Beneteau has a knack for showing up at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, with cool new ideas — the racy First series pioneered the modern-day hard-chine look, while the Sense line put sailing and living all on one level — and this past fall, they did it again with the Oceanis 38.
At first glance, the 38 fits squarely into the present Oceanis look and lineup of sailboats ranging from 31 to 58 feet: hard chines, considerable beam carried aft from amidships, fold-down transom, twin wheels, and a fiberglass arch over the companionway that serves as an anchor point for the mainsheet and makes a very handy frame from which to hang a dodger.
But look a little closer, especially down below, and you’ll quickly note that with the 38, Beneteau has rewritten the rules of what a production builder can offer by way of choices. The customer can configure the layout according to how the boat will be used today — and then change that layout by adding or taking away things like bunks, tables, the galley, even bulkheads, as needs change over time.
“Your Boat, Your Rules,” was the marketing mantra.
Just getting started? You can order a stripped-down day sailer with essentially one very large cabin/saloon below. You can even forgo the electrical system and plumbing if you want to squeeze every last penny from the purchase. But the 38 can also be an accommodating weekender with a loftlike feel, or a full-blown cruising sailboat with up to three private cabins, head, galley and well-fitted saloon. In theory, a couple could start with the weekender, add cabins and beds when the kids come along, and then retire one cabin and remove the forward bulkhead to make the boat over into a couple’s retreat when the kids have gone off on their own.
Time will tell if customers take advantage of this flexibility in layout. For the present, I found the whole concept to be pretty neat because it lets you customize your new boat in any number of ways and sail away in something unique at production-boat prices, which in this case range from about $125,000 for a bare-bones model to $225,000 and up for a fully loaded cruiser.
The boat we saw in Annapolis was a bit of a hybrid — call it an extended weekender — with a private athwartships double berth aft, a head and separate shower to starboard of the companionway, and an invitingly large bunk/lounging area forward in the open V-berth. A quite adequate in-line galley with fridge, two-burner stove and oven took up the starboard side of the saloon; a table that can seat six comfortably occupied the port side. Stepping below into the bright interior, I really liked the open feel of the living space. Under way, I enjoyed a brief stint below, watching the bay splash by, with sunlight streaming in from hatches above, and from ports in the cabin top and hull.
The 38’s roller-furling main and 103 percent genoa (a self-tending jib is an option, as is an asymmetric spinnaker) make it an easy boat to handle, and the quite slippery hull, designed by Finot-Conq, is quick through the water. Our sea trial took place in only about 8 knots of wind but still we saw readings of 4 knots, pushing 5 while reaching, and we easily held our own against several bigger boats that day. A few short puffs hinted that there would be good performance should the breeze build.
At a point in the market where options are normally restricted to the number of beds and heads and the color of the furniture, the Oceanis 38 offers a lot of variety for the beginner and the long-legged coastal cruiser alike.