Chris Beeson goes south to Valencia to sail the new Bénéteau Océanis 43
Bénéteau chose the Valencia base of America’s Cup defender Alinghi to introduce the latest offering in the Oceanis range, the Bénéteau Océanis 43. It was a smart idea for two reasons. First, the warm, reliable wind and flat, blue water created near-perfect conditions.
Secondly, compared to the America’s Cup Class mutants, screeching with tension and scorching the harbour with technological white heat, the Oceanis range was cool, calm and characterful. A familiar face.
Certainly Bénéteau‘s mass production philosophy is hugely successful but the boats-for-all approach has deterred some buyers.
With the Bénéteau Océanis 43, they’re hoping to deliver a more personal experience, more style and attention to detail.
The sailaway price of £133,000 suggests it’s still the Bénéteau we know and love, but the full length saloon windows signal a new mindset.
Bénéteau Océanis 43 Under sail
The oversize primary winches (a nod to ease of ownership) easily trimmed us to 35-40° where she felt comfortable.
At the twin wheels, smallish at 915mm, there was reassuring weather helm as she made about 6 knots in 10-12 knots of breeze over a slight chop, albeit with unladen tanks and lockers.
The Bénéteau Océanis 43 tacked promptly through about 90°, dropping to 5 knots before the full main and 140% genoa on the 9/10, twin spreader rig picked her back up to speed.
Jean Berret designed the boat to heel between 5-18°. She slows beyond 20° and, as I found out when overpressed, rounds up at around 25°.
Bénéteau confirmed that any good cruising boat is a compromise of comfort, volume and performance. Provided you begin reefing when the wind exceeds 15 knots, rounding up isn’t an issue.
We furled and single-line reefed with ease and steerage wasn’t a problem thereafter.
The halyard winches are also a good size but we noticed the coach roof flex below the winch while reefing. Again I mentioned this to Bénéteau and they reassured me that it won’t be a problem on production boats.
Bearing off, the steering became more leisurely, gaining an assured touch I hadn’t noticed upwind, still responsive but tracking steadily.
The Bénéteau Océanis 43 beam reached deliciously at 7-9 knots in 14-18 knots. Broad reaching with white sails, 5-6 knots in 12-18 knots was comfortable, if unspectacular.
A cruising chute added a knot or two to the deeper angles and a bigger smile to the helmsman’s face.
The tackline was rigged in reverse during our test sail and, when the chute refilled after collapse, the bow roller twisted visibly. Rigged correctly, Bénéteau say it’s not a problem.
Twin leather-bound wheels offer a fine view ahead, standing or comfortably seated, but don’t swing the wheel too low to windward, you’ll trap your fingers against the coaming.
The instruments are mounted on the bulkhead behind each wheel, so they’re easy to read but pushing buttons to change function could be tricky.
The primary winches are more than big enough and each within reach of a wheel – good for short-handed tacking.
The cockpit, easily big enough for six, is comfortably deep and the moulded base of its fixed table is perfect for bracing.
Under the starboard helm seat, there’s a cavernous lazarette with maintenance access to the steering quadrant.
Moving forward there are well placed grab rails as far as the mast and further forward the 2in teak toerail offers secure footing. Each toerail has four good-size drains with three 1 Sin cleats.
The lack of fairleads meant fore and aft springs missed the stainless steel antichafe strips. and the aft cleats were only 2in from the split backstay terminals.
I mentioned these prototype niggles to Bénéteau and production boats will have antichafe strips extended by 6in and the aft cleats will be moved further clear.
We sailed the three-cabin version. There is a two cabin version with an L-shaped galley next to the companionway.
As you might expect, there’s excellent stowage above the cabin sole, including innovative lockers behind the saloon backrests. There’s very little bilge stowage but that’s the price you pay for excellent headroom.
The light below is striking. With full-length smoked glass windows in the coach roof. hull ports and twin decklights just aft of the mast, the saloon is flooded with light.
Again, there are enough handholds below, both obvious and cleverly concealed, to keep you sure-footed without disturbing Nauta’s Italian design lines.
Ventilation is also excellent and the 6ft 8in headroom enhances the sense of space.
Through both 5ft 8in aft cabin doors, you’ll find 6ft 3in headroom (the same as the en suite heads) leading to 6ft 7in bunks with storage below the outboard shelving, plus a hanging locker in each.
There’s more space than you’d expect in both cabins, but that’s because the cockpit lockers aren’t deeper than the cockpit.
Forward (the berth I’d chose), the 6ft 3in headroom in the cabin and heads is maintained by a neat 2in step down.
There’s shelving either side of the 6ft 7in double berth and a hanging locker. Given the focus on owner comfort, it’s a surprise that both heads are to starboard. Heeled beyond about 15° on starboard tack, both flush air.
With our three-bladed fixed prop, the Yanmar 54HP offered 6 knots at 2,000rpm and a shade over 8 knots flat out.
The Yanmar runs smoothly at all revs and, although the soundproofing is fairly basic, it’s quieter at high revs than one might expect below.
The Bénéteau Océanis 43 turns in 1.5 times her own length ahead and twice her length astern, largely thanks to the keel’s modest chord length and the flat underwater profile.
Motoring astern at over 3 knots, expect to wrestle with the wheel. That’s not unusual, but the size of the wheels makes it more of a factor than I’d expected.
Hull construction is single skin GRP. reinforced at the keel, rudder, chainplates and at the hull/deck joint and the inner moulding, also single skin GRP, is bonded and laminated in place. Bonding and screws secure the glass fibre/balsa sandwich deck to the hull.
Our test boat’s 6ft 6in cast iron keel (there is a 5ft Sin option) was bolted through stainless steel backing plates and bonded in place, and there’s a stainless steel stock on the 5ft Sin rudder.
The Bénéteau Océanis 43 boat has a greater emphasis on design and attention to detail than the standard Bénéteau.
Built as an ‘owner’s boat’, she aims to deliver light, space and luxury. She achieves the first two better than the third but, as the price suggests, she’s not in the luxury market.
The saloon windows are distinctive, adding flair usually associated with more expensive marques. And they work wonders below in the spacious, welcoming saloon.
The forecabin is the best of the bunch but there’s plenty of space throughout.
On the downside, both heads on the starboard side makes life a little inconvenient on a long starboard beat.
Upwind she needs reefing in anything over 1 S knots but she’ll go well in lighter airs under full sail. Offwind, you’ll want a cruising chute.
First published in the May 2007 issue of YM.