Luxury performance-cruising isn’t entirely new. You can go fast and still be comfortable. You can even race if you make the right tradeoffs—or so says Beneteau, which recently launched its First Yacht 53, in the process also reinventing the company’s “First” brand.
Design & Construction
Beneteau took the creation of this new boat seriously, staging a design competition between a number of different companies before choosing Roberto Biscontini as its naval architect and Lorenzo Argento for styling. Biscontini’s America’s Cup experience resulted in a balanced hull form, with a carefully positioned center of buoyancy, minimalist lines, a plumb bow, vertical transom, low coachroof, open stern and max beam carried well aft in the interest of sail-carrying ability off-the-wind.
Forward, the boat is equipped with a fixed composite sprit. Aft, there are twin rudders to ensure the boat stays under control at all angles of heel—a vital consideration aboard any boat with a beamy back end. Chainplates are positioned outboard, and the hull is cored with balsa. Displacement is just 34,000lb light ship. Infused construction, reduced tankage, light furniture and Dyneema lifelines all serve as further testament to Beneteau’s weight-saving efforts.
The hull includes fiberglass stringers fixed to an aluminum substructure to maximize the boat’s overall rigidity and help tame keel and rig loads. Three choices of keel are available: a shoal-draft version drawing 6ft 3in; a standard fin drawing 8ft 2in; and a deep-draft performance keel drawing 9ft 10in. The latter was affixed to our test boat, hull #3, the first example of the new 53-footer to arrive in the United States.
The deck-stepped, triple-spreader Lorima aluminum mast towers 85ft over the water. A “performance” carbon spar is also available, providing an even greater air draft of 88ft. In either case, the genoa furler is located belowdecks, the tracks are recessed and all hatches are flush. The standard sailplan spreads a massive 1,785ft of canvas between the 105-percent genoa and main, both of which are managed via a battery of Harken Performa electric winches. The performance rig carries just over 1,800ft of working sail.
Three different booms are available: standard, a LeisureFurl spar with in-boom furling and a wide V-boom that helps contain the large mainsail in the standard configuration. A split mainsail track allows the cars to alternate when stacking, cutting the height of the flaked luff in half when the standard main is down.
Headsail sheeting angles are nice and tight, with tracks to either side of the mast on the cabintrunk, and with the composite sprit, you can easily hoist a Code 0 or full spinnaker when sailing off the wind. Additional sail shape could be coaxed out of the North NPL laminate sails aboard our test boat using its hydraulic vang and backstay.
Twin angled binnacles mount a pair of sleek carbon wheels and slim dashboards, each equipped with a 12in B&G multifunction display. Engine controls are conveniently located at the top of each binnacle, rather than at knee level, in the interest of easier docking and maneuvering. The wide transom provides plenty of room for the crew when it comes time to work the sails. A set of B&G 20/20 instrument displays is also mounted up on the mast, where they are clearly visible from the helms.
The social part of the cockpit is located ahead of the wheels and out of the way of the working crew. Instead of a single cockpit table on centerline, there are a pair of smaller tables to either side, creating a motorboat-like uninterrupted pathway to the companionway. Thanks to the lowslung cabinhouse, the deck feels like it goes on forever and visibility from the twin helms is exceptional.
A dinghy garage is tucked in aft end behind an electrically-operated drop-down swim-step. It will hold an 8ft inflated RIB or a 9ft deflated one (although serious racers will likely leave any kind of tender at home in the interest of saving weight). Overall, the boat exudes an exceptional combination of power and elegance. With its dark-blue topsides, our test boat, in particular, was absolutely gorgeous.
Each First Yacht 53 is built on a semi-custom basis, which means you can personalize much of the interior with things like a Dometic bottle fridge, dishwasher or generator. You can also tinker with the furniture and nav station. Bear in mind, though, that the more equipment you add, the more weight you’ll have to haul around the racecourse.
In its standard iteration, the layout includes three cabins and two heads, with the master suite in the bow. Beneteau is also happy to work with potential owners to add things like a crew cabin forward for a professional captain. Of course, in the United States, at least, it’s likely owners won’t want crew, because where’s the fun in owning a boat like this only to have someone else do the sailing?
Belowdecks, an open-concept saloon breaks out into a formal dinette to port and a lounge to starboard. The U-shaped galley offers good bracing for cooking offshore. A two-burner stove, single sink, top-loading freezer and stand-up refrigerator provide all you could ever want for feeding either a race crew or your family. In the master stateroom forward, you’ll find a large island berth, a split head and shower arrangement, an impressive amount of stowage space and plenty of ambient light coming in from the hatches overhead and hull windows to either side.
The overall look is both elegant and minimalist. Suffice it to say, unless you’re racing (in which case all bets are off!), you’ll never have to worry about feeling like you’re roughing it aboard the Beneteau First Yacht 53.
It seems it’s always the performance boats that get skunked on test day, and we only had the lightest of breezes with an occasional gust to 10 knots. That said, at a 55-degree apparent wind angle (AWA) in 8.7 knots of true wind, we still slipped along at a healthy 6.5 knots. We were also able to carry a good 5.5 knots of boatspeed up to an AWA of 35 degrees, so we know the First 53 can point.
As the true breeze dropped below 6 knots and we fell off to a beam reach, we kept up a boatspeed of 3 knots with just our working sails up—not bad for a sunset cruise with friends or for making knots in the heat of competiton chasing catspaws. Although we didn’t have the conditions to test it, the boat’s generous beam and deep keel, coupled with those twin rudders aft, are bound to keep her on her feet and under control in the rough stuff as well.
Our test boat was fitted with an upgraded 110hp turbo diesel, with a straight shaft and Flexofold folding propeller. (Standard propulsion is a Yanmar 80 with saildrive.) We also had a retractable Sidepower bow thruster to help in getting in and out of narrow fairways and tight slips. The boat managed an impressive 9.6 knots at 3,400 rpm and wide-open throttle. A more economical cruise speed can be found at 8.7 knots and 2,200 rpm, at which setting the 53 burns about 1.5 gallons per hour.
The new Beneteau First Yacht 53 offers a swanky approach to racing that will also seduce you with its creature comforts. Apparently, Beneteau was interested in making a real statement as it begins working to refresh its First line, and the new 53-footer certainly seemed to catch the attention of attendees at the Annapolis sailboat show last fall. At $1.1 million as tested, this luxury speedster should be on the shortlist of any performance-oriented sailor looking to bring a little hedonism to their racing.
LOA 56ft 4in LWL 50ft 6in Beam 16ft 5in
Draft 6ft 3in (shoal); 8ft 2in (std.); 9ft10in (performance)
Displacement 34,162lb (light ship)
Ballast 9,918lb (std.)
Sail Area 1,785ft (std.)
Fuel/Water (GAL) 106/190
Engine Yanmar 80hp w/saildrive (std.)
SA/D Ratio 27 D/L Ratio 118 Ballast Ratio 29
What do these ratios mean? Visit sailmagazine.com/ratios
Designer Biscontini Yacht Design
Builder Beneteau, St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, France
U.S. Distributor Beneteau America, Annapolis, MD, beneteau.com/us