SAIL TEST: BENETEAU SENSE 46
Beneteau changed the cruising market forever when the first Sense, the 50, launched in 2010. And the French builder has built on the success of this initial cruiser to now have four models. The 46 being the newest and the nimblest, reports Kevin Green.
The Sense concept is about relaxing (rather than enduring!) onboard for the select few, so there’s no multitude of cabins and layouts offered. Onboard life is divided into three spaces; kicking-off with the huge cockpit, then the open-plan saloon and finally the privacy of the two forward cabins.
For ease of handling Beneteau’s options list is extensive and to complete the Sense concept, the boxes to tick include joystick docking, electric winches and I’d add the in-mast furling mainsail to complete the friendly ergonomics that would allow a sailing couple to castoff without looking back in anxiety.
The overall look that designer Berret Racoupeau so sleekly penned for this 46-footer neatly combines the wide, angular hull with flat topsides bristling with practicality, such as the overhead arch that removes the mainsheet from the cockpit while giving plenty of support for the large sprayhood and canopy. Cruising purists can quite rightly complain that the open transom means the cockpit could be a wet place in a following sea or even when going astern in a chop. This I found out when doing so during my sail test, but the design is no more open than many performance-cruisers I’ve raced.
The wide cockpit, and in fact the entire boat, is built around the Mediterranean style of stern-mooring with open transom and owner’s suite far away from the dockside bustle in the bow.
The large sheltered cockpit dominates the aft section, with saloon windows on the tall forward bulkheads plus sprayhood to protect crew. What doesn’t protect crew so well is the saloon-style doors on the main hatch, rather than the much more sensible adjustable washboard on the 55, which can be optioned on this boat as well.
A single table is standard and along with a sturdy stainless steel handrail mid-cockpit safely breaks up the large volume, so is particularly good at sea. Usefully, the teak cockpit table transforms into a large sunpad and combined with angled cushioned coamings makes for a comfortable perch at anchor. Underneath, locker
space is vast as there are no aft cabins. Locker space is also available aft for the liferaft, which is easily reachable in an emergency, but lacks gas struts. The teak swimplatform is partitioned by a retracting bulkhead and lift-up helm seats open the entire area when at anchor.
Typical of modern Beneteaus, the sail controls are sensibly laid out: a bank of six jammers and an electric Harken 46.2 controls the halyards and lines that emerge from the saloon bulkhead with their tails neatly stored in bins, while the primary electric H50.2s are right beside the helms. The twin helms are located far aft, which exposes them to any following seas but they do have high backrests and are height adjustable. The starboard binnacle has a Raymarine e95 chartplotter with i70 readouts nearby. The throttle is sensibly placed high, right beside the Dock&Go pod system, but annoyingly the Max Power thruster is at the far side of the same binnacle. Dock&Go uses a joystick via a computer blackbox to synchronise the 75hp Yanmar’s swivelling drive with the forward Max Power thruster giving good manoeuvrability in enclosed marinas, so ideal for couples handling this 46-footer.
Critics of the Sense layout say that a third of the boat is wasted aft of the companionway, but what you’ve got instead is tons of storage space that can make life so much more comfortable for the cruising family where folding bikes, kite-surfers and blow-up kayaks can easily find a home, not to forget the 6kVa generator for running whitegoods.
This approach leaves the enormous saloon a place of ease and modern style, thanks to Italian designers Nauta who have created a very liveable space, albeit with more emphasis on life at anchor than at sea. What saves this open-plan area from being dangerous at sea is the island bench top amidships, parallel to the longitudinal galley. Just don’t spill your Bundy & Coke on it though as it hides the flatscreen TV.
Galley equipment is adequate with a three-burner stove/oven and as you wash-up in the twin sinks the large portlight windows offer water views. Other good points include fiddles on all surfaces, numerous cupboards and a smooth standard of joinery throughout the Alpi wood finish. The dinette opposite has an adjustable table that turns the area into a daybed or bunk, while behind is another big plus on the 46, a full-sized navigation area that is aft facing so lets the shorthanded sailor easily keep an eye on the cockpit.
Bulkhead space for electronics is much more generous than many of the Sense’s competitors, so is to be commended as is the centralising of all main power controls. Nearby, the engine is exposed by lifting the companionway steps on their gas-assisted struts; as the aft section of the Sense is closed off it was obviously important for Beneteau to ensure that all the service points – impeller, oil, water and diesel filters are in sight from here.
Moving forward towards the accommodation, just watch out for that small lobby step. The owner’s berth benefits from the tall topsides of the 46 to be a spacious place, with good side access to the queen-size bed while rounded joinery throughout avoids bruising the occupants when moving about at sea. Numerous LEDs and sizeable hatches give airiness. The test boat came with a TV on the wall and there’s shelf space aplenty. A fairly conventional en suite has a Perspex door separating the shower and opening hatch space.
Returning down the corridor towards the saloon the guest double again gives little to complain about – apart from having to share the dayhead – while the cabin has its own spacious shower room. Tall guests may feel cramped though as the bed is pinched in by the hull shape.
GOOD SAILPLAN OPTIONS
Our test boat came with a traditional slab-reefed mainsail and 105 per cent genoa but there are plenty of sailplan options. These include a factory-fitted self-tacking jib and there’s also an inner forestay tang for an optional staysail (or smaller roller-furling jib). The two-spreader Z-Spars mast is held up with outboard shrouds and Y-shaped fixed backstay, while a solid vang controls the boom and a simple but effective twin-block system running the mainsheet. Inboard genoa cars, snug against the low-profile cabin top and combined with the outboard shrouds creates clear decks for crew moving forward. The plentiful flat deck space is very usable at anchor, enhanced by the use of low-profile hatches, which means that the forward sections of the Sense can house large sunpads. A substantial 1500W Lewmar windlass/capstan at deck level should ensure safe anchoring and twin rollers facilitate that extra set of rode.
The Berret Racoupeau hull is traditionally laid-up in solid GRP and sports twin rudders, a necessity given its generous aft beam, and kept upright by an elongated cast iron keel. A hard chine runs from the swimplatform at the transom, along the waterline – a popular means of reducing the bulk in such a wide-beamed, high-volume hull, while flattened aft sections promote downwind sailing.
On a boat approaching 50 feet sail handling is often an onerous job, as the weight alone of a Mylar mainsail when hoisting or reefing can be hernia-inspiring; and the power in a genoa foresail requires strong winches. So the large electrified Harken 46 halyard winch on the Sense 46 is most welcome, as are the lazyjacks to control the hoist. Alternatively, and for a much easier life at sea, fit the in-mast reefing with self-tacking jib.
Just like those beamy Open 60 raceboats – Jean-Pierre Dick recently sailed his IMOCA 60 home without a keel – a major part of stability in the Sense range comes from the wide beam, so these boats especially benefit from being sailed fairly upright. Added to this is the hard chine that gives directional stability and further aided by the angle of attack from either of the twin rudders; which all helps to make the Sense 46 no slouch thanks to a sportier sail-area/displacement (SAD) ratio than her eldest sibling, the 55. So out on the crystal-blue waters of the Balearic Islands I fancied my chances as I tacked onto the same heading as the Sense 55.
At the helm, the composite wheel felt light to turn and gave enough feel from the twin rudders to make steering worthwhile, rather than simply clicking the Raymarine P70 autopilot and watching the rocky shores of Majorca slide past as the 9.3-knot breeze pushed us along at 5.6kts over the ground on the wind at 40 degrees.
The scenario of a "light boat in a light breeze" worked out well for me until pressure increased and the extra eight-foot of waterline gave the Sense 55 the impetus to pull away. By this time I was comfortably ensconced on the helm and acquainted with the 46. The steerer is well supported with a teak foot-shelf and the teak trim on the deck gave no complaints from my bony derriere.
Looking forward along the clean decks, a clear view of telltales was available as were the nearing shores of the party town of Magaluf prompting me to call a tack. This only required my host for the day Yves Mandin to release the sheet, while on the windward side I loaded the Harken with the lazy sheet and spun the boat, the twin rudders driving the hull around quickly as we came onto port tack.
Having lived in the region previously for eight years I was well acquainted with the fickle winds, so it was no surprise as the breeze fell, prompting me to kick the Yanmar into life. The 75hp motor spinning at 2900 revs pushed us to a maximum speed of 8.3kts, but for fuel economy and noise I throttled back to a more sedate 7.4kts at 2500rpm to enjoy the run west along the coast of this beautiful Spanish island; an ideal cruising ground for this very comfortable yacht.
HOW DOES IT HANDLE?
Ease of handling is at the forefront of the Sense range, so the 46 succeeds well here thanks to the optional docking system and when under sail, a running rigging layout that gives the steerer nearly total control of this large yacht; enhanced by the comfortable helm stations. Upwind the wide beam and protecting cockpit ensure that she will be a dry and, most importantly, relaxing boat to sail.
› Overall functionality and usability
› Those pesky saloon doors that only John Wayne likes
› Guest cabin is compromised by hull shape
Personally, if I chose to buy a Sense, this would be the one. Spacious, yet more nimble than her larger and smaller siblings, she has a layout and array of systems that all work well. Also, the Sense 46 could easily win over the motorboater looking to avoid those rising fuel costs or for that matter, the catamaran sailor who wants both the living space and an affordable marina berth.
BENETEAU SENSE 46 SPECIFICATIONS
$477 600 (inc. GST)
MATERIAL GRP (monolithic)
LENGTH 14.12m (overall); 12.92m (waterline)
DRAFT 2.05m; 1.75m (shallow)
WEIGHT 11,800kg (plus 3460kg deep ballast)
RATED HP 75
SAIL AREA 99.3m² (total); 52.3m² (mainsail); 47m² (genoa 103 per cent)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #442, July/August 2013
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