My initial reaction to the Sense 50 that debuted in Annapolis last fall was wonder. As the Boat of the Year judges and I made our way to conduct dockside inspections of Beneteau’s new models, a din of cheers, clapping, and excitement erupted from their corner of the show. The docks were almost impassable, but as we wound our way through the crowd, the source of the hubbub became obvious. Coincidentally, we’d scheduled our appointment with the Sense 50 just as Beneteau dealer Garth Hitchens was demonstrating its new Dock & Go system, which enables the Sense to turn and maneuver in a manner unlike any other sailboat on today’s market—even those with a bow thruster (See the complete photo gallery here).
Dock & Go was developed by Beneteau in conjunction with Yanmar and ZF Marine. It employs a powerful bow thruster, autopilot, and rotating saildrive that are linked together by a software interface to allow pinpoint, close-quarters control by means of a simple joystick.
Though the Dock & Go system is a game changer, during our dockside visit and subsequent sea trials, I learned that it was just one reason for applause. The sailboat’s overall layout was another way in which the Sense 50 stood apart and was ultimately judged to be 2011’s Best Full-Size Cruiser, 50 to 55 Feet. (See Boat of the Year coverage in CW’s January 2011 issue.) The judges liked the boat’s deep, low, wide-open cockpit that includes twin wheels and helm seats that hinge up and out of the way. At anchor, they agreed, the seating area would function like a sun deck for the crew. And while the space was comfortable and seaworthy under sail, the judge’s sole complaint concerned a lack of footholds to brace yourself when heeled.
The judging panel noted the easy transition from the cockpit into the saloon, which takes advantage of nearly the entire 16-foot beam. They likened it more to a catamaran companionway where you step “into” the accommodations on the bridge deck rather than “down” into the interior. The saloon’s low orientation and wraparound views, not to mention the comfortable settee and oversized galley, also received nods of approval.
During our test sail in a wet, 14-knot breeze off Annapolis, the boat was nimble and registered 5.6 knots upwind. The hull shape suggested that the 50 would enjoy a good reach, a fact confirmed by the speedo once we’d cracked off a few degrees.
When it was time to douse the sails and start the motor, the judges found the Dock & Go easy to operate. The joystick provides both directional and throttle control. Simply push it in the direction you want the boat to turn; to increase power, spin the knob on top. The judges did question the consequences if the system’s software crashed, but those concerns were overridden by witnessing firsthand the capabilities of the rotating drive and thruster. They unanimously agreed that the Sense 50 was the show’s most innovative new boat and that with a little practice, the Dock & Go system would have even the most nervous helmsman docking like a pro.
LOA: 50′ 1″ (15.27 m.)
LWL: 46′ 1″ (14.05 m.)
Beam: 15′ 11″ (4.86 m.)
Draft (deep/shoal): 6′ 11″/5′ 9″ (2.10/1.75 m.)
Sail Area (100%): 1,259 sq. ft. (117.0 sq. m.)
Ballast (deep): 8,739 lb. (3,963 kg.)
(shoal): 9,808 lb. (4,450 kg.)
Displacement: 33,710 lb. (15,295 kg.)
Ballast/D (deep): .25
Water: 193 gal. (730 l.)
Fuel: 219 gal. (830 l.)
Holding: 21 gal. x 2 (80 l. x 2)
Mast Height: 73′ 6″ (22.40 m.)
Engine: 75-horsepower Yanmar/Dock & Go
Designer: Berret Racoupeau/Nauta Design