20 Mar 2019
True innovation in monohull sailboat design can be a bit elusive these days. That’s not to say that there are no more new ideas, but it does seem that many new tweaks and introductions are a bit incremental: let’s say evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Just when it seems that we’ve seen it all, though, something comes along that breaks with conventional thinking and pushes old habits into new directions. A clear example of this kind of thinking is the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490.
Design & Construction
As was the case with the SO 490’s little sister, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440, which won a SAIL magazine Best Boats award this past year in the monohull cruising category, designer Philippe Briand started with a blank sheet of paper when it came time to draw the boat. At the same time, though, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490 still also very much carries on the company’s tradition of reliable, rock-solid construction.
Topside, for example, the hull consists of an infused sandwich with a balsa core and a protective barrier coat to stave off blistering. The deck is also injection molded using Jeanneau’s proprietary “Prisma” process, and like the hull includes a balsa core to produce an exceptionally light structure while maintaining the necessary strength.
The double-spreader aluminum mast is held aloft with stainless steel 1 x 19 wire rigging and a double backstay. In-mast furling is available as an option, and Harken tracks and winches are used throughout. Twin rudders ensure a firm grip on the water, even in rougher conditions: a feature that is in many ways a prerequisite for any modern cruiser that wants to call itself a true sailer, given today’s beamy designs. Good on Jeanneau for making the extra effort in this important area.
On deck, the aforementioned innovations are especially noticeable in the cockpit, which differs from anything on the market in several ways. First, the side decks slope down toward the twin helms with no break or barrier at all. You can actually walk from the transom, around the port wheel, all the way to the bow and then aft back to the starboard wheel without ever once having to step over a coaming or seat cushion. This configuration means you can also sit outboard and drive while facing forward. No more craning around to watch the sails ahead while your torso faces inboard, which on prolonged outings can be real pain in the neck—literally. This is huge, as the industry continues to seek ways to keep everyone in the sport longer, including those with aging joints.
However, Briand didn’t just leave it there, as all the dead space that usually comprises the coaming is now also put to use in the form of settee backrests that lift up and out to form a pair of sun pads. Not only that but with a filler cushion the starboard pad reaches all the way to the drop-leaf table (now offset to provide a clear path between the companionway and the transom) so that with both backrests down, the entire cockpit becomes a huge lounge that will be the envy of the anchorage.
As a corollary, to accommodate these convertible coamings, the Harken primary winches have been moved inboard onto pedestals just ahead of the twin wheels, with the headsail and the mainsail sheets led there via a set of clutches. In addition to moving the winch weight inboard, this means the crew can now grind facing forward and watching the telltales rather than facing aft as on other models.
Forward, the rig has been changed up with the lower D1 and cap shrouds terminating at separate chainplates—one to the hull, the other outside the coachroof—creating an open, unobstructed way forward on the wide side decks. A Code 0 attaches to a point on the newly designed composite sprit that not only elongates the boat’s profile but moves the anchor forward of the plumb bow to minimize the inevitable stem dings that can result as it swings clear of the water. A performance package is available with tri-radial Mylar sails, a traditional hoist main and an adjustable high-modulus backstay.
Stowage has been moved inboard, keeping weight inboard as well
Stowage has been moved inboard, keeping weight inboard as well
The Jeanneau 490 comes in three configurations with two to five cabins and two or three heads. The saloon, galley and nav desk remains the same throughout, and only the staterooms change. In the standard owner’s layout, the master is forward with an island berth, a head to port and a separate shower stall amidships. Two cabins can also be shoehorned in here for charter purposes.
The forward-facing nav desk to port is large and close to the companionway for good communications with the cockpit. It’s also a part of a small dinette with another bench seat between the desk and the galley. This will be a nice place to rest during the off watch or for a couple to have a quick breakfast while discussing the day’s itinerary.
Most of the stowage options (and there are many) have been moved inboard to keep the weight closer to the centerline. A small island by the galley provides bottle and provision stowage, and you can also brace against it on a port tack while working at the stove underway.
The light below is exceptional, with hull and deck ports supplemented by multiple hatches, including one directly above the three-burner Eno stove—a nice touch.
We had a great test day, with 16-18 knots blowing over the flat waters of Miami’s Biscayne Bay. This boat likes to sail on the wind and sheeted in flat where it points up to 35 degrees. As the breeze backed off to 15 knots, our boatspeed settled in at 8.1 knots at 60 degrees with our in-mast furling main fully deployed. Foot bracing was quite good, although I’d like to see the fixed wooden brace on the cockpit sole replaced with a retractable one so it’s not a tripping hazard when not in use. Tacking was easy, and the boat responded quickly. With the Code 0 rolled out, we zipped along at 9.1 knots with just a finger on the helm—facing forward, no neck craning necessary.
Everything at the helm integrates nicely. The twin backstays are high and out of the way, so even tall drivers won’t be hit in the back of the head, and the sheet bags, though small, seem to contain the spaghetti fairly well.
On the flat water of the bay, the upgraded Yanmar 80 (a 57hp engine comes standard) delivered 9.1 knots at 3,100 rpm. Jeanneau has kept the choice of engines under 100hp to be able to offer its 360-Degree Joystick Docking as an option. It’s hardly needed, though, especially with the optional retractable thruster that makes docking a breeze.
The Jeanneau Sun Odyssey line now has nine models from 32-52ft. The new 440 and 490 (more recently joined by the 410) are the first to showcase the walk-around cockpit, and if it finds a market, chances are it will proliferate throughout the range. For now, it’s exactly this kind of out-of-the-cockpit thinking that will not only help attract new people to the sport but keep folks sailing longer: a great innovation in sailing if ever there was one.