Paris, December 1, 2006Performance surprises can be found around every corner at the Paris Boat Show, and last weekend's event (which continues through next weekend) was no exception: new racing models designed by mass-production cruising-boat builders, cruising cats with more speed than you'd think, and even a new model from a company that normal unveils its designs in the United States.On the opening night at the show, one of the world's biggest cruiser manufacturers, Jeanneau, held a party on a broad platform erected some 10 feet above the show floor, giving visitors easy access to several current models on display. As I sipped champagne and sampled the hors d'oeuvres-which were circulating freely among the one or two hundred guests assembled-I listened to speeches in French (catching one word in 10) and compared notes with a few English-speaking colleagues. Founded in 1956 by Henri Jeanneau to build racing powerboats, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary at the party by presenting a piece of true performance art. As guests enjoyed cocktails on the platform, an artist painted a large mural representing half a dozen sail and power cruising boats from the company's past and future. Then, at the event's climactic moment, with confetti flying and music blaring, a billboard-sized illustration of a brand-new design was unveiled, and, surprisingly, it was a racing boat they put in the spotlight-the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3200. This new twin-rudder, twin-tiller design by Daniel Andrieu is set up for shorthanded racing, with a short sprit on the bow for a roller-furling headsail and, in front of that, a Code-Zero type furler. Its wide stern sections make room below for two aft double berths, but this boat's main purpose, when launched later in 2007, will be to send amateurs on single- and doublehanded distance races. Forget handicap rules or a desire for a one-design class, the 3200 is aimed at going fast and far. Although I doubt it will be marketed seriously in the United States, those getting into the growing doublehanded race circuit might find this downwind-oriented 32-footer worth considering for races down the California coast, to Hawaii, or Mackinac.Down the hall in what might be called catamaran corner, I found an impressive new daggerboard-equipped production boat-the Catana 50. This is a million-dollar cat designed not for the charter market but for a liveaboard family with distance-sailing aspirations. It will be sold in the United States, along with other Catanas, by Phil Berman's Multihull Company. The 50 has relatively fine hulls that are each canted out several degrees and feature a small bulb on each bow to increase speed. Extra interior space is created by means of the use of small chines above the waterline. Phil, a former Hobie Cat champion, also set up his own booth nearby to drum up interest in the other performance cruising cat he markets, the daggerboard-equipped, Brazilian-built Dolphin 460.Like Phil in the United States, a whole generation of French sailors grew up in the '70s when sailboat racing captured the imagination of the country, and many of these sailors have become the movers and shakers of the sailing industry. At Fountaine-Pajot, another catamaran builder, Jean-Francois Fountaine, former 470 pre-Olympic champion (1975), and Flying Dutchman silver medalist Yves Pajot (1976) celebrated their company's 30th anniversary with the launch of a new 35-footer, the Mahe. (That party preceded the Jeanneau party on Friday evening and had a Caribbean theme
which is to say my Jeanneau champagne came after a Fountaine-Pajot rum drink from Martinique called ti' punch.) In its early days, Fountaine-Pajot was a dinghy builder, then a builder of Quarter Tons and Half Tons. The company got its big break in cats with the construction of the offshore racer, Charente Maritime, on which, in 1982, Fountaine and co-skipper Pierre Follenfant won a transatlantic race from La Rochelle to New Orleans by more than four days. F-P's current boats are simpler, with permanent keels and medium-displacement hulls that trade some speed upwind for cruising accommodations. Current managing director Eric Bruneel still races in his spare time, and not just on weekends around the cans. The 23-year veteran at the company finished second in the 50-foot multihull class in the recent Route du Rhum transatlantic aboard Trilogic. Fountaine-Pajot even has a role in the next America's Cup; it has sold several of its power catamarans to America's Cup Management to serve as the race committee boats in Valencia.Meantime, as a displaced Rhode Islander at the show, I turned another corner and got another surprise: a brand-new J/boat that has yet to see the company's home state (also R.I.). Aboard the new J/122, an IRC racer/cruiser that fits between the 109 and the 133, I found company president Jeff Johnstone, also viewing the finished product for the first time. Built at J/Boats Europe in Les Sable d'Olonnes, the 122 exhibits many attributes of its predecessors, and also several novel details. The entire transom can be opened up for racing by removing an athwartships locker that, when in place, serves as a helmsman's seat. Jeff also showed me how the stanchion bases are glassed into the hull, with the stanchions themselves screwed through the deck for a stronger, cleaner connection. The high-aspect sailplan carries a larger main and 110-percent headsail, with shroud bases secured all the way outboard. On the bow, in front of a split pulpit, there's a new Furlex roller-furling unit on which the drum reel is belowdecks in the anchor locker, allowing the jib tack to be at deck level. The model we saw had three cabins and a forward head, but a more typical American version will have two cabins and a second head, aft. While versions with different spars and other race equipment are being offered in Europe, Jeff says he expects the norm for U.S. sailors will be a carbon spar and aluminum boom. Draft options include keels just over 7 and just over 6 feet in draft.Compared to the J/120, this model has a higher-aspect rig and more overall sail area. Its waterline sections are narrower and, according to Jeff, its IRC rating will be similar to the 120, yet the boat should be faster in light air. The company will be importing this model from J/Boats Europe for next season, and you may see J/122 Hull No. 2 sailing in the vicinity if you're racing at the Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Regatta in St. Petersburg, Fla., in February. I also caught up with the new owner of Dehler, Wilan van den Berg, whom I met first at Strictly Sail in Chicago last winter. At the time he'd talked about a new design he had in the works that would move the German builder toward higher performance with a more upscale image, perhaps comparable to what the Swan 45 has done for Nautor's Swan. Now here was the boat, the prototype Dehler 44, which I spent some time aboard. Dehler has already sold 20 of these fast-looking racer/cruisers by the Dutch/South African team of Simonis/Voogd, but is still showing the prototype because new owners are taking the production models away as fast as the company can build them. The 44 has a tall, high-aspect fractional rig with inboard shrouds and the ability to carry overlapping headsails. It comes with different luxury-style three-cabin interiors-teak or mahogany and with either an in-line galley with full nav station or a smaller nav station and traditional U-shape galley. On deck, three equipment packages deliver the boat with increasingly sophisticated race equipment, with carbon spars and carbon winches at the top end. The boat we saw had a strong Euro flavor, with teak decks and flush hatches, and a cockpit table that folds down and disappears in the sole. (The table was in the down position when I was aboard and the key to raise it was unavailable, so I am taking Dehler's word for it on this.) Like the J/122, the Dehler 44 has a Euro-style double-ended mainsheet leading under the deck to winches just forward of the helm and a traveler on the cockpit sole. Likewise, it appears to have a through-deck roller-furling unit (although it wasn't rigged so I'm not sure of this). While Dehler hasn't sold one in the United States yet, I suspect it's a matter of time before someone is seduced by its good looks and promise of speed.I didn't have time to visit the dinghy section of the show, but I noticed at least a dozen one-designs exhibited, including the always-popular French-designed 505. In the performance section, I ran into Eric Duchemin, who manages Lorima, the spar company that builds carbon wing masts for French offshore multihulls. Eric used to run the Sparcraft plant in the United States and recently built a 34-meter Nomex-cored wing section for the 24,000-pound, 105-foot Groupama, the most recent racing cat built over 100 feet. Lorima's display had a sample of the section, which was several feet long from front to back, and Eric described how the company builds the masts in a two-piece mold that's closed up with a vacuum bag inside and cooked as one piece. His eyes light up as he talks about his current project, which is to build an identical section (without the Nomex) that's 53 meters long. The mast will be stepped on the biggest cat ever built, a 50-meter, 140-ton cat called Gemini due to be launched by Derecktors in Bridgeport, Conn., next summer. After that, there's another racing cat, a 40-meter boat due to be constructed in 2008 for Banque Populaire, but that's probably a story for next year.While the Salon Nautique focuses largely on cruising boats, I suspect I just scratched the surface of the show's performance underpinnings. In fact, at the front of Hall No. 1 (of 6 exhibit halls), BMW Oracle and Areva each had on display an America's Cup Class boat, displaying their colors and warming the December crowd to the upcoming event in Spain.