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Beneteau First 36.7: Barry Tranter test drives the new Beneteau First 36.7, and discovers that Australia's amateur racers will get the most value out of this boat. (Boat Test).

"AUSTRALIA IS THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD FOR top-level amateur sailors," says Beneteau Vicsail's Christophe Vanek.

This sweeping statement sounds to me like a good quote, and one I should elaborate on. After all, Aussies aren't averse to a bit of praise. So I asked Vanek why he thinks so.

"We sail here all year round," he adds. "We do twilights on Wednesdays, we race with the club on Saturdays, we race on winter Sundays. Europeans can't do that." Neither, I suppose, can east-coast Americans.

The subject arose because I asked Vanek who would buy the new Beneteau First 36.7. Buyers will come, he says, from the strong core of skilled amateurs who want to race at (or near) the top level, but for whom cutting-edge IMS is out of the question. Vanek says that the Whiston brothers, who had great success with their First 40.7s, set the precedent. "They did not have a lot of experience and bought a performance boat. But they decided to go grand-prix racing, got a few good guys aboard, and had big success at club level," he says.

Certainly the 40.7 broke the ice. When it first went on sale here, grand-prix crews were, to put it politely, a bit sceptical that a low-tech boat could mix with the carbon techno-rockets at the front of the fleet. The Whistons silenced the critics, and the 40.7 continues to do well--Shipping Central won IMS Division B in the latest Hobart and was fourth overall, and le Billet won the small IMS division of this year's Coffs Harbour Race.

The First 36.7 is a product of the same formula, a Bruce Farr design, built by Beneteau from conventional materials. The hull is fibreglass; solid, with no fancy cores. The deck is balsa-cored glass, and the hull is reinforced by a moulded internal fibreglass grid bonded to the skin.

The rig is simple -- twin spreaders, slightly raked, with discontinuous shrouds supporting a keel-stepped mast made of old-fashioned aluminium, The boom and spinnaker pole are also alloy The keel, too, is conservative -- a modestly raked lead fin with a flared bottom. There is no skimping on deck gear, which is a good-quality mix that includes Lewmar and Harken. And there are good touches around the boat, such as the 4:1 tackle that controls jib-car position.

The trick to building these boats, says Vanek, is the co-operation between designer and builder on the interior design. They must keep the weight down and out of the ends, and decide where to position big-mass items such as fuel and water tanks for best performance. This, he says, is where Bruce Farr earns his (substantial) fee.

The 36.7 has three double-berth cabins -- two in the stern and one in the bow. There's only one head, set forward, with access from the saloon. The trim is classically simple; timber with a moulded headliner. The table is on the centreline and is removable for racing, exposing a stainless handrail that also locates spare sails and gear. As on the 40.7, the cockpit lockers are removable so you can leave ashore superfluous gear and open up the cockpit for working the primaries.

Beneteau Vicsail will campaign this boat, with Peugeot sponsorship, for nine months.

Soling Olympian Neville Wittey is on board today, as is Vanek (who came to Fremantle in 1987 with the French America's Cup crew, and stayed). Ullman Sails' Bruce Hollis is here to see his new sails in action. The other two crew are Beneteau guys who seem to know the sharp end from the blunt, I am there to take pictures and stay out of the way.

We set off into a 22-knot nor'easter, with full main and a No 3. In the gusts of around 25 knots, the keel root trailed a small wake. The crew dial in a bit of twist and the boat sits flat and goes faster. Popular opinion is that we are doing in the high sixes upwind -- there are no instruments yet. Farr's diagram predicts that she should do 6.8 in 20 knots.

"The secret to sailing these boats is not to have it too tight," says Wittey later. "Not to have what too tight?" I ask. Anything," he answers.

Downwind, onboard opinion says that she jumps up and planes earlier than the 40.7. In the gusts she lifts her nose and accelerates instantly. We figure we've got 10 to 12 knots. Outright top speed, according to Farr, should be 16 to 18.

Wittey is everywhere. He reckons that the only immediate change will be to slacken the lowers to get a bit more prebend.

Vanek wants to add a foot brace for the helmsman. To me it feels okay when you're alongside the wheel, but not entirely comfortable a short distance back, where most people steer. I had a steer upwind, and, with the breeze moving constantly through about 30 degrees. I used a lot of wheel to keep up. This was largely because of lack of skill, but back on the dock I read a testimonial from a new US owner who opted for a higher steering ratio, so it may be worth discussing. He also thought foot supports for the helmsman should be added, but these were his only modifications.

In a steady breeze upwind, with the traveller eased, the boat steered itself. The steering system is light to operate, and the traveller can be heaved up by one hand.

Back on the dock I went off to put the camera under a tap to rinse off some of the salt, and the crew took on two extra bodies for the boat's first race, the midweek twilight. Even though they got the gun, Vanek says: "Twilights are bullsheet." Meaning a win is no indicator of performance -- but he is happy to beat a fleet that included a Farr 50 and some old-style Farr 40s. A new boat has to start somewhere.

Sailing World magazine named the Beneteau First 36.7 '2002 Boat of the Year for Best Value', the judges basing their decision on "incomparable value, impeccable design, sailing performance and comfort".

LOA 10.98m
Hull length 10.68m
LWL 9.23m
Bmax 3.45m
Draught Standard 2.20m
 Optional 1.80m
Displacement (light) approx 5,700kg
Ballast (std) approx 1,785kg
Water 300 litres
Fuel 75 litres
Engine 30hp Volvo salidrive
Price $272,000 (without
 sails, but including Sports
 Pack and wheel steering)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Tranter, Barry
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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Next Article:Farr 52 One Design. (Boat Test).

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