|A Performer In The Pink|
FOR THEIR new First 30, Beneteau wanted a ‘wow’ factor. They did not want to be producing a standard production cruiser-racer, simply the next size down in the series. Rather they wanted something which was a completely new package, a new concept which turned heads on the dock and on the water, which was also fast and easy to sail.
In fact for a company which might even be accused of being staid and mainstream when it comes to defining the cruiser-racer, and necessarily so to serve their global market, the First 30 is a fantastic diversion, a whole new concept which will hopefully shake up perceptions, writes YL racing editor Andi Robertson.
It is funky, sexy and upwind it sails to the speeds of a traditional 40 footer with the absolute minimum of effort and with a small crew, and yet it will cruise as well.
The boat was designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian, responsible for the last two Volvo Ocean Race winners ABN AMRO 1 and Ericsson; Alex Thomson’s IMOCA Open 60 Hugo Boss, as well as designs for three new Volvo boats and Bernard Stamm’s soon to be launched new IMOCA Open 60 too.
Beneteau put Juan K together with Michel Desjoyeaux, double Vendée Globe winner, who is surely the most innovative all-round solo skipper. Not only does he know the fine detail of every area of his boats, from the top of the rig to the bottom of the keel bulb, but he has a sharp eye for detail and, as his new IMOCA Open 60 Foncia shows, he’s never ever short of ideas.
In fact it was Desjoyeaux’s experience of setting up the IMOCA rigs which was one of the key reasons for bringing him on board.
Beneteau wanted a small, family cruiser which will race, but which takes a big step forward. The 31.7, which it replaces, sold over 1,400 boats worldwide, has one design fleets dotted around the world and was successful under IRC, but it is a 20 year old design which is based on the Figaro hull.
The brief was for a boat to be quick upwind and fast but easily managed downwind, a fast family cruiser, significantly faster all round than its predecessor.
So far there are already two boats in the UK and more on order. Ex-pat Scot Kevin Sproul who now has his own sail brand Ultimate Sails, has been winning with the first boat in the Hamble Winter Series: ‘For sure the boat is quick upwind and pretty easy to make it go. We did a lot of work with the rig to get it set up properly and found some good settings, but using quite a bit more rig tension than we initially expected. And having done that and worked at it, we found it a great boat with an awful lot of potential.’ Hamble based Kevin said on the Beneteau stand at the London Boat Show.
So far the interest from Scotland has been focused on getting information rather than anyone actually placing orders: ‘I am sure it will not be long in coming and the First 30 will go on to sell in numbers which will match or exceed the 31.7, but at the moment people are just looking and waiting, it seems like no-one wants to be first. I think in the north we tend to be a little more conservative, waiting until someone else takes the plunge. Once we have one on the water I am sure sales will follow because it is a great boat and we are excited about it. It is great as a racer-cruiser, for short-handed sailing and will do some fast cruising,’ explains Chris Dodgshon of Sunbird Ardrossan
Think Pink, well, why such a colourway? Eric Ingouf of Beneteau reveals, ‘I maybe would not wear a pink shirt, but it’s a clean, exciting colour for our times and the future which has a broad appeal and which everyone really seems to love. The kids like it, mums like it and it looks good on the water.’
The sea trials for the new boat were extensive when setting up the rudders and the rig geometry, and they did considerable testing on whether to go for a sprit and A-sail or symmetrical kite. In the end their testing conclusively pointed to symmetrical and pole. ‘Even in the light conditions the symmetrical kite lifted the bow more and was felt to be more direct,’ summarises Eric Ingouf.
It is a good looking boat in modern, efficient terms and the pink does both disguise and enhance a lot. The topsides are quite straight and flat, running down to the noticeable chine which runs forward about one third.
There is quite a strong run forward to the freeboard and the max beam is carried aft to produce powerful stern sections, but not excessively so.
The deck line is very much common to the First range with those signature partially hooded windows and gently rounded profile. Rather than a fine bow section, the bow is quite rounded and chunky with decent volume and when the boat is powered up and heeling then the forefoot is almost clear of the water.
The cockpit is outstanding. The main track runs full width across the transom beam. That takes the mainsheet out of the cockpit and exerts maximum leverage on the leech, offering good coarse and fine tune as well as the traveller control.
The tiller stock is at the aft edge of the cockpit and so when the stainless tiller is raised or put to one side it is not at all obtrusive. The helm has proper infinite adjustment stainless kick bars to brace against, straight off the Figaro, Mini, Class 40 etc. and the helm and mainsheet person (if you choose to have one), have a flat seat aft of the wrap round coaming. There is good working space, but so too the cockpit seats are wide and protected for safe family sailing.
Simplicity is the key. The boat is configured so that it will be workable for the first time buyer who does not want to be changing boats, as so often happens, within two or three years. So the controls are all excellent, as you would expect considering this is the fifth new model in the ‘new’ First range.
The cockpit ergonomics are good and the working spaces are adaptable, so the helm can more or less sail the boat single-handed.
The rig is a powerful square top main, big for the size of boat, but it seemed easy to control, and the jib is a little larger than a standard high aspect blade. This gives a nice balance between acceleration and easy feel out of the tack and something to lean against, but without the muscle power needed for a big jib.
And another bonus is that IRC taxes jib overlap more than it does area, so gains there on two counts!
Keynote is that there is no backstay and so setting up the rig properly is vital, hence Beneteau provide a full, easy to understand, tuning guide as drafted by Le Professeur and Eric.
They have worked hard to get the right balance, maximising twist and reducing the leech loads so that the fine tune and the vang become the key controls and it becomes relatively easy to open the leech and de-power the main and power it up again.
And down below of course the mast is well back in the saloon which allows a walk round table, small beer I know, but in how many boats of this size is there a cul de sac at the front of the table and everyone needs to move when Johnny seated at the front of the table needs out. Keep it foremost in your mind, this is a cruising boat.
Moving the mast back closer to, or over the centre of effort, theoretically loads up the helm more (the moment between the centre of effort and CLR is reduced), hence the double rudders for extra grip and the rudder sections are quite powerful, with a relatively fat leading edge.
To optimise the fore and aft trim, the keel is a modern torpedo ‘T’, with 140 kilos more in the bulb. Overall the righting moment is significantly more than the 31.7 and the CG is significantly lower (the injection moulded deck saves 80 kilos for starters).
Off St Gilles Croix de Ville, home waters of Beneteau, we had a perfect afternoon testing off the French Vendée coast.
The wow factor, for me, extends to sailing not just cosmetics. As soon as the breeze picked up it was lovely upwind. The twin rudders do give a slightly different feel, but they are light, responsive and the boat answers the small requests positively and smoothly.
Upwind the boat really accelerated smoothly and easily in the puffs and out of the tacks, and what was especially noticeable for me was how it was easy to keep the speed building, even when the boat was on its ear.
It likes a little heel and then it is on rails upwind. Manage the power on the main, achieve a balance and the speed builds nicely.
With the rudder grip you always have control to do what the boat wants and you certainly never feel like you would be beholden to crew weight on the rail or fighting to live with a narrow groove.
I loved it. And for me, back to my regular theme I’m afraid, when you can go fast, efficiently and easily in a small boat why go for something bigger. Here you are with the speed of an older 35-37ft design, sailing with a couple of kids. It’s a no brainer for me.
Off the wind it was not quite as sparkling, but that was purely down to the lack of breeze. However it was extremely easily driven as all the loads are light and the hardware well appointed and situated. You can talk A-sails being user friendly and I appreciate all they bring, but once you have learned the basics and routine of handling the three corners of a symmetrical kite, on a boat like this then I’m happy.
There seemed ample horsepower from the big masthead kite to pull the boat along with minimal wake and scarcely a ripple off the twin rudders. Traditionally there is a little more drag off the twin rudder configuration at lower speeds, but I’m sure that is more than compensated for with the advanced CFD programmes which Juan K runs.
The interior is light and spacious for its size. You are a little too aware that the interior light oak faced woodwork is built to the price, but the overall feel is lovely. Certainly the main saloon has lots of space, not least by not having a mast dominating the middle of the area. Up front the double cabin benefits from a decent headroom, the little fisheye hull port and natural light through the windows and forehatch.
There is good floor space and good storage. Beneteau make a point that the double leaf door forward gives a feeling of more space. I’ll take their word on that, it’s certainly a good, well proportioned living and sleeping area. And the main aft cabin to starboard follows the same themes.
The galley lacks for nothing, if anything quite narrow fore and aft, leaving the cooker with no work space in front or behind it, but it is all there. And opposite is the nav station which is similarly compact with a flip up seat, but it’s all there and does the job.
Overall, what’s not to love about the new First 30? It is a great package which does take the genre forward to a new level. It was certainly one of those rare new boats that you did not want to get off, wanting to wait and see if the breeze built more, or just to do another beat and run for the fun of it. And that speaks volumes for me.
• Further information on the First 30 from northern Beneteau dealers Sunbird International based at Clyde Marina, Ardrossan where they can offer the non-pink version of the new ‘30’ commissioned Clyde with a good racer-cruiser spec for £110,000 including VAT.