In the 1990s production cruising yachts got fatter and faster so Beneteau quickly joined the trend by relaunching its popular Oceanis range. Duncan Kent takes the Oceanis 351 out for a spin
In the 1990s production cruising yachts got fatter and faster so Beneteau quickly joined the trend by relaunching its popular Oceanis range. Duncan Kent takes the Oceanis 351 out for a spin
The Beneteau Oceanis 351 was considered particularly beamy at the time of its launch, which allowed for roomy cabins with wide berths and a truly spacious saloon and galley – something that significantly increased interest in its yachts at boat shows.
Two or three cabin layouts were available, the latter having a slightly smaller head, but the dinette was standard on both models.
Owing to the generous accommodation, the Beneteau Oceanis 351 quickly became popular with charter companies, so many on the market will be ex-charter.
Thanks to high construction standards they have survived well, but a full survey is recommended.
Design and construction of the Beneteau Oceanis 351
In addition to a spacious and luxurious interior, designer Jean Berret was asked to create a yacht that could outperform other production cruisers at the time.
The result was a few innovative aspects, such as her winged keel, a shallow bilge, slippery underwater sections and a lengthy waterline.
Though her sail area displacement ratio is quite low, her low-drag hull design means she needs only a gentle breeze to get her moving, and her shallow hull section aft makes for swift and exciting downwind sailing.
Her standard, conservative masthead rig is easy to handle, relying heavily on the large genoa for her power to windward.
Stability is created more by her wide form than by ballast, which is fine in normal conditions but does reduce her righting moment should she ever get knocked down.
The 351’s maximum beam is carried almost all the way to the transom, significantly increasing the accommodation space.
The linear galley and dinette-style saloon works well at anchor but isn’t user-friendly at sea.
The galley has generous work surface and stowage, and the worktop area is well fiddled.
There is a large cool box/fridge, and a full-size gimballed cooker with grill and oven, protected by a stainless-steel crash-bar.
Twin sinks have hot and cold pressurised water.
The linear arrangement isn’t ideal for cooking under sail, where an L-, or U-shaped galley allows the cook to be strapped in and still reach everything just by turning their upper body rather than walking.
The way forward is also blocked when the cook is at work.
At anchor or in a marina the dinette seating works well for four to six.
The curved seat and oval table mean creating a further double berth, or even a single sea berth, would be difficult.
The joinery is of a high standard and gives a cosy feel.
Stowage is plentiful in, around and under the settees, but there are no lockers above apart from a bottle store.
The hot water calorifier is housed in the aft end of the settee.
Headroom is excellent, with 1.90m/6ft 3in in the saloon, 1.88m/6ft 2in in the aft cabins and 1.83m/6ft forward.
Ample light and air are provided by numerous opening portlights and hatches, although these will usually need new seals by now. In the 3-cabin model the two aft cabins are spacious and feature comfortable 2.0m L x 1.5m W (6ft 6in x 4ft 11in) berths.
Both cabins have enough floor space for dressing, generous stowage, and three opening hatches and a large portlight.
There is some stowage under the berths, where the water tank and batteries are housed.
The two-cabin model has a single, larger aft cabin, plus a deep cockpit locker to starboard and a bigger heads with a separate shower stall.
The 3-cabin model is still roomy with plenty of stowage and a place to hang wet oilies.
The toilet is mounted diagonally, facing aft; the skin fittings will only allow a flush on a port tack!
The seacocks are easy to access and are located under the sink, and the whole compartment is a moulded insert to facilitate cleaning and avoid any leaks.
Ventilation is achieved through a single hatch.
Opposite the heads is the well appointed navigation station, although I would prefer to see a higher bulkhead dividing it from the galley.
It features an 80cm x 57cm (31in x 22in) forward-facing chart table with ample chart stowage, a good electrical switch panel and a small area for instruments.
Its seat is contoured and has useful stowage inside and more stowage can be found in the pod beneath the table and two large bins to the side.
The forecabin is also quite roomy with a 2m-long vee berth.
Below the bunk is a water tank and a large stowage bin.
Locker space is plentiful and there is enough floor area and headroom to get dressed comfortably. Three hatches let in plenty of air and light.
The companionway steps are angled up at the edges and have deep, non-slip treads and stout teak handrails on each side.
You will also find another handrail on the end of the cockpit table.
The deep bridge deck prevents any water from venturing below.
Deck layout of the Beneteau Oceanis 351
The cockpit is wide, but the area is broken up by a large, solidly-mounted table with an integral cool box, which also provides a footbrace and two sturdy handholds.
The large binnacle carries engine controls and sailing instruments with ease.
Small cut-outs in the seating allow you to walk around the wheel without climbing on the teak-covered seats.
The helmsman’s seat hinges down, creating a gated access to the swimming platform, boarding ladder and emergency tiller mounting.
There are two deep lockers under the seats and a very deep lazarette which has a rather small aperture.
The small sealed and drained gas locker takes a single, large gas bottle.
The side decks are unobstructed by the genoa tracks as they are mounted well inboard and the foredeck is large enough to deploy the ground tackle unhindered.
The standard anchoring facilities feature a sturdy single roller and windlass plinth.
However, James and Tim have changed the stemhead fitting for a chunky twin-roller setup.
The furling drum is below deck too, well clear of the anchor and chain.
Cleats and fairleads are a good size, stoutly mounted and in sensible positions.
Sailplan of the Beneteau Oceanis 351
Her Z-Spars, twin-spreader masthead rig is robust and supported by caps, inters and aft lowers and twin, non-adjustable backstays.
A gas-sprung vang supports the boom and supplies a degree of flattening for the main – necessary due to the forward position of the mainsheet on the coachroof.
However, the most annoying element of the 351’s setup is that she only has two winches, which are on the coachroof.
Despite being decent Lewmar 42STs, it is virtually impossible to sail the slab-reefed main rig without needing another winch.
It also proved pretty tricky even with Witchcraft’s furling main, especially once we had the chute hoisted.
During our sail we regularly ended up with two lines around the same winch, or one taken around an already loaded winch and fed to the winch on the other side.
Crucially, rope jammers are provided for the genoa sheets, but these cannot be released without winching the sheet in first. James and Tim plan to put in extra winches.
We sailed Witchcraft on a beautiful June day with a healthy sea breeze blowing into Chichester Harbour.
In light airs the in-mast furling mainsail is a little smaller than I’d have preferred but, being new, at least it had the best shape possible.
Her genoa, though reasonably worn, still had an acceptable shape and provided the bulk of the driving power to windward.
Closed-hauled under full white sails she was making 5-6 knots and was happy to helm herself.
Witchcraft tacked through 78°-80° briskly, losing little momentum, provided the crew could get the 135% genoa around and tight quickly enough.
Having the genoa tracks on the edge of the coachroof makes the most of her pointing ability, although it was a faff having to repeatedly go forward to flip the foot of the deep sail over the rail.
In past sails of the 351, where the wind has been stronger and the seas bigger, she has proved just as nimble.
On a reach she stretched her legs, her fastest point of sail being around 50° AWA, where her slippery hull can easily attain a hull speed of over 7 knots in a Force 4-5.
She remained well balanced throughout.
Out at sea, after a few more white sail manoeuvres, we hoisted the asymmetric cruising chute in 12-15 knots of sea breeze.
In these perfect sailing conditions she creamed along with the log persistently over 7 knots.
Her deep keel and spade rudder kept her straight and true sailing downwind so helming was a pleasure, even when we finally sailed back over the bar against the surge of an ebbing spring tide.
I’m no fan of in-mast mainsail reefing, particularly offshore, but it has its place in coastal cruising, especially when young children are on board.
To a hard-pressed, short-handed crew it lowers the stress levels when a reef is needed. Also, on this boat, the smaller mainsail improved her balance.
Originally Witchcraft had a folding 2-blade prop which ‘we found fairly hopeless for close-quarter manoeuvring,’ says James.
When they changed the engine, they installed a fixed 3-blade prop which has improved her handling under power and dropped the revs when motoring.
‘Unfortunately, it has also increased the prop walk, but once you have mastered it it’s not a problem.’
He went on to prove this later by expertly parking her stern-first to the pontoon with just the lightest kiss on the fenders.
Engine access is tight for servicing, although most areas can be reached from the front or through the two side panels.
Verdict on the Beneteau Oceanis 351
What is she like to sail?
The Beneteau Oceanis 351 is no ocean passage maker but she does exactly what she was designed to do, which is to offer exciting but safe coastal sailing in reasonable weather and sea conditions.
If pushed too hard she becomes harder to handle and the ride gets more lively and onerous.
Having a wide, flat stern with a single spade rudder means that if you don’t reef down in time the steering gets heavy and the rudder loses its bite on the water, allowing her to quickly gripe up head to wind.
But sailed within her correct parameters she’s a pussycat.
James says: ‘She sails brilliantly upwind in 20kts on a relatively flat sea and is totally balanced, so no need for anyone on the helm or autopilot. On a reach she is fast but due to the heavy in-mast furling gear, prone to exacerbated roll with a beam-on sea. She sails well under a cruising chute, although we’re thinking of upsizing and adding a bowsprit.
‘She’s extremely easy to handle. I can sail her singlehanded, but the windage can be a handful when mooring so I’d fit a bow thruster if planning to do it regularly.’
In port and anchor?
Her ample beam means she’s spacious below so families with young children don’t feel trapped.
The dinette works very well in port, and the saloon and galley are ideally suited to preparing food and feeding six people in comfort.
Likewise, the sleeping accommodation and bathroom facilities are equally light, airy and generously appointed.
The layout might not be ideal for long, gruelling offshore passages, but for coastal cruising and hops across the English Channel she fits the bill perfectly.
James says: ‘She’s very comfortable to live on with fantastic beds, big table, lots of light, great big fridge, good chart table and ample headroom. One heads is enough.’
Would the Beneteau Oceanis 351 suit you and your crew?
The Beneteau Oceanis 351 is a solidly built cruising yacht with plenty of space for an active family both down below and in the cockpit.
Sailing her within reasonable limits will give a good deal of satisfaction to the crew and an impressive performance in light airs.
Over-canvassing her in windy conditions, however, will make the sailing hard work and uncomfortable.
James sums her up perfectly: ‘She is a wonderful family boat, not at all cramped with six on board, including kids. We chose the version with three double cabins as it is big enough to go away with two families.
‘She is safe to sail with the kids, but powerful enough to fall back on the engine if needed. The cockpit feels secure and also offers excellent visibility forward.’
What the experts say about the Beneteau Oceanis 351
Nick Vass B,Sc B,Ed HND FRINA MCMS DipMarSur YS, Marine Surveyor
Like all Beneteaus, the Oceanis 351 is stylish and also comfortable below.
I often discover delamination on decks, so look for cracks.
The balsa core stiffening material has a tendency to shrink and decay with time, causing the deck to flex underfoot.
The 351’s hull is stiffened by a tray moulding that is bonded into the inside of the hull with paste.
This moulding is notorious for coming away.
Check for cracks and gaps around the edges of the moulding in the bilge below the saloon and forecabin sole.
If left the hull will flex and you will begin to find cracks on the outside of the hull and on the deck.
The moulding was lightly and inadequately bonded into place but you can fix this by gluing it back properly with tabbings/bondings of cloth, matting and resin.
Beneteau has attracted attention because of keel issues but any light to medium displacement cruiser will suffer keel loss if run aground.
Check for cracks in the moulding around keel studs. Like most yachts of this age, the 351s can be leaky.
The bedding compound between hull and keel tends to last 20 years before it begins to break down, as does the sealant that holds in windows and seals grabrails and cleats.
The Beneteau Oceanis 351 was originally fitted with the Volvo Penta MD2030, which is a great engine.
The cooling system does have a tendency to clog up.
Ben Sutcliffe-Davies, Marine Surveyor and full member of the Yacht Brokers Designers & Surveyors Association (YDSA)
Like so many of the early Oceanis range, the 351 was a reasonably well structured yacht of her time with certainly more than the average amount of materials used in her build.
Like many boats of this design and build, there are several areas you should look closely at before deciding to buy.
Firstly, examine the backing support for stanchions. It is rare to find one that doesn’t flex unless they have been reinforced.
The cockpit has inlaid teak; be aware that many are a ply veneer and will now be at the point of replacement.
Make sure the transom cockpit seat is tied on, as I know of one owner who lost his seat overboard as it wasn’t secure.
Look carefully at the underside of the cockpit seat as often the moulding is soft and flexing.
Pay attention to the seacocks and look closely at where the internal moulding is relieved to allow fitting of the skin fittings to the outer hull.
I have frequently found that the bonding paste in these areas has become detached. This can often be a subtle red flag of previous groundings or other structural issues developing.
Lastly examine the keel support structure.
Generally it is a pretty good-sized matrix but always look at the condition of fastenings and size of backing washes.
I’ve been involved with a number that have had to have new bolts and larger backing pads as the originals were distorted. As always, if in doubt, get a professional opinion.
Alternatives to the Beneteau Oceanis 351
The Bavaria 34 is a comparatively light boat with a typical ballast ratio of a modern production cruiser with a bulbed, cast-iron fin keel.
She’s acceptably stiff under normal cruising conditions but prefers to be reefed relatively early.
She is reasonably quick under sail, although her shallow underbody forward can lead her to slam in rough seas.
Her cockpit works well shorthanded, but the Harken 48ST primary winches are so far aft they can be tricky for crew, other than the helm, to reach.
The halyard winches are single speed 16STs.
The majority had an in-mast furling mainsail, though she’s quicker with the larger slab-reefed sail.
Her steering is light and positive, with little sign of weather helm, even when pushed hard.
Like the Beneteau Oceanis 351, the rudder can lose its grip if you over-canvass her in gusty conditions.
Two-, and three-cabin models were available, the latter being a bit of a squeeze with the heads moved forward and reduced in size.
The two-cabin model benefits from a deep cockpit locker to starboard, a forward-facing chart table, a roomier forecabin and the heads (with wet locker) at the foot of the companionway.
She has a practical, no-frills interior, with straight saloon settees that double-up well as sea berths, the lifting seatbacks making the berths considerably wider when required.
Headroom is good throughout, ventilation and natural light are plentiful, and the available stowage is better than many yachts of this era. On early boats the galley was quite narrow.
Later models, though, had a smaller forecabin and the saloon was shifted forward several inches to make room for a larger galley, equipped with most of what you’d need to produce a hearty meal for six hungry crew.
The Bavaria 34 makes an ideal starter boat for a young family, as well as an easy-to-handle cruiser for a mature couple cruising alone.
Her performance under sail is well behaved, undramatic and doesn’t require a gorilla to control her sails.
She’s also a fairly attractive boat, is woody and well-built below, and is very easy to maintain.
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 34.2
As with the Oceanis, there were 2-, and 3-cabin models available.
The twin aft cabins are a little pokey, but in the former the cabin and berth are much enlarged, along with a more spacious heads compartment.
The forecabin is the same in both, and with the vee berth ending in a sharp point, two tall occupants could play footsie all night!
Also similar to the Oceanis 351, the saloon has a dinette arrangement with an oval table and a linear galley opposite, although there’s a short, backless sliding bench on the centreline that adds extra seating.
The chart table is a good size and forward-facing with its own seat.
The interior joinery is good quality with oodles of satin-varnished teak veneer giving her a warm and cosy atmosphere below.
Her side decks are rather narrow but kept clear by mounting the genoa tracks on the coachroof.
Annoyingly, though this offers a better sheeting angle, it means the genoa sheets are led to winches on the coachroof, along with the mainsheet, both well out of the helmsman’s reach.
She has a short mast, resulting in quite a conservative sail area.
While this means she can hold onto her canvas a little longer before reefing, it doesn’t win her any silver around the cans.
Saying that, she is lighter than the Beneteau and, with her deeper keel helping her to point close to the wind, their performance under sail is probably not dissimilar.
Besides, most bought this boat as a family cruiser and her somewhat sedate sailing performance was probably not at the top of their priorities list.
The Sadler 34 was well-built and tough and, being built with a foam sandwich hull meant her ‘unsinkable’ qualities offered peace of mind to many.
Keels included bilge, shallow and deep fin and her deep rudder is supported by a full skeg.
Though sprightly under sail she stands up well to her canvas.
Her fine bows and pinched stern give her a predictable performance and a comfortable motion and her deep-vee forefoot slices through waves without slamming with little or no spray reaching her decks.
Set up and trimmed correctly she’s well balanced, points well and virtually steers herself on a close reach, her deep skeg and rudder keeping her true to her course, both on and off the wind.
The cockpit is deep and safe with everything within reach of the helm for the single-handed sailor.
Below, the quarter cabin berth is a squeeze for two and a bit claustrophobic.
The forecabin is comfy but isolated from the saloon when the heads are occupied.
The galley is well equipped, especially the fridge, and has plenty of easily accessed storage for food and utensils.
The saloon is spacious with seating for six around the large table and loads of useful stowage.
It can be a little gloomy and stuffy due to her small, fixed portlights, but generally it’s pretty snug and dry thanks to the foam-sandwich hull.
Being comfortable, uncomplicated and easy to sail, the Sadler 34 has proved exceptionally popular with both coastal hopping beginners and mile-beating salty dogs alike.