BOAT TEST: BENETEAU FIRST 40
The king is dead, long live the king. The all-conquering Beneteau First 40.7 is no more, but now replaced by the new First 40. And so the baton passes from the old generation to the new. ALLAN WHITING spent an afternoon ‘working’ on Pittwater in the first new First
There must have been much soul-searching in the Beneteau inner sanctum when it came time to replace the 10-year-old 40.7 ? the most successful racer/cruiser of this length ever built. More than 1000 40.7s have been sold around the world and the model's international race credits are too lengthy to list. Comparison between the still very competitive 40.7 and the new 40 will obviously be made.
Although the new First 40 bears a family resemblance to the recently released First 45 and 50 boats that's more to do with the cosmetics of the coach house and the interior, which were penned by Nauta Design. As with the 40.7, the hull design of the new First 40 was done by Bruce Farr, not by Briand Design, which produced the 45 and 50. Farr has opted for a hull design with a flatter mid-section than the 40.7's, but without the distinctive chines of the 45 and 50.
According to their nomenclature, a First '40' should be slightly smaller than a First '40.7'. But they're funny people, the French. The First 40 is a tad longer and wider than its predecessor, and more than a tad heavier. Although waterline length is unchanged, the new boat measures 400mm longer and 100mm wider. The new iron/lead bulb keel - the option most First 40 buyers will take - has almost identical draft to the all-lead 40.7's, but weighs 300kg more and that weight is concentrated in a proper bulb.
Overall displacement is up as well, from 6970kg to between 7536kg and 7900kg, depending on options chosen, so, with almost identical sail area, the new First 40 has a better displacement to sail-area ratio than the 40.7. Favourable IRC ratings were paramount in the design. The target was TCCs (time corrected calculations as ascribed by yachting's ruling body) in the 1.09 area, when fitted with the optimised racing rigs. You can compare this with other yachts on the track and in your club for some idea of the First 40's expected performance.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Beneteau is a little cagey about the construction system, but the hull would appear to be mainly resin-infused monolithic polyester 'glass, with some sandwich reinforcement areas, with a FRP/balsa sandwich deck. The inner moulding's structural role is to absorb the stresses at pressure points such as the chainplates, keel attachment and rudderpost, thereby reducing strain on the hull. As with the hull, the deck is stiffened by an inner moulding that has integrated beams and strengthening plates at heavy-load concentration points. The deck-hull joint is mechanically fastened and bonded with polyurethane adhesive, and topped with a bevelled teak toe rails.
The standard rig has an aluminium, keel-stepped mast with twin, swept-back spreaders, aluminium boom with fixed kicker and tackle tensioner, Dyform wire rigging, hydraulic backstay and adjustable genoa cars.
Beneteau's Regata optional rig has a taller stick, with triple spreaders and rod rigging, symmetrical spinnaker kit, forestay foil, Barber haulers and a Windex. An extension of this option is a two-spreader carbon mast and boom, but the cost is discouraging: 70 grand above the aluminium Regata kit and 98 grand more than the standard rig.
The standard sail plan is for a 135-per cent genoa, but the Regata packs are intended for a 106-per cent headsail and a larger mainsail. The racing rigs are 19/20th fractional, with the shrouds and the forestay terminating short of the masthead.
The cockpit says 'race'. There's ample space for a full crew and, if things are likely to become a bit squeezy, it's possible to unclip two large cockpit lockers and leave them on the dock. This optional choice was useful on the 40.7 and the new bins look slightly larger, making more space when they're removed. A nice touch is that the bin fasteners lock into glued-on receivers: no through-deck drilling has been done.
The helmsman is separated from the workers by a 1600mm-diameter wheel, that's easily centre-steered or tiller-like from either teak-faced gunwale perch. Engine controls, a manual bilge pump and the hydraulic backstay ram are within reach of the helmsman, and there's a liferaft bin with hatch between the transom and the wheel.
The mainsheet hand shares the for'ard end of the side seats with the helmsman, with the winches to hand on the coamings and the traveller at his feet. Even with the cockpit lockers removed there are teak-faced perches near the sheet and halyard winches. All six winches are Harken 44.2s and 48.2s.
Sail hoist and control lines run through mast-base turning blocks to clutches or cleats and no lines run below deck. The cabin top has two shallow recesses for the lines to lie in. As with the First 45 and 50, the new 40 has 'eyebrow' extensions over the coach house ports, providing more gripping area for crew feet and also shading the cabin from the midday sun.
The companionway has a lipped entrance and there's a flip-up, hinged Perspex panel as well. Broad steps with anti-slip treads lead to an airy saloon that's a homely contrast with the racing-style cockpit above. A roof hatch over the dining table and six opening ports provide ample ventilation. Light-coloured upholstery and pale oak suggest opulence rather than practicality, but it's also easy to envisage the settees converted to crew bunks for ocean races. The dinette seats six in comfort and the drop-side table can be raised for dining, or dropped to coffee-table height.
Like the 40.7, there are twin double bunks aft and a double vee-berth for'ard. The single head is ahead of the for'ard bulkhead with a door to the saloon and another to the for'ard cabin. All cabins have ample wardrobe space. Headroom is slightly less than the 40.7's, but at around 1.84m throughout the cabins, it's quite adequate.
The head location works in terms of maximising saloon and cabin space, but it puts the communal dunny adjacent to what is usually the owner's cabin.
The L-shaped galley is to port of the companionway. There's a deep sink with freshwater mixer tap and a saltwater floor pump - a good way to reduce freshwater consumption. The gimballed cooker has two burners and an oven. Beside the sink is the lid of the 100lt icebox that can be optioned as a 12V fridge.
To starboard of the companionway is the chart table area that features a retractable navigator's seat and a swing-out electrical panel.
Engine access is by way of a companionway door and sound-deadened panels in the aft cabins. The starting battery for the Yanmar 40hp saildrive is a 110amp/h unit and the house battery has the same energy rating. An additional house battery is optional.
At first sight there don't seem to be enough hand-holds in the cabin, but there's a cleverly positioned handrail running along each side of the saloon, at the deck and coach house meeting points.
The cabin flooring is of satin-finished composite panels that give good access to tanks, pumps and fittings, but could do with improved anti-slip, we feel.
PRICED TO GO
Vicsail seems to have considered its pricing carefully when releasing the new First 40. With the RRP starting at a very keen $395,000, the new boat hits the water at around the same price its predecessor did 10 years ago. Sure, the standard kit is a bit on the sparse side - no shorepower, no fridge, no hot water - and with less freshwater tankage than the 40.7's, but these options can be added. An additional 95lt water tank can be fitted in the for'ard cabin.
The Dynamic pack adds a furling system, 12V fridge insert and a 25lt water heater. The Ambition pack has a removable transom beam, removable cockpit lockers, cockpit shower, curtains for the cabin ports and shorepower inlet with 25amp battery charger.
A REAL BOLTER
Test conditions were perfect at Pittwater's RPAYC as we stepped aboard the first First 40 to be launched in Sydney. This brand-new boat - as yet unnamed - was fitted with the optional deep keel, three-spreader rig, symmetrical spinnaker and a set of North 3DL sails.
We were hosted by the new owner, a couple of Vicsail's hotshots and an experienced 40.7 campaigner. The northwesterly breeze had tapered off from the morning's 30kts to a useful 12 to 18kts.
Knowing there would soon be intense competition for the steering station, I grabbed the wheel for the motor out, sail hoisting and the first hour's sailing as we made our way up Pittwater, on the wind all the way. After that, I relinquished the wheel to several pairs of eager hands and checked out the crew workstations.
The boat steered accurately under power and proved to be easily manoeuvred in and out of the tight berths. With the sails up, it was just as easy to handle. It took me no time at all to find the 'sweet spot' upwind and within a few minutes the boat was exceeding the target 6.97kts it should have been doing in this weight of breeze. Within a 29 to 31-degree range it sat between 6.9 and 7.2kts, which impressed the hell out of the regular 40.7 sailor.
The helm was light, but with plenty of feel and the boat could be steered very quickly to optimise power from the varying-direction puffs. It felt like a big dinghy. In typical Sydney-westerly fashion there were some puffs above 20kts, but there was no dramatic reaction from the First 40. It powered up as the traveller was eased, without any tendency to round-up. The barely-overlapping headsail was much easier to control in the puffs than a big genoa.
Having made a few miles to windward, we bore away and set up for the kite, using the hounds-height halyard, rather than masthead. (It was a brand-new boat, with a brand-new crew, after all).
Big winches, easily handled tweakers and good vision of the bowman from the 'pit' made kite gybing a cinch, but we threw in about 20, just because we could. Trimming the kite for reaching showed off the stiffness provided by the new keel design.
Everyone seemed happy with running speeds over 9kts in the dying breeze and, at the end of the day, the worried look on the face of the regular 40.7 sailor said it all!
The Beneteau First 40 is an important boat, with an excellent pedigree and seems set to continue the unrivalled record set by its predecessor, the First 40.7. The accent is on racing, be it full-on IRC events on oceans or inland waterways, or friendly-ish, around-the-cans competition. In its class, we suspect the First 40 will soon be the boat to beat.
The First 40 has enough cruising comforts to suit the racer/cruiser fraternity, but for those who put the emphasis on cruising, with only some racing, the Oceanis 40 or 43 are better choices.
Specifications- Beneteau First 40
PRICE AS TESTED
$473,750 (plus sails)
Deep draft keel, Ambition equipment pack, Regata racing pack, and electronic K pack (Raymarine ST60+ log, speed, depth, wind with repeater panel at mast and C80 GPS chartplotter)
$395,000 (no sails)
Material: Infused FRP hulls and balsa resin composite deck
Length overall: 12.58m
Hull length: 12.24m
Waterline length 10.67m
Draft: 1.95m (2.45m optional)
Weight: 7356 to 7900kg
Berths: 3 x doubles
Holding tank: 80lt
CE certification category: A12 / B12 / C12
Mainsail: 46m2 (optional 50m2)
Headsail: 52m2 (optional 40.5m2)
Spinnaker: 128m2 (optional 132m2 )
Make/model: Yanmar 3JH4CEdiesel
Rated kW/HP: 29/40
Prop: Two-blade folding
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