Issue: September 1999
The French have cornered the market in short-handed ocean races which range from the incredible (those Transatlantic sprints in 20-metre trimarans) to those which are a bit more comprehensible to mere mortals.
One of the latter is the Figaro, a single-hander which this year starts in Brest and has stopovers in France, Spain and England. The race is a one-design affair sailed in the Beneteau Figaro, whose Finot/Conq hull has been adapted for the Beneteau 31.7.
To the quick little hull Beneteau have grafted their usual clever accommodation and hardware, and the result is a truly modern cruiser/racer. Or racer/cruiser. As on all modern performance boats this straight-stemmed hull has little overhang, so for a hull length of 9.50m the waterline is long at 8.80m. The beam is not excessive at 3.23m and displacement modest at 3600kg (empty). The keel is L-shaped in profile – ie the ballast bulb extends aft from the leading edge. Form stiffness is added by keeping the hull wide at the transom, though the volume is carried above the water, not below, adding stiffness when it is needed, as the boat heels. Because the 31.7 is intended to be a cruiser/racer (there’s that definition again) the rig is a simple double-spreader arrangement, without extreme spreader sweepback on the keel-stepped Sparcraft mast. There are no runners. The forestay attaches to the mast just a few centimetres below the black band, so is not quite masthead. The B&G instruments are carried on a locally-made (Bashford) tubular console on the mast’s trailing edge.
The cockpit is wide because, as mentioned earlier, there is plenty of beam aft, at deck level at least. It is not long, but there is room for two crew ahead of the helmsman on the cockpit coaming. The traveller bridgedeck runs right across the cockpit from coaming to coaming, so the traveller can be eased to a useful angle. The tails for the 8:1 backstay are led through the transom to cams on the bridgedeck, where they can be reached by skipper or crew. Cockpit seats have teak surfaces, and set in the coaming each side is a recessed teak bum pad for the steerer. I remember them well because when I took over the helm I slid off one a few times until I got my backside in gear with my brain, and both in gear with the tiller. Each side of the recessed companionway, on the cabin roof, is a Lewmar #30 halyard winch and three jammers.
Sheet winches are Lewmar #40s; all are self-tailers. The tiller extension has a push-button in its end to lengthen and shorten, a nifty idea that I had not seen before. Under the starboard seat is a huge stowage bin. Engine controls are in the cockpit sides to port, with the throttle to starboard. Sounds messy, but works fine in practice Down below, there are two double cabins. The forepeak cabin has standing headroom for just a little less than 6ft. There is a removable panel in the vee berth to give floor space when the bed isn’t being used. There s a locker, and ventilation via the main hatch in the foredeck. The main cabin, on the port side aft, has slightly more headroom plus two opening hatches, and a decent-sized locker. The main saloon berths are long; the portside one is almost two metres. The table is mounted on the centreline with drop-leafs, and has the usual Beneteau wine bottle stowage in its centre. The headliner is a white moulding with timber strips, the hull sides are finished in the same cherry timber used throughout. The floor is in rib-surfaced ply panels that drop into position on the liner moulding.
The textbooks used to tell you that a conventional ballasted yacht cannot plane, that it can only surf when encouraged by a wave. But we all know that is no longer true; on a deep reach under single-reefed main and the #4 jib on the furler, with gusts of about 25 knots over the stern quarter, this 31.7 would accelerate and plane with ease. She planed dead flat as her stern kept the bow down, and there was no transition, just a surge of speed. Upwind, once I got her settled down, the Beneteau would heel until the stern stiffened her up, then track extremely well in conditions with the gusts that were very solid. Once in the groove with the windward tufts lifting constantly, she felt fast and showed no desire to broach when the sou’wester kicked in a bit harder.
The instruments were not yet operational, so I can offer nothing more scientific than impressions, but the boat felt fast and steady. No matter what angles the hull is adopting there is little disturbance in the wake from the leeward quarter; you have to look immediately below, on the windward side, to get an impression of speed and there is no suggestion that the hull wants to stagger when overpressed. Beneteau have always been the masters of producing sophisticated boats that are really quite simple. There is nothing more in this boat than you need, but nothing you need to add. In case anyone has any doubts, this is meant as a compliment; you could take delivery of your new 31.7 on Saturday morning, race competitively after lunch, then cruise happily with the family on Sunday.
For years Beneteau owners were satisfied with having the most stylish yachts on the water now they want to win races as well. The result of this desire is the First 40.7.
Designed by Farr, it has an IMS-competitive hull, efficient appendages, a racing-inspired cockpit, and a powerful yet functional sailplan. It stops short of being a stripped-out flyer, though, instead having a Beneteau fitout with all the customary elegance and opulence. A ‘racing yacht that will appeal to the whole family’ is how they’re being marketed. Alternatively, it could be seen as a coastal cruiser with a generous turn of speed. The yacht changes easily from one mode to the other through an optional Racing Package (comprising a folding prop, rod rigging, Tuff Luff forestay and more) plus some simple design ingenuity. In the cockpit, for example, there are large seat lockers either side that fit flush with the benches, increasing both seating and storage capacity while maintaining the IMS cruiser/racer theme – but you can lift the boxes out and leave them dockside when more working floor space is required for club or CHS competition.
Also you have one of those full-width wheels (1600mm) that disappear into their own floor recess – love those – while a moulded helm pedestal affords excellent foot bracing and a convenient mounting point for gauges. The test boat had a matching set of instruments (B&G) on the mast. Lewmar gained the winching duties, with #50 self-tailers for the primaries and #44s for the halyards, both more than adequate. Missing are runners, the keel-stepped 9/10th fractional racing rig relying on triple aft-swept spreaders and hydraulic backstay for ease of handling. Down below the cabin has an airy feel without being ‘heavy’ in visual or physical terms.
There’s full headroom, complemented by a moulded headliner. The trim is honey-coloured pear wood, accented by a machine-washable Italian suede upholstery. It has matching double cabins aft, an L-shaped galley to port, chart table to starboard, twin-lounge saloon with central table, and a vee cabin. The head/shower is accessed through a door in the main bulkhead – here, the drop-leaf table impedes access and the compartment is inherently lacking in height and width. You expect compromises in a racer/cruiser and the bathroom is it. Otherwise the 40.7 excels at its dual role, proof coming when we took the gun in a mixed-fleet midweek race at Sydney s Middle Harbour Yacht Club. The first of many such victories for, I presume, the first of many such boats …
Story by Barry Tranter.