Beneteau First 456
A sturdy cruiser that will offer performance for years to come
The Beneteau First 456 is one of the largest boats we've profiled in the Used Boat Notebook column and I think one of the best values. Designed by the prolific, versatile and immensely talented German Frers, the 456 began life as a powerful, ocean-racing machine, racking up wins in most major offshore races during the early and mid-1980s. While many ex-racing boats seem dreadfully outdated at age 20, a fate that I suspect awaits some of today's uncompromising designs, the 456 has gracefully aged into a capable and comfortable performance cruiser that can still surprise around the buoys, especially if it is blowing.
Beneteau launched the First Series in 1979 with the sleek, ultra modern Jean Berret designed 30. Although it seems passé today, Beneteau should have patented the term "performance cruiser," as the First Series turned out to be quite successful both as racers and later as cruisers. Berret followed up the 30 with the First 38, and Frers delivered designs for a 42 and the 456. The 456 was launched in 1983 and remained in production for four years. Hundreds of boats were built and many were sold in the United States. Other 456s were sailed across the pond and remained on this side of the Atlantic. A recent quick search on Yachtworld.com revealed more than a dozen 456s for sale in the United States and Canada.
Forty-five feet is about the ideal length for the angular, hard-edged look that came to represent most First Series boats, and in some ways helped set the stage for the shape of yacht design that continues today. While the smaller boats in the series tend to look clipped and ungraceful, Frers really hit the mark with the 456. The bow is nicely raked and although the overhang might be slower than today's snub-nosed, waterline-stretching stems, it sure is handsome. The sheer is relatively flat but the long run of the hull and moderate freeboard makes the straight line visually appealing. The sleek cabintrunk slopes to meet to the deck just forward of the mast. The broad reverse transom predates the stern step phenomenon.
Below the waterline the 456 has a deep, and I do mean deep, high aspect fin keel. The standard draft is 7 feet, 11 inches and that translates into 8 feet-plus when loaded for cruising. Fortunately, many boats that were sold in the United States had the optional 6 foot, 3 inch shoal draft. The rudder is a balanced spade and positioned well aft, offering good steering control in most conditions. A close inspection of the underwater profile reveals one of the 456's best characteristics. Unlike other performance boats of this era, the 456 is not a pounder, and it won't knock your fillings out when sailing upwind.
The forefoot has more bite to it than today's Farr-designed First Series boats, and while the hull shape is still plenty fast, it isn't as flat or as prone to lifting out of the water and slamming back down. Motion is probably the most important factor in cruising boat design and one the least discussed and most abused by designers. The designed ballast-to-displacement ratio of 45 percent helps account for the 456's stiffness in strong breezes.
Beneteau blends production efficiency with traditional construction techniques to build affordable and strong boats that have proven themselves on countless ocean crossings. In fact, it's safe to say that more Beneteaus have crossed the Atlantic on their own bottoms than any other boat. With that said, I confess to having mixed feelings about the partial molded liners that Beneteau uses as a structural grid system. The 456 liner is just a couple feet high and contains molded floors and longitudinals that stiffen the hull. The liner is then fiberglassed to the hull, in essence creating a hull within a hull. The system works; Beneteaus have reported few structural problems over the years. In fact, at the recent Annapolis Boat Show the Beneteau sales people were tossing around the figure of 5 million sea miles logged by Beneteaus. Heck, they're catching up to McDonalds! Still, liners do limit access to and can potentially come adrift of the hull.
The 456 hull is solid fiberglass and relatively thick. The deck is balsa cored and the hull joint incorporates the aluminum toerail. Many 456s came with teak decks, a feature that I would try to avoid when shopping for a used boat. Beneteau has always done a nice job of fiberglass sculpting and the 456 deck mold is intricate. Gelcoat cracking and crazing is rare and the molded nonskid seems to hold up well.
The iron keel is externally fastened with stainless bolts supported by a molded in backing plate. The nuts are then covered with resin slurry, which is not a good idea. The rudder stock is stainless steel and the quadrant is aluminum. The mast is keel stepped. Bulkheads are tabbed in place and supported by the liner. The joinery work is surprisingly nice, and the overall engineering reflects the fact that Beneteau has built a lot of boats over the years; they know what works and what doesn't.
What to look for
The first thing to look for is a First 456 without teak decks. While teak decks are undeniably handsome, they are a chore to maintain and a source of problems. Unfortunately, teak decks were actually standard for much of the production run so many 456s have them. Also, check the deck carefully for signs of delamination, especially around the chainplates. Water damage to the bulkhead below is often a sign that the chainplates are leaking.
The early First Series boats were hard hit by the dreaded pox that swept through the industry in the 1980s. Beneteau, unlike most builders, had the wherewithal to do the right thing and told owners to take their boat to the yard, have a complete bottom job done and send them the bill. The result was that Beneteau established an impressive reputation in this country and almost all their boats had professional blister jobs done.
If you find a 456 that has been re-powered, usually with a four-cylinder Yanmar, consider it a plus. The original engine, likely the venerable Perkins 4108, is tough and reliable but just doesn't provide enough horsepower for a boat that displaces around 25,000 pounds when loaded for cruising. Some boats came with the 56-horsepower Perkins 4154 and others with a 60-horsepower Pathfinder diesel by Volkswagen. Another potential problem is with the keel bolts. Some owners have reported keel bolt leaks or gaps in the keel-to-hull joint. I would suggest a careful inspection before deciding upon a repair. If you do have to drop the keel, it is a big job, not least of which is breaking up the resin that covers each bolt. Also, some owners report problems with the rudder bearings, especially if the boat had been out of the water for a long time. Other less serious but annoying problems include drooping fabric hull liners and original French electrical systems that were undersized.
The 456 cockpit is deceptively large, moderately comfortable and safe in heavy seas. In fact, the substantial bridgedeck makes it somewhat of a gymnastics maneuver to get below, especially if a dodger is rigged. Lewmar winches were standard, and most 456s, even the early ones, came with self-tailing primaries.
The foredeck includes a double bow roller and a large, divided, external chain locker that can house serious ground tackle. The pulpits, stanchions and lifelines are a bit on the light side. The genoa tracks are inboard for tight sheeting angles and many boats have a load bearing, adjustable system lead to the cockpit. This feature is really useful on large boats, especially with a roller furling headsail that requires frequent lead changes. Isomat spars were standard and the standing rigging is beefy. Most 456s are set up with running backstays to keep the mast from pumping. Owners have mixed feelings on whether or not the boat needs them.
The 456 came with a variety of interior layouts. The forward cabin plan might include two doubles to port and starboard, with upper and under berths, or a pullman double berth with a vanity and writing desk opposite. In either arrangement the head is forward. The aft cabin plan features either two quarter-cabins, with small double berths, or a single, owner's cabin with a full-sized double. Boats that went into charter service often had the four-cabin arrangement. However, the most popular plan includes two doubles forward and the single owner's cabin aft. My friend Steve Maseda just purchased a 1984 456 with the pullman cabin forward and the owner's cabin aft, and unless you need a lot of small staterooms, this is the most desirable plan for cruising.
The saloon features wraparound settees and seating for eight at a centerline table with fold-out leaves. Most boats have pilot berths. The water tanks are under the settees, limiting storage space, however the shallow bilge leaves little choice when it comes to tank placement. The large nav station is to starboard and the L-shaped galley is opposite. The galley usually includes a three-burner stove/oven, double stainless sinks and a poorly insulated icebox compartment with 12-volt refrigeration.
The standard engine was the Perkins 4108, which is the same engine Beneteau used in both the First 38 and First 42. It is not uncommon to find a re-powered 456, so be sure to check the installation carefully. The standard prop was a small two-bladed model, which didn't help performance under power but did reduce drag under sail. Engine access is adequate from behind the companionway and through the aft cabins. The 55-gallon, stainless steel fuel tank is located forward of the engine. Like most fin and spade boats, the 456 handles well in reverse once you gather way on.
Although the 4108 is a bit small for the 456, don't necessarily assume the engine has to be replaced, even if it has high hours. The 456 is easily driven under sail, and motoring is required only in the calm conditions.
"It's all about performance," Maseda says, "even in a cruising boat. I am not looking to win races but sailing is so much more enjoyable when the boat is performing at an optimal level." Maseda has owned an interesting assortment of boats, including a Melges 24, an Olson 30 and a Gulfstar 50 that he took a year-long sabbatical aboard with his family 10 years ago. "I am ready to go cruising again, but my years in sport boats has spoiled me, I need some speed."
The 456 should deliver the speed he's looking for and still provide enough creature comforts to make long-term cruising enjoyable. The 456 sails best when kept on her lines; the mantra "flat is fast" applies. However, the boat is set up for large, overlapping headsails so sometimes it's impossible not to bury the rail. The powerful masthead sloop is in its element close reaching, and according to owner Walker Montgomery, speeds of 8-plus knots are easy to attain if there isn't much of a sea running. Montgomery, who sails his 456 out of Galveston Bay, says that the boat handles well running and reaching, even in heavy seas in the Gulf of Mexico.
Montgomery finds that his 135-percent roller furling headsail provides the versatility needed for most conditions. An alternative to a roller furling headsail is essential for serious cruising and a good option is the Gale Sail, available through ATN Inc. Maseda recently sailed from Tarpon Springs to Bradenton off Florida's Gulf Coast. He covered 35 miles in just over five hours. "The winds were moderate and I was impressed with how nice the boat moved through the water," he said. The helm was light and easily balanced. I think I am going to like this boat."
The Beneteau First 456 is an excellent choice for a performance oriented cruiser with spacious accommodations. Prices range from around $100,000 for an older model that might have been a charter boat, to $140,000 for a clean owner's model. Anyway you look at it, the 456 delivers a lot of boat for the money.