It’s said you can’t buy happiness, but you certainly can purchase fun, which is exactly what Groupe Beneteau did this past July when it acquired Slovenian sailboat builder Seascape and its line of four sporty speed machines that range in size from 14 to 27 feet.
Rather than try to cram as many creature comforts and appliances as it could between bow and stern, Seascape’s approach was to keep its boats uniquely simple but amazingly versatile, as I was to find out one fine blue-sky day in Newport, Rhode Island, last September. But more on that in a minute. First, here’s the back story. Seascape was launched in 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis, by Kristian Hajnšek and Andraž Mihelin, sailors who had each waged a couple of Mini Transat 650 campaigns. They say it occurred to them at the time that it would be better to make money from sailing, rather than spend it on sailing.
So, while the rest of the planet was wringing its hands and counting spare change, the guys teamed up with Mini Transat designer Samuel Manuard and came up with a line of boats that share three things in common: light hulls, heavy centerboards and ambitious sail plans. And right out of the chute, they came out kicking. Their boats were a hit in Europe with racing sailors. Then, the Seascape 27 was named Best Crossover Boat of the Year for 2015 by our sister publication, Sailing World.a year later, the Seascape 18 was named Sailing World’s Best Recreational Racer. And the year after that, the same title was awarded to the Seascape 24. Clearly, the boys from Slovenia were on a roll.
As Sailing World editor Dave Reed put it in his write-up of the 24, “They’re clever, high-quality builds that sail well. Their unintimidating simplicity inspires adventures under sail.”
Adventures, yes, but let’s be clear. These are not “cruising” boats, which is why our Boat of the Year team had never stepped aboard one. Sure, the 27 has a head, and all the models but the 14-footer have at least a V-berth and minimalist cabin to get out of the weather, but that’s about it.
The French builder brought the 18-foot and 24-foot models, rebranded as Beneteau Firsts, to Newport and set up camp on the dock at Fort Adams a few days before the Newport International Boat Show opened. The roadshow also included the new Figaro 3 foiling raceboat and the Oceanis 46.1. The idea was to give its U.S. dealers and editors a look at what’s new.
Just after I arrived at the fort, three of us, including Kristian Hajnšek, set off on the Seascape, er, I mean, First 18, sailing alongside the 24, with four or five people aboard. Both boats were motorless (outboards are an option), so we hoisted the square-top main at the dock and back-winded the jib to get underway. Nearly as soon as we were clear of the fort, Kristian pulled out the bowsprit and set the spinnaker that was stored in a bag on the portside foredeck. In about 10 knots of breeze, we took off like a shot. There was more than enough room for the three of us in the 18’s wide cockpit, and sneaking a peek below, I was intrigued by the comfy-looking V-berth. As we jibed our way up toward the Newport Bridge, I daydreamed about a sporty ride to Cuttyhunk, then an overnight anchored in the marshy part of the harbor where big boats dare not tread.
Sadly, we were on a schedule, and far too soon, Kristian tugged on the retrieval line and pulled the chute back into its cage. Wow, that was easy!
I jumped on the tiller for the ride back upwind. Kristian strapped the jib in tight and played the vang and other control lines to power up or damp down the main as the breeze demanded. His small adjustments more than tamed the puffs. And the 24 couldn’t shake us.
Back at the dock, I joined Kristian’s mate Andraž, also now a Beneteau guy, on the 24. Sitting below, under the small raised cabin house, he showed me a table that can be set up in minutes, the boat’s simple electrical system and how seats slide out from under the cockpit should guests come for supper. They also widen the settee berths to turn them into proper bunks.
The boat was built for daysailing and one-design racing, but I couldn’t help but wonder if a demo model might be available sometime to go for a proper cruise. It would be fast, fun and, if your kit included a cooler and camp stove, totally doable. My only other question: When can we go?
Beneteau’s newly acquired Firsts — the 18’s in the foreground — may be Spartan, but they sure are a hoot t0 sail.