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Beneteau 31

I’m always impressed when a boat design shows you can teach an old dog new tricks. Thirty-one-foot coastal-cruising designs have been around since builders started using fiberglass to build hulls, so it’s easy to think that it’s all been done before. But the new Beneteau 31 has innovative solutions and incremental changes that have a positive effect on comfort, functionality, aesthetics, and sailing performance. I took one out for a spin off Padanaram, Massachusetts, in flat water and a perfect 12-knot sea breeze. Here’s what I found.

The hull is built of solid hand-laid fiberglass with a solid-fiberglass structural grid bonded in place. Vinylester resin is used as a barrier coat to combat osmotic blistering. High-load areas are solid fiberglass reinforced with stitchmat, and the deck is also reinforced with solid-fiberglass deck beams. The main bulkheads are bonded to both the hull and the deck.

Simple, good ideas abound on deck. First, the companionway: Instead of the cumbersome hatchboards that most boats seem to have, this boat’s companionway “door” can be opened and closed easily and slides out of the way (thanks to a clever hinge system) just under the sliding companionway hatch. In bad weather the door can stay in place and open like conventional companionway doors. This feature may well make conventional hatchboards obsolete. Next, the helm seat not only opens to provide easy walk-through access to the swim area at the stern, but has a gas strut to hold it open—a welcome substitute for removable helm seats that need to be stowed. Other deck features—comfortable cockpit, well-equipped steering pod, decent anchor locker—are well executed and, all told, result in an excellent setup.

A 31-footer necessarily has limited interior space; it’s a question of trade-offs. On this boat maximum space is devoted to the main living space, so the saloon is spacious and comfortable. The galley is equipped with excellent stowage and counter space, and there’s even a sit-down nav station with a small table. The saloon’s large fixed windows and hatches make it bright and airy feeling, though ventilation is limited to two small opening ports and one small opening hatch. The aft cabin has a large berth and a hanging locker, though not much headroom. The V-berth forward is more suited for kids than adults, but it does have a hanging locker. In all, the accommodation plan is well suited to coastal cruising.

I wish all my test-sailing days were like the one we had on Buzzards Bay. Under full main (cross-cut Dacron, with conventional battens) and 105 percent roller-furling jib, we soon had the boat power-reaching at over 6 knots in 12 knots of breeze. Speeds stayed in the 5s when we hardened up on the breeze. The boat tacked effortlessly through 85 to 90 degrees and tracked like the proverbial freight train. The boat was beautifully balanced and returned just the right amount of weather helm. It responded sweetly to puffs and the mainsail-dominated sailplan was well suited to the conditions.

Maneuvering under power in the marina was a no-surprises affair. We goosed the throttle to get the boat backing straight, had the water flowing over the rudder in no time, and had no trouble bucking a bit of crosswind to get into the slip. The engine at (2,700 RPM) pushed the boat through the water at over 5 knots and could easily hit 6 knots at full throttle. Excellent sound insulation lining the engine box helped create a quiet ride both on deck and below.

Conclusion: The new Beneteau 31 offers a collection of good ideas and incremental improvements that have a real impact. It’s well worth a look for anyone in the market for a new coastal cruiser.

The new Beneteau 31 offers a collection of good ideas and incremental improvements that have a real impact. It’s well worth a look for anyone in the market for a new coastal cruiser.

Pros:

•Clever companionway door designs

•Large cockpit locker

•Easy swim-platform access

•Sailing performance

Cons:

•Limited saloon ventilation

•Cabin space taken up by saloon

Specifications:

Price: $109,000 (sailaway, FOB Marion, SC) includes sails, basic instruments, ground tackle

Builder: Beneteau USA, 843-629-5300, www.beneteauusa.com

Designer: Finot/Conq Assn. (boat), Nauta Design (interior)