by George Day

Blue Water Sailing
June 2008


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The world's leading sailboat builder introduces a new family cruiser that exudes modern style and performance

We spent the afternoon sailing the new Beneteau 43 on Florida's Biscayne Bay. The sky was squally and the wind was piping between 15 and 20 knots in gusts but the bay was flat, and in the good breeze the 43 was in her element.
We put the new boat through her paces on all angles of sail and found that it handled easily and showed a pleasant turn of speed. Upwind, the 43 is quite close winded and will sail comfortably at 43 degrees and make 6.5 knots in 12 knots of true wind. This is with the standard 140-percent Dacron genoa and the in-mast roller furling mainsail.

Beam reaching the boat really comes into its own and will exceed 8 knots in 12 knots of breeze with little surges to 8.5 as the puffs hit us. Downwind, the boat settled into a nice groove at 160 degrees from the true wind and had the feel at the helm that it would track along at 7 or more knots in a straight line all day.

Even with the in-mast roller furling mainsail, the 43 had plenty of sail area. In fact, in some of the sustained puffs of close to 20 knots or more, we knew we would have to reef if the wind strength continued. That's normal for most cruising boats but even at that strength the 43 stood up well due to her relatively broad beam and high ballast-to-displacement ratio. We did find that playing the traveler in the puffs, letting the main sheet car ease off to leeward as the wind piped up, was a good way to keep her steering straight and relatively level.

The 43, like many Beneteaus, was designed by the French design firm Berret-Racoupeau. They have provided a hull form that is both voluminous enough to contain the huge interior accommodations and sleek enough to sail well and quickly. The keel is a cruising fin with a bulb on the bottom and the rudder is a moderate balanced spade design. The hull shows a long waterline, which gives it volume, balance and a good turn of speed. The after sections of the hull are broad and the shape of the bilges quite firm, which gives the boat power and stability when reaching.

Beneteau 43 Aerial Cockpit view

The deck layout features the slightly raised saloon cabin top with the distinctive rectangular saloon windows, which have been part of the design styling of the new series of Beneteaus that was launched with the 49 two years ago. The line now includes the 37, 40, 46 and 49. The 43 completes the family.

The cockpit has twin wheels aft, a centerline table with drop leaves and an instrument pod at its aft end and a passageway aft to the swim platform. This is a large outdoor living space for a cruising family that will accommodate up to six adults for meals and 10 or more for an evening gam.

Underway, the cockpit works well. The ergonomics are good, the seats comfortable, and with all working sheets and lines running aft from the mast, trimming sails, reefing and furling can all be handled by one person, providing the autopilot is handling the steering. If you are actively steering, you and your mate can run the boat easily.
Cruisers will like all of the storage space available in the after lockers or lazarettes and the easy access to the propane bottles. The hot and cold shower at the stern will be useful in warm weather and for cleaning feet after a beach walk or fish after a successful expedition with rod and reel.

The 43 comes with a simple but effective two spreader rig that can fly either a standard fully battened mainsail or an in-mast main with vertical battens. The nine-tenths fractional rig reduces the foretriangle slightly and thus makes the headsail easier to handle. The genoa is fitted on a roller furler with the furling control line led aft to the cockpit. The main traveler runs across the cabin top ahead of the companionway and is wide enough to really affect sail trim. We found that the boat responded very positively to traveler trim in the puffy conditions and we appreciated how easily the traveler can be adjusted from the cockpit.
As we put the boat through its paces, we were pleased to find that there are handholds in the cockpit and on deck where you would expect to find them and plenty of places to brace a hip or knee so you can work with both hands. At the helms, visibility was good; the cockpit floor is shaped for sailing at an angle and the seats to windward and leeward comfortable.

The cockpit seats and swim platform have in-laid teak decking. Teak decks and cockpit soles are also available, which will give the boat an elegant look and will improve footing when the decks are wet—but will also be hotter for those sailing in the tropics.

The new 43 sailed well and will be a lot of fun for a cruising family weekending along the coast or for more serious sailors who have distant isles on their passagemaking itineraries.

Over the years, Beneteau has often turned to noted European stylists or interior designers to create a special look for a new line of cruising boats. For the current family of Beneteaus, the company asked noted marine stylists Nauta to design a cabin look and an interior arrangement and style that would be trendsetting as well as functional. The result is a look that is thoroughly modern, understated and elegant in its simplicity.

Beneteau 43 Looking aft

The interior flooring says a lot about the direction the stylists took. Instead of traditional teak and holly floor panels with stainless steel lifting latches, the 43 and her sisters have floors of solid Alpi-Moabi wood laminated into large squares and laid out in parquet patterns. Without latches, the floors are lifted with the help of a suction cup.

Under the floors, there are small storage spaces between the structural members of the interior grid and a good-sized sump amidships above the keel where water that finds its way inside will collect and get pumped out.

The interior furniture, also built with Alpi-Moabi, has the low, angular look of modern European furniture. The dinette and facing settee bench, in the "owner’s" version, are straight backed and square ended which looks great and also adds seating area and makes both good sea berths when sailing through the night.

The cabinets that run the full length of the saloon have folding panel doors without louvers or other traditional detailing. The chart table faces aft and is laid out for electronic navigation with plenty of space to mount a chartplotter, computer screen, radios and sailing instruments. The electrical panel and systems gauges are married into a simple stainless steel display that is as efficient as it is unobtrusive.

Beneteau 43 Looking foreward

The 43 has two interior layout plans, one with a large double cabin aft and one with two quarter cabins aft. In the "owner's" version, the galley is aft and has a large U-shaped counter that will be excellent for preparing meals both in harbor and at sea. The three-cabin version has the galley running fore and aft along the port side, which eliminates the port side settee and shifts the chart table aft next to the companionway. This arrangement will work well for families with children and for those who often sail with friends aboard.

Both versions of the 43 have two heads. The forward head is en suite with the forward cabin and will be the owner's head in the three cabin version. The after head is large and has a separate shower stall, which will be much appreciated by the cruising crew and will be a great wet locker for foul weather gear and a good place to stow fresh vegetables when making a long offshore passage.

The galley in both versions has a large stainless steel double sink, a three-burner propane stove, a front loading 12-volt fridge, a separate 12-volt freezer and a microwave. The cabinets above are large enough to stow all of the supplies you will need at hand for regular meals as well as for plates, mugs, bowls and glasses. Pots and pans are stowed in a large locker under the stove.

Stowage is always an issue for cruising families since we tend to bring a lot of stuff with us when we head offshore for a week or two. The large spaces under the double berths and under the dinette will be the primary lockers for large items such as spare anchors and rodes, spare rigging and engine parts. Food stores will fit mainly in the galley lockers but can overflow into lockers behind the settee and dinette furniture.

In the sleeping cabins, hanging lockers and the outboard cabinets provide enough storage for everything most couples will need. In the end, most couples will be cruising on their own the majority of the time with friends and family joining them for cruises periodically, so the storage in the 43 will be more than ample.

The style of the new 43 is definitely distinctive and modern and compares favorably to many of the new designs coming out of Europe. The finish of the woodwork is consistently good and the installation of hardware, doors and cabinets accomplished with a combination of elegant styling and practicality.

The 43 is assembled in the Beneteau plant in Marion, South Carolina. The fiberglass parts are molded in the U.S. while the interior furniture and many of the systems are put together in France and then shipped to the States in containers.

In such a manufacturing scheme, consistency is absolutely essential so the company's managers expend a huge effort to make sure that every square inch of the boats and every hour of construction time have been planned out in complete detail. The result is a line of boats that are of consistent high quality and assembled of parts that are tested and proven.

The hull and interior liners are hand laid solid fiberglass with vinylester outer resin coats to prevent osmotic blistering. The hull is reinforced with exotic glass laminates in high stress areas. The interior pan liner is attached to the hull with a space-age adhesive and then tabbed in place with fiberglass. The engine mounts are integral with the internal structural grid while the rotomolded fuel and water tanks are designed to nestle neatly in the spaces defined by the grid.

The deck is a composite laminate with an insulating core that is lightweight and provides stiffness and good heat and noise dampening. The deck is built into structural beams to add strength. Once installed, the deck is attached to the hull with mechanical fasteners and adhesive and then fiberglassed to the main bulkheads. The net result is a hull and deck structure that is virtually one piece.

The engine installation under the companionway steps has been well thought out to make routine maintenance and repairs easy and accessible. The engine box is well insulated so the noise coming off the Yanmar 54-horsepower diesel does not deafen you even at top speed.
Beneteau has perfected the science of systems installation so that all seacocks, pumps, hoses, junction boxes, wiring harnesses, batteries and electrical components are accessible and laid out rationally with a cruising sailor in mind.

The rig is supported with simple, robust chain plates that are bolted to the interior grid and tied to the deck plates with stainless steel rods. A stainless steel compression post under the deck-stepped mast transfers loads directly to the interior grid.

The twin steering system on the boat we tested was finger-tip light and provided easy control of the rudder without friction or hesitation. The linkage below the cockpit floor and the autopilot installation are accessible from the stern lockers or via a hatch in the after cabins.

The new 43, like her sisterships in the new design line, is a good-looking cruising boat with a stylish flair, a good turn of speed under sail and pleasant, comfortable accommodations.

The sail plan is simple but powerful enough to please eager and experienced sailors. The deck layout works well for lounging around at anchor or for launching downwind sails for some speedy running.

The build quality of the boat and the gear the builder chooses to install are all of high quality and proven at sea.
In a market that is crowded with 43-foot cruising boats, the new Beneteau 43 stands out as an example of how to create a safe blue-water quality cruising boat that offers the accommodations and amenities many owners desire while providing a value that is hard to beat.

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Beneteau 43