With a unique and flexible design, the Beneteau Oceanis 38 is going to evolve with your sailing style in mind By Andrew Cross
Being that I am slightly obsessed with sailboats, I usually get excited when something new and bold hits the market. It is a rarity, though, when I am overly enthusiastic to see the interior of a boat first—I guess I’d much rather be on deck actually doing the sailing then dwelling on the finer points of joinery and fabric selection. But when the design specs and marketing material for the Beneteau Oceanis 38 first came across the nav desk of my home office, I thought, “Wow, this is new.” Working to create a boat that is as diverse as our modern lives have become, the Beneteau Oceanis 38 is a boat designed for everyone. With three models to choose from—daysailer, weekender or cruiser—you can literally configure the boat for your sailing style. And this boat has style in spades.
In stark contrast to the rainy days of the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, the Tuesday after the show was sunny, breezy and nearly perfect to get any boat out for a sail. With six of us aboard we set out from Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard in Back Creek and wove our way through anchored boats as a fresh northeasterly funneled down the creek.
Under power the 30 horsepower Volvo Penta had us humming quickly out of the channel at about 7.5 knots and in perfect position to roll out the sails. With all control lines, halyards and sheets led smartly aft we rolled the Elvstrøm main out first and flattened the foot against the boom as 15 knots of breeze was in store. The boat’s dodger had nice large windows and a rare sunroof that made the main visible without having to stick your head out from underneath to tell sail shape and trim. The dodger was led aft to the 38’s mainsheet arch over the cockpit and from there a bimini took over to provide shade for the rest of the voluminous cockpit.
As we shut down the engine we rolled the slightly overlapping genoa out to starboard and trimmed for close hauled on a port tack. I was offered the helm and without hesitation took my usual seat to leeward so I could get a look at the tell tales on the headsail. The jib sheet winches are well within arms reach from either helm and I made a few slight adjustments before sitting back to enjoy the sail. With lots of other boats out that day I asked the crew to keep a lookout to windward and lost myself in sailing the boat.
Designed by the famous and often award winning Finot-Conq Architectes, the Beneteau Oceanis 38 has a uniquely modern look to it with a nearly plumb bow and stern and hard chine that extends almost the entire length of the boat. The look is something traditionalists won’t favor, but the 38 isn’t trying to be a traditionalist’s boat either. One of the crew, a prospective new owner, asked why the need for a hard chine and dual rudder? Not a dumb question: the hard chine is for stability and as we sailed to windward the boat healed to about 15 degrees, locked in and literally sat on that chine. The starboard rudder was then deep in the water as designed and easy as could be to steer with fingertips alone.
After putting the boat through a few smooth tacks I could tell that she moved effortlessly between 90 degrees and accelerated quickly out of each maneuver. When sailing at full speed close hauled we clipped along at about 6.5 knots and the feeling of the helm never changed as we encountered a gust. With the in-mast furling mainsail we had on the boat I would think that reefing would be done somewhere slightly south of 20 knots of apparent wind, but as stable as she felt she could probably take more.
The 38 is a light displacement boat and with a SA/Disp ratio of 18.5 and a D/L of 145 I’m sure she’ll be lively in light to moderate breezes but benefit from a smaller sail area when the wind pipes up, especially when sailing close hauled. Off the wind the boat tracked as if it were sliding along on rails and again, the dual rudders kept the helm efficient and light. With a beam of just over 13 feet that is carried well aft, I’m guessing that even in a good following swell the boat will be easy to steer and won’t feel as the though the stern wants to slide out to either side.
After putting her through a few jibes and running through all the points of sail we reached back towards the Creek and Jabin’s. This wasn’t a sail that you wanted to end but I guess they all have to. Under power again we made our way to the dock and backed down into the slip. In my experience twin rudders tend to bite quickly in reverse and this boat was no different, as driving astern was simple.
Days before getting to sail the new Beneteau Oceanis 38 I had a chance to spend some time aboard the boat at the Annapolis boat show. Moored stern to the show’s floating dock, I stepped aboard on a rainy, windy day and quickly made my way through the large cockpit and down below decks. I was truly excited to see what Beneteau had in store for the interior of this much talked about and fawned over design.
From the spec sheet I knew that Nauta Designs was in charge of the interior and from boats I’ve seen of theirs in the past, I knew it would have a clean, polished look that would also feel like home. I wasn’t wrong. One interior design feature that I’ve come to love of the new crop of cruising boats is the light, open and airy feeling that the designers are going with.
Gone are the days of the dark, library-esq interior styling’s that make you feel as though you’re hiding in a cave. Though it was overcast and dreary outside, the large cabin top windows let a good amount of light in and the overhead hatches added some much needed brightness. In complete contrast to the gloom of that day at the show, when we did our sea trial the sun was beaming bright, causing light to bounce throughout the cabin without seeming like it would turn the boat into an oven or cause it to be too obnoxiously bright. There are shades on every window if too much sunlight seemed like it would be a problem.
The boat we test sailed was the weekender version and the first thing I noticed when stepping down the companionway was how spacious the boat felt. With no forward bulkhead, the queen-sized V-berth was open to the rest of the cabin and gave the design a very modern, loft-like feel. Being that it was so inviting, I wasted no time in climbing onto the mattress and found that my six-foot frame easily fit. Non-opening ports flank the bunk to port and starboard, which helped fill the forward area of the boat with light, and a large drawer for storage is at the foot of the bed.
My favorite touch forward was the purposefully built and mounted hooks for luggage that was custom designed for Beneteau by Longchamp of Paris to act as “Rolling Lockers.” Simply pack what you need from home, bring it to the boat, hang it up and you’re set. Very clever. To port and just aft of the bunk was a long settee, table and small chart desk that would be perfect for a laptop or chart book.
Along the starboard side was a small changing seat and then the inline galley with a generous amount of counter space, drawers for storage below and cupboards above, a two burner stove, single sink and refrigerator. Aft of the galley on that side, and on all versions, is a head with shower.
The weekender and cruiser versions can then be customized to have either one or two cabins aft to starboard and port. The cool thing about the interior design of this boat that really sets it apart from the pack is that it can literally be changed for how you want to use it. By moving or adding various interior pieces you can take the boat from a Spartan daysailer to a more livable cruiser.
An owner can add or remove a forward bulkhead for privacy; remove the stove and adjacent storage space and add a cushion for more room to sit; add or remove cupboards and storage areas; and add or remove the saloon table—virtually the entire boat can be changed, re-arranged and customized while you own it. As far as the versions go, I could definitely envision the daysailer of the 38 being popular with singles or couples that lead busy shore side lives, but love spending their scant amount of free time sailing and may want to do an overnight or two.
The weekender would allow for a few more people to sleep aboard and the added stove/oven and storage would make the boat slightly more livable. The cruiser version is more of a traditional cruising sailboat with a proper galley setup, nav station, and plenty of space to sleep fore and aft. Every version of the 38 comes with an ample sized cockpit that can comfortably fit a whole crew, couple or singlehander.
Choosing to forgo an aft bunk on either side allows for a large sail and gear locker that could probably stow a roll-up dinghy and all the fenders you would need. Two styles of cockpit table are available or you can choose to go without. The transom folds down to reveal a swim step that makes getting on and off the boat simple when moored stern to and would also make for a good dinghy landing platform.
Down below I am personally a big fan of the open feel they’ve achieved in the daysailer and weekender with the removable forward bulkhead. At the show, I stood on the dock just behind the boat as showgoers were exiting through the stern and a lot of people were talking positively of that exact feature. When we speak of modern boat designs that are equal parts performance and comfort, I would say this boat is as close as you can get for any style of sailor.
The flexible nature of the interior and cockpit will appeal to singles, young couples, small families and to those whose children have sailed out of the house. Under sail and power the 38 handled exceptionally well and with a manageable sail plan this boat will have buyers away from the dock and under sail in short order for a day sail or weekend. For those with aspirations of longer distance cruising, I see the Oceanis 38 as an excellent coastal cruising platform that, with the right gear added, will be comfortable to live aboard at anchor, on a mooring or at a dock and will also make for a boat that can complete respectable daily runs.
All in all, it looks as though the Beneteau Oceanis 38 is going to live up to the hype it has been getting, and for good reason. With a design that goes outside the box, we’ll surely be seeing lots of these boats out for day sails, weekends and longer cruises.
Beneteau Oceanis 38
LWL 35’ 2”
Beam 13’ 1”
Draft 6’9” / 5’3”
Mast height 54’4”
Fuel 34 gals.
Water 87 gals.
Sail area 665 sq. ft.