The final morning for Boat of the Year sea trials dawned a crisp one, with 15 to 25 knots of north wind whipping up a good chop on the Chesapeake. It was a perfect time, perhaps, to sail a big, dry boat, but our first ride of the day was the Beneteau 34. We needn’t have worried. This stiff little cruiser stood up to its canvas like a champ, and nary a drop of the bay landed in the cockpit as the judges tacked and reached back and forth, each eager to take a turn at the helm.
And when the furling mainsail and nonoverlapping jib were finally stowed away and the motoring drill completed, the judges stepped off the Groupe Finot-designed sloop and declared it to be the year’s Best Value. As judge Tim Murphy noted, the 34 was the least expensive of the cruising sailboats we looked at, but by the numbers, its performance under sail ranked in the top third, and according to the judges’ fun meter, the sailing feel-good quotient was off the scale.
The 34 is at the small end of the new Beneteau range of boats with interior styling by Nauta. Below, straight lines dominate the furniture, counters, and shelving. Double berths in the forward cabin and the athwartships aft cabin flank the saloon, which has U-shaped seating to port, a settee to starboard, and a centerline table.
On deck, the helmsman has easy access to primary winches, which are located just forward of a wheel that’s leather covered and wide enough that you can sit outboard to steer. Because the mainsheet is led to a winch on the cabin top, the skipper must leave the wheel to trim the main, but on this boat, the helm stays put when left on its own, and the end of the cockpit’s not far away. Moving about topside, the judges appreciated good handholds on the sides of the dodger and the nonskid molded into the curved edge of the cabin top. It was these sorts of details-often lacking on more expensive boats-plus its sailing performance that make the Beneteau 34, they concluded, a heck of a buy for the money.
- The cockpit locker is gasketed and heldopen with a gas strut.
- Under way in a good breeze, the Beneteau 34 was stiff and quiet below.
- All through-hulls and the propeller shaft are easily accessible.
To access CW’s complete 2009 Sailboat Show and Boat of the Year contest coverage, click here. To read Cruising World reviews of Beneteau sailboats, click here. To visit Beneteau America’s website, click here.