BOAT TEST: SUNSAIL JEANNEAU 53
The new Sunsail 53 at Hamilton Island is being offered in a shared-boat ownership plan that takes some beating, discovers BARRY TYLER
The downside of being a successful businessperson is invariably lack of time. That in a nutshell is precisely how some individuals become successful businesspeople - they work long and hard at their respective occupations/obsessions and as such have little downtime to spare. Many start out with the best of intentions, with a simplistic plan of one day being able to afford their own dreamboat both from a monetary as well as a time perspective. But somehow it just never happens, unless, that is, some cunning alternative plan is hatched that will free-up time, as well as providing an alternative ownership solution.
To many, a shared-ownership situation sounds like a sensible way out, but a quick perusal of the marketplace suggests there are pitfalls involved with a number of these plans. The return on investment can be expensive and, while the convenience is worth the outlay to some, to others the cost of the original purchase and plethora of add-ons (grooming, maintenance, insurance and the like) do not stack up.
THE SUNSAIL WAY
Quite by accident, during the course of this boat test, I discovered there was another, more proactive, way of owning a boat: investing in a yacht-ownership program with a bona fide charter operator. The way it was explained to me by Sunsail, the arrangement makes a whole lot of sense (see box). But when the boat is a Sunsail 53 - apparently the largest bareboat in the Whitsundays and certainly the most grandiose in the Sunsail fleet based at Hamilton Island - then the temptation to jump aboard is even greater.
So what is a Sunsail 53 I hear you say? The succinct answer is a Jeanneau 53 in another world. The Sunsail/Moorings Group (both companies fall under the tourism and charter umbrella of the Clearwater, Florida-based Tui Marine conglomerate) buy so many boats per annum, globally, that Jeanneau purpose-build them to this company's exacting charter standards.
My first impressions of the Sunsail 53 were of a serious sailboat that stood out from the other charter yachts within this exclusive Australian fleet at Hamilton Island - arguably the best sailing playground in the world! Obviously a big boat from a visual aspect, it is more so from the race-inspired deck layout that suggested it was no lazy idle-along but eager to perform!
While the smaller models in the Sunsail fleet are kept deliberately simple, this 53 had a much higher level of good gear. Serious attributes included a virtually flush-cabin profile (easy to move about the deck), low-profile hatches, separate crew area to work the winches, asymmetric spinnaker mount, bow pulpit, aft twin helm stations, adjustable backstays and electric sheet winches, and the usual furling genoa and mainsail bag for quick dumping and stowage.
While she is designed to excite, the teak-bejeweled deck is still very much an uncomplicated, uncluttered affair, and the cockpit remains a nice place to be under sail and at anchor. And at anchor, there's a fold-up table forward of the cleverly separated helms seats for crowd. Enjoy some outdoor entertainment following yours day's energetic and awe-inspiring sail.
The GRP hull measures 53 feet in length overall, the underlying first impression - once you look past the impressive décor - is of even greater volume. The generous 4.77m beam adds to that, as does the deck design and saloon layout with key features and furniture pushes against the hull walls.
A U-shaped galley separates the work and play areas of the saloon. Corian covers hide a three-burner stove and twin sinks. Back in place, there's an almost obscene amount of galley bench space. Below is an oven, side-by-side 200lt fridge and 100lt freezer, microwave, pullout pantry, rubbish and recycling bins, foot-pump for salt or freshwater, and plenty of storage.
Décor is a pleasant and practical blend of cherrywood, leather lounges and plush vinyl paneling. And it was light and bright thanks to the side windows, overhead hatches and a sleek 'windscreen'. Entertainment was provided by a wall-mounted television plus the usual stereo, DVD and iPod dock.
To starboard, across from the galley, is a compact yet appropriate nav station complete with comprehensive Raymarine electronics. Forward of this is the dining setting that opulently caters for six adults. Without much effort, the table transforms into accommodation for two more people.
Augmenting the dining setting is a tasteful lounge, opposite, with a centre section unfolds in a cantilever fashion to form a neat occasional table. But wait, it gets better - secreted under this seat is a cocktail cabinet complete with glasses. Very ingenious!
The accommodation is generous, even in terms of a 16-metre yacht. Flanked by the central staircase, which lifts to reveal the mechanical infantry, are two queen-size aft bedrooms for the master and VIP guests. Additional crew fights it out for the two smaller, identical cabins for'ard of the saloon. (If you prefer to take a skipper along for the ride, his/her abode is forward of the front cabin bulkhead, effectively in the forepeak).
Each wood-lined cabin, and the crew quarters, has its own en suite, opening hatches, overhead and wall lighting, hanging wardrobe, stereo and wall storage.
You could say the engineroom is busy but everything is nonetheless accessible. This includes the 110hp Yanmar 4JH4-THE diesel engine coupled to the ZF30M gearbox and shaftdrive, 40,000btu air-conditioner, 60amp battery charger and the all-important 80amp engine alternator, plus the Onan 5.5kVa genset charging system feeding the significant battery bank of eight 110amp/h house batteries and one 110amp/h engine battery.
Underlying the fact that this is indeed a very capable boat was a cache of other mechanical equipment included 11.5hp Side-Power bowthruster, 230/115V shorepower bolstering the 12V-DC onboard system, and tankage including grey, black and 950lt of freshwater tanks (underfloor amidships), not to mention the 240lt of fuel in two tanks underneath the aft berths.
Sadly, especially considering the beautiful backdrop, our test sail was over in a flash. There was a more pressing situation evolving. Forecast to arrive just three days and making a calculated beeline for Hamilton Island was the infamous Cyclone Yasi. Sunsail's then-current fleet of 38 boats had to be prepared in readiness for what was to come.
Anyone who thinks preparing for a cyclone is simply a matter of shutting the door and running like hell - think again. Before leaving the island, Sunsail had just two-and-a-half days to completely lockdown its entire fleet. A mammoth task, which included removing all exterior gear from the boats, securing hatches, covering windows, removing engines from all the tenders, the tenders from their davits and deflating and sinking them below water level, then finally double-lashing the boats to the marinas - times 38.
Needless to say, Sunsail does not savour the thought of pending cyclones. The good news is the region escaped relatively unscathed compared with the devastation farther north. And the Sunsail 53 remains ready and waiting for its footloose owners.
Sunsail Yacht Ownership Program
In the interests of fostering rather than hindering, the ATO (Australian Tax Office) has structured strategies designed to encourage investment in the charter industry.
From a tax perspective there are two business models: the first is a simple fixed-income hobby-based structure; the other is more of a small-business venture that involves purchasing the boat through Sunsail.
Boats available for investment include this stunning Sunsail 53, a smaller I-series keelboat, or one of the Leopard power catamarans.
All boats are privately owned but professionally managed by Sunsail, which offers two basic ownership programs:
* A fixed guaranteed return on the purchase price of the vessel for up to 5½ years, with Sunsail responsible for the management, maintenance, berthing, insurance and day-to-day running costs.
* A variable return contract where the owner enters into a shared-risk agreement with Sunsail.
Whether skippered or bareboat, owners can use their yacht in Australia or cash-in farther afield, enjoying reciprocal sistership rights in any one of Sunsail's 35 locations worldwide.
Working on a points system, owners can have up to 12 weeks boating per year- depending on the (high or low) season and destination. Then, after 5½ years they have the option of selling the boat or trading up to a new model and commencing the program over again. Others may simply choose to sail off into the sunset!
For further information, contact David Flynn (Sunsail), phone 1300 661 321 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Facts & figures)
Sunsail Jeanneau 53
With the Cyclone Yasi threat only days away, we managed one exhilarating beat, run and reach in the bay. Each in its own special way was a memorable and powerful experience in the gusty conditions. The 53 was responsive and impressively fast on all quarters. Under power, top speed is 10kts and cruise is 8.5kts.
PRICE AS TESTED
MATERIAL: Handlaid GRP
LENGTH OVERALL: 16.06m
WATERLINE LENGTH: 15.73m
MAKE/MODEL: Yanmar 4JH4-THE
RATED HP: 110
GEARBOX (MAKE): ZF
PROPELLER: Fixed 3-blade
The Sunsail-Jeanneau 53 is designed for those with an apreciation for performance and comfort. But such is the volume yacht, the yacht also caters for a crowd. And, of course, the French manufacturers are hard to beat when it comes to styling, user-friendly features, value for money and, as time has shown, longevity even as in charter in the harsh Whitsundays.
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