“Objectively detached with an aura of professional gravitas” best describes the four judges in Cruising World’s 2010 Boat of the Year contest, if I do say so myself. At the dock, we interviewed each entrant’s representatives and systematically inspected the boats. On the water, we uniformly anchored, motored, reefed, and test-sailed them, all the while furiously scratching numbers and notes on our various forms.
Aboard the Beneteau First 40, however, the moment the vessel powered up under sail, those notepads hit the deck like raindrops. As each of us jockeyed for position at the wheel, our professional demeanors gave way to big smiles and even the occasional “Yahoo!” Where once stood stone-faced number crunchers, big kids now gleefully put the pedal to the metal.
And that’s exactly what Beneteau planners had in mind when they conceived the First 40. But they wanted to include the family, too, so they approached the team at Farr Yacht Design with a broad brief: Keep or even improve the performance of the highly successful First 40.7, but include all the requisite elements of a family-friendly cruiser, including lounging spaces in the cockpit, a well-appointed interior, and viable systems for extended coastal voyages.
Farr’s designers achieved this through clever convertibility, most obviously seen is the removable cockpit seats/stowage lockers. For the Wednesday-night races, these are left at the dock, opening up a no-frills cockpit with ample room for a full racing crew. Once reattached, the lockers are long enough to be comfortable seats and large enough to hold all the toys and tools central to an extended family cruise. Likewise, the helm seat, which runs gunwale to gunwale across the open transom, acts as a secure enclosure when cruising, but on race nights, this, too, stays behind to create more space and easy access to the backstay adjuster.
A double-ended mainsheet system operates off a wide athwartship traveler forward of the helm. The towering triple-spreader aluminum rig holds a generous 1,055 square feet of working sail. A ballast-to-displacement ratio of .42, with the ballast residing mostly in the 8-foot-deep lead bulb, ensures that the boat stands up to this sail plan. Both the D/L ratio of 166 and the SA/D ratio (100%) of 21.5 validate Beneteau’s prediction of up to a 15-second-per-mile improvement over the already fast First 40.7. And if that’s not fast enough, an optional turbocharge package that includes a carbon-fiber mast and rod rigging is also available.
After my firm hip check removed a fellow judge from the helm, I found that the First 40 accelerated quickly, tacked nimbly, and was responsive to fine-tuning. With its wide and flat sections aft, the boat tore up our test track off Annapolis, Maryland, under its more than 1,800 square feet of downwind sail. The helm is enormous and perfectly balanced. In strong breezes and moderate seas, I found that the boat was maneuverable and well behaved on all points of sail.
The Yanmar 40-horsepower diesel powered the boat smartly and quietly. As expected, with a narrow fin keel and deep spade rudder, the boat turned in its own length and backed with precision.
The hull, with a European Union CE Category A (Ocean) rating, should take a pounding. It’s solid vinylester resin-injected glass above the waterline and balsa cored up to and including the deck.
I found that, perhaps unavoidably, some of the racing features negatively impacted the cruising agenda. There’s an anchor locker, but the anchoring system is only equipped with a removable roller and no windlass. Also, the 8-foot-deep T-shaped keel found on our test boat will restrict shoal-water cruising-a 6-foot-3-inch shoal-draft keel is available-and won’t be forgiving in the event of accidental grounding. The lifelines measure the minimum 24 inches recommended by the American Boat & Yacht Council but there were no side gates on our test boat. Boarding dockside or from a dinghy could be less than convenient.
However, the teak-covered decks and cabin top aren’t overly cambered, and the side decks are wide and unobstructed, resulting in safe access forward. There’s a designated space for a life raft, and the propane locker is properly vented.
Few compromises face the cruisers below. The attractive Alpi interior is open, bright, functional, and well ventilated due to numerous deck hatches and portholes. The two double cabins aft and the forepeak double, all with standing headroom, will accommodate the entire family. A large leafed table attached to the centerline sole opens up to straight seating both port and starboard.
The L-shaped galley to port is small but complete with a two-burner stove, icebox, rubbish bin, and ample stowage space. The navigation station is realistically sized with a retractable seat. A single head lies to starboard and can be accessed from either the main saloon or the forepeak cabin.
In summary, CW’s BOTY judges were unanimously impressed with the boat’s clever design solutions, equipment selection, and the overall fit and finish. Foremost, it’s a First, and that means fast. This boat will be feared at the starting line, and an active and exciting racing class should develop around it. Also, with a LOA of just over 41 feet, the First 40 falls within the most popular range of racing sizes, yet remains relatively affordable and manageable as a cruising platform.
No boat, at any price, reflects true value when left neglected at the docks. Thus, the real value of the First 40 lies in its versatility, for it’s a capable racer that’ll also have the entire family clamoring for their fair share of cruising time on board as well.
Alvah Simon is a frequent CW contributor and Boat of the Year judge.
Beneteau first 40
LOA 41′ 3″ (12.57 m.)
LWL 35′ 0″ (10.67 m.)
Beam 12′ 9″ (3.89 m.)
Draft (shoal/deep) 6′ 3″/8′ 0″ (2.00/2.44 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 848 sq. ft. (78.8 sq. m.)
Ballast shoal 7,369 lb./3,343 kg. deep 6,610 lb./2,998 kg.
Displacement shoal 16,614 lb./7,536 kg.
deep 15,895 lb./7,210 kg.
Ballast/D (deep) .42
D/L (deep) 166
SA/D (deep) 21.5
Water 52 gal. (197 l.)
Fuel 36 gal. (136 l.)
Holding 21 gal. (79 l.)
Mast Height 59′ 1″ (18.01 m.)
Engine 40-hp. Yanmar
Designer Farr Yacht Design
Sailaway Price $300,000
To read more Cruising World reviews of Beneteau sailboats, click here. To visit Beneteau America’s website, click here.