London boatshow. We are sitting in a guinness pub. We are discussing two boats – the Beneteau First 45, designed by Philip Bryand and the Elan 450 by Rob Humphrey. Often remembered in the same vein, at first glance they are in many ways similar and both have a sporting disposition, both are excellent maneuvers, and both boats have a practical and comfortable interior.
But if we dig a little deeper, we will see that these boats have a lot of differences. The manufacturers of both insist that these boats are not classmates, and I agree with them for one simple reason – where Beneteau presents a modern design that will not attract too many looks, the design from Elan borders on revolutionary.
If you look closely at each shipyard, it is clear that there can be no surprises here. For Beneteau, as the largest player in this market, it is important for her to retain the existing clientele, finding a delicate balance between tradition and innovation, on the other hand Elan is a relatively small shipyard run by young enthusiasts who want to create an image of their company as being on the cutting edge by bold design.
But a bold design comes with a lot of risk, and therefore I had a great desire to test Elan. The wide aft coupled with two steering wheels has worked well on VOR70 racing yachts, but is it necessary on a speed cruiser?
BENETEAU FIRST 45
At first glance, it is clear that the First 45 is a very beautiful yacht. Her appearance is very similar to the First 50, Beneteau’s flagship sports cruise yacht, launched in 2006. The design of the boat is very good thanks to the licked deckhouse roof and eyelashes above the oblong windows. The similarities don’t end there – Philippe Starck’s superb minimalist interior styling featured on the First 50 also found its way onto this yacht.
Beneteau, however, sharply declares that the First 45 is significantly different from the cruising First 50 and the purely sporty First 34.7. The First 50 is a 100% cruising yacht and the First 34.7 is a pure sports car. The First 45, in turn, is a compromise – a fast cruiser. At the same time, lovers of racing will find their zest in this yacht.
More than before, Beneteau has optimized the hull shape to provide more waterline when heeling. This trend started with the successful and long-awaited First 40.7.
We started sailing in fairly calm conditions with winds ranging from 9 to 12 knots, later the wind speed dropped to 7 knots. The boat in such conditions gave half the wind speed on a sharp sidewind, showing sensitivity to the location of the boat of the staysail-sheaths – rather small changes in its position added us a speed of half a knot. In full beid the boat added 1 knot, and on the backstay the yacht’s speed was equal to the wind speed.
I noticed that the steering wheel of the boat is clear and sensitive enough without free play. The position of the helm itself in the cockpit is excellent, with comfortable deck seating and visibility from all positions, especially when seated. An additional removable beam on the transom was unsuitable for seating, as the guard rails passed directly above it. In my opinion, without this beam, the yacht looked better and sportier.
When lifting the asymmetric spinnaker, the yacht immediately added in speed – 6 knots at 85 degrees and the wind was dying down. On full backstay, the speed slowed down to 4.5 knots, and then 3.5 knots with a wind speed of 5 knots.
On the engine, the boat runs easily 6.5 knots and has excellent sound insulation. When maneuvering in the marina, the yacht handled well with little effort on the steering wheel. Turning radius – hull length!
Despite cruising claims, the deck of the boat is designed for team work. Large staysail winches are installed in the cockpit. On the roof of the cabin there are halyard winches and stoppers. Beneteau continues its tradition of recessed halyards into an open channel on deck, visually clearing the deck. We also find it practical with regard to the cleanliness of the running rigging. This is a key point in the cockpit roof design that enhances the feeling of the yacht’s length along with the longitudinal lines of the windows and portholes.
For the rest of the team, the cockpit offers comfortable banks. There are also lockers in the cockpit under the banks, and two smaller lockers behind the steering wheels. In the center of the cockpit between the helms there is a liferaft locker – a great place! The handrails are integrated into the deckhouse roof, the cables are attached to the deck in convenient locations, which allows working with a wide range of genoa. The yacht’s tank is spacious and comfortable to work with.
Ultra modern feel
The interior of the First 45 is minimalistic. Good natural and artificial lighting, light wood tones, excellent workmanship, steel and leather combined with skillfully chosen angles all provide an ultra modern feel to the cabin.
A few subtle details in the cabin highlight the amount of effort put into the interior design. For example, the conventional bottle compartment has been redesigned into a simple steel frame under a wooden grate in the center of the table – an old idea with a new solution. But in my opinion, one of the best solutions is the double use of the navigator’s chair – it is swivel and can turn towards the guests.
The salon is conventionally divided into two parts. The central element of the cabin is the navigational seat, which is located on the port side. The table top of the chart table is finished in excellent quality brown leatherette, the same as the seat. The dashboard is located above the chart table and there is also a place for tools.
The saloon table is located on the port side and looks like an exquisite rectangle with two oppositely cut corners. The handrails have been removed from the corner of the table, and in their place is a sofa that wraps around the table. Two large steel stools sit on the starboard side of the table and are screwed to the floor while driving.
There is a three-seater wide sofa at the starboard side. Between the sofa and the main part of the galley, the salon is equipped with two refrigerators, one of which is large with side loading and a small freezer with top loading. Under the floorboards, there are lockers made of square panels of dark wood.
The Beneteau galley makes perfect use of the space freed up by moving the refrigerators to the bow of the boat to create a single space in the galley. Fine!.
There is a latrine opposite the porthole. Everything fits well inside. Convenient drawer under the sink with snap-on shelves. The ceiling in the toilet is high enough, although there is not much space.
The aft cabins are mostly similar, dominated by leatherette wardrobes in the same color as the chart table and its seat. This is a good idea, the light weight is also a plus, but unfortunately it looks a little shapeless in our opinion compared to the rest of the interior. Water and fuel tanks are located under each of the beds.
The bow cabin is much more comfortable and intended for use by the yacht owner. In the center of the bow cabin there is a double bed with steps on either side. In general, the cabin looks very spacious, largely thanks to good lighting – this is done by two portholes in the hull and one hatch to the deck.
Wardrobes and shelves are located on both sides of the bed, a wardrobe is located opposite it from the stern. The latrine in the master cabin is similar to the latrine in the saloon, but here it is larger and there is a shower stall inside.