Spirited wind gods had whipped San Francisco Bay to a 30-knot frenzy during the final days of the Strictly Sail Pacific boat show last April, but they finally took a break in time for us to test-sail the new Beneteau 31, the entry-level offering in a now robust line of 30- and 40-footers that includes two CW Boat of the Year winners, the 40 and the 49.
With the wind in the low teens, we left the docks at Passage Yacht Sales, pushed along by a 20-horsepower Yanmar and conventional drive. The boat maneuvered well backing out of tight quarters and accelerated smoothly through the chop as we raised sails.
In-mast furling is an option on the 31, but the boat we sailed had a full-batten main that stows in a boom-mounted pouch. Both the main and the 105-percent genoa on a Profurl furler are easy to handle but powerful enough to move the boat in lighter winds. When sailing the boat off the wind, I'd take advantage of the open bow pulpit and choose the optional asymmetric cruising chute to keep things lively.
A fold-up transom seat gives the helmsman a place to sit and allows easy access to the swim platform, a dinghy, or the dock. The relatively broad aft end provides ample room going forward in the cockpit, past the standard 36-inch wheel. On the 31, a fold-up hatch in the port quarter provides space for a life raft; by adding a container, it could be used to store gear. A conventional locker is to starboard.
Cockpit seats are long enough for a nap and close enough to provide bracing when heeled. Coamings, though, end at the binnacle, so while the person steering has a flat deck on which to sit, there's little to brace one's back against, and I found the pushpit too far away to provide a comfortable support when sitting to leeward.
From the helm, the skipper has good access to the boat's primary winches, a pair of Lewmar 30s, but reaching the mainsheet, which leads to a third winch on the cabin top, requires leaving the wheel.
Under sail, the spade rudder and Goiot steering give the boat a lively and responsive feel. Our speed sailing closehauled over the ground averaged a little better than 5 knots in 12 knots true; when we were cracked off to a beam reach, the readout on the G.P.S. increased to about 6.3 knots. With its small headsail, the boat tacked with ease through only 70 degrees or so, promising an efficient ride upwind.
A low coachroof and genoa tracks along the cabin leave the decks clear for movement fore and aft. Teak handholds on the cabin top are stylish, but like others on this new breed of Beneteaus, they're open only on one side, and I found it hard to get my fingers around them. A good-size anchor locker on the bow has a mounting space designed for an optional windlass.
Groupe Finot created a hull with a fine entry and beam carried well aft; its larger siblings have all been enjoyable sailers, and the 31 didn't disappoint. The interior, meanwhile, benefits from the straight-lined and elegant thinking of Nauta Design. There are no curved settees and whimsical doodads on this cruiser. Instead, purposeful and comfortable seats on either side of a drop-leaf table can, with the addition of lee cloths, double as sea berths or places to stash little crewmembers once the spacious athwartships aft-cabin berth and V-berth have been filled.
At the foot of the companionway, a head and shower sit to starboard. To port, the L-shaped galley is equipped with a two-burner propane stove and oven, and there's an icebox with 12-volt refrigeration outboard of the double sinks, which are positioned on the L, closer to the centerline where they belong. Storage space is behind and under the countertop. Forward of the head, the nav station faces aft and uses the end of the settee for a bench. The electrical panel mounted above the desk opens with the push of a latch to reveal neatly organized wiring and automotive-style fuses that can be reset. Both the desk and the galley counters opposite have solid fiddles that also serve as good handholds.
The placement of the forward bulkhead maximizes space in the saloon for entertaining a couple or the family. The trade-off: a V-berth that's functional for sleeping but not overly roomy, especially with the filler section in place for the berth. That said, there's 6-foot headroom, a hanging locker for clothes, storage below the mattress, and shelving to either side. The saloon and V-berth both have opening hatches, and with five opening ports, ventilation should be good.
The hand-laid solid-fiberglass hull derives stiffness from a grid that's bonded and glassed into place while still in the mold. An injected, cored F.R.P. sandwich forms the deck, which sits on the hull's turned-in flange and is glued and screwed in place. Bulkheads are bonded 360 degrees to the hull and deck using a polyurethane adhesive. While sailing, I found that this construction meant no squeaks or groans below. You can choose between a 6-foot-1-inch standard cast-iron keel or a 4-foot-5-inch shoal-draft version.
One of my favorite details on the 31 is the weatherboard and the companionway hatch, a design used on both the 31 and the 37. (See "Beneteau 37: Quick on its Feet," August 2008). Once the Lexan hatch has been pushed forward into its seahood, the weatherboard, also clear Lexan, lifts out and slides into place under the hatch and out of the way, solving the problem of where to store the panel below.
The new 31 is entry level in terms of size and price only-$115,000, ready to sail on the U.S. East Coast. With its teak toerails, stylishly arched cabin top, and good performance under sail, delivers a lot of boat for the dollar and, in this regard, fits in well with the rest of the family.
Mark Pillsbury is Cruising World's senior editor.
LOA 31' 8" (9.60 m.)
LWL 28' 6" (8.69 m.)
Beam 11' 1" (3.38 m.)
Draft (standard/shoal) 6' 1"/4' 5" (1.85/1.35 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 463 sq. ft. (43 sq. m.)
Ballast (standard/shoal) 2,207/2,412 lb. (1,001/1,094 kg.)
Displacement 8,933 lb. (4,052 kg.)
Ballast/D (standard/shoal) .25/.27
Water 34 gal. (129 l.)
Fuel 34 gal. (129 l.)
Mast Height 46' 7" (14.2 m.)
Engine 20-hp. Yanmar
Designer Groupe Finot