Beneteau First 53
Beneteau brings back its First line of racer-cruisers with the launch of the powerful and beautiful flagship
Heading below the first thing I noticed was the innovative way the companionway hatch board and cover slide into the deck. But that was just the first surprise.
The enormous saloon was bright and inviting, and the mix of white lacquered molded woodwork and teak joinery kept things refreshingly clean. Part of the reason for the openness is the lack of dining table. The saloon is effectively broken into three distinct areas: a large C-shaped galley, a dinette area and a settee living room area.
Beneteau interviewed 500 owners who said they rarely use the dining table. Four people can eat comfortably at the dinette table, but by flipping out an extension and adding a seat, the table seats six. The 53’s sofa and coffee table area includes a flat-screen television that retracts into a cabinet, and a large locker above contains the electrical panel.
The galley is huge and features Corian countertops, a two-burner gas stove and oven, front-opening refrigerator and freezer and a built-in countertop dishwasher. There is counter space galore, and storage is both easy to access and smartly designed.
The 53 comes in two interior options. The test boat was the three-cabin, two-head version. The other option adds a third head, which eliminates the washer and dryer. The owner’s cabin forward features a centerline queen berth, a large wardrobe and separate hanging locker. The head is split into two cabins, with the toilet and sink to starboard and the shower stall to port. The boat has 6 feet 4 inches of headroom throughout, which allows for the shower head to be full height. One of the benefits of zoned heating and cooling is you can hang wet foul weather gear in the shower and turn on the air to dry.
We powered away from Jabin’s boatyard and out of Back Creek, and the retractable bow thruster came in handy when getting out of the tight slip. The test boat was outfitted with the 80-horsepower Yanmar and saildrive, and it moved the boat comfortably at 8 knots at 2,800 rpm and jumped quickly to 10 knots at 3,000 rpm. The wind was light at about 10 knots when we raised the main—a simple process—with the push of the electric winch button, and it rose smoothly out of the Park Avenue boom on Harken mast slides. Although sails are not included, the test boat was outfitted with a full North Sails inventory. Beneteau and North worked together to develop the sail package that includes the main, jib and code zero.
We tacked out into the bay, and the boat was easy on her feet, with the optional 9-foot 10-inch draft bulb-fin keel. The test boat carried a 936-square-foot main on the standard 85-foot aluminum mast. An 88-foot carbon mast weighing just 220 pounds is an option.
All that CFD testing was apparent as I took the wheel. The boat felt powerful in the 10 knots of breeze, but it handled with fingertip control. The slightest adjustment of the helm brought immediate results as we tacked out into Chesapeake Bay. Standing at the helm when heeled was comfortable thanks to chocks in the cockpit sole that pop up to keep things level.
Trimming the sails took some organization, with all halyards and the mainsheet led underneath the deck to a bank of stoppers and two winches, one electric and one standard, located both port and starboard. Mast shape is controlled by adjusting the twin hydraulic backstays and the oversized hydraulic vang controlled mainsail twist. Setting an offwind sail was a simple process of furling the jib and unfurling the code zero that flies on its own furler. The 53 also can fly a full-size asymmetrical spinnaker off the same tack point on the bowsprit.
The breeze faded as the sun began to dip, losing any opportunity to fully test the 53’s potential, which, according to the boat’s polars, should achieve boat speeds in the 12-knot range when reaching with the asymmetric spinnaker in 20 knots of breeze.
One owner has fitted out the boat without all the extra equipment that adds weight such as the generator and dishwasher, and opted for the carbon rig and larger sailplan with the intention of racing in the Caribbean circuit. Either way, the new First 53 is sure to shine on the race course and off cruising in luxury.
LOA 56’4”; LWL 50’6”; Beam 16’5”; Draft standard 8’2”, performance 9’10”; Displ. 34,162 lbs.; Ballast 9,918 lbs; Sail area 1,785 sq. ft.; Auxiliary 80-hp; Fuel 106 gal.; Water 190 gal.
Base-boat price: $672,000
105 Eastern Ave., Ste. 201
Annapolis, MD 21403