On the Saturday afternoon of the Strictly Sail Miami show, Beneteau USA’s president Wayne Burdick and a few others played hooky from the show and slipped away for a sail on the brand new Sense 55. “Slipped” is probably not the right word, as we intentionally caused quite a stir—a stir that you can only make with the patented Dock & Go system that Beneteau now offers as an option on their larger boats.
Here’s what happened: we dropped the stern lines, and using the fully rotating sail drive unit aft and the bow thruster forward—both of which are linked to a joystick at the helm—Wayne maneuvered us forward so we could remove the bow lines from the slip’s piling. Then, he steered us into a fairly wide spot between the docks at the boat show and the opposing slips and proceeded to spin the beamy 55-footer in fast pirouettes that basically had her twisting herself in circles. To say we attracted a crowd on the docks would be understatement. People all over the show stopped in their tracks and watched with mouths agape. It was quite a display.
Point made, Wayne switched to standard motoring mode and drove the 55 from the marina down the channel toward Government Cut. We were headed for the open sea. It was a lovely tropical afternoon with the sun slowly setting. The easterly trade wind was light but steady and building as we got closer to open water.
We rolled out the mainsail and then the 105 percent jib so we could tack our way seaward in the narrow channel. The 55 handled well as we threw her through tack after tack. The boat has twin wheels and twin rudders, so even when heeled slightly the rudders bite the water firmly. Plus, you can always steer from whichever side of the cockpit gives you the best view of the sails and surrounding channel. The 55 tacked inside 90 degrees and the small headsail was a snap to trim.
In the building breeze, the 55 tended to translate wind pressure into forward motion more than into heeling angle. The boat has 16 feet, four inches of beam, which gives the hull a lot of initial stability. With a very broad transom, that stability is enhanced, while the hull has been given extra volume aft to accommodate the large cockpit and storage lockers.
The 55, like her little Sense sisters, likes to be sailed very upright. The hulls have chines in the after sections and you don’t want to heel the boat beyond the chines. The chines do not add a lot of stability as they do in Volvo or Open Class ocean racers, but they do add a little and enhance volume. The Sense 55 is quite like a catamaran or trimaran that always sails upright—hence the “mono-maran” moniker.
We close-reached out into the open waters of the Florida Straits at a very pleasant 7 knots and then cracked off a bit more so we could watch the speedo climb past 8. With the twin rudders, the 55 steered like she was on rails and held her line very nicely—easy on both the helmsman and the autopilot.
The sun was just setting as we turned for home. Easing sheets even more, we ran up the channel toward the bright lights of Miami with the genoa and main pulling us along at a good clip. Under sail, the Sense 55 has an easy motion, a good turn of speed in all wind angles, and is set up well for a couple to manage all sheets and control lines. Under power, the boat is fast and maneuverable. And with the Dock & Go feature engaged, moving in and out of slips and negotiating tight docking situations is a snap.
The new 55 is the third boat in the Sense line and also the largest and most elegant. The Sense concept is based upon the company’s desire to create boats that truly embrace indoor-outdoor living in much the same manner as cruising cats. Plus, Beneteau wanted to separate the private sleeping cabins from the public living spaces—again, in the same way catamarans do.
The result is a layout that has three distinct tiers designed for three specific purposes. Starting with the feature you notice first—the stern—the cockpit is exceptionally large due to the expansive beam and the added space provided by the fold-down transom. With long bench seats, two helmsman’s seats and a huge drop-leaf table, the cockpit can accommodate 10 to 12 adults for sundowners and eight for a meal. The cockpit is the “patio” for outdoor living in warm climates. The boat we sailed in Miami had a dodger and bimini top installed to provide shade and a third insert could be zipped into place for full coverage.
A very interesting feature aboard the boat we sailed was a cockpit arch incorporated into the bimini that was used to mount three large solar panels and two high output Air Breeze wind generators. In addition, the arch had davits built in so the dinghy could be raised out of the water. This green energy system can deliver in excess of 150 amp hours daily without the need to run a carbon-emitting genset or engine.
Another option in the cockpit is to upgrade the large port sail lockers into a small sleeping cabin. The cabin has an opening port into the cockpit for ventilation, and in good weather you can sleep in the cabin with the lid of the cockpit seat raised.
The companionway has only three steps, so you are not descending into the boat but simply migrating down and forward into the interior “living room.” This is where the family or crew will assemble in cooler climes or at night for dinner around the large dinette table to port. People always gather in the kitchen at mealtime, so the layout is perfect, with the long galley to starboard, the couch-dinette to port and the opening windows facing aft into the cockpit for the overflow crowd.
In the middle of the living room there is a pedestal that serves several functions. It is a good place to brace your behind when cooking on the starboard tack—not that you want the boat to heel very much. It has a fold-down seat that adds three dining positions to the dinette. And, it houses the retracting flat screen TV.
The chart table faces aft next to the companionway. Because most sailors use their chartplotter or laptop for navigation, the table has been kept small and unobtrusive.
In the new 55, Beneteau has pulled out all the design and quality stops. The floors are a handsome parquet configuration. The countertops are Corian and the cabinet and locker doors are highly lacquered with a crisp and shiny white finish. Throughout the saloon, windows and hatches admit bright light and plenty of ventilation.
Going forward, you enter the private area of the 55, where there are three large sleeping cabins, each with an en suite head and shower. The master cabin forward has a centerline double that you can climb into from the sides, which makes nocturnal errands less disturbing to one’s partner; this design also makes the bunk easier to make than a standard V-berth. On the after bulkhead, a neat desk—which could be a computer platform or a vanity for powdering noses— has been included. The forward head and shower are separate compartments, so they can be used at the same time.
The two guest cabins are across the hallway from each other and have good double berths, hanging lockers and plenty of storage. The heads do not have separate shower stalls. The Pullman-style berths are angled in such a way that they will be fairly easy to make up and will allow partners to come and go without having to perform acrobatics.
The finish of the Sense 55 is very much up to custom yacht style and detail, as is true of the Oceanis models in the 55+ range. In this new Sense you have a boat that is as thoroughly innovative as any in the marketplace and designed not just for modern chic, but for the way we like to live on our boats. For a family of four or three couples, the Sense has ample room—everyone can have their own private cabins and heads, yet all can gather in the galley-saloon at mealtime or lounge in the cockpit when the weather is warm and fine.
Underway, the 55 delivers the sailing performance that makes cruising modern designs so much fun. You will be sailing at 8 knots most of the time and will see speeds over 10 regularly, particularly if you upgrade to a folding or feathering propeller. This speed enables you to cover lots of ground in short amounts of time and adds to the excitement and fun of passagemaking.
Under power and around the docks, the 55 really shines. She can achieve very high average speeds on windless days and deliver easy and trouble-free docking if the optional Dock & Go system has been installed. Those looking for a large family cruiser that offers all of the performance and comfort you could need, plus the elegance of a large luxury yacht, will find that the new Sense 55 fits the bill very nicely.
Beneteau Sense 55
Displ. 40,000 lbs.
Ballast 10,800 lbs.
Sail Area 1,600 sq. ft.
Fuel 219. gals
Water 256 gals.
Mast height 78’5”