Beneteau’s new brace of Oceanis cruisers, the 41 and the 45, epitomise contemporary yacht design, the emphasis firmly on the user-friendly, but not at the expense of performance, reports Kevin Green.
Sitting onboard the Oceanis 45 chatting to designer Pascal Conq, the 41 moored alongside, proved the best way to appreciate these two new releases from European giant Beneteau. "A key point is the mast now being in line with the keel, which maximises the centre of effort on these boats," explained Pascal. This has also allowed a more even spread of the sail area across the hull, he added. Clearly there is no substitute for an interview with the designer when it comes to reviewing sailboats.
Looking around the cockpit the most striking feature is the mainsail arch, taken from the Sense range and now on new boats from the Oceanis line. This GRP structure runs the mainsheet on blocks and allows the sheeting to be fairly far down the boom for greater control. The other big plus is that it strongly supports a sprayhood, which can extend into a cockpit tent. Inheriting much of the DNA from the popular older Oceanis models, the large cockpit is deep and clad in iroko, an African hardwood similar to teak. The foldup table is substantially built and I noted its drop sides are a good bracing position when the boat is heeled at sea.
The twin helm binnacles are integrated into the cockpit's aft bulkheads for uninterrupted passage forward from the electric fold-down transom-swimplatform. Good features at the binnacles include prominent compasses on each and electronics from Simrad - with a centralised NSS 12 plotter on the end of the table frame and readouts at either helm, the engine controls to port. Deck gear is by Harken, the primary H50.2ST winches immediately to hand at the helms.
Halyard control on our review boat was done with an electric H40.2ST winch on the cabin top and an adjoining manual one. The overall cockpit layout is identical on both models, is functional and works for both cruising and occasional regattas.
Moving forward, the laid decks give good grip underfoot, while outboard shrouds clear the way to the wide foredeck, an ideal sunbathing area at anchor. The anchor setup uses a Quick vertical windlass with capstan, the latter an excellent addition on a cruising boat, while dual bowrollers allow a second set of rode to be used. Other good features on the deck include midship cleats and something that the 45 has over the 41, a dedicated sail locker.
Oceanis 45 accommodation options range from two- to the family orientated four-cabin model and up to three bathrooms can be incorporated, while the owner's suite is forward. Where the 41 differs is by offering a maximum of three cabins with a second head for the owner's en suite. The user-friendly theme of the new Oceanis flows through the Nauta designer saloon as well as on deck, thanks to shallow angled (45-degree) steps. But not to my liking are the saloon-style doors on the main hatch, an issue I put to the onboard designer. "This design allows us a much lower entry sill into the cabin," explained Pascal.
Down below the level of natural light is high with cockpit-facing windows illuminating the rear cabins and portside galley. The 45's galley can vary - L-shaped as standard or longitudinal - while only L-shaped on the 41. This area adjoins the lounge featuring a three-person bench with sliding table. Traditional navigators may not like this approach as the aft navigation area has limited bulkhead space for electronics, plus instrument controls are on the starboard side.
Opposite, the dinette is fairly conventional but with the additional island bench seat can easily accommodate a large family. Just behind the dinette our review boat had the main bathroom - fairly spacious, reflecting the wide beam and high topsides. The moulded bathroom has a separate shower and manual toilet with enough ventilation. In terms of quality the standard of fixtures and fittings throughout these boats was pretty good and of course precision CNC machining ensured that all joinery fitted together nicely.
Moving forward the owner is rewarded with spacious forepeak accommodation. The 45 scores an island bed with a mere 2cm more headroom than the 41, and both have surrounding shelf space and wardrobes. Ducts for the optional air-conditioning are another good comfort feature on both models (and the 45 can accommodate a 6kVa genset as well), while LED spotlights illuminate the queen-size bed. The en suite is similar to the main ablutions and completes a functional area. Moving aft the twin cabins are symmetrical and greatly benefit from the cockpit-facing hatches, although head space is average due to the intrusion of the deep cockpit.
Usefully, both cabins allow access to the 54hp Yanmar diesel. Its POD 90 Dock & Go gearbox takes up less space than a traditional transmission. On the 41 an identical engine setup comes with a 40hp motor. Front access on the 45 is slightly hampered by its installation high on the GRP engine mounts, but side access should allow all the basics to be reached - impeller, oil, filters, water and gearbox.
Our review boats came with Mediterranean-style rigs of large twin headsails - a small Code Zero on the outer stay and genoa inside - that gave plenty of power in the typically lighter conditions. The 41 has 902ft² sail area, while the 45 comes with 1076ft² for main and genoa. Interestingly, this gives a SAD (sail area to displacement ratio) of 20.6 for the 41 and a more sporty 22.6 for the 45. One pre-production niggle on both boats - something that Beneteau is adjusting - is the tall boom height. It is beyond eye level for average-height sailors, so its difficult to douse the mainsail; though there are mast steps. "This will be lowered by about 20cm", advised Beneteau representative Yves Mandin during our sail.
Hulls are built using solid polyester layup, with similar inner moulding bonded for rigidity, the decks injected moulded GRP/balsa sandwich. A chine maximises beam and minimises the wetted area when heeled, while the wide beam is carried aft to ensure enough volume for carrying the sailplan farther back. The keel is a cast iron fin with bulbed foot and a large spade rudder is connected to the twin helms.
SAILING THE 45 & 41?Sitting outboard on the smooth wooden coamings of the Oceanis 45 allowed clear views of the genoa telltales from the helm. Ideally placed for shorthanded sailing, the big Harken 50.2 ST winches allow headsail trimming steering at the wheel.
The light breeze blowing gently along the French coast, from the old shipbuilding town of La Ciotat, allowed us to fly the Code Zero headsail. With the tail end of a mistral storm having passed a day before, the lumpy sea was a good test of how the 9.55-ton hull could cope with pushing through the chop and it did so with ease. I noted a speedy 8.3kts during our beam reach as the wind hovered around 12.6kts. Wishing to change my point of sail I unfurled the genoa and aided by Pascal, wound in the Code Zero as we hardened up on the wind. Going to 50 degrees the slippery hull sped up to 9.1kts.
The large-diameter stainless steel wheels felt a bit heavy, giving a fair degree of weather helm (preferable to lee helm). With the boat heeled my feet sought some grip, so ideally some wooden foot chocks should be fitted. But of course in cruising mode, you'd simply switch on the Simrad autopilot and keep watch from beneath the sheltered sprayhood.
Seeking some more pressure I tacked and watched as the sheets ran freely, the hull slipping around quickly on her big spade rudder. Also out on the water was her bigger sister the Oceanis 48, which we kept pace with much to Pascal Conq's delight. Returning to the harbour under engine the 45 was no slouch either, managing 8.5kts at 2900rpm.
Taking the helm of the Oceanis 41 I motored out past the old stone quay to open water, reaching 8.2kts with the 40hp Yanmar spinning at 3000rpm; and satisfyingly no twitchiness from the twin wheels. With head to wind we hoisted the mainsail easily from the lazy jacks, back at the helms I rolled out both headsails to give chase to the 45.
In the 15.5-knot wind the helm felt a bit heavy on our beam reach but speed was good at 7.1kts, though a wee bit under her polars, which gives 8.32kts at 90 degrees. Naturally, our smaller sail area meant the 45 had an advantage but only by about half a knot during our comparison - which correlates with the polar diagrams for both yachts. On the wind at 50 degrees we slowed to 6.7kts but the sailplan felt nicely balanced, reflected in a neutral feel at the helm. Naturally, the smaller and one-ton lighter boat felt a shade more nimble than her big sister but there wasn't a lot in it, an equally good motion and predictable angle of heel to windward.
Our tests confirmed my positive expectations of the Oceanis 41 and 45. Sure these pre-production models had a few glitches - high boom, heavy helm and a limited charting area - but overall these models should satisfy a wide variety of sailors. It is difficult to choose between them.
My choice, as yours will likely be, is dependent on many factors. Money matters for most buyers, so the $57K difference in price between the pair is significant. However, for regular offshore passagemakers the longer the waterline, the faster you can go and the more versatility the interior has, the better - think charters or large family gatherings. These factors swayed me towards the larger 45 with its four-cabin layout. Budgeting for the Dock & Go manoeuvring system is worthwhile on this larger yacht, especially for couples. Boat handling in close quarters gives most of us a bit of stress at the best of times, so it's not surprising that development aimed at this area has continued apace and Beneteau has led the way.
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