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Jeanneau Prestige 50

Having sea trialed a fair share of European boats with highly styled but outrageously impractical steering stations, I was a little surprised at the savvy design and comfort of the Prestige 50’s upper helm. The benchseat was firm and suitably elevated, with ample room between my knees and the pod-type steering console. The console itself was laid out simply and logically, with an easy-to-see Plastimo compass surmounting all, a limited but smart suite of Volvo Penta gauges just below, and only the necessary interactive controls on either side of the steering wheel. And the placement of the Volvo Penta electronic engine controls was perfect—it let me flick the sticks without stooping as I assumed a standing position to maneuver the boat out of her slip.

“Clear astern,” somebody yelled from the cockpit as I bumped the mains momentarily and alternately into gear, thus shifting our bow back and forth so Gilles Rigaux of Prestige, a new and independently branded company backed by French builder Jeanneau, could deal with our bow lines. The ensuing responsiveness was a little surprising as well: Gear jammin’ a brace of 575-hp Volvo Penta D9-575 straight-shaft diesels engendered an immediate, highly controlled effect. “Clear!” yelled Rigaux from the foredeck.

As usual during the Miami International Boat Show, Sea Isle Marina behind the Biscayne Marriott was slam-full of large vessels of every description. So getting safely free entailed shoving the 50’s pulpit into a triangle formed by the bows of two other big cruisers across the fairway while carefully rotating the stern so as not to nail a piling or something else behind. By the time I’d managed to do all this, I was a total fan of an exceptionally synergistic combo—the 50’s oomphy propulsion system, her fast-acting electronic controls, and the superb sightlines that radiate from her centerline steering station topside. Indeed, there was only one part of the vessel I couldn’t keep tabs on while maneuvering—the port quarter, which is obfuscated by the flying bridge overhang. Otherwise, I could see everything, even the starboard portion of the swim platform which was visible through the open cockpit-access hatch on the starboard side.

The weather was tranquil that morning: The waters were pancake-flat with hardly a whiff of wind. So it wasn’t surprising that the 50 turned in a spirited, enjoyable performance, with an average top speed of 36.6 mph and fuel-burn readings commensurate with stateside competitors. At one point, to sample the ambiance below decks, I descended to the lower steering station where I found it easy to maintain visibility over the bow even when coming out of the hole but virtually impossible to see traffic abaft the beam while on plane; the saloon’s overhead interferes with sightlines aft as running attitudes increase. Moreover, the lower helm’s wheel seemed almost as over-tight and tough to turn as the wheel at the upper helm had been, despite the fact that the 50’s French-manufactured Lecomble & Schmitt steering hydraulics are backed up by an electric power-assist system. “We think that air in the lines is the problem,” explained Rigaux.

It pains me to admit this, but I made a muddle of returning the 50 to her slip while using the lower helm station, an exercise I decided to try in order to appraise docking visibility through the saloon and into the cockpit. Visibility was excellent, by the way, (perhaps even better than from the upper station), but I flubbed my approach all the same, relying on the Max Power bow thruster and distance-off measurements from Rigaux to save the day. Why the flub? Who knows? Certainly not the boat’s fault.

My examination of the 50’s interior produced two significant impressions. First, the overall layout’s noticeably well designed. While you might expect a lower deck with three heads (each with separate stall shower) and three staterooms, along with a galley to port and a crew’s quarters astern, to be just a tad overwrought, nothing could have been farther from the truth. The placement and dimensions of cabinets, doors, and lockers are so savvily conceived that the whole area feels spacious. And pushing the easy-living ambiance even further is the natural light coming from an immense windshield (directly above the galley), numerous opening ports, and a large window molded into the starboard side of the full-beam, midships master.

The thoughtful approach underlays the main-deck arrangement as well, with its raised dinette on the port side forward, a set of opposing lounges aft, and a bar (with reefer, faucets, and a stowage cabinet) just abaft the lower station’s benchseat. The styling is economically modular but crisp. High-gloss cherry joinery was appealing to the eye, and scarfs, butt joints, bullnoses, and other aspects of fit and finish evinced careful, machine-cut precision.

My second impression was gloomy by comparison. I found the 50’s engine room, accessed via a couple of hatches in the cockpit, to be cramped, not particularly well lit, and subject to more of her French builder’s influences than I’d like. At just over 16 inches, the distance between the mains was slight—there was simply not enough room for an average-size 5'11" guy like me to move around freely. Also, getting at the batteries between the inboard engine bearers was problematic: The barrel-type latches on the removable panels over them were tough (if not impossible) to open by hand. Outboard engine access seemed virtually non-existent. And in addition to the use of the French language on various ancillaries, I came across some wholeheartedly French (and possibly difficult to service) components on the forward firewall—two Cristec 24-volt, 20-amp battery chargers and a quartet of Soderep-Ecans battery switches.

A bargain takes the sting out of such relatively minor details, though. And at $815,000, the base price of the Prestige 50 is well under what many comparable stateside cruisers retail for these days, thanks in part to the economies of scale giants like Jeanneau can squeeze from a production line. Add this nifty little feature to a creatively designed interior with oodles of living space and a high level of maneuverability and performance, I’d say we’re talkin’ a true bon vivant here. Even if I did have a little trouble backin’ her home.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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