Boat Review January 1, 2002 Issue

Beneteau 393

The new 393 benefits from big-company protocols in the production process. The basic design is nothing radical, but the layout and details incorporate a lot of owner feedback.

Beneteau is one of the few builders (along with perhaps Catalina, Hunter, and its own corporate cousin, Jeanneau) whose volume of production can generate significant "economies of scale." Boatbuilding is not, of course, like automobile building or most other assembly-line processes. Boats and the way that they go together are complex; there's more to launching a successful sailboat than buying parts in quantity and piecing them together. Nevertheless, when you look at a new boat like Beneteau's recently introduced 393 you can see how the size, reach, and clout of the parent company can pay off.

Our review of the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43 two months ago made the same point: Big, established, boatbuilders with meticulously organized production systems can afford to work out the kinks without passing along too many of the costs to buyers. They have a system, and it works.

A straight sheer, wide beam, big interior
volume, and lots of ports and hatches typify
the modern Euro look of the Beneteau 393.

Founded in 1884, Beneteau originally built fishing boats for the Bay of Biscay. Still a family-run concern, it turned to yachts and has built sailboats throughout most of the 20th century. For more than a decade now it has been building boats on both sides of the Atlantic. (There's a large facility in Marion, SC.)

Without doubt, the biggest recent company move was the acquisition of French rival Jeanneau. Though the two builders continue to offer separate lines,  taken together they produce more auxiliary sailboats than anyone else in the world. Thus one of the benefits of "economies of scale"—the Beneteau/Jeanneau combination can drive a pretty good bargain on materials, hardware, sails, and so on.

All of which is a simple (and simplistic) explanation of why Beneteau can sell an attractive, commodious new cruiser like the 393 for a base price of under $140,000. Even then, it's not like Henry Ford's color option list for the Model T (you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black): While the 393's styling, playpen cockpit, and most of the standard parts can't be customized on a whim, there are a couple of choices in accommodations that will extend the range of the boat's appeal considerably.

Getting back to being big… Beneteau is in a unique position (selling to a worldwide market, supplying boats to dozens of charter companies, and introducing new models at a pace virtually unequalled in the industry) to collect feedback. The company has maintained its popularity by paying close attention to what customers want. As with politicians and constituents in a democracy, this can be good and bad.

Design
According to Wayne Burdick, President of Beneteau USA, there have been 72 copies of the 393 ordered since the boat was introduced just last year. Volume like that means commissions, and commissions make naval architects happy. That makes working with Beneteau  hard to resist. The designers who have done so are distinguished—the Groupe Finot and Bruce Farr notable among them.  Since the late '80s, however, the most influential designers in the Beneteau camp have been Jean Berret and his partner, Olivier Racoupeau. The two have had a lot to do with the establishment of the First (racer/cruiser) line. These "dual purpose" boats have been notably popular.  Both designers have superb credentials in the grand prix arena. Berret, for instance, designed the Beneteau One Ton that won the Admiral's Cup in 1987 and virtually got Beneteau into the racing game.

Throughout the '90s Beneteau has also sold cruisers—the Oceanis line.These have no racing pretensions. Rather they  emphasize "being in touch with the sea." They have been the leaders in evolving the molded, sleek, straight-sheer look that we've come to call "Euro." They are remarkable, too, for their  light, room, space, and comfort. When swim platforms were new, they had open transoms complete with outdoor showers. Says Wayne Burdick, "When you think of the dark, deep, dank caves that we used to cruise in and look at how open, light, and bright boats are today, you have to credit a lot of that change to the Oceanis line."

As new models have come on line, Beneteau has sought to improve their performance. As fin-keeled/balanced rudder boats the Oceani are lively in maneuvering and can record good passage times. However, acceleration, sail-carrying power, and weatherliness have not generally been their strongpoints.

Masters of working within rating rules, of wringing speed from compromises and limitations, Berret and Racoupeau have consistently whittled away in hopes of making each new Oceanis a better performer.

Accommodations
First and foremost, the 393 is roomy. You can't help but notice the legroom, elbow room, generous seat backs, and open space in the cockpit. The walk-through coaming aft creates a good combination of openness and security. While the well is a bit too wide to brace across (and only one of the three cockpit table versions offered provides a footbrace) it's hard to find any other quibble—sight lines are good, protection is stout, surfaces are contoured for comfort, and space is carved out around the winches to let you work them efficiently. It's a big, comfortable, efficient, livable,  modern cockpit. (If someone could figure out how to make mainsheet and traveller controls operable by the helmsman, though, it would make shorthanded sailing more realistic.)

She's also roomy below. Headroom in the after part of the saloon approaches 6' 6". Light adds to the open feel, thanks mostly to the three overhead deck-windows (which come with sunshades).

There are two different interior configurations, a two-cabin version that accentuates privacy and yields a deep cockpit locker; and a three-cabin version that offers two quarter cabins aft. The two-cabin layout has the galley in a traditional portside nook next to the companionway, with a settee to starboard opposite the dining area; the tri-cabin set-up removes the facing settee and puts the galley there in a linear arrangement with an array of finished cabinets and drawer stowage. "More and more people want more and more stowage," says Burdick, "so we're giving it to them."

There are advantages and disadvantages to both arrangements. In most cases we'd counsel the sacrifice of bunks in order to make room for more "working" areas. In this case, though, the trade-offs are too close to call. The tri-cabin version has a dedicated nav station where the two-cabin version has none. It has an extra hanging locker to port, but lacks the good cockpit locker. The linear galley seems to us more intrusive, less convivial, and less safe in a seaway than the U-shaped version. That layout also suffers from a lack of support for moving around below in a seaway; the more traditional layout is "narrower" and would offer better security. Maybe the cabin choice depends on how many kids or friends you sail with, or whether you own a charter company.

Beneteau has always done a good job with interior wood. Far from seeming "knocked off" or mass produced, the furniture, cabinetry, and trim of the 393 live up to custom standards of fit, precision, and harmony. That's because the company has purchased wood widely (and wisely) and because its wood shop is a two-acre masterpiece of computer-controlled milling, routing, spraying, and fitting. Aside from the somewhat unsettling impression of living inside a grand piano instead of a boat, the result is impeccable.

The 393 offers a great deal of light and air. The decklights are the biggest light source, but the boat has six house ports, six hull ports, and seven overhead hatches, plus two cockpit ports. There's plenty of cross-ventilation to make forecabins and quartercabins habitable.

The 393's nav station (in the three-cabin layout) is big and well-designed for comfort. There's an argument that with so much navigating being done in the cockpit these days, especially on shorthanded boats, the need for a good nav table is diminished, but we don't think so. It may not need to be big enough to spread out a full-sized chart, but a cruising sailor still needs a desk, even if its just a surface for a notebook computer.

Hanging lockers are bigger and better (cedar-lined) than average, and there are even a few drawers. The overhead (an amalgam of some fiberglass, some fabric, and some wood) is attractive and (albeit with difficulty) removable. "Condensation is never a problem with our boats," Burdick says. After sailing one dry through a drippy week in Ireland we can agree.

Access to the 40-hp Westerbeke diesel is superb. From beneath the companionway or via either quarter cabin you can attack it all. Foam insulation is a cut above industry standards and the faint humming of the monster below while we were underway suggested that it has been deployed well. Tankage (35 gallons fuel and 130 gallons water) doesn't encourage world-girdling, but it's substantial for a boat like this one. 

A shallow bilge is an unfortunate by-product of a relatively flat-bottomed design. This one at least has a deep sump that should keep water from sloshing into vital areas below.

The galley is a modern marvel, with good handholds, safety bar, ventilated cabinet fronts, pot stowage, garbage cuddy, and a standard two-burner propane range/oven.

Construction
Beneteau has been building boats of solid glass reinforced with a fiberglass structural grid for at least 20 years. The method has been refined in light of material changes and streamlined in places for better efficiencies, but it remains essentially the same process that has yielded every First, Oceanis, and (now that the company has reverted simply to its own name to designate its boats) modern Beneteau.

These boats are clearly and cleverly "designed to be built," using the  minimum possible time and labor. As we've pointed out, in a production process this big and efficient, those can be considered good qualities. You might question the weight, quality, and composition of the hull laminate. You might theorize that there's a weak point at the bond between hull and liner. You might focus on the fact that all-around taping of structural bulkheads demands excellent quality control. You might want a simpler, more-robust anchor for the 393's chainplates. But at every turn your analysis butts up against the intended uses of the boat, which in this case should mean extended coastal cruising, and the enviable track record of durability racked up by hundreds of its cousins in the charter trade.

The hull/deck joint is an example of the sort of technique that is quick but not necessarily dirty. An inward-turning flange receives the deck. Bedded on a rim of "5200-like" sealant, the deck (balsa-cored except where it receives hardware, and along its outer rim) is bolted through the flange in the area of chocks, stanchions, and cleats. Then machine screws on 6-inch centers tack down the remainder. The joint's integrity is ensured by "chemical bond, plus mechanical, plus efficiency in meeting shear loads," says Burdick.

While lead is the ballast of choice throughout most of the industry, Beneteau generally uses cast iron, as they do on this boat. Lead is denser by far than iron, and so will make for a much heavier keel in the same area and volume (or can be smaller to achieve similar weight). Lead, however, will also cost almost twice as much.

While economy may be Beneteau's main reason for using iron keels, Burdick points to another advantage: "The keel root [where fin meets hull] is a significant source of turbulence. You reduce that drag by making the foil as thin as possible at that point. That's much easier to do with cast iron."

In any case, for obvious reasons, coverings and coatings on iron keels must be scrupulously maintained to make sure the ferrous metal never meets the watery medium directly.

Like the iron-keeled Oceanis line that have come before, the 393 depends less on ballast (at a minimal ballast/displacement ratio of 31 per- cent) than on shape (with a substantial 13' 1" beam) for stability. Were she to sport a similarly sized fin made of lead, it would lower her center of gravity (a positive move in terms of stability), but it would make her an appreciably heavier, costlier boat, with a "dead weight" liability to overcome in her performance. Also, were Berret and Racoupeau to pare down the size of  her keel by using lead, it would diminish lateral plane and hurt upwind performance.

Her mast is deck-stepped. Here, we believe, the company probably listened too closely to people who said they didn't want a hole in the roof and a tree trunk in the saloon. The interior compression post is pretty, and the weldment at the top that accepts though-bolts to fasten on deck hardware is clever—but we think a boat this size should have a keel-stepped mast. As it is, the rig requires a babystay to help it stay in column.

Beneath the grid the keel is affixed (sealant and machined-in bolts) in a leakproof but removable bond.

Performance
To date the Oceanis performance evolution has been pretty straightforward. Each new boat has been (relatively speaking) a bit lighter, and each new sailplan has been proportionally larger. Thus  horsepower to weight (sail area/displacement) characteristics, the "muscles" of performance under sail, have been groomed and refined over the years.

"The 393 replaced the Oceanis 381," says Burdick, "and you can note the same sort of improvement [from a SA/D of 14.45 to a more robust 16]. But these numbers aren't all there is to performance. The 393 was given a substantially longer  waterline [35' 1" as opposed to 32' 10"]. That provides a more open-ended speed potential that can boost passage times. Those are the numbers that sailors can really appreciate."

Berret and Racoupeau have made some other changes. The 393 is very beamy for her size. The 381 was a beamy 12' 11" wide; the 393 pushes that out to 13' 1". Taking a page from today's long-distance racers, the designers have made their own modest foray into the area of "beam for speed." The 393 certainly benefits from her above-average volume when it comes to accommodations and  payload, but hers is also a shape designed to enhance performance rather than weigh it down. The initial stability that she achieves via beam means that she needs less ballast. Her powerful after sections permit faired waterlines and flattened buttocks that minimize wave-making turbulence. By easing the turn of the bilge her designers gave her semi-circular sectional shapes that cut down on parasitic drag (and improve light-air performance).

The proof is in the pudding. On a sail after the Newport Boat Show last fall, Wayne Burdick offered us the wheel and we sailed close-hauled into a 12-knot southeaster heading past Ft. Adams toward open water. We noted that she seemed at least as close-winded as the boats around us. Pinching  her up to around 30 degrees apparent wind angle caused her to skate off to leeward, but when we sailed full and by (at something closer to 40 degrees) she was a different boat—balanced and weatherly.

We doubted that punching through chop would be a strongpoint, but in this relatively protected water the 393 went upwind with power and efficiency. Her balanced spade rudder made tacking (consistently inside 85 degrees) a pleasure. When we cracked off to test her stability it was remarkably hard to get the foils to ventilate. The steering control created by her powerful after sections and deep rudder was excellent.

Reaching and running are what the 393 was made for. A conventional poled spinnaker would add cruising versatility and the standard mast-furling mainsail  lacks the effective area of a conventional main (now offered as the optional "classic"), but these quarrels have more to do with the modern cruiser in general than with the 393 specifically.

Conclusions
For cruising in comfort and sailing with ease it's hard to top modern designs like the 393. Openness, creature comfort, and smooth-running systems put boats like these well ahead of the "narrow, dark, cave-like" designs of just a few years ago. However, if your need is to claw off a lee shore in a gale, to go where the waves are bigger than you are, or to cast off with "anything goes" readiness, these new coastal cruising designs aren't as good as the old. That's not to say that the 393 can't go far afield, but if we were doing it, we'd choose the deep-keel option for better lift, the "classic" mainsail arrangement—and we'd dote on the rig and all its terminals.

Beneteau has harnessed its design and purchasing resources to produce a boat that combines performance and comfort in an attractive package. Designed in large part according to the demands of customers to fit the cruising that they actually do, it's a triumph of stowage, light, air, and space, and is gratifying to sail.

Despite focus groups and styling details, despite corporate bigness, and the difficulties inherent in making a good thing better, it seems to us that the company has again brought an honest boat to market. 

Contact- Beneteau USA, 24 North Market St., Suite 201, Charleston, SC 29401; 843/805-5000; www.sailnet.com/beneteau/.

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