Issue: June 2002
History will show Beneteau’s First 40.7 to be a pivotal yacht. It was introduced at a time when ocean racing was in yet another state of transformation, as rating problems combine with rampant technology to create grand prix boats of a complexity that not many people could understand, let alone afford.
But Beneteau understood the trend and introduced its cruiser/racer line, designed by Bruce Farr, to rate well under IRC, but built of low-tech materials so mere mortals could afford to buy and run them.
The grand prix guys sneered, because the 40.7 had a lot of freeboard and accommodation – an HRT Commodore lined up against Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari. But when Sydney’s Whiston brothers bought a pair of 40.7s, then fitted them out with good gear and crew, they had huge success – the grand prix guys stopped sneering.
The 36.7 was devised for the same role. Farr drew a quick hull (his drawings label the 36.7 ‘Fast Cruising Boat, Race Version’ and Beneteau built it of familiar materials including a solid fibreglass hull, a conservative lead keel and alloy spars.
In this era of techno-snobbery it is too easy to judge products by the complexity of concept, construction and materials – the best mobile phone is not necessarily the smallest and most complex, it is only the most voguish. Consumers lose sight of the fact that the best technology is appropriate technology. End of sermon.
The 36.7’s fibreglass hull is reinforced by the usual Beneteau internal grid, bonded to the hull skin moulding. “It would be easy to put in a layer of Kevlar”, says Christophe Vanek of Beneteau Vicsail. “It would cost nothing and look good on the spec sheet, but it isn’t necessary.” The deck however, is cored, with balsa.
The real trick, says Christophe, is spending the time to get the details right – putting water and fuel tanks in the right place, getting as much weight out of the ends as possible, refining the rig. This is the area, he says, where the designer earns his money and where the builder must spend considerable development time.
The 36.7 follows the 40.7’s lead in other areas. The saloon table is removable for racing, as are the cockpit stowage bins, enabling the boat to change character. The rig is uncomplicated, twin spreaders and discontinuous rigging supporting an aluminium keel-stepped mast.
This relatively simple spec does not extend to the quality of the deck gear, which is all good stuff, a mix of Lewmar and Harken. Beneteau Vicsail of Sydney set up the boat shown here with Peugeot sponsorship, to fly the corporate flag in a mix of races.
The importers had not cut corners in setting up the boat. Bruce Hollis of Pullman Sails had built a set of gear from Contender Kevlar material, and all the sheet and halyard lines were top quality.
Soling Olympian Neville Wittey was on board for the sail and he was impressed by the Spectra-cored spinnaker sheets, which were highly flexible, but did not slip on the winch barrel with only two turns, neither cleated nor held by human hand.
This current First Series – which includes 31.7, 36.7, 40.7 and 47.7 – is of a more serious intent than the earlier First S Series, in which the S stood for Starck (as in Philippe, famed industrial designer) which have the boats mahogany and alloy interiors that reminded me of the Orient Express, or perhaps the way the Orient Express should have looked.
The 36.7 has a no-nonsense interior featuring three double cabins (one in the bow, two aft) with the bathroom forward and galley and navigation station aft at the foot of the companionway.
The trim is surprisingly conservative, a white moulded headliner and wood everywhere else, the reverse of flamboyant. The only trick is the removable table, which you take ashore when the going gets serious. When you take it out it reveals a handrail of stainless tube, which can also help prevent sails and other gear from sliding around the cabin.
We took the boat out with full main and No.3 headsail, in a stiffish nor’easter of 20 knots plus and with a crew of five.
At first the boat is over-pressed but the crew, who are on a fact-finding mission to see how the new boat works and certainly know their stuff, ease the mainsail leech and the 36.7 responds by sitting up and driving better, much more at ease.
The crew estimate we were getting high sixes upwind; Farr’s polar diagram, which Christophe shows me but I am not allowed to keep, shows that we should have 6.8 knots uphill in this weight of breeze. The crew agrees that downwind the 36.7 planes early; she lifts her nose and goes, running straight without making demands on the helmsman, although there are no vicious gusts.
The crew agrees they would like to make a few changes. Neville Wittey would like to see a little more pre-bend in the mast, achieved by slackening the lowers. Christophe Vanek would like to see better foot support for the helmsman and plans to add a couple of bits of wood in the appropriate places.
I have a steer upwind and, in a breeze swinging about 30 degrees I have trouble keeping up. This was partly because I always have trouble keeping up, but an American owner has suggested a faster steering ratio would help. This is something I would research, as I need all the help I can get.
Now we head upwind again, as the crew discusses what they have learned, and the Beneteau First 36.7 almost steers itself with the traveller eased, to demonstrate its abilities as a capable day-sailer.
When I ask him who will buy this boat Christophe makes the point that a market exists among top-end club sailors, which Australia features in large numbers.
“Why?” I ask. “Climate”, says Christophe. He points out that the average Aussie yachtie sails a lot, including midweek twilights, weekend club events and winter series. Can’t do that in Europe.
“We are very strong in club racers, the Mr. Average racer. This is the boat for him”. And the Whiston brothers, mentioned earlier, graduated from this class of yacht racer before they tackled the top end.
The 36.7 can be ordered with a Cruise Pack if you want, with local sails and a Harken Furler. Most buyers will presumably want to specify their own (local) sailmaker.
The 36.7 is an amalgam of interesting ideas, a cruiser/racer, which the family should be comfortable aboard, but for which the owner can dial up a specific amount of performance by spending on sails and gear.
This point seven series of Beneteaus appear to hold their resale value. I’ve been watching the prices of used 31.7s and owners are asking $180,000 for a fully equipped boat, which cost $180,000 off the shelf two years ago. The owners may not be getting $180k, but you know what I mean.
Story & Photos by Barry Tranter