Three Beneteaus on test
Peter Poland documents the Océanis range by Beneteau – the charter cruiser that changed boatbuilding and the cruising market forever
Peter Poland compares three generations of Océanis cruisers
When Beneteau’s First 30 hit the scene in the 1970s, most boats were bought for private use. But as soon as flying to distant cruising areas became cheaper and easier, increasing numbers of these yachts were snapped up by the fast-expanding charter industry.
The relatively inexpensive Firsts helped change the image and appeal of chartering, which ceased to be the exclusive domain of the super-rich.
The Firsts’ good value, performance and spacious accommodation appealed to ordinary families who wanted to hire a yacht for their annual sailing holidays.
However both Beneteau and the charter operators soon twigged that there was more business to be done if they offered a less ‘sporty’ range of yachts that could provide even better and more spacious accommodation. After all, a family looking for a relaxing sailing holiday will be more interested in extra comfort and laid-back cruising than in frenetic crewing and flat-out speed.
And so the Océanis range burst onto the market. The 350 (designed by André Briand in the mid 1980s) led the charge.
As charter operators piled in to buy these boats, a new production facility was later set up in the USA to help cope with increasing demand. Beneteau and its clients – both private owners and commercial charter operators – had hit a seam of gold.
The1986 Briand-designed Océanis 430 (rebranded the Moorings 432 by the charter company) was the next top-seller. It was an ideal size for charterers and set the bar high with its three- or four-cabin layout, two heads compartments, excellent linear galley and comfortable U-shaped saloon settee with extra seating on a centreline bench.
And although Beneteau’s Océanis range has now been evolving for around 30 years, the original concept was so good it’s still hard to improve on the 430’s layout for family cruising.
Three models, three eras
Over the years I have sailed three different Océanis models from three different eras – the 440 from the 1990s, the 373 from the 2000s and the 48 from 2012. The differences described here show how the range has evolved.
OcŽanis 440/Moorings 445
My first Océanis experience was on a Bruce Farr-designed Moorings 445 – effectively an Océanis 440 – that was introduced in the early 1990s. My dentist, friend and serial Hunter-buying customer Tim Harrison chartered one and, along with a couple of Kiwi chums, I joined his family crew for a Caribbean adventure. Ever the keen racer, Tim aimed to join the One Design Moorings 445 Charter Class that formed part of Tobago Race Week. Then we planned to go cruising in the Windward Islands.
When we pitched up at the charter base on the island of Grenada, we couldn’t miss the large fleet of Moorings 445s. Like us, many were preparing to set off on the night passage to Tobago, heading out across an open expanse of what looked like lumpy and breezy ocean. But first we had to load our clobber and initial supplies into the ample stowage areas inside what was to be ‘home’ to six of us for two weeks.
At that time I was a British boatbuilder and had been fighting French competition for many years. So, somewhat cynically perhaps, I hoped to be unimpressed by a well-used Beneteau charter yacht. But this Moorings 445/Océanis 440 was sleek and attractive on the outside and welcoming on the inside. I had to admit that it looked good, even if the dark woodwork and white leatherette upholstery were not to everyone’s taste. Two weeks of hard sailing and comfortable living aboard proved these first impressions to be spot on.
The 445 comes in different formats with either single or twin aft double cabins. The former layout has a large U-shaped galley aft to starboard and a chart table amidships to port, while in the twin aft-cabin version the galley becomes ‘linear’ on the port side of the saloon and the forward-facing chart table moves aft and to starboard. Both versions have the same large double berth forecabin with en suite heads and shower. One or both of the aft cabins have heads compartments.
Being a charter yacht, our version was the twin aft-cabin version. The skipper and his wife took one of these and I spread myself out in the other; while the Kiwi husband and wife were given the luxurious forecabin. The skipper’s young son was consigned to a saloon settee.
We spent our first week racing in Tobago, then followed this with another week cruising up to Union Island and the exquisite Tobago Cays before trundling back down the leeward side of the Grenadines to Grenada. Our boat did everything we asked of it – in comfort and with ease.
The Océanis 440/Moorings 445 has the same elegant hull lines as the Bruce Farr-designed First 45f5, so performance and handling are sure to be good. A deep spade rudder gives excellent control and a relatively long fin keel with a winged torpedo at its base provides good directional stability, a ballast ratio of 31.7% and a DLR of 195.6. Compared to many later Océanis models the 440/445 has graceful overhangs, a relatively fine bow and a more moderate beam right aft.
Our first night’s sail across to Tobago in a stiff wind and lumpy swell showed the boat’s motion to be easy and moderate. Its progress in a seaway is appreciably less noisy than on newer models with their
This 1992 Océanis 440 is one of many originally built for The Moorings Caribbean charter fleet. She’s for sale at $89,000 on SailboatListings.com
Team Harrison near the front of the Tobago Regatta fleet of Moorings 445s. This powerful yacht was enjoyable to sail and comfortable to cruise