Issue: July 2004
That popular aphorism about technology – that it solves problems we did not know existed – is, I reckon, pretty accurate. For example, how can you possibly live for another day without owning a car that turns on its own windscreen wipers? The utter hell of reaching for the wiper switch when the first drizzle hits the windscreen can no longer be tolerated. But on boats it is a different story. Boat designers and builders tend to use technology, which is appropriate, because it does work that is useful.
The standard Beneteau 57 has one electric winch; the one shown here has two-speed electric winches for the headsail sheets (also used to hoist the main); both headsails are on furlers (the genoa furler is powered) and the staysail is self-tacking. The main is a tri-radial cut to suit the ‘Leisurefurl’ powered boom furler. This test boat had an autopilot (a fully-interfaced B&G system). The bow thruster is standard, as is the 9.5kVa genset. All this equipment – much of it standard – means that this 57-footer can be handled by one person, and handled easily by two.
The machinery enables the owner to be free of dependence on crew, one of the great evils of cruising a big (ish) boat. But it is misleading to rate this boat only on its list of machinery, some of it optional. The base boat is a very interesting fast cruiser, interesting, because the designers started with a clean sheet of paper and came up with interesting solutions to design problems. Those options merely extend slightly the boat’s abilities, which are considerable. During our sail the breeze built to more than 20 knots, 25+ in the gusts.
We decided to take in a bit of sail. The sequence went like this – ease the mainsheet and roll away a bit of the main by pressing a button, the work of a few seconds. Sheet on the main, roll up the genoa (on the powered furler) and unroll the staysail, which is manual. Put the helm over and in less than a minute we have taken in a lot of sail and tacked. With a bit of practice I could have done all this myself in about the same length of time. The Beneteau 57 has a Bruce Farr hull but is intended as a fast cruiser, with a sensible keel of lowish aspect ratio and a reasonable rake on its leading edge, better to hit rocks with (a fact of cruising life that must be considered) than the now-almost universal vertical, high-aspect keel.
The raised centre cockpit gives room for a huge owner’s stateroom aft, one of the best cabins to be found on a production yacht. Four layouts are available, offering three, four or five cabins. The cockpit is not mounted so high in the hull that you feel as if the kids might fall out at extreme heel angles, which can make people nervous in some centre-cockpits. The layout means there is an expansive afterdeck for lounging or for storing the dinghy – it is big enough to play shuffleboard or deck quoits. The standard boat features a retractable beam, which slides out of the boom (clever, those French) to lift the dinghy on board.
The boom of the boat shown here is full of mainsail furler: “We put on the Leisureful here”, says Vicsail’s Brendan Hunt. “Boom furlers are not quite accepted in Europe, but we have had good experience with these”. The owner specified davits to hoist his tender of choice, a 3.5m jet-powered Zodiac RIB. The boat shown here has two double cabins forward, each with an en suite toilet but sharing a shower. There is a single cabin on the starboard side off the walk-through, which connects the owner’s cabin and the saloon. On the port side there is no walkthrough; there you will find the galley, a narrow space, which provides plenty of support for the cook and which should be excellent for use at sea.
Equipment includes a dishwasher, fourburner stove and freezer. The cockpit is a nice place to be. You can have a traditional steering pedestal on the centreline towards the rear of the cockpit, or specify the one shown here on the portside forward which frees a lot of cockpit space. The steering is hydraulically assisted, as opposed to full hydraulic. The boat’s skipper says the steering’s gear ratio (speed) is optional; the owner opted for the slowest gearing while he (the skipper) would have preferred faster gearing.
We start out with full main and genoa – to tack or gybe you have to half-furl the genoa so it will fit through the space defined by the inner forestay. For easy harbour sailing you would presumably stick to the mainsail/self-tacker combination, good for 5.5 knots upwind in 10 knots of breeze. Handling the genoa; however, is made fun by the electric sheet winches. In high gear the 24-volt Lewmar No.66s operate faster than you can wind a handle, so there is no reason not to specify them.
The high gear sheets in fast, then everyone onboard gets a buzz from watching the lower gear cut in automatically when the sheet loading reaches a certain point. High gear is so fast that low is only called on to crank in the last few inches of sheet, on this day when the westerly started at 18 knots and built steadily. The 57 has a waterline length of 15m and she is not slow. We saw 9.5 knots on a beam reach in 18 knots under full sail. The skipper has seen 10 in 20, and the crew claims 9 knots in 12 of wind under the tri-radial asymmetric spinnaker.
We also saw 8.4 in 21 under reefed main and staysail after we had furled the genoa. The owner of the boat shown here planned extensive cruising, sending the boat out into the Pacific with a permanent skipper. She is a comfortable boat, which is easy to handle in day-sailing use, but other, smaller boats can fill that role. This is a beautifully equipped craft whose designers have intended far more than cosmetic use – she should be able to travel far and fast in great comfort. But she should also be practical. This is not a sleek cruiser/racer with cruising pretensions.
The Beneteau 57 has important cruising features like deck space and the gear to handle the dinghy and below decks privacy. Everyone who goes cruising needs room for the extra water and the life raft and the bicycle and the sailboard the kids insist you take and which they never use. Most modern production yachts choose to pretend that these things don’t exist; admittedly this boat is 57ft long and can accommodate a lot, but there are other production boats of a similar size that do not have room for the cruising essentials. If the 2.6m draft is too much the options list also includes a shallow keel, which is also heavier to maintain stability.
The mast has triple spreaders and runners that tack down to one of several padeyes in the deck, depending on how far aft you want to lead them. “Belts and braces,” says Brendan. “That rig is not going anywhere.” The Beneteau 57 is so easy to handle you forget that it is more than 17m long. There is a lot to this boat; at best, stories like this can represent only a superficial discussion about a large and complex craft, which is a great example of what a design team can do when it is not asked to make too many compromises.
Words and Photos by Barry Tranter