Beneteau First 50
by Simon Day
Blue Water Sailing
On a gale-ridden bash around Cape Hatteras, BWS discovers that the new First 50 is the epitome of the modern racer-cruiser that will turn heads, cross oceans and show her transom to those who dare to challenge her
The three-day trip from Charleston, S.C., to Annapolis, Md., can be characterized as misery surrounded by joy. The trip brought us through flat calm motoring to lovely downwind sailing under sunny skies with the spinnaker up and dolphins surfing the bow wave back to motoring through a full gale straight on the nose and, finally, to a glorious reach up Chesapeake Bay.
Leaving Charleston at five in the morning we motored out the cut into the rising sun. Unfortunately, the wind didn't rise with it and for the first six hours we motored in absolute flat calm and nice warm sunshine. The Yanmar 75-horsepower diesel equipped with a sail-drive unit drove us along happily at eight knots revving at 2,800 rpms. The engine is situated in the standard place under the cockpit with access through the companionway steps and through hatches in the aft cabins. All the essential components are easily reachable. This system does make the aft cabins a little loud but nothing unreasonable.
Around midday, with sandwiches being served, the forecasted southeast breeze finally filled in enough to sail. After lunch, we turned the boat into the wind and hoisted the fully battened main up the 72-foot mast, got the cruising spinnaker out of the forepeak and went sailing.
EASE OF SAIL HANDLINGBeneteau First 50: Cockpit
Boat handling is made easy by a suite of electric Harken 60 primaries and a smaller electric Harken 48 on the cabin top for halyards. The mainsail is sheeted to a pod just forward of the twin wheels in the cockpit with a specific electric Harken 53 to handle it. This is an interesting solution. Forgoing a traveler is not common on a boat of this size and performance, but it cleans up the back of the cockpit and makes handling the mainsail much less complicated. Mainsail shape and leech tension are controlled with a hydraulic boom vang and backstay that are controlled by a manual pump mounted in the cockpit. The cruising asymmetrical spinnaker is flown out of a sock and is tacked to the bow, which makes handling it very easy. Within about five minutes we had it up and drawing and were off on a lovely afternoon sail.
After dinner, as night settled over us, the wind began to die. By midnight we had to take down the kite and turn on the engine. Our first night was calm, which gave us a good night sleep to ready ourselves for the forecast northerly blow.
The next morning as we approached Cape Hatteras the sun rose over calm and quiet seas. The wind had begun its shift to the west but was still very light. And then almost exactly at 10 a.m., like someone flipped a switch, we sailed through the cold front and the wind began to build. At first, we beam reached with a full main and 100-percent jib in about 12 knots making a solid 7.5 but we knew that this was just the beginning. The wind steadily built and shifted to the north.
Beneteau First 50: Crew
By noon we were close hauled in 18 knots with a single reef in the main and full jib charging along at seven knots. The seas built with the wind and, because of the Gulf Stream flowing against the wind, they got very square. I was impressed by the way the boat handled these conditions. She just loved it. Charging through the waves the 7-foot, 6-inch draft with a T-bulb provides ample power. There is only one disadvantage to this configuration. The T-bulb arrangement is prone to catching weeds and lobster pots. The only solution when this happens is to stop the boat and back down, which can be an inconvenience.
The wind kept building and shifting and we began to see a steady 25 knots right on the nose. Soon we had gone to the second reef and rolled up the jib as the motion had become too violent. And, finally, when we began to see gusts into the low 40s we took the main down and motored straight into it. The wind steadied out in the high 20s with gusts into the mid 30s and blew like that for 18 hours. Our guess is that the seas were between eight and 12 feet and square as blocks. At one point during the afternoon Mike turned to me as yet another wall of white water streamed down the deck and said to me, "is this Cape Hatteras or Cape Horn?"
The boat handled these extreme conditions well. As with all modern performance boats, she has a shallow and flat fore foot. This causes the boat to slam markedly. Her 28,000-pound displacement helped steady the motion and her ability to keep her speed up through the waves. There were times, though, during the night that we were stopped in our tracks by big breaking waves.
We motored with the engine at 2,800 rpms, making six knots while slamming our way north until 5 a.m. when it began to abate. Slowly the wind died out and we were left motoring in a lumpy swell toward the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. By late afternoon on our third day we had begun to recover from our beating. I was able to eat something solid and get some good sleep. As we passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge- Tunnel, a light southeasterly filled in and we were able to put the kite up and sail again.
This breeze did not last though, and we were back to motoring after dinner. As José and Ed came on watch at 11 p.m., a light and warm southwesterly filled in off the land. When I woke up for the 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. watch, the engine was off and we were broad reaching under full main and jib in 12 knots making an easy eight knots. For the rest of the night we cruised along like this dodging tugs and fishing boats coming down the channel. The next morning the wind had died away so we ghosted into Annapolis harbor under sunny skies feeling like we had been through a war.
A THOROUGBRED OF A BOAT
At the bow this effort to maintain cleanliness comes to the fore. Under a flush mounted butterfly hatch lies the anchor and a large sail locker. The anchor is mounted on an ingenious flip-up roller. With the press of a button a hydraulic ram pivots the whole thing up out of the locker and over the bow. This is the essence of smooth. It keeps the bow completely unobstructed while underway and the anchor away from the nearly plumb bow when deployed. The bow locker also allows the furling drum for the jib to be recessed below the deck.
This keeps the tack of the jib as low as possible and maintains the clean look. The bow also houses the chain locker and a large sail locker for the larger jib and cruising spinnaker.
Looking aft from the bow one really gets a sense of the sleek feel of the yacht. The low cabin house does not provide much protection from the elements as we discovered. It may be possible to mount a cockpit dodger, which would be a dramatic improvement in stormy weather but would hurt the look.
The cabin house has grooves running forward in place of traditional hand holds. The house is so low that holding on is difficult when the boat is lurching around. The house also has troughs for the lines running aft from the mast to the cockpit. This keeps the lines out of sight and maintains a clean appearance, but when water starts to flow down the deck it gets channeled straight into the cockpit.
Beneteau First 50: Twin Wheels
The cockpit is one of the best I have ever seen. It is separated into two distinct partsâ€”the sitting, eating part and the working part. The six-foot benches and cockpit table can easily sit six people for dinner. The seat backs are high and very comfortable. You feel secure sitting in this part of the cockpit. The table is easily removed and placed in a special compartment below the cockpit floor when sailing. The primary winches are located at the aft end of the cockpit coaming just in front of the steering pedestals. Along with the main sheet, they are easily accessible to the helmsman. Aft of the main sheet the cockpit opens up to almost full width. With twin wheels there is always good visibility forward. Twin wheels also open up the center of the cockpit, which creates a clean line of sight from the forward part of the cockpit aft to the fold-down transom. The cockpit is a great place both to sail from and to lounge while at anchor.
Beneteau First 50: Saloon
Latches and hand holds are all hidden from sight. All the lighting is provided by small LED lights inset into white removable panels. There is also track lighting that provides good low level light at night and underway. The light switches are little buttons set into the ceiling. Throughout the boat there are articulated reading lights that look like futuristic silver flowers. Natural light and ventilation comes primarily from the row of overhead hatches and the bank of port lights in the cabin house all equipped with built in sun and mosquito screens. Also there are port lights in the hull in all the cabins.
There are three sleeping cabins, the master up forward and guest cabins on either side of the companionway. These are compact and have fairly small storage spaces. Up forward a large forward- facing double berth dominates the master cabin. Storage is provided in two large drawers under the bunk as well as cabinets along the hull. The hanging lockers are to starboard behind the door. The forward head has its own full shower stall.
The saloon dominates the interior. It is the kind of space that would be great for cocktails on a summer evening. A settee that could comfortably seat six people makes the centerpiece of the interior. The large L-shaped settee bench is long enough to sleep on and makes a good sea berth.sBeneteau First 50: Nav
The large nav station is situated just aft of the settee with a flat screen monitor on the bulkhead. All the other electronics and panels are hidden behind a cabinet face. She is equipped with the latest and best navigation suite. In a nod to her fully modern style there is a special laptopcomputer locker under the chart table.
The galley is one of the more unique features of the boat. It is minimalist but very functional. Two people can work easily together preparing a meal. It is equipped with a fridge and freezer, microwave and some neat cuddies for plates and cups. The boat we sailed was not set up for offshore cooking with handholds, counter fiddles and a galley belt, so in gale conditions cooking became fairly athletic. The aft head is functional but small. The lack of a wet locker in the after head became an issue during the trip, since that was the head we wanted to use in the rough weather. We ended up using the forward shower to hang our wet gear but it is not really set up for this.
The interior is set up for elegant living, racing in suitable events and cruises of a few weeks or so in beautiful places. At this she will be perfect.
This yacht is the wave of the future. She is sleek, modern, fast and sexy. Although she is not necessarily intended for long term live-aboard cruising right out of the box, she is absolutely perfect for normal cruising in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean and will do very well in point-to-point and longer buoy races The new Beneteau First 50 is the epitome of the contemporary cruising yacht. Beneteau has taken a well thought out and solid model and created something completely new. At her core she is a modern performance cruiser but she breaks away from almost everything that came before her.
Taking cues from contemporary architecture and styling she is open and clean in every respect and a true performer with a thoroughly modern T-keel, a powerful rig and real panache.