Multiple personalities might not sound like fun during a family holiday dinner, but in the case of the new Beneteau Oceanis 38—winner of the 2014 European Yacht of the Year Award for family cruisers—more is better. The model, which comes in three distinct versions, is the baby of the Oceanis line and the builder is touting its ability to grow as your family cruising needs change.
Like the rest of the Oceanis designs, the 38 is all angles, with a nearly plumb bow and a slightly reverse transom. She’s beamy too, with a wide stern that creates a nice cockpit but also necessitates twin rudders to dig in at various angles of heel. Some heeling will be negated by the hard chine that runs from amidships aft.
Beneteau offers this model in three flavors, called the Daysailer, Weekender and Cruiser. Most of the differences are in the interior but there are also some variables on deck. The exterior of this boat is all business. Twin helms open up the cockpit and there’s plenty of room to lounge or accommodate a working crew on race day. The Weekender and Cruiser versions offer a standard cockpit arch that provides end-boom sheeting. They also add an optional drop-leaf table that will help with entertaining a crowd in the cockpit for sundowners.
Beneteau’s signature transom drops down (manually in this case) to extend into a formidable swim platform that adds to the deck space. The side decks are wide and easy to maneuver, and there are plenty of good handholds as you work your way from one end to the other.
The cabin-top is low, belying the 6’ 5” headroom inside. You’d never guess at the cabin’s volume from her sleekness above. Unfortunately, the lifelines are low, too – just about the right height to catch a pair of shorts and make fast movement along the deck a little too exciting.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for me, the aggressive look of the contemporary hulls has just as much appeal as the beautiful lines of classic cruisers. The 38 flows nicely and looks surprisingly larger than her length suggests.
The layout basics include a choice of two or three cabins and one head. The Daysailer (which is the least expensive version, starting at about $140,000) has only a sink in the “galley” thereby putting the emphasis on the large open seating area. The other two models add galley modules like an optional stove with an oven, a microwave and a stowage cabinet.
With two cabins, the extra space aft of the head to starboard is used as a stand-up shower. It’s an enormous room that will serve as a good wet locker or even a sail stowage area for day-racers. With three cabins, this part of the boat becomes the entry to the starboard aft cabin and the shower moves to a smaller compartment to port.
The star attraction on this design is the removable forward bulkhead that separates the master stateroom from the saloon. Without that bulkhead, the boat really opens up and makes a statement. For a couple with occasional guests, this will be the way to go. Beneteau suggests that couple adds kids to their family, privacy and separation are achieved with the addition of this bulkhead—which can be installed by the boater him or herself—hence allowing the boat to “grow” with the family.
Each of the three basic layouts may be additionally modified and fine-tuned with various cabinet modules. The vast array of options makes the initial three-choice proposal a bit confusing, but it does offer further personalization, which is rare on production boats.
Another interesting touch down below is how you stow items for a cruise. Benetau partnered with luggage designer Longchamp to develop what they call the “rolling locker.” A custom roller bag lets you pack at home and transport your kit to the boat. It then hangs from two handles on either side of the V-berth. In this way, Beneteau replaces built-in lockers, thereby retaining open space and minimizing the overall weight of construction.
The 9/10s fractional rig supports double aft-swept spreaders and a total sail area of 784 square feet, that splits between the 103% genoa and a traditional mainsail. The deck-stepped mast has been moved aft and is centered over the keel, which creates a slightly larger genoa to provide more power.
I’d like to say we put this boat through its paces but the truth is that we had a sputtering breeze on test day. We raised the main, unfurled the jib and glided along the Chesapeake in conditions that make powerboaters smug. But light winds are the conditions that separate good sailors from bad, not only in tactics, but also in patience. We hunted for wind for a while and finally, a seven-knot puff pushed us at 3.9 knots at 45 degrees apparent wind angle. With 15,000 pounds of displacement, it really doesn’t take much to move this nimble vessel. Having sailed the Oceanis 48, which has a similar hull shape, I know that when it gets windier the energy that would go into heeling transforms into forward momentum. It’s noticeable when these boats heel slightly, sit on that hard chine, find their groove and accelerate.
The Oceanis 38 responded without hesitation despite our challenging wind conditions. The big jib tacked through easily and the fully battened mainsail powered up effortlessly. An asymmetrical spinnaker is an option and will add a nice dimension to a good reach. It will be easy to single-hand this boat so there will be no need to recruit friends to go sailing for the day or the weekend.
With the thin fin keel and twin rudders the boat is a joy to drive, and it even backs in a straight line—always challenging, for a sailboat. Auxiliary power is provided by a 30 hp Yanmar with Sail Drive and will push the boat at seven knots at 2700 rpm. The Dock & Go package upgrades the power package to a 40 hp engine, swiveling drive, joystick and bow thruster. It’s a $30,000 upgrade that really doesn’t seem to be needed.
|Draft||5’3″ shoal, 6’9″ deep|
|Sail Area||748 sq. ft. main and 103% Genoa|
|Fuel capacity||34 gal.|
|Water capacity||34 gal.|
The model has been selling like hotcakes since its U.S. introduction at the Annapolis boat show in 2013. Beneteau has barely been able to keep up with demand since. It’s not clear which is the biggest draw; the versatility of the layout, the ease of handling under power and sail, or that it feels like a much larger boat below due its openness. I expect the market to eventually decide which configuration will be most popular, and whether the concept has legs enough to be rolled out to other, potentially larger, models. In the meantime, kudos to Beneteau for taking a risk and trying something different. It turns out that multiple personalities can be a good thing.