by George Day
Blue Water Sailing
REDEFINING THE FAMILY PASSAGEMAKER
The new Beneteau 473 brings Finot style and production efficiencies to a new-model generation of coastal and offshore cruisers
A plumb, narrow bow, straight rising sheer, massive beam and broad transom with a long smooth run aft… These are design attributes you’d begin to look for in a modern offshore racing boat reminiscent of the world-circling Open 60s that are, as we write, finishing the 27,000-mile Vendée Globe race.
So last fall, when we attended Beneteau’s launching party for the new Beneteau 473 at the Annapolis Sailboat Show, we were both surprised and pleased to see how far the world’s most prolific builder of cruising and racing sailboats had gone to incorporate the latest design thinking from the cutting edge into their newest family cruising boat. Needless to say, this evolution toward better performance should come as no bolt from the blue because the 473 was designed by the French design consortium Groupe Finot, responsible for many of the world’s fastest offshore monohulls.
At first glance, the new boat is sleeker and more powerful looking than the recent generation of Beneteau Oceanis designs – particularly the Oceanis 461, which the 473 no doubt will supplant in the line. The bow is purposefully blunt and the stern broader and flatter than in the older schemes. The deck and cabintop have been completely rethought, with a lower cabin profile complemented by the raising of a doghouse over the main saloon. This is not an attempt at the deck saloon configuration embraced by Oyster and seen in recent designs from Hylas, Wauquiez and others, but nonetheless the large doghouse windows and stepped configuration evoke similar spaciousness below.
After the Annapolis show we had the opportunity to sail the 473 – hull number one – 400 miles offshore on a delivery trip from the Chesapeake to Newport, R.I. Our route took us (typically) north to the head of the Bay, through the C&D Canal, down Delaware Bay and then northeast across the New York shipping lanes to Block Island, R.I., and Newport. The trip took two and half days during which we confronted a range of conditions from light breezes to a pleasant 15 knots aft of the beam. We motored or motorsailed more than half of the way and never had the boat hard on the wind in breezes over 12 knots. The largest seas we encountered were under five feet, just enough to give us an indication of how the boat’s broad transom behaves when running in a seaway.
There were three of us onboard for the trip, all experienced offshore sailors, so we stood lone watches in a three-on, six-off rotation. The autopilot (Raytheon Autohelm 6000) steered 90 percent of the time, leaving us free to trim sails and navigate. We arrived in Newport well rested and impressed with the 473’s look and feel at sea, not to mention her comfort below.
THE DESIGN CONCEPT
The new 473 was conceived to work well as a family cruiser – fun to sail and capable of extended passagemak- ing at relatively high average speeds. The compromises that drive the design begin with the balance between stability and sailing power. With a displacement of 27,000 pounds, the 473 is no lightweight, yet with the boat’s 43’10” static waterline, the Displacement/Length (D/L) ratio boils down to 144 – at the performance end of the cruising-boat spectrum. Given this relative theoretical lightness, the boat promises high average speeds and the ability to fly in the right reaching conditions.
The rig is designed to be easy for a couple to handle at sea and offers very moderate working sail area for a boat of this size, with a standard spread of only 1,116 square feet. Working the numbers, the Sail Area/Displacement (SA/D) ratio, measuring the power of the rig and high-end performance, is a very moderate 16.2. Combined with an easily driven hull riding a long waterline, this sensibly conservative sailplan will move the boat well even in moderately light airs, and will prove a lot easier to handle than would a more powerful configuration.
The compromise here has been to curb light-air performance for better all-around ease of handling, which in turn translates into higher overall average speeds and safer sail handling when the wind really pipes up. It is worth noting that a 140% genoa is spec’d for the boat, a big sail for most couples to handle. In practice, we suspect that a slightly smaller headsail (125-130%) will serve cruisers fine, although they will have to sacrifice some performance in lighter winds.
The need for moderate draft led the designers to offer a shoal bulb keel at 5’6” as standard, with an optional 6’11” bulb keel as an alternative for those seeking better windward performance. Beneteau specifies cast-iron keels for the boat. Moderate draft and an iron keel beg the question of stability; notably the 473 calculates in with a Limit of Positive Stability (LPS) of 133 percent, or 10 percent higher (more stable) than the minimum requirements of events such as the Marion-Bermuda Race or Newport-Bermuda Race.
While the shape of the hull and deck are dedicated first to sailing, there is no doubt that the generous beam and full sections aft provide enormous interior volume for accommodations, tankage and storage. Two-cabin and three-cabin interiors are offered.
A cruiser with the heart of a marathoner, the Finot-designed 473 survives the compromise wars handily and promises to be a boat capable of sailing well in most conditions, with shining performance power-reaching in a good breeze.
Beneteau has been among the pioneers of high-volume production boatbuilding, which enables the company to build a truly amazing number of vessels every year. An essential element and a major cost item in the building process of any boat revolves around man-hours required. Simplify the construction process, standardize the systems, automate as much as possible, and man-hours are reduced, increasing efficiency and cutting cost. That’s why Beneteau can offer the 473 for under $300,000, while a custom or semi-custom 47-footer from a smaller builder will cost up to three or even four times as much.
Certainly there are differences between the construction of a high-volume production boat and that of a semi-custom offshore vessel. Instead of building cored hulls, Beneteau sticks with solid fiberglass. Panel thicknesses are carefully engineered to provide the impact resistance and stiffness demanded by long-term heavy-weather sailing, while striving at the same time to eliminate excess resin or cloth. The deck is balsa-cored, which gives the broad composite structure stiffness and a measure of insulation. Unlike what we see in semi-custom boats or in production boats from smaller companies, Beneteau (along with a number of other high-volume builders) uses a fiberglass grid liner inside the hull in lieu of hand-cut, manually installed stringers and floors, to provide overall stiffness and structural integrity in the hull as well as engine bed, fuel and water tanks, and attachment points for the chainplates and mast step. The liner is fitted into the hull before the boat is pulled from the female mold, which keeps the hull fair and the lines true. The liner is formed with channels into which bulkheads and furniture components can be seated quickly and accurately and fastened in place. It is worth noting that the bulkheads are bonded to the grid, the hull, and the deck, which ties the whole fabrication together with virtual monocoque structural integrity. Using pre-cut, pre-varnished, pre-assembled parts from the woodshop, the builders can assemble the interior of the boat in an incredibly short amount of time.
While sailors will debate the pros and cons of the liner system of yacht construction, it is worth noting two points: First, the rigidity provided by a liner system that is properly bonded spreads loads so uniformly throughout the hull that heavy stress loading from the rig or from sudden collision with an underwater obstacle is dispersed effectively through the structure; and second, given the shape and configuration of the liner, once in place inevitably there are sections of the hull made inaccessible from within the boat – a worry should a sudden hull repair become necessary.
A friend of ours who sailed his vintage Beneteau First 38 around the world addressed this issue aboard his own boat by injecting closed-cell foam into the voids between the grid and the inner wall of the hull. This had the multiple benefits of closing off channels beneath the grid to prevent unwanted water from flowing or sloshing freely, reducing condensation, providing some sound insulation and adding additional permanent flotation to the hull.
BWS is not in a position to recommend this adaptation to production hulls built with liners, but we think it is an intriguing idea worthy of further discussion and exploration.
400 MILES OFFSHORE
As noted, the boat aboard which we enjoyed two and a half days of sailing offshore was hull number one. It was a two-cabin, shoal-keel version with a modern rudder design already in the process of being rethought back on the drawing board.
Under power, driven by 63-horsepower diesel throwing a 17-inch three-bladed wheel, the 473 handled well in the confines of a marina; it backed straight, turned in its own length and moved ahead with ease. The morning we left Annapolis was windless, so we powered for several hours, making 7.5 knots at 2,400 rpm. With the throttle down, boatspeed surged to 8.3 in flat water. Although the three-bladed prop comes standard on the boat, we would be tempted to switch to an Autoprop or Max Prop for better sailing performance.
Under sail, we found wind as we sailed off the New Jesery shore and it built to good pressure by the time we were reaching up Block Island Sound in the dark on our way to Newport. The boat was fitted with a 130-percent genoa and a full-batten main, which drove her well downwind in 15 knots. We slipped along very sweetly at seven-plus knots, with very little pressure on the helm.
Boats designed with broad transoms carry a lot of flotation aft. When running in a quartering sea, the stern tends to rise quickly on the wave and can cause the boat to corkscrew as the wave passes underneath, which forces the helmsman or autopilot to crank in correction at the helm. In the five-foot seas that we encountered sailing north, the 473 handled the quartering waves well, although we felt that the rudder might have been larger and deeper for a better grip on the water and for more lift when sailing close to the wind. This was precisely the detail that Beneteau had already had relegated to the drawing board.
Living accommodations aboard the boat we sailed were airy, commodious and comfortable. We found plenty of storage space for personal gear and provisions, and ample room in the galley and at the chart table to work in comfort. LED lighting throughout provided a very pleasant ambiance at night and could be tuned to the user’s local needs without blinding the watchkeeper on deck.
The head arrangements worked reasonably well, and the spaces were bright and airy. The forward head features a separate shower stall, with a glass door held in place by barrel bolts. In a real seaway, this needs additional dogs to keep it from rattling. The heads themselves, both forward and aft, are shoe-horned into narrow spaces, which is fine at sea but could prove less than comfortable for extra-large crew and during routine use while coastal cruising.
Off watch we slept in the forward and aft cabins and on the settee bench in the saloon. The boat has no dedicated sea berths, so the after double and the settee have to serve double duty. Had we been passagemaking for the long haul, we would have fitted proper lee cloths.
Arriving in Newport just before midnight, we conned our way into the marina and made the boat fast. Although she is a big boat, the 473 is handy around the floats, has deck cleats where you want them, and can be manhandled as need be during mooring maneuvers.
The new Finot-designed 473 is conceived as a family cruiser capable of extended cruising, living aboard and passagemaking – at a price that does not make your loan officer faint. The design represents a redefinition for Beneteau of the family cruiser concept, for in this boat the company has made a real commitment to sailing performance and modern styling.
Commissioned straight out of the factory, the 473, like Beneteau’s other cruising boats, is ready for coastal cruising. With 800 amp/hours of battery capacity, an electric genoa winch in the cockpit, a high-capacity fridge/freezer, a Force 10 stove, and a host of other quality fitments, the boat is hardly barebones.
If we had blue water in mind, we would add essential offshore gear – life raft, windvane, autopilot, radar, EPIRB, HF radio, flares, lee cloths, jack lines, storm sails and so forth. We might fit a staysail stay on the foredeck with runners aft and maybe even a set of stainless steel “sissy bars” at the mast. We would look also at making the forward compartment (anchor locker) completely watertight and injecting foam into the grid liner – although neither should be considered more than adding suspenders to a belt that is already doing the job.
After 400 miles of near-shore passagemaking, we were impressed with the new 437. It is a fine coastal cruiser capable of being transformed into a liveaboard vessel, with performance and seakeeping qualities well suited to long-range, even trans-oceanic offshore voyages given judicious outfitting. Most of all, the boat is easy and fun to sail. It will rack up great daily runs and will sail by a lot of other cruising boats of the same size. The new Beneteau 473 is a very good value that will serve her owners well.
LOA 46’11” (14.3 m.)
LWL 43’10” (13.35 m.)
Beam 14’2” (4.33 m.)
Draft (Std.) 5’6” (1.7 m.)
Draft (Deep) 6’11” (2.1 m.)
Displacement 27,072 lbs. (12,280 kg.)
Ballast 8,175 lbs. (3,700 kg.)
Sail Area 1,116 sq, ft. (104 sq. m.)
Auxiliary 63-h.p. diesel
Fuel 62 gal. (240 ltr.)
Water 220 gal. (832 ltr.)
Sail Area/Disp 16.2
Comfort ratio 27.2
Design Groupe Finot
Beneteau USA Inc
24 North Market Street
Charleston, SC 29401
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