French builder’s day-tripping, overnighting 30-footer is a blast to drive.
If eyes are the windows to a human being’s soul, are hull windows a boat’s eyes to its soul mate — the water? There’s a chance I’m overthinking this (just a chance?), but the hull windows on the Jeanneau Leader 30, a new yacht for 2017, made me wonder. They’re an eye-catching feature of the Leader 30 in that they are darkly tinted and run for at least half of the 30-foot boat’s hull length, making it appear slightly longer than it really is.
The Leader 30 is the only open model and the smallest boat in the Leader line, which includes the 33, 36, 40 and 46, so there is room for upward mobility within the Leader line, especially since younger buyers and first-timers are likely to be drawn to the smaller end of the line. But Jeanneau is part of the Beneteau Group — a stable of brands that includes Glastron, Wellcraft, Scarab, Four Winns, Jeanneau, Beneteau, Prestige and Monte Carlo Yachts — so the upward mobility extends far beyond the Leader models. The folks at the Beneteau Group hope the Leader models are a bridge from outboard boats, which the group offers, to the Prestige Line and from there to the Monte Carlo yachts division, which begins at 63 feet. It’s an all-in-the-family sort of strategy, and one that makes sense, considering yacht buyers and brokers tend to develop a relationship that lasts.
Day trips are the Leader 30’s strength, but it has one stateroom and a salon/dining settee in the bow that converts to a berth big enough for two adults, so overnighting and weekending are definitely among its talents. And while cruising the harbor or the lake at a leisurely pace while munching on hors d’oeuvres and waving at friends and strangers is appealing, the Leader 30 is up for a little more action than that.
On the Water
On test day, Sarasota Bay was a recreational boater’s dream, so we got to run the 30-footer all out. The 300 hp Volvo D4 diesel sterndrive was up to the task. It pushed the boat to a top speed of 35 mph at 3600 rpm. Fuel burn at that pace was 16 gph, for a range of about 150 miles (including a 10 percent reserve). The most efficient cruising speed was at 26 mph, where fuel burn was just 11 gph, for a range of 165 miles. That’s almost 2.4 mpg at cruise.
Buyers have engine choices. The Volvo D4 diesel is standard, and it comes in 260 or 300 hp. Folks who prefer a gasoline engine can opt for a MerCruiser 6.2L (350 hp) or a MerCruiser 8.2L (380 hp). One last option, for fans of twin engines, puts two 250 hp MerCruiser 4.5L V-6 power plants in the engine space. All are connected to a sterndrive.
Driving the boat was easy and fun, at a compact and stylish helm. Systems switches flank a Raymarine HybridTouch multifunction display. Above that, set back on a smaller panel of the dash console, are analog dials. On the base surface of the console, the driver has access to the throttle, trim tab controls, VHF radio and bow thruster control, all on the right-hand side. An engine display is in the middle, and a cup holder is to the left.
The throttle control was smooth, and the leather-covered sport wheel was easy to turn and grip. Evincing a sportboat lean in hard turns, putting the horizon at a 45-degree angle, the Leader 30 was aggressive and solid — able to be a bit of a bad boy but without making the passengers worry they might be tossed around, or overboard. In fact, during one of our test turns, a member of the Beneteau team stood at the base of the steps to below and chatted on his phone.
Soak in the Sun
If one needs confirmation as to the Leader 30’s strengths, look to the bow and stern of the boat. On the bow is a three-section sunpad. The back sections lift at various angles for sunbathers’ resting pleasure, and the forward sections lift slightly, too, at the foot, creating a chaise lounge-like cocoon of comfort. Four cupholders are close at hand. At the other end of the boat, a swim platform worthy of a much larger boat extends the boat’s profile by at least three feet. It’s covered in teak, has a hidden boarding ladder and includes a couple of cupholders. Jeanneau’s designers expect this thing to get used when the boat is at anchor. It’s also the best entryway to the rest of the boat.
A group of six will have no problem mingling in the cockpit. A C-shaped settee wraps around a table that folds in half for easier access to the seating. Five or six people can sit on the settee, which extends just far enough forward that the captain will feel like part of the group from his bolstered chair at the helm.
The settee has a bit of versatility. Half of the forward backrest can swing aft to create a forward-facing chair, a real companion seat to the captain. Also, the aft backrest folds flat to create a sunpad, and the rearmost port backrest angles to past 45 degrees, where it can serve as a headrest for a couple of people to recline on the sunpad. If passengers need a respite from the sun, a cockpit awning is an option.
Opposite the settee is a console with a built-in sink that’s covered by a hinged countertop. An optional refrigerator can reside under the sink. It’s a convenient unit for supplying the party with beverages, while a couple of speakers built into the radar arch supply the tunes.
Remember, this is a 30-foot, 3-inch boat, but belowdecks Jeanneau designers managed to find room for more amenities than most boat buyers might expect. From the landing at the bottom of the stairs, which are on the centerline, one will find a wet head to starboard, a small galley to port (a sink, a two-burner stovetop, a microwave, a refrigerator/freezer, and storage above and below), a dinette that converts to a berth in the bow and a stateroom aft, under the cockpit.
On a 30-foot boat, versatility is key, and the belowdecks bow section serves triple duty as a lower salon, a dining area and a berth. The U-shaped settee wraps around a high-low table, which can accommodate four for dinner or up to six for drinks or games. For an overnight stay, the kids or a second couple can sleep here. The table lowers to serve as a base for a filler cushion, and a curtain gives the occupants some privacy.
The stateroom is tucked aft, under the cockpit, and while it doesn’t have standup headroom, it does have a berth that is as long as a queen but not quite as wide, a hanging closet and a bench settee. The hull windows I mentioned earlier extend into the room, so light pours in, and opening portholes to either side provide fresh air.
Thirty feet may not seem like a ton of space to put into use, but the designers at Jeanneau managed to fit everything a couple or a group of six or eight people would need for a day on the water. Given a high level of familiarity, two couples could even spend a weekend enjoying the waterfront, either puttering along for the sake of friendly conversation and a lack of places to be, or scooting along at 35 mph to make it in time for a reservation at a hotspot across the bay.