RECENT boat shows at Southampton, Cannes, La Rochelle and Genoa will have taken sales of the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349 over the 400 mark.

The Marc Lombard design which we first encountered two years ago just after it was launched, sailing one of the early 349s in Cannes at the global press test, has since become a massive best seller.

It is still outselling everything else in the 33 to 36ft market by something close to 2:1. And at each of these key European shows it is still the busiest boat on display, writes YL boat test editor Andi Robertson. 

It is a unique offering. It has struck a chord because it is totally modern. The hard chine and reverse sheer, as well as being functional in terms of enhancing space below and maximising speed potential produce a funky, sexy looking shape which is instantly identifiable.

It carries those shapes from the Volvo, Class 40 and IMOCA worlds and for a production cruiser that just gives it a huge dollop of cachet. It looks a bit different from the homogenous pop out cruisers, but without being too in your face or crazy.

The looks are important, but the combination of space and performance is, I would say, unmatched for the size. The aft sections are powerful but not draggy, there are twin rudders which give precise control and lots of grip. Waterline length is drawn out to the maximum, fundamental to the sailing performance, and there is ample horsepower available.

There are three different keel versions available including the standard fin and a shoal draft lifting keel version which, by all accounts, sails as well as the standard keel. That makes it ideal for skinny, shallow waters like Florida and the east coast of the USA, but we’d have the deep keel version every time.

But it’s the combination of interior volume space, a great cockpit and good sailing performance that wins the Sun Odyssey 349 its fan base. It’s easy to handle, especially with the small jib and Code Zero combination and because the 349 feels bigger it is drawing sales from potential owners who were looking at 36 and 38 footers.

The Sun Odyssey especially hits the mark in the key areas for any family cruiser; saloon, cockpit, galley and heads. If anything the cabins are slightly smaller, but they are good, airy sleeping spaces.

The cockpit is great, spacious and safe. The swept back spreader rig needs no backstay at all. Sail controls are from the performance world with floating clew rings set off the coachroof for the jib and a rope hoop for the traveller at the after edge of the coachroof.

There are good working areas around the boat with decent side decks and foredeck. There is the option of having the stern open with no seat to allow more space and there is a fabulous fold down bathing platform.

So we revisited the Sun Odyssey 349 on the Clyde just to drill down and understand why this model has been such a success.

We had a perfect Autumn day, stolen from summer as one of our past scribes would have it. Although it was light for wind, the gentle zephyrs off the north end of Cumbrae did prove our point, in glorious Scottish technicolour.

In just two knots of breeze we had the Code Zero rolled out and were cutting across the water at 2-3 knots just enjoying the fabulous scenery and the warmth of the sun.

And that really is the point. For the purists like myself who would rather spend the extra hour or two on passage, being able to enjoy the sail rather than live with the engine noise and burn the diesel unnecessarily, then this powerful sail combo is a winner.

If you were heading back from Rothesay, Tighnabruaich, Tarbert or Arran that late afternoon, to sail gently under Code Zero would have been rewarding. And in lighter airs you can carry it quite close to the wind.

On the small jib and plenty breeze the Sun Odyssey sails beautifully. It is close winded because of the powerful keel and the narrow sheeting angle on the jib. I’d still love to see a slightly spec’d up sail package to get the most from the boat. It’s a modern day Tobermory racer or West Highland Week fun boat for the family I’m sure.

The interior is incredibly light and airy. The forecabin offers a big central double in a cabin stolen from a 40 footer and there is great drawer storage underneath. All of the living is on one level. There are no cills or steps. The companionway is easy with secure handholds and curved steps.

The long coachroof windows produce lots of ambient light as do the hull ports and roof windows and hatches.

There is lots of hot water, always, because the hot water heaters are the largest possible for this size of boat. All of the technical, maintenance areas are accessible and that is another fundamental feature which Jeanneau take on board from customer feedback. So too, the anchoring equipment is the biggest and best available; a big windlass and bow roller.

There is a choice of a two or three cabin layout. The two cabin layout is popular still with families who want the bigger heads option and for the lazarette locker to port which is big and spacious.

There is even a version in which this big locker will take a bunk which is accessible from the shower room or from above. Nice for kids!

The galley is good, slightly low on worktop space. There is a single sink, forward facing, and a top loading fridge space. Also, there is a good, aft facing nav station.

Overall the interior space is second to none for her size. Little wonder that the SO349 is stealing owners from bigger boats.

Stepping back on the Sun Odyssey 349 was a real pleasure, a reminder just why it’s selling so widely and so fast, a true global success story which will run and run.