeeded in producing an inexpensive, comfortable boat that seamlessly joins together those polar opposites--cruising and racing.

Inspired, perhaps, by the racy lines that Briand (who's designed winning Aussie 18-foot skiffs, Admiral's Cup winners, and the record-breaking Mari-Cha III) drew, or positive comments from owners and reviewers, Jeanneau made the decision to turbocharge their Sun Odyssey 32 by adding a taller rig, a deeper keel, and some racing hardware. The interior, a surprisingly spacious, two-cabin layout, remains untouched--a deal maker for any boat buyer looking to convince family members of the 32i's ability to serve two masters.

Too often, sailboats in the 30- to 35-foot range built primarily for cruising have an awkward, boxy look. Not so with the 32i, which has a clean, fast look. The deckhouse goes almost to the bow, so there’s a lot of it, but it blends in with the topsides because of its forward-sloping lines. There’s a slight overhang on both bow and stern, a look we haven’t seen a lot of lately, but like a lot.

The hull is a solid polyester and fiberglass layup, with a structural liner. The builders at Jeanneau’s plant in France may be some of the most experienced glassworkers in the world--Jeanneau is one of the two largest boatbuilders in the world, producing over 5,000 boats a year--and their methods of hull construction are tried and true. A speed-minded sailor might want to spend some time in the boatyard making the through-hull fittings flush; our only quibble with the hull’s finish.

The 32i’s deck is built by means of a closed-molded resin-transfer technique, which uses steel male and female tooling. Glass fiber is placed between the molds, the edges around the molds are sealed, and resin is then pumped through the laminate. The result is a fiberglass part built with an exact resin/fiber mix that’s finished on both sides with gel coat and doesn’t need much detail work before being married to the hull. The deck’s construction also pays dividends down below by affording the cabin an extra inch or so of headroom.

The 32i comes standard with a tiller and extension, and that’s the way to order it, especially since the split, mechanical backstay can interfere with a driver standing at the wheel. A helmsman’s seat that opens to access the swim-ladder-equipped stern scoop makes it appear as if the transom’s closed, but it’s not. The mainsheet is led well, but the traveler, which lives on the cockpit floor just forward of the helm, could have more throw. Two Harken winches are mounted on the angled cockpit coamings for jib trim. On the cabin top, two more Harken winches for the halyards, and two triple-sheave halyard organizers neatly placed on either side of the companionway hatch. Harken adjustable jib tracks and cars slot into the narrow deckspace on either side of deckhouse and toerails. The 9/10ths Sparcraft-built aluminum rig is keel-stepped, with two aft-swept spreaders.

Down the companionway, which is removable for engine access, is as roomy and comfortable a space as you’re likely to see in a 32-foot boat. To starboard, a large, u-shaped galley. To port, the entrance to the aft cabin, basically a big double berth with a hanging closet. Forward of the aft cabin is the enclosed head. The nav station is integrated into the starboard settee and is aft-facing, which requires a little extra thought from the navigator when plotting and planning.

Surprisingly roomy for a 32-footer, the 32i has two separate cabins and an enclosed head.Courtesy Jeanneau

A bonus of having the nav station so far forward is that there’s little chance of water impact from the companionway. The navigator sits on the end of the settee and has no back support, but it’s such a good use of the space that it’s hard to complain about. A drop-leaf table sits amidships forward, with booze stowage in its base. Thanks to the six portlights in the cabin top, the clear, sliding companionway hatch, and the main hatch forward, the interior is bright with natural light, as is the forward cabin, a large vee-berth with an overhead deck hatch. The two cabins are separated enough to provide privacy.

Our impression of the interior was favorable, mostly because of the headroom and the overall sensible use of the space. The floorboards in the boat we sailed had unfinished ends, which could be a problem; we’d like to see them sealed so water can’t get in and swell them up. The access to the hoses and through-hull fittings in the head was excellent, but the hosing in the bilge is hard to get at. The fuel filter on the engine is difficult to reach as well, and would be best serviced at the dock rather than while motoring to an away regatta.

We sailed the 32i in moderate breeze and flat water, and found that it was easy to get in the groove upwind. Downwind, the Sun Fast felt underpowered in the light stuff. The symmetric spinnaker, set up for dip-pole jibes, is small enough to be handled end-for-end, a modification worth considering. You might also want to consider a conversion to a bow-tacked asymmetric if the intricacies of symmetric spinnaker sailing are something you don’t care to deal with. We pushed the 32i hard while tight-reaching under the spinnaker, and the boat behaved nicely, recovering from an intended wipeout with assured grace. The deep rudder handles the boat with aplomb, even when pushed. We sailed the boat with five crew, and that seems like a good number to start with if you’re projecting manpower requirements for racing.

The 32i motored along quietly at 6.7 knots, thanks to a well-insulated 18 horsepower Yanmar diesel. Nicely equipped with sails, electronics, and bottom paint, the 32i should ring in at around $94,000.

The Sun Fast 32i is a great fit for a prospective owner looking for a sensible way to accomplish several different yachting tasks. Since it’s not a flat-out macho racing machine, it won’t intimidate or terrify beginning to intermediate-level racers or their friends and family. And while cruising isn’t something we do a lot of, we can see the potential for comfortable weekends in the large interior, which sailors who live far from where their boat is kept will appreciate. All in all, the Sun Fast 32i is more Clark Kent than Superman, but remember that old Clark could still hold his own against bad guys and attracted a lot less attention than the fellow in the red cape.