Designed as a base for everything from a dayboat to a three-cabin cruiser, is the Bénéteau Océanis 38 a jack-of-all-trades? Chris Beeson finds out
The idea of a 38ft dayboat seems weird to me but research shows that many new boats are used that way.
Thus Hanse has its stripped-out Varianta range, Bavaria has its frill-free Easy range, now there’s Bénéteau’s Océanis 38 – all aimed at clients who don’t want the expense of a full fit-out because they never use half of it.
Down below, they want a loo and a place to snooze after lunch and that’s it – no galley, cabins or lockers required. Boatbuilders are happy too, as it makes for some eye-catching price tags.
Bénéteau has fallen quite suddenly on this minimalist principle because the rest of the Océanis range is pretty standard, but in the Bénéteau Océanis 38, it’s been done with enough innovative panache to win the Family Cruiser category in the European Yacht of the Year 2014 awards.
It’s some accolade, but does she deserve it? We sailed the cruising version in Palma to find out.
Sailing the Bénéteau Océanis 38
We hoisted full mainsail and 103 per cent jib to harness the 11-13 knots of true wind.
Fetching at 50-60º to the 13-15 knots of apparent wind, she eased along at 6.8-7.4 knots, then we squeezed up onto the wind and logged 5.9-6.4 knots at 35-40º to the 14-15 knots of apparent, tacking through 85º.
We rolled away the genoa and unleashed the gennaker, increasing total sail area by half, and beam reached at 7.4-8.1 knots in 12-13 knots’ apparent.
The wind drooped as we broad reached at 4.5-4.7 knots with 6-7 knots of apparent wind.
At the helm
Churlish as it may sound from someone sailing in the sun at the wheel of a new yacht, I was a bit disappointed.
Twin rudders feedback very little anyway so I wasn’t expecting a sensory extravaganza, but to be able to leave the wheel without it even twitching was a surprise.
This could probably be tuned out, but not so the helm position.
Sitting outboard against the lifelines, I could just reach the wheel with fingertips but I had a backstay across my neck.
The transom lifelines were too far aft to rest against and reach the wheel so I was forced to sit with no backrest, or stand.
On the plus side, the optional electric Harken 46 primary winches are within reach of the wheel, coamings keep the helm position dry and views forward are great.
Design & Construction
The numbers say she’s fast, largely because the cruising version’s displacement figure is low, just a touch more than the racy Elan 380, and the waterline length is huge, 33cm (13in) longer than a Dehler 38.
Light weight means a moderate spread of canvas gives her the same sort of power as the Xc38.
Don’t let the low ballast ratio mislead you about stiffness. Her cast iron ballast is deployed efficiently as a trailing bulb, and she has huge form stability due to her prodigious beam – 40cm (16in) more than a Hallberg-Rassy 372.
The hull is solid laminate with a liner glued in for structural stiffness, the deck is foam-cored and the two are fixed and fastened together.
The twin wheels’ steering cables run to a single quadrant, connected by link rods to stainless steel rudder stocks.
She has a fractionally-rigged, deck-stepped mast with two sets of swept-back spreaders on topside chainplates and an adjustable, split backstay.
Bénéteau Océanis 38 deck layout
There’s the option of a twin bow roller with a short stainless steel bobstay to support gennaker loads.
The port roller is fair for the windlass and there’s a deep chain locker to starboard. Padeyes on the foredeck would help secure the tender under way. Discontinuous teak toerails provide bracing for feet.
The coachroof grabrails look a little short but the extra grabrails outboard and aft of the mainsheet arch help crew moving in and out of the cockpit. As well as keeping the mainsheet out of the cockpit, the arch also makes fitting a sprayhood, bimini and cockpit tent easier.
The fixed cockpit table has two leaves, moulded cupholders fore and aft, and stowage inside. Grabrails on the aft end of the table and on the binnacles add security and the 1.65m (5ft 5in) cockpit seats have backrests of at least 30cm (1ft).
If you want two aft cabins, cockpit stowage is limited to a sole-depth locker to starboard and two lazarettes either side of the liferaft locker.
The alternative is one aft cabin and huge stowage in the starboard quarter.
Living aboard the Bénéteau Océanis 38
She’s sensational below decks. Without the optional forward bulkhead there’s a huge sense of space, enhanced further by the forecabin’s hull ports, and if you sail as a couple, its loss isn’t an issue.
Sitting and watching the sea slide past the big hull ports felt thoroughly restful, therapeutic almost; handy for keeping an eye on other traffic, too.
Saloon headroom is good, 6ft 7in aft and just 3in less forward. Handholds either side of the companionway and fiddles at the galley and chart table should keep you safe when coming below.
Ventilation is OK, with the main hatch just aft of the forehatch and small hatches in the coachroof windows above the chart table and galley.
The saloon table is fixed, with no fiddles to speak of, and the compression post nicks its edge. Diners sit on the port settee and there are two ‘pouffes’ that bolt to the floor for additional seating.
There’s stowage in the pouffes and aft of the calorifier and water manifold below the seating, plus lockers outboard to port and space below the sole.
The forecabin has 6ft headroom and a 6ft 8in by 4ft 11in double berth, with a drawer, water tank, bow thruster and batteries under it.
That drawer aside, there is ‘soft stowage’. You use it as luggage to get to the boat, then hang it up.
There’s 6ft 5in headroom in the aft cabins, but the 6ft 6in by 5ft 3in berth is shortened to 4ft 2in by the gearbox housing for the optional Dock & Go system.
The cabins are a bit gloomy despite small hatches opening into the cockpit and coachroof and there’s a shelf to augment the soft stowage.
There’s a water tank under the port aft cabin berth and a fuel tank under the starboard.
Our three-cabin test boat had a heads to starboard, with a sink and reasonable stowage, and a shower to port. Both are small, but light and ventilation are fine.
The two-cabin layout moves the shower to starboard, aft of the heads, and the whole set-up is more spacious.
It’s smallish and aft-facing, with some stowage and decent instrument space outboard.
Almanacs and pilot books would fit in the deep bins behind the seating.
She has a linear galley to starboard. Stowage is pretty good in drawers, lockers outboard of the units and below the sole, and there’s a big front opening fridge aft.
The hatch in the coachroof windows would be more useful above the oven than the sink.
The daysailer retains the sink and some stowage below it but there’s seating forward of that.
Access to seacocks, hardware and systems is good throughout.
Bénéteau Océanis 38 verdict
What’s she like to sail?
Her performance is respectable. I would expect half a knot more upwind but otherwise she doesn’t let herself down, and the furling gennaker makes a big difference to performance in the Force 3 we had at times.
You can reach the Harken 46 primary winches, optionally electric on this boat, to handle the jib sheets but the mainsheet is managed from the port Harken 35 coachroof winch rather than being led back to the wheel, so you wouldn’t be able to gybe singlehanded with any great ease.
The cockpit is comfortable enough for the crew, with decent coamings and good bracing against the table, but one of the crew will have to be tasked with mainsheet duties.
She responds well to the wheel, manoeuvring in a spritely way.
The steering system on our test boat was so stiff that I had to check several times that the wheel lock wasn’t on (it wasn’t) and the helm position fails to provide the sort of comfortable slouching position I’ve become used to on most of the boats I’ve tested.
These elements are pretty central to one’s enjoyment of sailing a boat, so I’m surprised to find them wanting.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
This is her strongest suit by a nautical mile, and how she’ll spend most of her time.
With the helm seats flipped up and the transom flipped down you’ve got a clear walk through from the cockpit to the water.
Fit a bimini aft of the arch and you’’d have a great shady spot for lolling about after lunch.
I was hoping to see the cockpit layout Bénéteau developed for its Sense range, with an offset table that lowers to form a double sun lounger, but perhaps 38ft is just too small for that.
She makes a tremendous first impression down below.
The light and space are an absolute joy and the design is very tasteful indeed to my eye. That brilliant first impression doesn’t last forever, though.
On the Bénéteau Sense 46 I tested, there were devilishly bright innovations everywhere, very impressive.
On the Bénéteau Océanis 38, by contrast, technical flair of any sort is gone.
The table has neither leaves nor stowage; the chart table doesn’t move or convert into anything; for stowage she offers bags instead of lockers – one is left wondering whether cost-cutting was the primary aim rather than an incidental plus.
Would she suit you and your crew?
With all the high-volume boat builders targeting this day-sailing sector, there’s no doubt the market exists so I’m sure she’ll do well.
The base-boat price (£95,000) is extremely low for a 38-footer, she looks great, cuts quite a modern dash on the water, and you’ll warm to her the moment you step below for the first time.
She’ll appeal to couples with a chunk of disposable cash, and an eye for clean lines and natural light, looking for a budget boat with the ‘wow’ factor, and who want to buy a boat to keep in the sun for weekends and holidays, bay-hopping between short passages.
Clearly, she’s not designed for challenging offshore work. Nor is she likely ever to see any, post-delivery, and she won’t satisfy twitchy sail-trimmers who relish feeling the results of each tweak through the helm.
But for a daysailing couple, perhaps new to sailing or for ‘point-and-go’ cruisers, who occasionally invite family or friends to join them as they nip from anchorage to turquoise anchorage for a few days, she makes a very convincing case.
First published in the October 2014 issue of YM.