by George Day
Blue Water Sailing
The Beneteau 49 Stirs an Instant "WOW!"
In July we flew to Toronto, Canada, to join Beneteau USA's president Wayne Burdick on the maiden voyage (in North America) of the new Beneteau 49. In all of the years we have been sailing boats for in-depth reviews, this was the first instance when we got to sail a boat during its initial magnifying-glass inspection by its builder.
When we climbed aboard, it took a few moments to focus on the fact that this was not your usual Beneteau. Something in the look and layout was different, faster, smoother, more highly sculpted than Beneteaus of the past, something that stirred a definite "Wow!"
We set out from Port Credit Marina, west of the city, onto Lake Ontario, where the afternoon breeze was building and the lake's surface was turning from silk to corduroy. Leaving the marina, the 49 handled well and easily for a vessel of these dimensions.
Certainly, the bow thruster helped us get away from the slip and through some very tight turns.
Out of the marina we put the throttle down and got the Yanmar up to maximum revs of 3,100 rpms; this is about right for the engine, so the prop was well sized to the boat and engine. The 49 has a long waterline, so once up to speed it had no trouble making eight knots. Backing off on the throttle, we found a comfortable cruising speed at about 2,600 rpms, which gave us seven knots through the water.
Later in the day, as we were coming home, we gave the boat a final motoring test by cranking up to hull speed and then throwing the transmission into reverse, again at full revs. The 49 stopped within two boat lengths and then managed a full 180-degree turn in a length and a half. We were impressed.
As the breeze built we rolled out the mainsail and genoa and put the new boat through its paces. This was not a proper offshore trial, but we did get a feel for how the design sails and what owners can expect. Upwind, despite a slightly slack headstay, the 49 sailed easily at 45 degrees off the true wind and tacked through 90 degrees.
Off the wind, the 49 drives along very nicely and at about 140 degrees off the wind made an easy seven knots in 11 knots of breeze-benefiting from the long waterline, fair hull lines and moderate displacement. Once dead before the wind, we ran along wing and wing and made good speed as the wind continued to freshen.
The new Beneteau 49 is one of four new models that Beneteau will introduce this year, and with it the company is launching a new look and a new commitment to affordable but elegant family cruising.
The 49 will replace the 473 as the flagship of boats built at the company's U.S. facility in Marion, S.C.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
With a 14-foot, nine-inch beam, which is carried quite far aft, the 49 has a lot of internal space, which can accommodate both a wide, comfortable saloon and two large quarter cabins.
The bow shows a narrow entry that will enhance performance and quite high topsides that will keep the foredeck dry when beating to windward.
Under the water the designers have drawn modern cruising fin keels for either a six-foot, nine- inch or five-foot, nine-inch draft. The keels are epoxy-coated cast iron and attached to the hull and internal grid with massive stainless steel keel bolts.
The rudder is a moderately high aspect spade, with a fiberglass rudder shaft, that proved in our sea trials to be both large enough to really control the boat but finely enough designed to give the helm a pleasant, authoritative feel under sail.
The hull of the 49, like the other boats in the line, are hand- laid fiberglass molded in female plugs. The hull laminates are solid glass-monolithic is the term Beneteau uses-while the deck is a Balsa-cored laminate, which provides extra stiffness, reduces weight and adds to sound and heat insulation.
Beneteau uses a large fiberglass interior grid inside the hull as a stiffener and to provide modular anchor points for all bulkheads, the mast step, tanks and the engine mounts. The deck is attached to the hull on a large flange with high-strength adhesive and mechanical fastenings. The deck is then tabbed to the tops of the bulkheads, which ties all of the structural pieces together and distributes loads evenly throughout the hull.
The rig Beneteau has designed for the new 49 is both robust and utterly simple. The in-mast furling main comes standard and makes the otherwise tall 9/10 rig completely manageable for a lone watchstander or a couple.
STYLE, ACCOMMODATIONS AND DETAILS
But it was a simple little silver control panel at the chart table in the saloon that let us know we were not in cruising-boat Kansas anymore. Modern, backlit and elegant, the little silver electrical panel is command central for the boat as it provides all of the monitors you will need for the boat's systems, from tank levels, battery charge and capacity, to 12- and 110-volt circuit breakers and probably more. This is more than form following function. The little control panel is style transforming form and function. That may be the theme of the new 49.
To break ground in this new direction, Beneteau hired Italian designers Nauta Yachts, a firm that creates designs for European mega yachts. Nauta worked with Berret-Racoupeau on the overall look of the boat and then went to town on the interior.
The interior is as modern, light and stylish as any we have seen. The furniture is low and angular while the fabrics and color schemes are off-white and warm. Varnished Mobai wood is still the Beneteau signature but with the new square cabinets, square doors and bright overhead there is nothing dark or even very traditional about the ambience.
The standard layout has two quarter cabins aft, the L-shaped galley to port, the chart table to starboard and the big dinette with facing easy chairs amidships. The master cabin forward had a big centerline double berth, a vanity and plenty of drawers, hanging space and stowage.
Both heads have shower stalls that can be enclosed with semi-circular Plexiglas doors on rollers. The heads have been given large mirrors and accent strips of varnished wood to trim off the sinks and storage compartments.
Instead of teak-and-holly floorboards, Nauta created an elegant hardwood parquet that looks like the flooring in an expensive home and enhances the simple cleanliness of the furniture.
The interior is another "Wow!" since it is so different from what we would expect from Beneteau or other production builders well known in the U.S.
On deck the boat provides the crew with a fine, stable and efficient sailing platform that also has a unique and dramatic look.
Down below, the new furniture style underscores the fact that this is not just another production sloop but is, instead, something of a statement about how the cruising life can be led-in comfort and style.
And then there is the little electrical panel. Instead of proclaiming its technical wizardry and snowing you with science, the little panel takes care of the technical side of cruising simply and efficiently so that you can get on with enjoying the cruising life. That is what modern cruising is all about.