For nearly four decades this French boatbuilder has been one to watch for trend-setting designs that others then follow. An almost uncanny ability to read the market saw the company grow from a producer of mostly fishing and other powered craft into Beneteau Yachts, one of the world’s largest builders of sailing yachts, in little more than a decade.
Beneteau First 30
After its launch in 1977, the first model in the company’s range of performance yachts, the First 30 put Beneteau on the map as a mainstream volume producer of sailing yachts and set the scene for the company’s later rapid expansion. The design was also selected as the boat used for the Tour de France a la Voile from 1979 to 1981.
Although a small boat by the standards of today’s 30 footers, at the time this André Mauric design offered plenty of space compared to contemporary designs of the same length, while also being faster and benefitting from better handling. The layout below decks was conventional for this era, with a double vee berth in the forecabin, large heads compartment across the full width of the boat, a saloon with two full-length settee berths, plus optional pilot berths and table. A galley aft by the companionway, with a proper chart table and quarter berth opposite completed the accommodation. By the time production stopped in 1981 to make way for the Jean Berret designed First 30E, 969 boats had been launched.
Beneteau First 345
Launched just six years after the First 30, this is a much more modern design and the forerunner of a new generation of yachts, with lighter displacement and wider, shallower hulls that were much broader aft than their forebears. The 345 was conceived as a performance boat and has impeccable handling, yet the high-volume hull also lent itself to comfortable and spacious accommodation with a choice of two or three separate sleeping cabins. The boat’s interior was also much better lit and ventilated than most existing designs, with a long Perspex companionway, plenty of coachroof windows and a good number of opening hatches.
These two factors help to explain the boat’s popularity with Mediterranean charter fleets, as well as with owners who valued the boat’s performance as much as the interior comforts. A long line of similar boats in the range soon followed, including the 305, 325, 375, 405 and 435.
Beneteau Oceanis 350
Starting with the Oceanis 350 in 1986, the first models in this range redefined cruising yachts – gone were dark and dimly-lit interiors, and narrow, deep cockpits. These were also boats with expansive deck space and interiors that were flooded with light – even more so than the First 345 series, thanks in part to the trademark wrap-over coach roof windows.
The early Oceanis models had proportionately more beam than the First range giving, even more space inside, and a shallower draught that allowed access to a wider range of cruising destinations. While these two factors marred sailing performance compared to the First range, both owners and charterers loved the new boats and they sold in huge numbers, both in Europe and in the Caribbean and North America, leading to Beneteau building a USA factory. The 350 was quickly followed by other models in the range – the 320, 390 and 370 over the following couple of years.
Beneteau Oceanis 400/411
By the second generation of the Oceanis range, it was firmly established as a favourite among boat private owners and charter operators. It was one of the first boats of this size designed for an all-furling rig, although later 411s were also offered with slab reefing mainsails. The accommodation set new standards for boats of this size, including a giant galley with huge fridge, two very generously sized quarter cabins aft and a master cabin forward with a rectangular (rather than triangular) bed and a generously proportioned en suite. More than 1,000 were sold over a 12-year period from 1992 to 2004.
Beneteau Figaro II
Despite the success of the Oceanis series, Beneteau certainly didn’t abandon performance boats and continued to develop the First range as fast and spacious cruiser racers.
The Figaro ll, however, was conceived in 2003 as an out-and-out racer for the high profile annual 1,500 mile single-handed Solitaire du Figaro race. It is now seen as an iconic, especially in France, where the race has a strong public following and successful skippers are household names.
The boat combines light weight with plenty of power and twin rudders for downwind control at high speeds – skippers will continue to sail with spinnakers in near gale-force conditions, often achieving speeds of more than 20 knots.
Beneteau First 40.7
Built from 1997 to 2005, this Bruce Farr design is a fast and popular offshore cruiser/racer with surprisingly comfortable accommodation for up to eight people and the ability to cross oceans in comfort and at impressive average speeds. In addition, while most boats of this size have to race solely under handicapping systems, there are enough 40.7s for them to race in their own class at many events.
While many are in private ownership, this is a design that has also become very popular with sea schools and for corporate charter/racing events. As a result, it is also a boat on which a large number of people have enjoyed their first sailing experiences.
Beneteau First 27.7
This is perhaps one of the most underrated boats in the range. Launched in 2002 the emphasis is on speed and excellent sailing qualities. As a result, it’s a boat that’s quicker both upwind and downwind than many 35 footers with sufficient stability to reassure the most timid and inexperienced newcomers to sailing. On the other hand, expert sailors will relish being able to fly downwind under reassuring control at speeds well into double figures.
However, this is by no means a fully stripped out racer. Granted the interior is more basic than that of the larger boats, but the 27.7 is big enough for proper accommodation, including full standing headroom and a separate aft double quarter cabin. A lifting keel option also enables you to explore shallow creeks and harbours that are out of bounds to others.
Beneteau Oceanis 473
By the 2000s, shoal draught was no longer seen as being a necessity by a larger proportion of cruising yacht owners than previously and the third Oceanis generation gradually sprouted the option of deep low centre of gravity keels that, along with higher aspect ratio rudders, significantly improved handling characteristics in most circumstances as well as improving speed to windward. The remainder of the hallmarks of the Oceanis range remained, with headroom in the saloon was significantly improved with this model.
Beneteau Oceanis 58
The current flagship of Beneteau’s main ranges, the Oceanis 58 offers a volume of accommodation and sophistication comparable to significantly more expensive rivals.
There’s a huge amount of interior space, even for a boat of this size, with a choice of layouts giving three, four or five cabins, the latter including crew quarters. Two years ago the model was refreshed, with an improved cockpit to give additional protection and comfort, plus new extra-large hull windows to give more light below decks and a better view of the outside world. As with the interior, there’s an enormous amount of deck space, with a large cockpit in which guests can remain clear of the sailing action which primarily takes place around the twin wheels.
Beneteau Sense 43
Beneteau’s latest mainstream range promises to do for privately-owned cruising yachts what the Oceanis series did for the charter market. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, this range offers a completely new option to those who seek a comfortable and spacious yacht with accommodation that’s optimised for a relatively small number of people. Saloon and galley areas open directly onto the large cockpit, giving the feel of an open-plan living and entertaining area, with a blurring of the boundary between interior and exterior areas.
For more see Beneteau and you may be interested in How to choose the right weekend cruiser.