Yachting and gentleman are English concepts and they fit very well together. Plaisance is French and it is not quite the same thing. It developed in France in the early 20th century but it really referred to small and light boats designed for lakes and rivers or for coastal cruising. The far away shores and blue sea were only distant dreams in most sailor’s minds even if they were fuelled by the likes of Tabarly and Moitessier.
The Jeanneau Gin Fizz changed all that when it was introduced at the Paris Boat Show in 1974. Suddenly it became possible within a reasonable budget to reach the far out islands or even to see for yourself that the World was really round. The boat did cost 228.300 Francs included the taxes in 1975. This is now about 150.000 € for a well equipped boat, a sum that is not so different of the price of a Sun Odyssey 379.
The Gin Fizz also paved the way for an emerging industrial leader. It has also given us some formidable sailors. Among those John Kretschmer who is the US grand old man of cruising with some 300,000 nautical miles behind him and the cruising specialist of Sailing magazine. John Kretschmer made his first offshore passages on a Gin Fizz called Epoch, crossed the Atlantic twice and experienced some mighty storms. He sold the boat to his own mother who then circumnavigated it, and then sold the boat to another sailor who then repeated the voyage. Can one find a better proof for the seaworthiness of a boat than this one?
Kretschmer's informative article on the Gin Fizz can be read at: Sailing Magazine Used Boat Notebook
More recently the boat was made famous by Laura Dekker who solo circumnavigated with a Gin Fizz ketch called Guppy at the age of 15-16 accomplishing one of the most incredible, not to say crazy, journeys ever made with a leisure craft. The choice of Gin Fizz was the result of a deliberate evaluation by her sponsor and expedition organizer, no other than her own father. Why was the Gin Fizz considered as the right choice for this voyage? The answer lays certainly behind four key factors: Security, comfort, ease of handling at sea and ability to make a lot of miles day after day in varying conditions.
The design of the Gin Fizz came from the drawing board of a young naval architect, Michel Joubert who was known for his own racing boats built with very scarce resources. He designed the Gin Fizz as a polyvalent boat, that is a boat suitable for all kind of uses from family cruising, offshore passages to racing.
At its time the boat was exceptional and the concept still remains unique in many ways. The US boat designers Sparkman & Stevens dominated yacht design in the seventies and it is interesting to briefly compare a venerable S&S design, such as the Swan 38, and a Gin Fizz in order show how radical and different the ideas of our young naval architect were. The S&S boats were much heavier, had a smaller beam, shorter waterline and a classic narrow stern. The hull sections were also quite different and the cockpit as well as the interior volume was much, much smaller. Mr Joubert decided to look elsewhere and sailed a route of his own.
At the time Gin Fizz was considered as a light displacement boat carrying a lot of sail area. The separate keel and rudder and the very large beam which extends up to the stern were radical choices. As Mr Kretchmer notes the Gin Fizz appears immediately as a “beamy son of a gun”. This translates evidently to a large interior volume. It also insures a very good ability to carry its sails.
Gin Fizz is very low on the water. The deck is almost flush with a low but long and large deckhouse. My neighbor in the marina this summer was a Bénéteau First 31.7 known as a modern racer-cruiser. As you can see the height on the water of the two boats is identical even though the Gin Fizz is two meters longer and half a meter wider.
Some 600 boats came out of the yards. 400 where made by Jeanneau under the name of Gin Fizz and another French yard, Gilbert Marine made sister ships with an identical concept with the name of Gib’Sea Ketch 37. The concept was used also for building some boats in aluminum.
Jeanneau built from the beginning two different versions, a sloop and a ketch. This makes it possible to compare these two rigs. The ketch rig has found no place on race boats for many years. Sloops are definitively faster upwind as the mizzen is not efficient upwind except in a very gentle breeze. A ketch rig finds its place in the cruising world where aggressive upwind sailing is not everybody’s cup of tea. A ketch has a larger sail area and very much so on a Gin Fizz as a 30 m2 stay sail can be hauled in front of the mizzen mast. It also helps to keep the size of individual sails smaller and the center of efforts low. These are all things that cruising sailors love. The biggest enemy of ketch rigging is its cost and the fact that it has an important effect to the general layout of the boat. One cannot turn a sloop to a ketch, it must be born as such.
The cockpit is at the heart of the Gin Fizz concept, understanding the cockpit is understanding the boat for three reasons:
First it is huge, really huge and deep as you can see on the picture below.
John Kretchmer wondered whether the cockpit would empty properly in case it was filled with water, but he was pooped twice and the cockpit was drained quickly without problems as the transom stopped water from pouring into the boat.
Secondly the cockpit is placed in the center of the boat and not at the stern. The passengers sit in the middle of the boat and very close to the water. This means that they are close to the center of buoyancy in a position where the movements of the boat are nice and gentle and you have a feeling like that the boat is going on rails. This is important for passage makers like Laura Dekker as the crew will not get tired or even sea sick so easily. It is also an important safety feature as you can keep yourself out of trouble much easier as long as you have a fresh and active crew.
Thirdly it is organized in a peculiar way. The helmsman sits on the stern companionway but the 3-speed Lewmar 44 genoa winches are placed in the front part of the cockpit out of the reach of the helmsman, but as there is no bench at the level of the winches, all the heavy work can be done whilst standing, which you will appreciate if you have ever tried to take in a 45 m2 genoa a couple of times in a good breeze. The Gin Fizz cockpit is a really good workstation for serious sailing as well as for family cruisers.
The cockpit also has something unique which we could call a “Rolls Royce feature”; there are well protected armchair like seats at the forward corners. It is the best place one can imagine for the watch at night, for the friend invited onboard for the first time and the grandma who just wants to sit and enjoy the sea breeze.
Last but not least the large cockpit is also ideal for entertaining guests and friends in the harbor.
The following video of my boat sailing will help to show these features;
The center cockpit and its low position define the interior layout of the boat. The cabin floor is only 1 meter above the cockpit floor. There is no possibility to put a cabin under the cockpit as the height is just sufficient for the engine and no more. The access to both cabins is directly from the cockpit. The helmsman and the crew inside stay all the time in contact and should you need to make a visit to the chart table it is only a couple steps away. Elderly people, children and pets will also appreciate this accommodation.
The L shaped galley is at the right hand of the entrance. It is small according to present day standards but very practical at sea and fair in the harbor and has a lot of locker space and a large fridge.
The boat goes back to the times of real navigation and the chart table is a made for “Grand aigle” charts and has big locker for charts and all the small things that unavoidably will clutter your drawers. The navigator has a navigator’s bunk that is a narrow coffin type of berth that you have to creep in. There is no risk of falling out whatever the sea state and Laura Dekker certainly used this bunk all along her circumnavigation.
The cabin height is 1,90m and there are grab rails all the way. The saloon is a large open space with rather simple furniture. There is a U shaped sofa on the left and a bench on the right. The saloon table is foldable and there is room for family and friends. The saloon gives a strong sensation of space and is excellent for relaxing discussions and get togethers after a long sailing day.
On both sides of the saloon you find sea berths with the appropriate adjustable side and security straps. These are very narrow bunks as they should be and there is no better place to rest at sea. You are in the part of the boat where movements are gentle, well in place and out of the way of the active crew. Under the bunks as well as under the benches you find of course a lot of storage.
The heads are located in front of the mast and in the original version they occupy the entire width of the boat. The newer boats were built with it in a separate cabin to port. This first version has a very particular door arrangement. The main cabin and the forward cabin door close the heads from the rest of the boat but together they can also be used for hiding the toilet leaving the rest of the interior as one space. This is the normal day accommodation.
In front of the heads you have a quite a large cabin with a V-berth and a lot of locker space.
The after cabin is a rather small one with a height of about 1,4 meters, It is enough for sitting but you can stand only when the cabin hatch is open. It is ideal for children and can be used as a modest guest cabin. Most owners might use it mainly as storage space. One should consider it also from the point of view of passage making. However if you have to sacrifice one cabin, the cabin to sacrifice is not the aft one but the forward cabin as it is unusable at sea anyway. The aft cabin is less than one meter from the wheel and a nice resting place for the free crew as the helmsman only needs to tap on cabin wall to get some help, at sea this accommodation is very handy indeed.
The interior finish on the boat is fair. The Bateaux newspaper describes the boat in its November 2013 special issue as “a true phenomena and without any doubt one of the finest representatives of the sailboat industry for the past 50 years”, but the paper also states that the interior is at a kind of Ikea level. This is true, it is simple but everything is in mahogany veneer and strongly stratified to the hull. It is light, practical, economic and strong which corresponds to the objectives set for the boat – admirals will have turn somewhere else.
Laura Dekker did make a lot of modifications on her boat. She for instance added a second smaller wing engine in order to be always sure to have power available. She did not however change the boat’s general gear as it was considered adequate for the journey. All seven winches and other equipment are of good size for their purpose. You have to work a lot at the mast where the halyards (two genoa, the main and the spinnaker) terminate but there is a very good protection with a granny bar rail and you will feel secure.
The anchor locker is a fairly large one and there is a manual traditional windlass as standard. The original owners manual explains the boat in detail and shows in every respect a good understanding of the needs imposed by the sea conditions that the boat is designed for.
The original engine was a 50 horsepower Perkins diesel cooled with direct cooling. Most of the owners have replaced it and in many cases with a smaller one of around 30 horsepower. It is sufficient unless you navigate in an area with a lot of currents and you want to have some extra power. The fuel tank is under the cockpit floor and it takes about 150 liters.
The Gin Fizz was the first boat built by Jeanneau for open sea and long passages. No one really knew how the boat should have been technically dimensioned and Jeanneau decides to play it safe. The Bateaux magazine describes it as a close application of the principle “le trop fort n’a jamais manqué”. The dimensioning has always impressed those who have had to make holes to the hull.
The deck is in sandwich balsa and it is glued, bolted and on top of that stratified to the hull. The simple and strong construction is certainly one of the reason you still find these boats all around the world.
At the beginning of this article it was said that Gin Fizz is a kind of obvious pick for a venture like the one of Laura Dekker due to considerations of security and comfort at sea, ease of handling and the ability to make a lot of miles. Now it is time to try answer to these claims.
The keys to security at sea are based on the simple and very sturdy construction and good dimensioning of everything onboard the boat. With close to three tons of ballast placed very low due to the keel form grants a good stability. Gin Fizz is also a very well balanced boat in particular with the ketch version that allows easy adjustment of the balance in varying conditions.
The same factors contribute to the comfort at sea but here we must consider the role of the hull form and that of the center cockpit. The hull form provides a very smooth passage through the waves. The bottom has a sharp V edge at the bow and turns gradually to a round one. The length of the waterline is 9,5 on the 11,40 boat which means that it is shorter than what is common nowadays.
This kind of hull form produces smoother movements than a boat having a flatter and more angular shape and longer waterline. The fact that the freeboard is very low contributes to the same phenomenon as there is less mass placed far above the buoyancy center.
What defines the comfort of a vessel at sea is a complex matter: we have to deal with the slope and height of the waves, the boat motion physics, angular accelerations the sailor is subject to, the moment of inertia at the level of the human ear where the physiological sensors providing the input resulting to sea sickness are and so on. Put this way one can understand that it is impossible to fully answer this question in an article like this. The only thing one can say is that Gin Fizz has pitched it all just right.
The accelerations one is subject to due to the pitch of the boat depend heavily on the distance of the sailor from the buoyancy center. These distances are indicated on the drawing with red arrows. Sitting in the armchair in the cockpit this distance is about 1,2 meters, at the chart table or the navigators bunk it is close to zero and even at the helm it is only around 2,5 meters. At the navigator’s desk or at the galley the acceleration is thus close to zero. It is very small at the watchman’s place and very reasonable even at the helmsman’s seat. Whatever factors are considered this distance enters in one or another way into consideration and always plays an important role.
There is also something very tangible for old sailors but it might seem abstract to the new generation. You sit down close to the water, you see, you feel, you hear and even smell the sea. This is a domain where the old wooden cruisers form an aristocracy unattainable by any modern boat but the Gin Fizz is not a poor candidate for entering this club.
The center cockpit and the ketch rig, if it is the case, play an important role also on the ease of handling. The boat must be well balanced and the forces at the rudder remain reasonable. This is true for the Gin Fizz. The peculiar organization of the cockpit makes it as stated above a very efficient workstation as you can always work standing. You benefit fully of your body weight and work faster. When the boat was new the fact that the helmsman could not reach the main and the genoa sheets was considered as a problem. This problem has disappeared as the modern quadrant placed autopilots can always take the helm at least momentarily, even if you like to steer your boat most of the time yourself.
The ketch rig offers you a lot of possibilities. Sailing upwind you can quickly take the mizzen down and sail with the genoa and the main. This moves the center of the forces forward and allows the boat to stay well balanced and keep a full genoa up to 15 knot/s wind. It goes very nicely so. In stronger winds one might like to take the main down and sail with a combination of the genoa and the mizzen. This is very nice in breeze sailing downwind as well as you do not have to worry about the boom and eventual accidental gibes. A racer would not do that but you will achieve a very nice average speed anyhow, so why take an unnecessary extra stress. As you see one can always find a reasonable solution to tackle the conditions and the simple but robust gear onboard will always serve you correctly.
Gin Fizz is considered as a cruiser but Michel Joubert told me that his goal was to design a “bateau polyvalent comme peut l’être aujourd’hui un Sun Fast ou un First”. How does this correspond to the reality? It is interesting to look back at the voyage of Laura Dekker for an answer.
Ms Dekker sailed out of Galapagos on the 7th of May and arrived to Hiva Oa at the Marquesas Islands on the 25th. This is a journey on open sea, certainly made in good conditions; She makes 2960 miles in 18 days that is an average of 164 nautical miles per day. Have you ever made such a daily average? a 15 year old girl alone on an 11 meter boat has done it for a time of two weeks in a row.
It is not easy to find recent racing history on the Gin Fizz. The Transquadra is a French Atlantic race reserved for amateurs of 40 years of age or more. The race is sailed in solo or double in two stages France-Madera-Martinique. Monsieur Philippe Bonvallot won this race in 1999 on a Gin Fizz having Madame Bonvallot as the double and Monsieur and Madame Hebel were fifth.
There is also a new useful website from a new owner from Greece at ASTARTE GIN FIZZ They have done some extensive upgrades and the site has a wealth of information and manuals etc.
There is a Transquadra race in preparation for 2014-2015 and Jeanneau is again ready for it. The company is introducing at the Paris boat show a new boat designed in particular for this purpose. The new Jeanneau will do as well as the Gin Fizz did or of course it will do even a lot better. Let’s welcome and wish good luck for the Sun Fast 3600.
Click for more on the Sun Fast 3600
Simo Brummer ©Copyright 2013-2023
Gin Fizz ketch: Simone II