TEST - Beneteau First 35

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The latest addition to Beneteau’s fabulous First range is the new 35. ALLAN WHITING says it’s first class, bound to win some firsts, and right on the money at $239,000 race-ready

TEST - Beneteau First 35
TEST - Beneteau First 35

Australian yachties have taken the Beneteau First concept to heart. In fact, it could be said that the success of Firsts is their ability to satisfy the needs of families for boats that can serve as holiday-afloat vessels, without much compromise in around-the-cans club racing.

Powerful — and powered — winches and furlers have also taken much of the labour out of handling largish sail areas. However, other limits on size remain.

With berthing prices going up all the time and race crews getting harder to find, there’s an increasing interest in smaller boats that need fewer people to handle them — the new Beneteau First 35 is one such yacht.

The First 35 has already picked up an overseas gong, winning Voile (French for sail) Magazine’s yacht-of-the-year award. A European panel of Voile Magazine journalists, a group of sailing specialists and a selection of readers noted that the boat achieved its primary design brief of true cruising capability, while also providing exciting racing performance.

With option-up cruising sails, mainsail bag with lazy jacks, a furler for the non-overlapping headsail, smaller steering wheel and an autopilot on the base boat, and the First 35 becomes a cinch for two people to cruise and twilight race. Call up racing sails, the symmetrical spinnaker kit, jib barber haulers and you have a handy IRC or PHRS club racer package.

Additional gear in the options list allows the First 35 to be given even more cruising bias — 1.8m shallow-draft keel, power windlass and spray dodger — or a lot more race bias — 2.2m deep keel, rod rigging with carbon backstay, carbon mast, solid vang and bigger winches. This flexibility should maximise the First 35’s appeal to a wide buyer base.

Another not inconsiderable factor is extremely sharp pricing that sees a club-race-kitted First 35 available for 30-footer money. A cruising-oriented First 35 should hit the water for around $240K and a race-spec’d version from around $250K. However, go mad with the carbon bits and you won’t see any change out of $300K. Of course, the First 35 won’t appeal to sailors looking for a dedicated cruising yacht, but the Beneteau Oceanis line-up can satisfy these buyers.

As with the new First 40, the 35’s design is from Bruce Farr, not by Briand Design which produced the latest First 45 and 50. Farr has opted for a hull design that mirrors the First 40’s, but with shorter, flat mid-sections and without the distinctive stern-section chines of the 45 and 50. The concept fits between the race-oriented First 34.7 and the comfier 36.7, while competitive IRC ratings were dominant in the design and the test boat’s TCC is in the 1.020 area.

Beneteau has chosen monolithic polyester-resin hull construction, with an FRP/balsa sandwich deck. An inner moulding formed from unidirectional fabric is bonded to the hull and absorbs stresses at pressure points such as the chainplates, keel attachment and rudder post. The deck-hull joint is mechanically fastened and bonded with polyurethane adhesive, and topped with a teak bulwark.

The shallow-draft keel is cast iron, with sweptback bulb, and the deep-draft version is a cast iron foil and T-shaped bulb. (The First 40’s deep-draft keel is an iron/lead mix). Both First 35 keels attach to the hull via bolts and a stainless steel plate.

The standard rig has an aluminium, keel-stepped mast with twin, sweptback spreaders and an aluminium boom with block and tackle vang, Dyform wire shrouds and foil-fitted forestay, and tackle-adjustable carbon backstay. The Regata Pack’s optional shrouds and forestay are rod, and the kit also includes a strut vang, carbon spinnaker pole, jib barber haulers and a Windex. A top-level race stage adds a carbon mast and matching black paint on the aluminium boom.

The cockpit is a shortened version of the First 40’s. The aft section is almost identical to the 40, dominated by a 1600mm-diameter, leather-covered wheel with flip-up panel over the rudder post’s emergency tiller socket, teak-topped helm benches and a liferaft locker under the floor. A removable transom beam is an option.

A sole-mounted mainsheet track runs in front of the wheel pedestal and the German mainsheet systems feeds coaming-mounted Harken 46.2 STA winches that are closer to the wheel than on the First 40. This arrangement allows the First 35 helmsperson to double as mainsheet hand more easily.

Compared to the 40, the cockpit is shorter and lacks its removable-bin arrangement that makes space for more bodies in the cockpit, but the First 35’s fore and aft sail-plan is only 70 per cent of the 40’s and its spinnaker is 30 percent smaller, so there’s not the need for so many hands. The sheet winches are 46.2 STAs.

The running rigging layout is very similar to the First 40, with Dyneema sail control lines running through turning blocks, back to cabin-top clutches and a pair of 40.2 STA halyard winches. The lines run in two deck recesses, but are not hidden under the cabin top for easier reeving. Single-line reefing can be done from the cockpit.

Beneteau has continued with the distinctive First ‘eyebrow’ cabin window design that provides additional deck-grip area on the cabin top, without restricting port size. The opening cabin ports are the same as those fitted to the 40, as is the saloon hatch. Up forward, the First 35 loses the 40’s three-hatch cabin top, but the vee-berth hatch is big enough to allow sail handling.

An optional windlass is integrated into the large anchorwell and the bowroller fitting is removable for racing. Like all Australian-market Firsts, the new 35 is given the Vicsail pre-sale ‘treatment’ after being unpacked. This involves a general fairing of the hull, keel and rudder, plus an epoxy barrier coat and antifoul.

There’s a feeling of déjà vu when stepping down the broad companionway into a saloon that’s almost identical to the one fitted to the First 40.

The companionway has a lipped entrance and there’s a flip-up, hinged Perspex panel as well. Broad, cambered steps with anti-slip treads lead to an airy saloon that’s LED-lit and ventilated by a roof hatch over the dining table and six opening ports. The hatches and ports have curtains, but no flyscreens.

Pale oak timber trim is standard and a teak interior finish is optional. The test boat was kitted with dark ‘mokka’ cloth dinette upholstery and there’s an optional cream interior available. The dinette seats six in comfort and the drop-side table can be raised for dining, or dropped to coffee-table height. The operation of the table is somewhat fiddly and we wonder about its long-term durability.

At first sight there doesn’t seem to be enough handholds in the cabin, but there’s a cleverly positioned stainless steel, grip-finished handrail running along each side of the saloon, at the deck and coach house meeting points.

Where the three-cabin 40 has twin double bunks aft and a double vee-berth for’ard, the two-cabin First 35 has a slightly larger vee-berth and an aft king-size cabin. Both cabins have ample wardrobe space. In the 35, the 40’s starboard aft cabin becomes a roomy head/shower with 80lt holding tank, while aft of the head is a large sail bin with cockpit access. We prefer the 35’s layout, because the aft head is more accessible than the forward-located head in the 40 that is right beside the vee-berth.

A design carry-over is a pair of doors in the forward bulkhead, giving access to the vee-berth — this double entrance can be handy for sail handling when racing. The First 35 preserves the 40’s headroom throughout by way of a slightly higher cabin profile that compensates for the 35’s smaller hull volume.

An L-shaped galley is to port of the companionway. There’s a deep sink with freshwater mixer tap and a seawater floor pump/icebox drain — a good way to reduce freshwater consumption in the galley. 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/freezer.

To starboard of the companionway is a chart table area that features a foldable navigator’s seat and a swing-out electrical panel. The chart table has no fewer than three lift-up lids and this furniture module also houses bottle storage.

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.

Engine access is via a companionway door and sound-deadened panels in the aft cabin and the head. The starting battery for the Yanmar 29hp saildrive is rated at 110amp/h, as are the twin house batteries. Shore-supply power incorporates interior sockets and a 40amp battery charger.

An optional electronics J Pack includes a Raymarine ST70 cockpit multifunction chartplotter, three-level mast foot readout display and chart table A70 display.

Eugenie is Vicsail Sydney’s demo boat and as such has been kitted to appeal to club racer/cruisers. This First 35 has been stacked with Ian Short carbon/taffeta sails — three jibs and a main — and two symmetrical spinnakers.

With a crew of five we motored out of d’Albora Marinas’ Rushcutters Bay berth into Sydney Harbour. A light helm, no prop walk and good vision from the steering station made tight manoeuvring easy.
Beneteau has cleared the cockpit of rope catchers, the manual bilge pump folds flush, and the engine control lever is detachable — if you lose it, it can be replaced by a winch handle.

Powerful halyard winches soon had the racing sails fluttering in the building breeze as we settled the boat into an 8 to 10kt nor’easter. The main was more cambered at the leading edge than I expected, so we fiddled with outhaul and backstay tensions — easily achieved with multi-purchase tackle — and the jib barber haulers, to flatten the sails for upwind work. Traveller and backstay cleats are on both sides of the cockpit.

The large-diameter wheel fell readily to hand when I sat on the windward cockpit coaming, where there was clear view of the jib tufts. Shorthanded, it’s possible for the helmsperson to sit forward of the wheel and play the mainsheet winch as well.

It was obvious in this balmy breeze that the new First 35 was livelier than the new 40 and may well prove to be its match in flat-water, light-air conditions. Acceleration out of puffs was dinghy-like and the 35 cut through small chop without slapping its forward sections.

We saw 6.4kts at around 30? on the beat up to North Head and it was possible to use the big wheel rim as precisely as a tiller, for minute direction changes to counter waves and chase slight wind shifts. It’s a cable-quadrant steering system, but the cable length is short, so there’s no evidence of slack.

We bore away at the Heads and set the light-weather masthead kite. We soon had the boat at wind speed and I was impressed with the steering precision when running. With only two in the cockpit, gybing was a measured procedure, but the gear is well organised for rapid downwind direction changes.

There are already some First 35s tuning up for the forthcoming winter racing season, so it will be interesting to watch the results.

A race-optimised Beneteau First 35 may well embarrass larger boats around the cans and should make an excellent shorthanded cruiser/racer as well. It achieves the dual purposes of potential race winner and family-pleasing cruising boat in a price package that’s unprecedented. Specification variations allow buyers to pretty much dial up what they need, without breaking the bank — a timely release in the post-GFC era.

Specifications- Beneteau First 35


Deep-draft keel, ‘mocha’ upholstery, detachable furler, refrigerated icebox, water heater, removable stern beam, adjustable saloon table, cockpit shower, saloon and cabin curtains, 2 x 110amp/h house batteries, shorepower kit, Ian Short racing sails, spinnaker pole, and rigging


Material: FRP hull and balsa-resin composite deck
Type: Monohull
Length overall: 10.85m
Hull length: 10.66m
Waterline length 9.33m
Beam: 3.64m
Draft: 1.80m (2.20m optional)
Weight: 5200 to 6060kg

Berths: 2 doubles (+ two settee berths)
Fuel: 75lt
Water: 200lt
Water heater: 25lt
Holding tank: 80lt
CE certification category CE: A8 / B8 / C10/ D10

Mainsail: 41.47m2
Headsail: 31m2
Spinnaker: 103m2

Make/model: Yanmar 3YM30SD diesel
Type: Reverser saildrive
Rated HP/kW: 29 / 21
Prop: Two-blade folding

d’Albora Marinas,
New Beach Road,
Rushcutters Bay, NSW, 2011
Phone: (02) 9327 2088
Fax: (02) 9362 4516
Website: www.vicsail.com


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