BOAT TEST BENETEAU FIRST 21.7
Two years down the course the Beneteau First 21.7 has done everything ALLAN WHITING expected of it. It’s shown him that less can sometimes be more
The better half and I decided on the Beneteau First 21.7 after months of researching the traileryacht offerings in the marketplace. We wanted a yacht that could be cruised in shallow water two-up, yet would be seaworthy enough to handle some bluewater passages, such as from Airlie Beach out to Hammo. We also wanted a craft that wouldn't be disgraced around the cans in twilight races two-up with white sails and also do well with up to four on board in spinnaker races. And we wanted as close to shoal draft as we could get, without compromising performance.
After looking at boats and literature, we sat down to dissect the data. Trimarans appeared attractive from all points of view except interior room. A wet weekend camped inside a small tri's centre hull didn't seem very attractive. Water-ballasted yachts looked good from all points of view, too, except ocean stability and racing performance. Traileryachts with vertically-retractable keels offered performance, but the keel cases intruded on interior space, unless we went for a larger, heavier boat than we wanted.
AND THE WINNER IS…
So, last man standing was the Beneteau First 21.7. We liked the open interior and the unique, folding cast-iron keel that intruded only a little into the cabin space.
We hadn't sailed one, but we have some European mates who've raced them and reckoned they went well in all conditions. We also knew of race successes in Australia with previous First 21.7s.
There are some compromises, because the keel folds up horizontally under the hull - a position that requires 0.7m of water to float the boat. On the plus side, if it does ground on the bottom the bit that's touching is cast iron, not FRP.
THE TRAILERABLE BENETEAU
The 21.7 is Beneteau's tiddler and the only trailerable boat in the French builder's extensive range. With a beam of 2.48m it just squeaks inside the 2.5m maximum-width road trailer regulations in Australia. Some US-made trailerboats have 2.6m beams that are allowed over there, but need a permit for road travel in Australia.
The 21.7 is a Groupe Finot design that's built with polyester resin. The hull is monolithic and the deck is balsa sandwich. The keel is cast iron, epoxy coated and pivoted within an FRP moulding that projects into the cabin. This moulding houses a winch handle-operated screw that raises and lowers the keel.
The open transom is designed with a bolt-on stainless steel insert that can carry an outboard up to 8kW (10hp) and 30kg in size, and also mounts a pair of drop-in FRP rudder blades. The twin-rudder layout means the outboard can be almost centrally hung. A swing-down swim ladder also fits between the rudders.
A teak tiller with leather-covered extension controls both rudders via a tie-rod with ball joints. The geometry is noticeably Ackermann, with the blade angles changing in respect to each other through the steering arc.
The cockpit is comfy for four, although the boat has an EC Registration rating of six persons. Two wet lockers are fitted aft and are sized to house portable petrol tanks for the engine. On Benny we have a tank in one locker, plus the bilge pump and the isolation switch for the engine. The other locker houses mooring lines and fenders.
We optioned teak seat facings and they came with rail sections that hold mesh oddment bags. We also optioned a bulkhead compass and a Raymarine ST60+ log and depth sounder display.
The broad companionway is sealed by a plywood storm board/door, but there's no need to duck under the deck head to go below because the companionway hatch slides forward and lifts on over-centre legs. The hatch has a plexiglass window for light entry below. There's a single step between the cockpit sole and the cabin sole and a slot under the cockpit sole houses the storm board and our 60W solar panel.
Two vinyl-covered quarter berths double as lounges in the tiny cabin and up for'ard is a vee-berth that we've found extremely comfortable. A round, clear hatch is positioned directly above the vee-berth and provides ideal ventilation on hot summer nights. The round shape makes the hatch ideal for launching an asymmetric kite in a sock, but I've been warned many times that I dampen the bed with seawater at my peril!
There's no bulkhead in the First 21.7, but there is a circumferential strengthening structure 'tween decks, under the mast step, the chainplates and the keel mounting.
Although this boat is the baby of the fleet, the quality of the First 21.7's interior woodwork and fittings is up to Beneteau standards. The deck head moulding is well finished and all through-deck fasteners are capped with white plastic domes.
Our boat is optioned with the asymmetric spinnaker kit that includes a telescopic bowsprit, with internal tack line and deck brackets. The rigging is a single, swept-back spreader design, with tackle-adjustable backstay. The standard jib is a furling type, with inboard sheeting via cockpit-adjustable cars to a pair of Harken HO8A aluminium cabin-top winches that double as halyard winches.
The four-batten mainsail drops into a boom bag that's fitted with lazy jacks and there are two single-line reefing points. The short boom is mid-sheeted via two-pulley blocks to a cockpit ring bolt, without a traveller. The vang is line and tackle with a jam cleat.
Because the First 21.7 is trailerable the aluminium mast pivots in an open-fronted stainless steel box on the cabin top. The kit necessary to raise and lower the mast consists of a spinnaker pole and wire rigging that hooks to the mast and ties off to the jib sheets, to triangulate the mast as it's raised and lowered.
LIVING WITH 21.7
Our First 21.7 arrived in mid-2007 and was mounted by Vicsail Sydney on a custom-built Tracer trailer. Because the keel swings up and lies horizontally, the trailer was designed with six rubber-tyred wheels under the hull, to carry the weight of the boat. Guide rollers on struts aligned it.
After a few road journeys it became obvious that the boat was quietly moving sideways while in transit, in the direction of road camber, shifting the near-side guide wheels outboard. Also, the tyres were slightly depressing the hull. The cure was more rigid attachment of the guide-wheel struts and two extra pairs of rubber-tyred support wheels.
Although it's technically a trailersailer the Beneteau First 21.7 is far from easy to set up before launching, because the tall mast is tricky to raise and the standard furler is a nuisance, trying to pull the mast to one side as it's lifted.
The rig isn't really designed for weekly launch and retrieval, but it was much easier when we replaced the furler with a simple wire forestay and had Vicsail fit piston hanks to the jib luff.
In Europe, First 21.7s are most commonly left moored during the warmer months or stored mast-up on trailers on the hard, then de-masted and packed away for the winter.
Benny is antifouled and kept moored at a berth at RMYC Broken Bay, in Sydney's Pittwater, most of the time. When there's a distant regatta we want to attend, or a holiday destination to visit, we slide the boat on the trailer, tow it to where we need to sail and launch. Before we pop it back in Pittwater, we touch up the inevitable antifouling paint scars caused by trailering.
We bought the boat with optional, sturdy galvanised beaching legs, which we'll use when we take it to North Queensland. The legs screw into threaded plates moulded into the hull sides.
The First 21.7's 1.8m draft provides good stability when the boat is pressed hard. The cockpit seats are well-shaped for crew stability in light breezes and the coamings also give good leg and backside support when the crew is hiking out.
We normally carry the full rig in breezes up to 20kts and then pull in a mainsail reef. In this little boat, once the wind exceeds 25kts, we head homeward under double-reefed main and motor.
The First 21.7 outpoints most of the J24s we come across, but it's a tad underdone in the headsail department when white-sail reaching and running. A bigger, reaching headie, sheeted through the spinnaker blocks, is on the shopping list.
The boat is very sensitive to weight position and tends to drag its bum when off the wind, but this is remedied by the crew moving forward. We can tell when off-wind trim is right because the wake smoothes completely.
The standard jib car jam cleats slipped a little too easily for our liking, so we've added a pair of jammers for improved security, both when sailing and using the mast-raising kit.
The companionway door is varnished plywood and isn't sufficiently weather resistant: the varnish showing signs of water ingress within a couple of months. Our cure is coming: a tinted Perspex door.
The masthead light wiring emerges at the front of the mast, where the plugs are easily fouled by the jib sheets when tacking. We pulled some excess electrical cable through the mast hole, taped over the cable and the opening and moved the connectors to the aft side of the mast, where they're out of harm's way.
The keel raising and lowering system works well and allows us to drop the bow anchor, reverse into a shallow bay and then tie off or anchor the stern. With the keel up, the 700mm draft, in conjunction with the swim ladder, lets us wade ashore in thigh-deep water.
We opted for a 10hp, four-stroke Honda outboard and couldn't be happier with it. At first we thought it was a tad gutless, but we were used to two-strokes that didn't need so many revs. It pushes the boat along at five-plus knots with only three-quarter throttle. A big plus is Honda's top-access flushing arrangement, via a threaded port in the engine's cylinder head that takes a Honda brass hose fitting ($35), for easy engine rinsing. A traditional leg-mounted flush port would be difficult to use with the boat at a berth.
After many years of living with inboard diesels the outboard is a much simpler arrangement: no more through-hull fittings with strainers, no leaking stuffing boxes, no impeller replacements, no more pumping out sump oil; no more pong boxes; no more black stuff in the fuel tank; no vibration; no smell and almost no noise. To refill the tank we take it to the marina pump, not the other way around. If we have any engine drama we can take the thing off and carry it over to the Man Who Fixes Outboards. The only through-hulls we have are the little hole that drains the weenie sink and the log fitting.
Because Beneteau uses a CAD/CAM design system for its boat interiors, the dimensions of the First 21.7's little cabin have been carefully calculated. Six-footers can easily lounge back on the quarter berths, without their heads whacking the deck. The vee-berth is actually more comfortable for sleeping than the for'ard berth in the 43-footer we race on.
We don't have a head as such, but we do have a wee bucket and a Porta-Pottie. Our 'heads' are easily carried to an emptying point.
The boat came with a one-burner portable butane stove that is fuelled by throw-away, low-pressure cans. We usually operate the stove on deck, under a custom-made boom tent my better half ran up on the sowing machine. The tent fits over the boom, once the quick-connect C-clips on the lazy jacks have been moved to the mast.
The Beneteau First 21.7 has proved a fun day-sailer and club racer, makes an ideal weekender two-up and can sneak into any raft up. Because we can virtually beach it we don't need a tender. The boat offers the advantage of trailability when we need to sail at venues far away from home.
Specifications: Beneteau First 21.7
PRICE AS TESTED
Tracer two-axle trailer with override brakes on the leading axle; asymmetric spinnaker and bowsprit, mast-raising kit, including spinnaker pole; Honda 10hp four-stroke outboard; beaching legs; LED masthead light; teak cockpit seats; saloon table; bulkhead compass; Raymarine ST60+ log and depth sounder; and, Windex.
$78,970 sail away (no outboard)
Material: FRP hulls and decks - balsa resin composite deck and solid FRP below
Length overall: 6.4m
Hull length: 6.25m
Waterline length: 6.0m
Draft: 1.8m (0.7m keel up)
Ballast: 300kg (iron keel)
Berths: 1 double, 2 singles
CE certification category: C6/D6
Make/model: Honda four-stroke
Rated HP: 10
Prop: Three-blade plastic
Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.