Beneteau has done a good job in recent years burnishing its racecourse mojo with its new generation of “First” series racer-cruisers. The very first, some will recall, was the 30, a successful IOR half-tonner introduced in 1977 that spawned nearly 1,000 sister ships.
Now Beneteau has created a brand-new First 30, a sexy craft dressed in flashy graphics that fairly screamed EXCITEMENT when unveiled at the Annapolis boat show in October 2010. To make sure the new 30’s DNA is up to date, the French builder sought technical input from two-time Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and handed the drafting pen to Juan Kouyoumdjian, currently the hottest designer on the Volvo 70 circuit.
The hull form and sailplan of the new First 30 are very contemporary and have “Juan K” written all over them. Maximum beam is well aft with outboard twin rudders on either end of a very wide transom. There is a pronounced chine running along the topsides just north of the waterline, plus a short fixed sprit on a plumb bow.
Looming over it all is a square-top mainsail the shape and dimensions of which are not constrained by any backstay or runners. The thin blade keel is vertical, with a very long torpedo bulb at the end.
Construction, on the other hand, is fairly conventional. The hull is solid glass set in polyester, and the injection-molded deck is balsa cored. The standard mast is aluminum, though a carbon rig is also available.
Overall the deck and cockpit layout is excellent. The sail controls are well laid out, and lines for the traveler are right at hand, as are the coarse and fine controls for the mainsheet.
I particularly liked the helm ergonomics. There are several different ways for the helmsman to get comfortable while maintaining both good sightlines forward and a good grip on the tiller. It is easy for the driver to stay clear of any crew working the main and jib sheets.
Because of its very open layout, the cockpit will also work well when the boat is in cruising mode. There is standing headroom under the boom, and with the traveler right aft, kids and guests should have lots of room to loll about while other folk work the boat.
Forward, there is a dedicated anchor well, while in the cockpit there is a dedicated liferaft locker to port. To starboard is an enormous hole of a locker that can easily swallow a small folded inflatable tender, a small outboard engine, sails, fenders and other gear.
The interior aesthetic is clean and elegant. In terms of functionality, it is canted more toward cruising than many modern racer-cruisers this size. The drop-leaf saloon table, for example, is substantial enough to be really useful when you’re staying aboard. It can be easily removed and left ashore when you’re racing.
The berths look generous at first glance, but come up a bit short once you climb into them. The settees aren’t quite long enough for a 6-footer to stretch out on, and the V-berth forward has a pinched foot. The double berth in the aft stateroom looks quite vast, but has a big chunk cut out of one shoulder, so that it may feel a bit tight when shared with others.
The galley is light and pleasant, but storage space is minimal, and there isn’t quite room for a full-size oven and range, just a pair of gimbaled burners. The nav station is also a bit vestigial. There’s enough room for a modest electronics array and a small chart to be laid out, but the flip-up plank seat does not inspire confidence.
The head, on the other hand, is perfect. There’s about six feet of standing headroom and enough room inside that you can suit up in foulies and get your face over the sink for a good scrub. The toilet faces forward, has excellent bracing to either side, and should be easy to use when the boat is heeled.
Access to the engine is comprehensive, in that you can reach all sides of it, but the installation is very tight. The intake strainer for the bilge pump is on a length of hose, so it can be positioned to leeward when the boat is heeled—a very smart feature that should be standard on any boat with flat bilges.
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I sailed the First 30 in 6 to 10 knots of breeze on Chesapeake Bay. The wide swept-back spreaders preclude setting a big genoa, but the mast is set well aft. The 105 percent jib is thus bigger than it seems and does help a bit to drive the boat in light air. Sailing close-hauled we saw speeds well over 5.5 knots. On a close reach with an A-sail up we topped 7.
We did less well off the wind. Even with the A-sail, conditions were too light for us to develop much speed sailing at wind angles below about 110 degrees. I also wonder how she’ll handle going to windward in strong conditions. Though the mast is aft, the mainsail is not small. The end of the boom hangs right over the transom and sheets to a fabulous traveler that spans the full width of the stern. Once the wind is up you’ll be vang-sheeting and working that traveler for sure and may need to reef before the anemometer hits 20. But with the long chine buried while heeling and the twin rudders to help control things, I don’t expect she’ll gripe much.
In the conditions we had, the helm was quite stable. With the twin rudders the boat tracks well enough that, even with the A-sail flying, I could let go the tiller without provoking an instant course change.
Because the twin rudders on the corners of the stern are nowhere near the sail drive leg on the boat’s centerline, you can’t use thrust from the engine to really push the stern around. However, thanks to the two rudders it is easy to back the boat down in a straight line.
Motoring ahead in calm conditions we made 7 knots running the engine at 3,000 rpm. Running at speed, the boat will turn inside a boatlength, twisting right around that bulb keel. Throw it hard into reverse, and it will stop on a dime.
This boat represents a great value for anyone looking for a fun, easy-to-sail IRC racer that can also be used for casual family daysailing and coastal cruising. Though the interior is a bit too tight for long-term cruising, it will work well enough for shorter trips.
• Great cockpit for racing & family cruising
• Easily handled rig
• Dual rudders and stable helm
• Excellent head layout
• Limited storage belowdecks
• Berths are a bit cramped
Headroom 6ft // berths 6ft 7in x 4ft 11in (fwd); 6ft 11in x 4ft 11in (aft)
LOA 31ft 2in // LWL 27ft 6in // Beam 10ft 6in
Draft 6ft 2in // Displacement 8,267lb
Ballast 2,403lb // Sail area 655ft2 (100%FT)
Fuel/Water/Waste (GAL) 8/42/17
Engine 20hp Yanmar diesel w/sail drive
Electrical 2 x 70AH
Designer Juan Kouyoumdjian
BUILDER Beneteau USA, Marion, SC,
PRICE $125,000 FOB Marion, SC (including sails and electronics)