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Beneteau’s new Sense 43 and 50 yachts are headed Down Under. But ALLAN WHITING journeyed to the south of France to get the jump on these dashing new designs…

Beneteau Sense 43 & 50

Over a quiet beer on the waterfront of the Isle des Emebiez (near Toulon in southern France), I quizzed Beneteau's yachting development manager, Bruno Belmont, about the origin of the Sense design.

"When we were redesigning the Oceanis range five years ago, in conjunction with Jean Berret and Olivier Racoupeau, we pursued the idea of a parallel, yet clean-screen design, with only a few set criteria," said Belmont.

"The parallel yacht design had to be capable of around-the-world cruising, with sea-kindly manners; be ideal for coastal cruising and for just sitting onboard. (The average cruising boat spends 80 to 90 per cent of its life in a berth or at a mooring, or anchored).

"But the most radical departure from the existing Oceanis design was to be owner-oriented use, with no chartering or only high-end chartering considerations in mind.

"In addition, the proximity relationship between the cockpit and the sea and the cockpit and the saloon was to be as close as possible: similar to the ergonomics of a powerboat," he said.

Belmont explained that this concept had arisen in part from discussions with yacht, multihull and powerboat owners. By abandoning the option of aft cabins or garages under the cockpit, the Sense would have a lower cockpit floor, close to water level and only a short companionway away from the saloon.




The Sense 43 and 50 are a totally new concept for Beneteau: high-performance hulls and rigs enclose interiors that are unashamedly designed to owner's specifications, with none of the usual charter-vocation compromises built into most cruising yachts.

In addition, the shallow step-down from cockpit to saloon is indeed reminiscent of powerboat ergonomics; an impression heightened by a high proportion of glazing in the saloon. There's none of that down-below living feeling.

The Sense hulls are state-of-the-art designs, with conspicuous aft chines that taper off mid-hull into quite fine bow sections. Bulb keels have clean forward edges, to avoid catching weed or mooring lines and there's a shoal-draft option. Rudders are relatively shallow.

In most European marinas, boats are berthed stern-to, so a great deal of attention has been paid to making boarding as easy as possible. A teak-faced swimplatform is recessed into each transom, only a short step from the cockpit sole thereby granting easy access.

Two upholstered steering benches, behind the twin leather-clad wheels, swing-up on gas struts when not in use, allowing unobstructed access aboard. A nice finishing touch is a powered 'fence' that rises from the aft edge of the cockpit, preventing littlies (or a bottle of champagne) from sliding over the stern of the boat.

The twin steering stations face binnacles with drinkholders, individual chartplotters and speed gauges, while engine instruments and controls are at the starboard helm. Between the wheels are an icebox and a walkthrough section, leading to the main cockpit, which is similar in layout on the 43 and 50. Both have with U-shaped seating around a table on the starboard side and a straight bench to port. The table lowers, converting the seating area to a sunbed.

In the 43, the wide cockpit is broken by a tubular handrail and foot-brace structure. In the 50's even wider cockpit there's also plastic folding panels that create a narrow table top, with an oddments bin or additional icebox that converts into a folding bench topped with cushions. The starboard seat lifts to reveal a short companionway and crew bunk, adjacent to the optional washer/dryer that's accessed internally.




Both boats' glass companionway doors are set into sloping saloon walls that differ from conventional FRP construction: up to coaming height is FRP moulding, but above the waistline the walls are glass. The effect is similar to that of a powerboat saloon entry. In the case of the Sense 43, the door folds and concertinas to open, with the roof glass sliding into a void in the cabin top. In the Sense 50, the sliding top is the same, but the glass roller door power-glides downwards to open, disappearing into a horizontal slot beneath the cockpit floor, above the engine bay.

Three, very gently-sloped companionway steps lead to both saloons, which are of similar-size. Large coach-house glass areas, roof hatches and square hull ports complement the light from the aft window sections. Each galley takes up one saloon wall, with a U-shaped dinette opposite. A central island bench houses a fold-down seat in front of a dining table and the bench can also house a power-raised flatscreen TV.

Saloon equipment levels are high, with lift-top fridge-freezer (a front-opener as well in the Sense 50 galley), gimballed stove-oven, double sink, ample bench space and a chart table-electrical nerve centre with chartplotter and additional bench and cupboard space. A nice touch is a tilt-able chart table seat, to compensate for boat heel.

Both boats have bathrooms with separate shower and head recesses with individual access doors. In the case of the 43, there is one bathroom, located adjacent to the amidships double cabin and aft of the forward double cabin. The Sense 50 has two bathrooms: one for the forward cabin and one for the amidships cabin, doubling as a dayhead.

The amidships doubles are almost identical in both boats, but the forward cabin in the 50 has an island bed, while the 43 has a conventional vee-berth double.

The extra LOA in the Sense 50 allows for a second head and an office cabin that can optionally be set-up with two single bunks, one above the other. The test boat had an office arrangement that was very functional.

Below decks the Sense 50 has it all over the 43 for travelling couples, offering individual bathroom privacy and an office/bunk cabin. The 43 would suit a family, where bathroom sharing mightn't be such an issue.




Both Senses have similar rigging layouts, with twin furlers up front of both test boats, for standard overlapping headsail and optional gennaker. The forward section of each coach house has a moulded recess for a self-tacking jib track: the 43 was set-up for a self-tacker, but the 50 had no track fitted.

The Sense 50 was fitted with a tang just aft of the chain locker, to take an inner forestay for a staysail or storm jib and the 43 is designed to accept the same fitting.

Sheet and halyard control is down to two forward coaming winches - portside powered on the 43 test boat and both powered on the 50. There are twin sheet running blocks beside these winches, allowing jib sheets to be put onto the forward winches or led aft to the more powerful sheet/spinnaker pair. Lidded rope-tidy bins aft of the forward winches ensure there are no tails in the cockpit.

Mainsail control is done by a forward winch, with a mainsheet that runs from the boom, through two fixed blocks on the cabin arch, back to the boom and mast, then aft under the deck. The boom is set well above arch height, so it offers minimal threat to landlubbers in a gybe.

The test boats had battened mainsails and one-line slab reefing, but in-mast furling is available. Beneteau isn't keen on vertically battened furling mainsails because of wear issues with the batten pockets, so there's some performance sacrifice with the furling main option.

The Senses were fitted with spray dodgers on folding frames clipped to their arches. Removal was pretty quick, which is just as well because folding the sail into its boom bag was much easier with the dodger off, or at least with the forward clear section unzipped and dropped onto the deck. A fixed FRP/polycarbonate dodger, with louvered steps a la Leopard Catamarans would look quite good on a Sense, I reckon, and would make sail bagging much easier.

Beneteau has given much attention to engine installation and that, in combination with a saildrive rather than a shaft, keeps vibration and noise to an absolute minimum. At WOT of 3150rpm the Senses managed 8.4kts and at 1500rpm, 4.7kts, with only 66dBA on our noise meter in the saloon.

In strong breezes both boats felt dry and secure, but crew comfort was compromised somewhat by the sheer size of the cockpits. Flat seats and large walking areas are great for lounging, but don't offer much resistance to slip-sliding away when the boat's heeled over. However, with a tuck in the main and self-tacker sheeted home there's not much need for crew on deck anyway! The helmsperson is better catered for, with bum and foot wedges and drop-down foot braces fitted to the coamings.

Most Senses will be bought by the pure cruising fraternity, but the boats perform well enough to handle club racing. Jib sheeting angles are wide, but a barber hauler is easy enough to rig up and there's ample winching power to cope with an asymmetric or spinnaker.

Either way, with luxurious double cabins and spacious bathrooms; powerful sailing rigs that can be optioned for more performance or easier handling; and ample entertaining and lounging space, above and below decks, these are exciting new designs bound to enliven the staid yachting market.




Berthing a large yacht with a small crew on hand can be stressful at best and dangerous at worst. A bowthruster can be of great assistance, but swings only the front end of the boat: enter Dock & Go.

ZF's Dock & Go system was fitted to the test Sense 50 and is an option on both Senses and an increasing number of Oceanis yachts.

The system combines a saildrive that can pivot through 360 degrees and a bowthruster, with computer control via a simple joystick. When the Dock & Go system is activated the helm is locked and boat direction is achieved by moving the joystick in the direction the helmsperson desires. Engine power is applied by twisting the joystick knob.

During Beneteau's sea trials at the island of Les Embiez, I had the opportunity to check out the new Dock & Go system on the Sense 50 and on a GT Flyer 38. It worked better and less noisily on the Sense than on the powerboat, because the yacht pod has full rotation capability, allowing the engine to work in forward gear all the time it's docking. In the powerboat, the twin units' transmissions need to switch from forward to reverse during manoeuvres.

Our first evaluation was done in calm conditions and the big Sense 50 slid sideways neatly into a tight portside berth that had only one-metre fore and aft clearance. Then we took it out into the bay during a 28-knot blast and aimed it sideways, across the wind, at a concrete fuel wharf. It obviously took more fiddling with the joystick, to combine engine and thruster power in the correct proportions to keep the boat aligned with the threatening dock, but the boat nestled gently alongside the tyre fenders without drama and held position while we rigged mooring lines. Brilliant!




(Facts & figures)




The Med' turned on its usual all-or-nothing weather and our test sail wind strengths varied from four to 28kts. The Senses were beautiful to sail in breezes up to around 15kts with gennakers hoisted, but above that we shortened gear.




About $435,000 as tested fully loaded




Twin furlers, gennaker, powered halyard/sheet winch, deluxe galley, Bose speakers, 2000W inverter, and more








MATERIAL: FRP hull and balsa resin composite deck
TYPE: Monohull
BEAM: 4.28m
DRAFT: 2m (1.65m optional)
WEIGHT: 10,070kg
BALLAST: 2920kg




BERTHS: 2 doubles (+ dinette and cockpit berths)
FUEL: 440lt
WATER: 675lt




MAINSAIL: 45.2m²
HEADSAIL: 41.3m²




MAKE/MODEL: Yanmar diesel
TYPE: Reverser saildrive
PROP: Three-blade fixed




Beneteau France


tradeaboat says…

The stylish Sense 43 is a two-cabin cruising yacht with a huge cockpit and very easy swimming and cabin access. It's an ideal craft for daysailing and entertaining, but, at only two-thirds the weight of the Sense 50, could make a competitive club-racing boat as well.








In 25kts, with a partly furled headsail and a single reef in the main the Sense 50 romped along at 9.4kts hard on the wind and would have been better balanced with a staysail instead of a reefed gennaker. Off the breeze, boat speed climbed above 10kts and the boat felt reassuringly stable.




$715,000 as tested fully loaded




Twin furlers, gennaker, deluxe galley, extractor hood, 2000W inverter, powered companionway door, powered saloon blinds, teak decks, genset, air con, Dock and Go system, electronics, electric winches, code zero and more








MATERIAL: FRP hull and balsa resin composite deck
TYPE: Monohull
BEAM: 4.86m
DRAFT: 2.10m (1.75m optional)
WEIGHT: 15,295kg
BALLAST: 3965kg




BERTHS: 2 doubles (+ office bunk or twin bunks, dinette and cockpit berths)
FUEL: 830lt
WATER: 730lt








MAKE/MODEL: Yanmar diesel
TYPE: Reverser saildrive
PROP: Three-blade fixed




Beneteau France



tradeaboat says…

The stylish Sense 50 is a three-cabin yacht with all the luxury fittings you'd expect in such a classy-looking, cutting-edge French cruiser. It's an ideal craft for daysailing and entertaining, but can just as easily be equipped for an around-the-world voyage.


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