Forgiving performance for those ready to graduate from their prams
The leaves on the trees rimming Chesapeake Bay were starting to turn, but the south wind, steady at 10 knots, carried the hope of Indian summer on a balmy autumn day. Of course, it was easy to be optimistic, not to mention lazy. The sailing was ideal. We were easing along at 7 knots, on a gentle reach, kicked back in the spacious cockpit. With the main and 140-percent genny properly trimmed the steering was balanced, requiring only an occasional minor adjustment.
I had to remind myself that I was working, on assignment no less, testing the new Beneteau 393. It was tempting to blow off the rest of the afternoon. We could have reached over to the Eastern Shore, making it on one nice tack over and another long tack back; perfect, no fuss, no muss. But no, not your faithful correspondent. Ever dutiful, I insisted that we haul in the sheets and come up hard on the wind. Then I completely spoiled our lazy afternoon by putting the boat through a series of quick tacks. I don't want readers to think that these boat tests are anything less than grueling.
The new 393 is a midrange model from the Beneteau Series, which is different from the performance-oriented boats in the First Series and the commodious cruisers from the Center Cockpit Series. The aft-cockpit Beneteau Series includes the 311, 331, 361, 411 and 473, with the 393 patterned after the latter. Designed by Berret/Racoupeau, the 393 is well-proportioned and versatile, capable of extended offshore passages and pleasing daysails, which just may be the most challenging type of boat to design.
The hull shape reveals short ends and a long waterline, of course, but a close inspection of the line drawings shows a bit more wetted surface area forward and a husky keel section. Jean Berret is no stranger to creating handsome, bluewater cruisers. He designed one of my favorites boats, the now 20-year-old First 38-a swift, capable boat that I sailed across the Atlantic years ago. The 393 has a more modern look, and when viewed in profile, the relatively high freeboard becomes apparent, although the effect is softened by the sleek angle of the coachroof and elegant overall styling.
The 393 is built in the United States at Beneteau's South Carolina plant. The hull is solid fiberglass with a structural inner grid and fiberglass floors. The deck is balsa cored. There is a complete deck liner, or head liner, which encapsulates the upper sections of the bulkheads. Liners have many production advantages and offer easy maintenance and good insulation. However, they do make it more difficult to access fittings from below. The keel is externally fastened with stainless bolts, and the mast is deck-stepped with a compression post.
The fiberglass work on deck is superb, from the intricate molded nonskid pattern to the soft curves that are visually pleasing and structurally sound. Beneteau, the largest sailboat manufacturer in the world, is justifiably proud of its construction techniques. It is safe to say that every year more Beneteaus cross oceans on their own bottoms than any other brand of boat.
The 393 cockpit is comfortable and well thought out. Our test boat was fitted with a large dodger, yet visibility from the helm was still quite good. The wheel is trimmed in leather, and the pedestal, or I should say console, includes instrument pods, a well-placed stainless handrail and cup holders. Oh yes, it houses the compass too. There is a large drop-leaf cockpit table and plenty of storage in two aft lockers. (The two-cabin model that was tested features a huge port sail locker.) One clever feature is the way the helm seat lowers to allow access to the transom step. Beneteau is trying to patent this design. With so many features coming as standard, one of the few options available is hot water for the transom shower, a must for civilized cruising.
The 393 is brilliantly set up for easy sail handling. The standard mainsail is roller furled in the mast, with the controls led to the cockpit. The 140-percent headsail, which features a foam luff for better shape when partially furled, was fitted with Schaeffer furling gear on our test boat. Both sails are made in China by Neil Pryde. The mainsheet traveler is mounted forward of the companionway, but like the rest of the sail controls, it can be trimmed from the cockpit. The two-sided mainsheet is easy to reach. A rigid vang is standard. While the primary sheet winches are Lewmar 48s CSTC, the lone Lewmar 30 CSTO workhorse winch on the aft end of the coachroof might be a bit undersized. Five Spinlock jammers are deployed about the deck and spars, including one in the cockpit for the headsail furling line-an excellent idea.
The anodized aluminum mast has double, swept-back spreaders and twin backstays. The roller-furling drum for the genoa is mounted above deck instead of in the anchor locker. While the latter arrangement creates a sleeker look on deck, it is more practical to have the drum above deck for maintenance, observation and better furling-line leads. It also frees up more space in the chain locker. The stainless steel stemhead fitting has a single offset anchor roller. Double lifelines and stanchions are well supported, and the pulpits and rails are robust. I am not certain why French manufactures have opted for the solid anodized aluminum toerail. Although it looks great, the old style T- or L-track with machined cutouts is more practical.
The 393 comes with two interior arrangement plans, one featuring three sleeping cabins and one with two. Both plans have lovely, cherry-trimmed wood finish. Beneteau's high level of workmanship, readily apparent in the interior joinerwork and details, might surprise those who think of the company as a production builder. With little touches like convenient pullout blinds for overhead hatches, full-length overhead handrails and a well-placed trash locker in the galley, Beneteau has always found ways to make its boats homey, safe and user-friendly.
Both plans devote the forepeak to a private head for the forward cabin. This is a great use of space. While this setup is difficult to use when under way in large seas, there is an aft head that can be used when the going gets rough. The bow shape lends itself to a head configuration, with the toilet forward, while allowing for a more desirable Pullman style berth aft instead of the traditional V-berth-a very civilized arrangement. The head compartment is completely molded and includes a shower and overhead Lewmar hatch. The forward cabin is spacious and features a comfortable dressing seat opposite the berth and a large hanging locker. There are also full-length shelves above the berth to port and good ventilation with two hatches.
The saloon in the two-cabin model includes a large U-shaped settee to port with a small centerline seat. There is storage in corner lockers and under the settee. The spacious interior makes use of the 13-foot, 1-inch beam, by extending the furniture nearly to the hull at the expense of storage locker depth. The table, which lowers to converts to a double berth, is to port, with an entertainment console and large storage area opposite.
The nav station is aft. This is an unusual use of space, but actually quite practical. A number of folded charts and guidebooks can be stashed inside the nav desk, and there is room for radios and repeaters beneath the electrical panel located outboard. The most striking feature of the saloon is the skylight-it floods the cabin with welcome natural light.
The two-cabin plan includes an L-shaped galley to port. Double stainless steel sinks face forward with a small two-burner stove and oven outboard. A 12-volt refrigerator, with a front-opening door is standard. Galley cabinets have louvered door faces for ventilation and there is plenty of counter space for preparing meals-it is a French boat after all. The three-cabin model places the galley along the starboard side of the saloon, a necessary tradeoff if you need another cabin, although it can be a difficult arrangement for cooking under way.
Both models have a second head to starboard, with a standard manual flush toilet, wash basin and shower. (The water capacity is 131 gallons in two rotomolded plastic tanks.) A small cabinet holds toiletries, and there is handrail for when the going gets rough. The three-cabin model has identical doubles tucked under the cockpit with fore-and-aft bunks. The two-cabin plan has one large athwartships bunk. Both versions include hanging lockers and shelf storage.
Access to the 40-horsepower Westerbeke diesel is excellent from behind the companionway steps and through the aft cabins. A fixed three-blade prop is standard, serving notice that this is a cruising boat. But the increased punch under power more than compensates for the extra drag while under sail. Fuel capacity is 35 gallons, which translates into a range of 200 to 250 miles. If long-distance cruising is in your plans a second tank might be a worthwhile addition.
We continued to put the 393 through its paces on the bay. Sailing about 40 degrees apparent, the boat maintained speeds in excess of 6 knots, but slowed if I started to pinch. The 393 is designed to be sailed on its lines, which becomes readily apparent pm the water. The sheeting angles are fairly tight, and the boat has a nice upwind motion. The genoa snapped over easily as we tacked. Close reaching, the 393 really found its stride, hitting 7.5 knots in light to moderate conditions. Reaching and running the boat felt well balanced and steering was responsive.
Overall I was impressed with the handling characteristics, thoughtful design and construction quality, especially because the 393 is quite attractively priced. The boat is clearly a sound value. The standard equipment package is fairly complete, although an electric windlass and autopilot are necessary options for cruising. Still you won't have to spend a fortune outfitting the boat after you buy it. With the 393 Beneteau has made our cruising dreams affordable.