If you haven’t seen an Oceanis for a while you will be surprised. (See what we mean by watching our Beneteau Oceanis 38 Video: First Look.)The latest models are tagged ‘new generation’ and look radically different with their signature arches over the companionway. The 38 is the newest, smallest and most avant-garde of them all, drawing on market research by Beneteau from which they deduced that the market was looking for a high degree of flexibility.
The USP is ‘a boat that evolves with you’. Three versions are offered, Daysailer, Weekender and Cruiser, all of which can be altered as your cruising needs change. Beneteau envisage a young couple starting with the Daysailer, basically a shell with just a heads and some seating, then when they have children and can afford more comfort they’ll add a galley, berths and maybe a chart table. The Weekender is capable of being upgraded to the full Cruiser version which is the one seen at boat shows and featured in this report.
Below decks on the cruising version
‘Wow’, was the word I kept hearing as I hung around in the boat taking notes at the Southampton Boat Show. What caused this amazement was an open-plan interior with a clear view all the way from companionway to bow, owner’s double berth and all. This was the Cruiser version with the forward bulkhead removed. It can be re-installed in about an hour.
‘Very French’, remarked one show visitor. ‘Loft apartment’ is how salesmen were describing the all-in-one space. It’s actually rather clever. If you’re cruising just as a couple, why wouldn’t you want to open up the interior and use the master berth as a rather decadent daybed? Without the bulkhead there’s a liberating feeling of space.
The galley with a large, domestic-size fridge runs down the starboard side and there’s a chart table (with stowage for almanacs and space for a chartplotter) in the traditional position to port. Aft, you can choose either one enormous or two amply large cabins, and there are two showers - one in the heads the other in a separate compartment
On deck and performance
The new-generation Oceanis models are defined by their modern-looking chined hulls with two large hull windows on each side. The chines provide good initial stability for less heeling and allow more interior space. The 38’s beamy, and when she does heel twin rudders ensure the helm remains responsive. Another prominent external feature is the arch over the companionway to which the boom is sheeted (there’s no traveller). This is for crew safety, keeping the boom above head-height and the cockpit free of blocks and ropes.
The arch also enabled the naval architects to move the mast about a metre aft from where it would have been on an older-style Oceanis on which the mainsheet traveller was in the cockpit. Its new position results in a more balanced rig with an almost equal-sized main and barely overlapping foresail.
On the stemhead fitting there’s an attachment point for an optional Code 0 or asymmetric spinnaker.
Beneteau’s research also found that people want easy access to the briny, (lucky French with their warm Mediterranean waters) so they’ve given the 38 twin wheels with good space between and a full-width drop-down stern platform with boarding ladder.
Equipment and options
The basic Daysailer’s interior is unique for a 38ft boat, just a bed in the bow and seating in the saloon; no galley, no aft cabins, not even aft bulkheads. (Thankfully they didn’t go completely sportsboat style with a bucket for ablutions - the toilet compartment is standard issue.)
Reading through the price list you realise that Beneteau are offering pretty much a kit boat. The Cruiser is the Full Monty but with the Daysailer and Weekender, items like a saloon table are optional. You can add ‘packs’, such as ‘one aft cabin’ which comprises ‘mattress, bulkhead with door, two reading lights, hull lining, curtains’ and so on.
Buying the Cruiser doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy adding unique Beneteau extras. The Dock & Go joystick berthing system makes close-quarters manoeuvring easier, or how about the brand-new inflatable passerelle? It looks like an aircraft escape chute but it’s rigid enough to walk on, and practical to stow when deflated. It’s a fun item too: at anchor in the sun just turn it over and it makes a waterslide.
What the Beneteau Oceanis 38 does best
The ‘evolutionary’ concept should be admired. Beneteau have started fashions in the past and it will be interesting to see if other builders are influenced by the modular approach, and by the open-plan option. Many, perhaps even most couples rarely have overnight guests. One tall, elderly visitor to the Southampton boat show thought that ‘getting about’ without ‘walls and doors’ would be easier.
First and foremost this is a boat for easy, holiday-style sailing. She won’t frighten the children by heeling too much and with her conservative sail area you won’t need to reef as early as on racier boats. The three-cabin cruiser version will no doubt become a popular charter boat.
You can’t have it all. Gaining comfort features often means losing performance. A high boom with no traveller means a smaller, less tweakable rig. An arch adds windage. However the Oceanis is not marketed as a cruiser-racer, if you want one of those then look at Beneteau’s First range.
On the show boat there wasn’t a single locker for clothes. Instead owners are offered small, cabin-baggage-size wheelie suitcases designed in conjunction with Longchamp that open and hang up on hooks. In my notebook I wrote, “Suspect Beneteau will sneak in some lockers at next boat show due to popular demand.” Well it’s already happened, wood hanging units will be an option on future boats.
There’s nothing quite like the new Oceanis, but nearest equivalents around £100,000 ex VAT for the basic boat are the Bavaria 37, Jeanneau’s Sun Odyssey 379, Dufour 380 and Hanse 385 (see Hanse 385: Bridging the Gap Between Comfort and Performance).
Beneteau Oceanis 38 specifications
Draft: 2.05m (option 1.60m)
Sail area: (main, 103% genoa) 65.7 m2
Price (ex VAT at time of publication): £143,000 for a good cruising spec including electronics and heating.