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The Beneteau First 30 Goes Modern

The goal—a comfortable, speedy crossover—is the same, but Beneteau has taken its First Series in an entirely different direction. A boat review from our September 2010 issue

October 5, 2010
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Sailing World

Beneteau First 30

Although promoted as a performance cruiser, the influences of Juan Kouyoumdjian and Michel Desjoyeaux are found throughout the boat. There are enough fine-tune controls to keep a small race crew busy when going around the buoys. Gilles Martin-Raget/Beneteau

When you see the new Beneteau First 30 for the first time, don’t be surprised if you do a double take. With its beamy profile, hard chines, and double rudders, it’s a big diversion from the recent lineage of Farr-designed First models. And that’s because there’s one fundamental difference: for this next generation First model, Beneteau went elsewhere for its designer, tapping the avant-garde thinking of two-time Volvo Ocean Race winner Juan Kouyoumdjian. What the collaboration put forth for sea trials in June is intriguing: it certainly comes across as more race-worthy than cruise-worthy, but according to the First 30 project manager, Eric Ingouf, that’s not necessarily the case.

“I must stress that this is not a raceboat,” says Ingouf when asked of the boat’s true target audience. “It is a high-performance cruiser. But, that said, you can race anything if you want to.”

According to Ingouf, there are several innovations with the First 30 that are, in essence, a result of the powerful hull shape that Juan K produced, one with a fine entry and particularly wide transom. Most notable at first look is the location of the mast, which is well aft, and the T-bulb keel, which projects a large portion of the bulb forward—all in the name of balance and VCG (vertical center of gravity). “This is not a boat where you put a lot of crew on the rail,” says Ingouf. “We wanted the VCG of the keel very low, and to have the bulb forward so the boat is not sitting on its transom. You can’t do what we’ve done on an existing boat; only with a hull shape like this.”

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The benefit of having the mast in the middle of the boat, he adds, is twofold. “When you put the mast and keel in line you achieve a better balance. And the benefit is realized for the inside, too. It allows us to have a different interior layout, and win a lot of space from everywhere. It’s a huge step forward in terms of accommodations and space.”

The aluminum rig has 25-degree, swept-back spreaders and no backstay, which allowed Beneteau to put the traveler and mainsheet purchase on the transom beam, much like on an Open 60. This, says Ingouf, allows for a very open cockpit with long seats and unobstructed passage to the winches when sailing shorthanded.

The choice of aluminum spar is purely economical. “Our experience is that if we [Beneteau] provide a less expensive boat, the better the sales. The idea is to attract new, younger people that can afford to buy boats. This is less expensive, we know that it’s better to not go light and crazy. That’s not what people are expecting from us.”

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The rig location and spreader sweep also allowed them to design larger non-overlapping headsails into the sailplan, which, in turn, encouraged them to push the sailplan with a high-aspect, full-batten, square-top mainsail. The standard boat comes with a symmetric spinnaker package, but for owners who require an asymmetric spinnaker, a small, bolt-on bowsprit is available.

Like other similarly-shaped designs, the First 30 will be faster with a bit of heel, encouraging the boat to sit on a longer waterline length. “It’s a choice how you sail it,” says Ingouf. “With a hard chine, you use it as a step. Boats with this shape, you don’t want to sail them flat, otherwise there’s too much wetted surface. This boat wants a certain heel.”

The boat’s beamy aft section also dictates the use of dual rudders, and for this (and many other details), Beneteau sought the expertise of Michel Desjoyeaux, arguably the best ocean racing sailor of the last decade. The linkage system (“too complex to explain”), says Ingouf, is similar to what Desjoyeaux’s team has on its maxi trimaran.

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Feedback from initial sea trials was highly positive from those involved, and Ingouf, although understandably partial, is excited with what they’ve come up with. “It’s a boat that’s well balanced,” he says. “You never have the feeling you’re losing control. It’s light, balanced and stiff.”

In winds up to 20 knots, he says, they were still using the entire sailplan. “What’s really impressed me is the way it goes through the chop. It doesn’t pitch at all.”
As part of its new direction, Beneteau and its partners launched the boat in an innovative way (at www.teamfirst30.com), by providing near real-time online updates about the sea-trials, with photos and videos, and even question and answer sessions with the designers and key partners. Even Juan K chimed in to answer a few. “This was a way to quickly answer a lot of questions and to create a buzz,” says Ingouf. “The result was in line with our expectations. So many people went to the website and have been looking at it. It would have taken years to get that with the normal mode. The boat has a modern look and experience. It’s a new boat that brings new ideas and a new direction, and the communication is part of that.”

According to Beneteau USA, a First 30 will be in the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md., in October, and our Boat of the Year judging team will sail it following the show.

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