Beneteau Oceanis 311 Review

Issue: September 2000

If you want to draw a few conclusions about the complexity (or lack of it) of modern-day yacht design, have a look at the Oceanis 311 and its cousins. The Oceanis 311 has the same hull as the Beneteau 31.7, a handy and roomy cruiser/racer (tested in MB Sept ’99). This hull was designed in the early ’90s as a one-design boat for the Figaro race, a stage event around Europe in which many top solo skippers cut their teeth, build their reputations and head on to stardom in the extreme multi- and monohulls.

The Figaro race boats are water-ballasted, but have the same hull lines as the production boats, so the message must be that a hull which is free of handicapping rules can be both fast and accommodating.

There are differences, of course, between the applications. The First 31.7 has an L-profiled keel with 1.9m draft while the Oceanis draws 1.45m, though the First offers a 1.45m keel as an option and the Oceanis has a shoal draft lifting keel twin-rudder option.

The Oceanis’s prop and shaft are housed in a skeg, as opposed to a Saildrive on the cruiser/racer, and the Oceanis rudder has a lower aspect ratio. The rigs are of similar dimensions, though the Oceanis has less standard sail area because the furler headsail is only about 110% (ie the foot of the sail is only a little longer than J, the distance between tack and mast).

The Oceanis’s main is less roachy than that of the First and the lazyjacks guide the lowered sail into a zippered boom bag. The main has a single-sheave block fastened well up the leech to handle the reefing line. I love high-performance sails but I also like sails that make an effort to stow themselves.

My mother was right; I am a lazy bugger, though I hastily add that she used a different noun. The Oceanis rig is as simple as a rig can be unless you are thinking of a Laser – forestay, backstay, single spreaders and single lowers.

The Oceanis main boom has a rigid vang and the mainsheet system straddles the main hatch, which is of the same clear material as the cabin roof immediately below it so it lets in light down below when open or closed.

As the Oceanis will be used for cruising or charter, wheel steering makes sense, as it frees up the cockpit for lounging, eliminating the tiller’s need for an arc to swing through. The First has a tiller mounted well aft and the cockpit is long enough to provide enough room on the windward rail for the helmsman and two others more or less in the cockpit area.

Accommodation layouts are the same – double-berth cabin on the port side aft, double vee berth in the forepeak. The galley is on the port side, bathroom and small navigation area to starboard, the table on the centreline.

Headroom in the Oceanis is a fraction under 6ft (around 180cm). The height of human beings I can judge only on Imperial terms; I cannot come to grips with 180cm. And boats, too, I measure in feet below 20 metres or so. Come to think of it the kilopascal is a bit of a mystery, too.

Winter has been unusual this year, plenty of wind, plenty of sun, and a bit of rain. The day we sailed the Oceanis, winter stopped being unusual and reverted to type – no wind, sun, warm, a gorgeous day for the people and a lousy one for yachts.

In the ghosting conditions the First sailed better, as it should. The Oceanis did well – in the gust of the day (7 knots apparent) the boat reached three knots sailing as close to the wind as we could get her – but she lacked sail area for the weather.

The hull was eager to go and slid along easily when given enough push, but for days like this you carry a bigger headsail or, as all lazy buggers should, call on the services of Dr Diesel to get you home.

I don’t have any statistics but my guess is that most Oceanis go to charter. One owner I have met was a retired ocean racer who wanted an all-furling cruising boat, easy to handle but quick enough, so he and the Missus could weekend aboard in comfort.

The 311, which has both internal volume and a fast hull, will fill both roles.

Both boats are listed at $170,000, but on the Oceanis the price includes sails while on the First 31.7 they are extra.

Story by Barry Tranter