Beneteau 54: Where the Living's Easy
This new flagship was built with an eye to comfort in port and performance on the water. A boat review from our September 2009 issue
The Beneteau folks will tell you that their new flagship 54 was created with three features foremost in mind: the cockpit, the owner's cabin, and the main saloon. In the course of our inspections last fall, Cruising World's Boat of the Year judges discovered plenty of value in the boat's many other features, as well.
From across the water, the 54's sleekness is the thing you'll notice first. On a waterline of almost 50 feet-the bow nearly plumb, the scoop transom canting gently aft from the deck-it's the horizontal line that dominates. The cabin top scarcely rises off the foredeck before the mast, and no hard angles announce the house, only subtle curves. It's a styling that serves livability, making the boat as easy to move around on as it is to look at. In fact, ease may very well be the boat's dominant design theme: ease of living in port, ease of sailhandling while under way, ease of moving through the cockpit to the bow. A hinged transom opening leads forward from the swim step between twin wheels and into the cockpit. The cockpit settees, 70 inches long and shoulder-width deep, provide space for all but the tallest sailors to take their ease with an afternoon or off-watch nap.
The 54 is the top of the Beneteau line, which is designed by Berret Racoupeau. Nauta Design of Milan created the interior, whose tone is dominated by an attractive wood called Alpilignum (www.alpi.it) that's made from stacking and gluing sheets of lumber, then slicing veneers from across the stack. The result is attractive, and the process fosters sustainable growth, something we were happy to see from a builder as prolific as Beneteau. As you step below, the boat's 16-foot beam and panoramic fixed portlights in the deck provide an exemplary feeling of space and light. Through attentive architecture, the saloon escapes feeling too cavernous. I found that the arrangement of the galley countertop, the nav table, and the dinette seatbacks together provides ample support to grab or to plant a hip when the boat is under way. Of all the boats we sailed in the 2009 Boat of the Year contest, this boat's cabins provided the best headroom for tall sailors. Shorter sailors may wish for one more step down from the companionway into the saloon; we measured 13 inches between steps-a bit of a stretch for some folks.
Tucked under the companionway and to port is a galley that's at once spacious enough to cook elaborate meals and nicely integrated for sociability and traffic flow through the cabin: The cook is neither excluded from the fun nor forced to step out of anyone's way. In an innovative move, the designers placed the sink just aft and outboard of the companionway ladder, with a drying rack tucked underneath. "The sink was near the centerline," said BOTY judge Stacey Collins, "which was nice because it's going to drain well on any tack." She also noted a detail in the molded-resin countertops: "They had sort of a 1/8-inch lip routed out, which keeps water from sitting there and saves the wood joint from getting rotted and grungy."