Yacht builders have started a battle for the small IRC-optimized, high-end, low-cost racing boat market for regattas. The most recent of these is Beneteau First 34.7, which Mr. Geoff Middleton has bet on by presenting her at Port Phillip Bay.
With a significant number of small, high quality and rival racing yachts, it seems that size and weight are very important to many owners. This is not surprising given the scarcity of parking spaces in many marinas such as Sydney and Melbourne and around the world. For a smaller yacht, it is easier to find a berth and, just as important, it is easier to navigate.
The major manufacturers see this and are making serious efforts to achieve these qualities in the production of competitive small racing yachts. In this sense, suitable yachts are made by shipyards – Bavaria, X-Yachts, our local Sydney Yachts, and now Beneteau. All of these companies can offer buyers a large number of yachts in the 35 feet area. In Europe, the fleet of these small yachts not only thrives on the IRC, but also makes up entire fleets.
The reasons for such an onslaught of small yachts lie not so much in size as in convenience. Rather than trying to find the 10 or 12 crew members needed to operate the boat in racing mode, smaller yachts only need four to five sailors on board. An added bonus of small racing yachts is that they can be easily operated by a couple on family cruises and while they are excellent racing facilities, they also offer a comfortable weekend experience.
Beneteau’s youngest player in this field is First 34.7. This is the first truly powerful Beneteau racing boat since the First 40.7 and it is understandable that we really wanted to test it under sail.
I first saw the First 34.7 when it was handed over to our yacht racing club. The boat was standing high on a keel-block – with a long, thin false keel with a lead bulb, counting on a draft of two meters.
The hull is designed by Farr Yacht Design and has beautiful bows, smooth underwater lines and a flat stern that promises a good surf. The slender keel, cast in steel with a lead bulb, is also designed by Farr Yacht Design.
Farr was commissioned by Beneteau to develop a true IRC optimized boat with a new and modern design that would be well received by the market. Farr have not made a real IRC boat before, as they focused on the Volvo regatta and America’s Cup boats. The Farr Design Bureau reviewed Beneteau’s requirements and came up with what they found to be the most winning combination.
Standard equipment – carbon mast with two rows of spreaders 15 meters high with carbon bowsprit. The mast can be ordered in aluminum, but does it make sense? After all, a carbon mast is everything you could dream of and more. Plus, it’s easier to negotiate with insurance companies when it comes to carbon fiber.
Total windage – 70.3 sq. M. with a grotto 35.3 sq.m. and 140% genoa – 35 sq.m. The area of a standard spinnaker is 91 sq.m. All this is brought to life in a powerful and surprisingly fast boat that is easy to handle.
Deck First 34.7
Walking along the side, I immediately noticed the large size of the cockpit. There were five of us on board doing a test drive, and we didn’t bump into each other. There is enough space for the helmsman in the cockpit behind the large (1.6 m in diameter) leather-covered steering wheel, which is located behind the shoulder of the boom sheet.
Beneteau has carefully provided the helmsman’s footrests, and it is convenient to steer the yacht from any side.
The instrument panel for the Yanmar 3YM20 engine is located on the starboard side and includes a tachometer, alarms, and a fuel level sensor. This panel is protected by plexiglass glass and is well protected from accidental sea spray. The engine is controlled by a removable Spinlock stick located on the starboard coaming.
Behind the helmsman, or actually underneath, is a wide locker for a liferaft if you are close to shore, or for storing life-saving appliances and other items if not.
In front of the steering wheel there is a boom-sheet with a shoulder strap, behind the steering wheel there is an adjustable backstay – everything is accessible from any side. All practical things and equipment are racing Harken. At first glance, the boom sheet looks a little thin for wet hands, and David told me that they would probably tuck it in for the heavier weather. Standard staysail-sheet winches – Harken 40 and two 32s on the roof of the wheelhouse. All running rigging is routed into the cockpit to two four-row Spinlocks, so you have nothing to do at the mast. Shoulder straps and runners for sheets – again Harken with wider shoulder straps for jib sheets and smaller ones for the mainsail. The carriage of the staysail-sheet shoulder strap is also adjustable from the cockpit. The bowsprit also extends out of the cockpit – one movement is enough and the bowsprit will move out or slide into place.
The boat is very easy to navigate, the deck aisles are quite wide for a boat of this size, and I noted the excellent non-slip finish on all surfaces.
The sleek teak bulwark is a very useful addition.
Below deck First 34.7
At first glance, I thought the First 34.7 was very light, but this boat was designed as a racing boat, and amenities come second. This suggests that this yacht has enough equipment for coastal races, and even for short cruises in between races.
Beneteau owners will of course note the unconventional layout of the First 34.7. The layout provides for a double aft cabin on the starboard side and, what is really important, a large aft room on the port side. In the saloon, the centerpiece is a through mast mounted on the keel, as well as two side sofas, which I found wide enough to lie on. In fact, First 34.7 will be comfortable for three and four.
The galley has a two-burner hob with grill, a stainless steel sink with hot and cold water, a refrigerator and a locker.
Opening windows provide good ventilation. Two on the port side to remove cooking fumes and odors and provide ventilation to the aft room. On the starboard side there are two opening windows, slightly extended forward for ventilation of the cabin.
The aft cabin also has a porthole opening into the cockpit.
The starboard card table is wide with ample space for screens and equipment. White and red lights are handy for night crossings, all electrical switches are easy to use. I found that the seat has some lateral support, which is comfortable when rolling.
On the bow in front is a latrine with a marine toilet, a sink, a dressing table and a comfortable locker.
The Yanmar 3YM20 diesel is located under the entrance ramp and the steps must be completely removed to reach it. It is well located for maintenance. There is also a sliding hatch in the aft cabin for access to the engine room.
Despite only 20 horsepower, the Yanmar is ample and allows the Beneteau to travel at around 6.5 knots thanks to its light weight and superior hull design.
So let’s get started
We climbed aboard and Dave told me to take the helm and turn in astern. “Watch the wheel,” he said, “it works half a turn.” He was right. The steering wheel is incredibly responsive and, in fact, it takes very few revolutions to completely change from port to starboard tack. The boat is maneuverable, you will not have problems with anchoring.
We set the mainsail and jib # 1 in a wind of about 10 knots, and our little Beneteau immediately found the right angle and set off at 6.5 knots. Ross Lloyd of North Sails was here to check his sails, and as we headed out to hauled he was just as impressed with the boat as we are.
After a quick turn to a new tack, we mined staysail No. 1 and raised staysail No. 3, which proved that the boat speed under it would not be slower with wind speeds of about 17 knots. With staysail # 1 we adjusted the carriage on the pursuit and adjusted the backstay to help the helmsman a little on the helm, but with jib # 3 we could actually relax.
We jerked onto a new tack with a sharp dash at the helm and I noticed a delightful wake angle aft. I thought that with a good crew this boat would be a demon in a tack duel.
I looked at the bow – there was just a bowsprit and a big red spinnaker took off. First 34.7 picked up the skirts and we rushed. The boat is not loaded and Dave asked me to be more careful. On the backstay under a spinnaker in a light breeze, we did about 7.5-8 knots. Perfectly!
The controls are easy and the boat is amazingly docile. We didn’t care too much about the weight of the crew, and I guess we didn’t need a stronger wind. It is a really light boat, but it will probably go faster than a flatter boat. I admit I’m a little addicted to small, easy-to-navigate yachts and small crew races – the Beneteau First 34.7 meets all of these criteria. This is a cute little boat that is impressive nonetheless. On this day in the bay, little Beneteau brought smiles to everyone around them – even Rosa Lloyd, who is usually very serious about his work.
As an IRC racer, I rate the boat well. As a cruise yacht, I rate it well too. I am sure many buyers will find a place for this boat in the yacht clubs in Australia.
Meanwhile, I walked out with Hamilton Island Race Week and had my eye on the new Beneteau First 34.7 “Brilliant” going to the IRC cruise category.
The speed, lightness of this yacht suits everything from cruise sunrises to IRC regattas.
Good price for a racing keel boat
Quality execution and excellent deck equipment
Very obedient in management
Good carbon mast
Lightweight interior can suffer in harsh ocean conditions
It is necessary to reef in advance – the boat is very light
Not too many amenities for long ocean races
The locker is not too big