TEST: Beneteau First 45

By: Allan Whiting, Photography by: Allan Whiting; Beneteau

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

Beneteau’s First series racer-cruisers have hit the water running. ALLAN WHITING took the wheel for an evaluation on Sydney Harbour.

Following a string of early overseas race successes, the new Beneteau First 45 racked up two division wins at the recent Hamilton Island Race Week. In the IRC Premier Passage Division, Blue Water streeted the rest of the field, winning all but one race. Graham Jones and his team did a wonderful job in adapting quickly to the new boat and exploiting its strengths.

Another brand-new First 45, Honeysuckle, owned by Ray Harris, won IRC Grand Prix Division Two after a tussle that saw the boat go into the last race one point in arrears.

Suffice to say, it’s a dream way to release a new boat and the boys and girls at Vicsail in Sydney could hardly wipe the smiles off their faces when I arrived to experience the First 45 for myself.

Ray Harris kindly offered to loan his boat for the test and join us, along with one of his regular crew. Two Vicsail young guns did the foredeck work. Me? What do you think? I was on the twin wheels.

Although the company has extensive in-house boat-design resources Beneteau consults with specialist designers all around the world. For the new First 50 and 45 models the chosen company was Briand Yacht Design.

At the release of the First 50, which preceded the 45, the Philippe Briand designers said: "We designed the First 50 in the same way as we design a superyacht; an exceptional object, featuring the best up to the minute technology and art, to match the owner’s pride."

But, being a First meant performance was paramount. The First 45 mirrors the 50’s design characteristics, but looks like proving to be even more successful at the world’s race venues.

The Briand team came up with a lean looking boat that has moderate beam dimensions. In the case of the First 45, the hull is 13.7m long and beam is 4.2m. The lean look comes from an uncluttered layout, with broad decks around the shallow coach house, and a wide, clean cockpit with twin wheels.

The hull shape is targeted for maximum performance within the constraints imposed by rating rules. The broad transom and tapering aft chine deliver more power, hull stability and maximum waterline length when underway.

The minimalist design cues continue belowdecks where chic light-hued joinery, a white deck head and white upholstery enhance the cleanness of the interior design. Daylight streams in through hatches and deadlights that are aligned down the centre of the coach house roof, through four coach house windows and through three elliptical hull ports.

The overall feel is Euro chic, which slightly blurs the traditional distinction between Beneteau’s racing Firsts, and cruising Oceanis and Cyclades boats. The First 45 also has three underwater profile choices and two mast heights, plus a carbon option.

The middle specification is a 2.4m draft, cast-iron bulb keel and a mast height of 17.5m. Another keel specification employs a short-draft, two-metre bulb keel. The high performance version has a 2.75m deep, lead whale-tail keel and a mast height of 18.35m.

The keel-stepped aluminium sticks have rod forestays, triple swept-back spreaders and 9/10 standing rigging. The optional carbon mast is a two-spreader design.

The ballast mass of the 2.4m and 2.75m keels is the same at 3875kg. However, the two-metre draft version scores a heavier 4480kg iron bulb.
Displacement of the dashing deep keel version I tested is 11,545kg.

The First 45 hull is single-skinned GRP, with a structural, single-skinned inner moulding of bi-axial and uni-directional cloth bonded and laminated to the hull at intervals.

The inner moulding’s structural role is to absorb the stresses at pressure points such as the chain plates, keel attachment and rudder post, to reduce strain on the hull. To guarantee maximum stiffness the marine plywood bulkheads are structural components that are bonded to the hull.

The deck is moulded from an infusion of glass fibre, balsa and synthetic resin which increases the strength ratio over a simple laminate. Reinforcing plates made of single-skin GRP are bonded beneath high-stress deck areas, such as the winch mounts, tracks, through-deck U-bolts and cleats.

As with the hull, the deck is stiffened further by an inner moulding that has integrated beams, as well as voids for deck-fitting fastener access and flush-mounted lighting.

The deck-hull joint is mechanically fastened and bonded with polyurethane adhesive, and the transom-deck joint is laminated for additional strength.

The spacious cockpit on the First 45 is designed for racing, with ample space for unhindered crew work. There are six lockers, teak slatted cockpit benches and helm seats, and the test boat also had an optional teak cockpit floor.

The cockpit is open aft but a moulded bridge across the stern at seat height provides a perch for the afterguard. The mainsheet traveller runs across a long track that slots between the wheel pedestals and the bench ends.

The First 45 sports two leather-covered, cast aluminium steering wheels (carbon optional) that operate quadrant steering, two compasses and one engine control panel. The bench ends have space for nav instruments and the large tactical readouts are on the mast, below the boom.

The winch layout is conventional, with self-tailing Harken 44.2 mainsheet/spinnaker drums aft, 53.2 primaries mid-cockpit and 44.2 halyard winches on the cabin top. A 60.2/48.2 combination is optional. The halyards run to clutches along open recesses. The test boat was fitted with a Vicsail-fitted barber hauler for the headsail.

Belowdecks, the First 45 has everything a cruising or racing crew could want: three double cabins (island bed for’ard), two showers/heads, spacious dinette and lounge, galley with gimballed two-burner gas stove and oven, deep sink, L-shaped chart desk, front-opening fridge, top-opening icebox, and ample cupboard and drawer space.

The cabin sole is parquet-pattern ply with a matt finish that I found quite slippery even when dry, so the large saloon area could do with more handholds for security in a seaway.

The auxiliary is a Yanmar 54hp diesel engine, installed in an insulated compartment under the companionway and accessible through three openings. The donk powers a saildrive leg and three-bladed folding propeller. The engine control panel is rather awkwardly placed in front of the starboard steering wheel pedestal.

Honeysuckle looked the part as I stepped on board. By the time I stowed my gear we were under way, slipping nimbly out of a tight berth without any evidence of prop walk. But the engine control panel looks like something of an afterthought, hidden behind the starboard wheel pedestal.

I took the helm as the sails went up and noted a heavier wheel action than I expected, but completely free of play. Every slight wheel movement earned instant response.

The North 3DLs glowed warmly in the spring sunshine, but I was surprised at the short foot on the main. The high-mast option comes with a carefully proportioned main and little jib overlap to enhance the boat’s IRC and IMS ratings.

The wind was light and fluky, averaging 10 to 12kts during our Sydney Harbour sail, so while we didn’t experience any demanding conditions it was a great opportunity to gauge the boat’s performance in light conditions.

The race results speak for themselves, but I was still surprised at how easily the 45-footer sliced through the water.

Beneteau’s performance graphs indicate an upwind speed around seven knots at the optimum point angle in 10kts of breeze, but we were doing better than that. I put it down to the 3DLs, but checking around the dock later I learnt that Honeysuckle had been given the ‘go fast’ treatment before launching. First 45s pop out of the mould pretty fairly, but there’s nothing quite like some hand-finishing to make the underwater profile even slipperier.

The relationship between the wheels, the traveller and the mainsheet winches proved to be ideal for easy communication between the main trimmer and the helmsman.

Working in the cockpit was easy for the crew, with plenty of arm-swinging room and good foot support from a raised spine plank down the centre of the cockpit. At greater angles of heel there was excellent bum grip on the cockpit coamings.

Kite raising was an easy operation, thanks to the broad sidedecks and uncluttered bow deck, and trimming was optimised by the wide sheeting base.

Our test sail was a short one, because Honeysuckle had afternoon racing commitments, but I experienced enough of the First 45’s manners to appreciate why it has become an instant success on the global race circuits.

Clean, uncluttered design above and below decks
Quality fit and finish
Easily driven hull shape
Optimised cockpit layout

Slippery cabin sole
Insufficient handholds below decks
Awkward location of engine controls


Beneteau First 45


High mast rig, asymmetric and spinnaker gear with carbon pole, 60.2/48.2 winches, removable stern beam, teak cockpit sole, cockpit speakers, leather chart table seat and leather trim in saloon, two additional batteries, electric flush toilets, and holding tank



FRP hulls and decks, balsa resin composite deck and solid FRP below

Length overall:

Hull length:

Waterline length:



2.75m (2.0m and 2.4m optional)



3 doubles








Yanmar 4JH4 CE diesel

Reverser saildrive
Rated HP:


Three-blade folding

d’Albora Marinas,
New Beach Road,
Rushcutters Bay, NSW, 2011
Phone: (02) 9327 2088
Web: www.vicsail.com


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