Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First Impression: Beneteau 46

One of the pleasures and perks I have working for a sailboat dealer is that I get to go sailing with our customers as part of my job. We also get to try out some of the new boats that we receive for sale, especially around summer boat show time. I have had the great pleasure of sailing our new Beneteau 46 several times late this summer. I'd like to share my experiences of my first sail on this Berret-Racoupeau designed boat that is built with pride in Marion, South Carolina.

I arrived at the harbor with a friend from Australia the other day, and I decided to show him what Chicago looks like from the warm waters of Lake Michigan. This was my first time on the new Beneteau 46 as well, and we were both very pleased at not how the boat sailed, but how she handled around the marina and how easy this boat was to control. We left the dock, aided by the 6hp bow thruster, made a two turns to starboard, and off we went!

As soon as we left the marina, I depowered the 54hp Yanmar diesel, unfurled the main sail, and we started to accelerate nicely in the 10 knot breeze. My friend Chris, took the helm and we headed out into the lake. Now came time to unfurl the 140% genoa, and we quickly reached hull speed on a tight reach with the winds gaining up to 15 knots. My first thought was that for a boat of this size, I was surprised to actually "feel" the acceleration, much like a smaller lighter performance boat might take off after adjusting the geona lead or easing the main sheet. Here we were, just two of us easily handling the boat and enjoying the afternoon and the Chicago skyline.

We sailed for a couple of hours that day, catching up on current events ( we hadn't seen each other for about 7 years), and enjoying the day. Switching back an forth between the dual wheels of this boat is also very easy. Because they are cabled together, you not only get a great "feel" in the helm but it is just a matter of letting go one helm and holding onto the other. Today's sailboat designs bring the beam of the boat further aft, allowing for a larger aft cabin below and much larger cockpit. As sailors, we buy a boat to spend time outdoors and this larger cockpit accomplishes just that.

Most sailors like to steer from either the "high side" or "low side", depending on personal preference. I'm a "low side guy", and because of the beamy aft cockpit, one would either need two wheels like today's cruising designs, or one great big wheel, more like the older racing boats that you see in the harbor these days. The two wheel design allows for easier cockpit to swim platform access, and easier movement on the boat. Outfit your new 46 with a nice matching bimini and on this particular model, you have almost as much cockpit space as you do main salon space (a feature envied by our competition).

With all control lines led aft to either the two cabin house winches or to the two primary genoa sheet winches, the boat is very easily single handed. Both Chris and I are fairly accomplished sailors, however this boat could easily be sailed by someone with limited sailing knowledge and some short training. To make things easier, our stock boat had the optional 'bow thruster' which makes pulling in/out of your slip a breeze. The sail plan offers unlimited trim possibilities as both main and genoa are roller furling sails (there is an option on all Beneteaus for you to choose a conventional horizontal battened main sail called the "classic sail"). I find the roller mains to be just great, especially now that the sail makers and mast builders have figured out a way to put vertical battens in the mainsail (this gives you more sail area than the conventional furling mains of years past).

As we were heading in the wind started to die out, however we were still sailing at 5 knots in about 6 knots of breeze. This boat would not give up on us. I think she was enjoying the afternoon as much as we were. We finally started the Yanmar engine when we were about 400 yards from the harbor entrance and furled in the sails. We did not even have to use a winch to help us. Perhaps in a breeze a winch would come in handy, and both furling lines are led to the cabin top winches for easy use. I found that the 54hp Yanmar propelled us at just over 7 1/2 knots at about 2400 RPMs. Plenty of speed to get us where we were going and at the same time, because of the lower RPMs, the cabin noise inside the boat was kept to a minimum. Once we reached our dock, I used the bow thruster to help me back the boat into her berth and we tied her up for the next sail. While walking away from the new Beneteau 46, we both stopped and looked back at her sleek lines and sparkling beauty. I thought to myself "what a great boat this is going to make for someone, and what a great job I have!"