In 1957, Henri Jeanneau, already passionate about aeroplanes and automobiles, had just discovered a brand new passion for powerboating, one that began as he watched a boat pass by his window. Soon afterward, in Les Herbiers, France, home to a rich heritage of artisan work, he began building a wooden hull with which he participated in the 6-hour Paris race, the largest national race at the time. He was first to cross the line, and this galvanized him. So, a past time became a trade. In 1959, he hired canoe builders as apprentices in his new business, “the Nautical Hall of the West,” which would become, a few years later, the Jeanneau shipyards. France was seeing unprecedented economic growth, and the new company executive quickly understood that the appearance of new electric appliances designed to ease household chores would allow families to devote more time to leisure activities – to the sun, to the sea, and to boating!
In 1961, Jeanneau’s first fibreglass powerboat made its début. It was the Calanque. It retained the wooden deck and featured the lines of a frigate, which made perfect sense because it was moulded onto a wooden hull. That same year, a dream became a reality: Jeanneau created the first all-fibreglass boat. This new material, a petrochemical product, created an unprecedented technological advantage. From a single mould, hundreds of hulls could be created. The fibreglass was applied to the mould and impregnated with resin, spread on by a roller. Afterward, workers had only to wait for the new hull to cure, and then they moved on to the next one.
It was the beginning of a grand saga of powerboats built at over 1,500 in a series. One after another, the names followed: the “Squale,” the “Lion de Mer,” the “Caraïbe,” and then the first great Jeanneau motor yacht, the “Impérator 900,” launched in 1966. She was etched into a wall at 1/1 scale. The grand product lines included: Skanes, Arcachonnais, Esteou, Cap Camarat, Merry Fisher, Leader and Prestige.
From the artisan work of the 1960’s that was the norm in France and elsewhere – each boat was unique, and often customised while still on the production lines – to 2007 and the new technological advances similar to those seen in the aeronautical field, allowing Jeanneau to create boats using 3-dimensional design software and digitally controlled laser-cutting machines. Over the past 50 years of development, the men and women of Jeanneau have evolved in their fields while preserving their passion for the sea and love of work well done. At Jeanneau, the woodworkers have held on to their planes and mechanics have kept their tools for repairs. In the beginning, to test the solidity of the first fibreglass boats, a boat was hitched to a towrope and put in on Lake Tricherie, about 10 km. from the Les Herbiers, France factory and yards. There, at full speed, it was launched over a wooden ramp and into the air, clearing a nearby road, to land in a field. Henri Jeanneau was at the helm, of course. Today, real-life tests are conducted on ocean crossings or circumnavigations.
The first Jeanneau sailboats were launched in 1964, a date that is synonymous with the democratisation of pleasure cruising. That same year, Éric Tabarly captured the public’s attention when he competed in the English transatlantic race, “l’Ostar,” aboard his 44-foot ketch, the “Pen Duick II.”
Where would French ocean racing – or even pleasure cruising – be without Eric Tabarly’s victory in 1964? It was the first time that a French national beat the English on their own turf. Tabarly became the pride of France. He passed his passion for the sea on to a new generation, and he created a veritable craze for sailing among the French. He inspired many careers, leaving in his wake a number of skippers who would know fame in their own right, including Alain Colas, Olivier de Kersauson, Philippe Poupon, Marc Pajot, Titouan Lamazou, Michel Desjoyeaux, Philippe Monnet, Francis Joyon, and Jean Le Cam.
In the late 1960’s, pleasure cruising sailboats became mainstream, and shipyards like Jeanneau would produce their first sailboats to benefit from this new enthusiasm for sailing. Technological innovations lowered production and purchasing costs, and pleasure cruising became accessible to the masses. The celebrated Glénans sailing school found its stride in this same period. It was the end of the age of the aristocratic sailor, and sailboat production exploded with the fabulous Sangria, a model launched by Jeanneau in 1970 that sold over 2,700 boats. This formidable success cemented Jeanneau’s place at the forefront of the marine industry in the design and construction of cruising sailboats.