First look: Beneteau First 36 – Sam Manuard designed performer

The all new Beneteau First 36 represents something of a back-to-the-future moment for the French marque with IMOCA60 designer, Sam Manuard providing a sporty little performer.

This Sam Manuard design is arguably one of Beneteau’s most important new models for years. The company’s First range used to dominate the performance cruiser/racer market. These were fast, yet well mannered, boats that offered surprisingly civilised accommodation and the Beneteau First 36 is the first we have seen of this style boat from Beneteau in some years.

The past decade has seen the design of raceboats and cruisers diverging across the board and Beneteau focussed on the needs of cruisers who demanded ever more accommodation volume and home comforts.

Nevertheless smaller French yards, such as Pogo and RM Yachts, have demonstrated a latent demand for cruisers with a very high level of performance. Beneteau’s return to the 30-40ft sector with the first new First model in this size range for almost a decade and a half has therefore been welcomed by many.

The ‘Race’ model of the Beneteau First 36

However, this boat was not conceived in France – it was already being developed by Seascape when the Slovenian company partnered with Beneteau in 2018.

Sparkling performance?

Three key aims informed the development of the concept: sparkling all-round performance, accommodation to equal the extremely successful First 40.7, and a long production life.

At the same time, mass appeal was a key factor that informed the design. The priorities of both Beneteau and the Slovenian team are closely aligned in this respect. “We try to change the mainstream of sailing,” Seascape founder Andraz Mihelin told me. “We don’t want to just serve niche sailing enthusiasts and with this boat we want to set the bar higher for everyone.”

Taking performance first, the boat is intended as a fast cruiser and club racer, so all-round ability is important. “That means the boat has to be quick on (upwind and running) VMG courses, otherwise you suffer in 50 per cent of the time,” Mihelin says.

Yet early planing is still a key part of the attraction – the Beneteau First 36 is designed to achieve 10 knots of boat speed in only 12-13 knots of true wind. To achieve this it’s essential to keep displacement within the designer’s figures. Yet legions of boat builders in the past have failed to achieve this, with the result that plenty of promising designs have failed to deliver.

How can we be sure this boat will not meet the same fate? “The difference lies in how well the boat is engineered and built,” says Mihelin. “We’ve put 70 per cent of our effort into that quarter – the stuff that you never see because it’s hidden.”

Pure Design and Engineering, the New Zealand company headed by legendary structural engineer Giovanni Belgrano, was tasked with this aspect of the project. Mihelin says having confidence in precise specifications and scantlings for every element of the build has been key to keeping weight to a minimum, while ensuring strength and stiffness are not compromised.

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