Boat Review: Beneteau Oceanis 38
At the last Annapolis boat show everyone was talking about Beneteau’s new multi-personality performance cruiser, the interior of which can be changed so much it defies the limits of what can be considered a production boat. This model doesn’t just evolve from previous concepts, it leaps off the drawing board and challenges you to imagine its perfect use.
Like most of Beneteau’s recent designs, the Oceanis 38 has aggressive angular lines with a nearly plumb bow and a slightly reverse transom. The low cabintop provides a nice profile while belying the amount of volume and headroom below.
Beam is carried well aft to a wide stern, but the boat’s twin rudders allow the hull to grip the water regardless of heel angle. A hard chine flowing from well forward all the way aft also helps keep the Oceanis 38 sailing up to five degrees flatter than it otherwise would. For anyone who’s had to brace themselves in a gust, that certainly makes a difference.
The hull is molded in polyester, with a hull liner bonded in at the beginning of the assembly process to increase stiffness. The deck is injection molded with a Saerfoam core to increase strength and reduce weight, after which it is secured to the hull with adhesives and screws, and then “trimmed” with a 1-inch toerail. The keel is cast iron. The rudder stocks are stainless steel.
Beneteau offers the boat in three flavors: Daysailer, Weekender and Cruiser. Most of the differences are in the interior, but there are some variables on deck as well. Specifically, the Weekender and Cruiser come standard with a mainsheet arch over the cockpit and a drop-leaf cockpit table to help entertain a crowd for sundowners.
Twin helms open up the middle of the cockpit, and there is good access from the companionway all the way aft, where Beneteau’s signature hinged transom drops down into a formidable swim platform that seems to add another dimension to the deck plan. The side decks are wide and easy to maneuver on, and there are good handholds on the cabintop.
The 9/10ths fractional rig is supported by double sweptback spreaders and flies 748 square feet of sail split between a 103 percent genoa on a Facnor furler and a traditional mainsail, built by Elvstrom. The deck-stepped Z-Spars mast has been moved aft and is centered over the keel to create a slightly larger foretriangle for more power. Most of the rest of the deck hardware is Harken, including both primary and cabintop winches. Nav electronics are B&G throughout.
I spent more time aboard this boat examining the clever details of the interior than on any other at the show. The more basic choices include two or three cabins and one head, and the Daysailer incorporates only a sink in the “galley,” allowing for a large open social sitting area. The other two models add galley modules incorporating an optional stove with oven, a microwave, a fridge and a storage cabinet.
In the two-cabin Cruiser layout, the extra space aft to starboard is used for a stand-up shower. It’s not so much a stall as a small shower room into which you and three close friends could easily fit. It will also make a fine wet locker when not in use. In the three-cabin layout, the shower is in a smaller compartment to port that is otherwise designated a hanging locker. All three interiors make the most of the 6ft 5in headroom and include a removable forward bulkhead that separates the master stateroom from the saloon. Without it, the boat seems huge below, and for couples this will most likely be the preferred configuration. The bulkhead panels can be replaced and removed easily, but will have to be stored off the boat. Many owners will probably just keep them in the garage and opt for the wide-open look that makes this design so alluring.
In yet another clever feature, Beneteau has partnered with luggage designer Longchamp to develop what they call the “rolling locker,” a stylish roller bag you can pack at home and then transport to the boat. Once aboard, it hangs neatly from one of the built-in handles on either side of the V-berth. Unzip and, voila, you have an instant hanging locker.
You can also modify each of the three basic layouts with various cabinet modules, which admittedly gets a bit confusing. I suspect most owners will choose a kind of a hybrid layout that borrows what they like best from the various standard configurations of the boat. You can also add or remove features further down the road, allowing you to fine-tune the boat as your family grows and your sailing needs change.
Our test day after the show was the kind that makes sailors cry. With a vanishing breeze, we did our best to get a feel for the boat’s sailing characteristics, which meant hoisting the main, unfurling the jib–and waiting.
At one point a 7-knot “gust” accelerated the Oceanis 38 to 3.8 knots at a 45-degree wind angle—almost in an instant. With just under 15,000lb of displacement, it doesn’t take much for this boat to pick up its skirts and go. Having sailed the Oceanis 45 and 48, both of which have similar hull shapes, I also know that when things get a bit more brisk the energy that would otherwise go into heeling is transformed into forward momentum with this kind of hull form. Basically the boats just heel slightly, sit on that hard chine, find their groove and take off.
Tacking in such a light breeze isn’t easy, but even with our slow speed, the boat responded without hesitation. The big jib came through the wind easily, and the fully battened mainsail powered up effortlessly. We tacked through 90 degrees and sliced through the water to much rejoicing.
Although we had four people aboard, most sat idle, and it took very little to singlehand this boat, which will make it that much more fun for quick daysails or extended short-handed cruising. With the optional asymmetrical spinnaker on a top-down furler, this boat would also be a real kick on a reach.
The 30hp Yanmar saildrive pushed the relatively light Oceanis 38 at 7.1 knots at 2,700rpm all the way back to the dock in flat water with no headwind. On the way, we stopped in the fairway to investigate her tight quarters maneuvering ability. With its twin rudders, the boat backed straight as an arrow and turning was precise. I can’t imagine really needing the $30,000 Dock & Go upgrade, which adds a 40hp engine, a swiveling drive leg, a joystick control and a bow thruster. But then again, it never hurts to have a little extra maneuverability in a really tight marina.
Time will tell if this multi-tasking boat can find long-term market appeal. Nonetheless, kudos to Beneteau for taking a chance on a fascinating design concept. The company has truly both set the production boatbuilding world on its ear, and put the “r” back in revolution
LOA 37ft 9in
LWL 35ft 2in
BEAM 13ft 1in
DRAFT 6ft 9in (std); 5ft 3in (shoal)
SAIL AREA 748ft2 (with 103% genoa)
FUEL/WATER/WASTE (GAL) 34/34/21
ENGINE 30hp Yanmar with saildrive
ELECTRICAL 80AH; 80AH (engine)
BALLAST RATIO 26%
SA/D RATIO 20 D/L RATIO 154
What do these ratios mean? Visit sailmagazine.com/ratios
BUILDER Beneteau, St.Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, France
U.S. Distributor Beneteau America, Annapolis, MD, 410-990-0270, beneteauusa.com
LOA LOA 37ft 9in
LWL 35ft 2in
Beam 13ft 1 in
Draft 6ft 9in (std); 5ft 3in (shoal)
Engine 30hp Yanmar with saildrive