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Beneteau 423

2003 September 7

Powerful, high-quality cruiser packed with innovative features and cruising comforts

To claim that Beneteau has mastered what it takes to produce successful new boats is a bit of an understatement. The French builder seems to have a direct line into the psyche of sailors the world over. Take the new 423 for example. Groupe Finot is responsible for designing this handsome, versatile 42-foot cruiser that appeals to a broad spectrum of sailors, from hardcore voyagers to casual weekenders looking for a little stress relief with its good performance and great accommodations.

This cruiser is extremely well-engineered, sensibly constructed and outfitted, and does not demand undue maintenance. And, most importantly, you can purchase a nicely equipped model for less than $200,000. No wonder Beneteau is the largest sailboat manufacturer in the world.

From the moment I first spied the new 423 I knew it would be a pleasure to sail. As we approached this powerful sloop I took a moment to observe as it cut through the water. The sheerline, although thoroughly modern, is a little softer than Beneteau's racy First Series boats, and there is a subtle curve to the hull that speaks to the cruiser. The bow is not plumb, there is a short but appealing rake and the reverse transom allows for easy-access swim steps. The cabintrunk blends beautifully into the hull, especially the low-slung forward section that is partially hidden by the raised bulwark when viewed from sea level.

The details
Conditions were nearly ideal for our Sailing Magazine Boat Test. The wind was steady at about 12 knots and the sea state minimal. The crew aboard the 423 hastily rolled in the main and jib as photographer Mike Wootton carefully eased along side. Bob Pingel (a.k.a. SAILING's Boat Doctor) and I hopped aboard, a maneuver that one day may land your less-than-graceful correspondents in the drink.

We quickly hauled out the main and 140-percent genoa. The 423 accelerated smartly. This was hull No. 1 of what promises to be a huge production run for the 423. Although this boat was built in France it is now manufactured at Beneteau's plant in Marion, South Carolina.

The robust, hand-laid solid fiberglass hull is built to CE Offshore A category standards. The hull is supported by Beneteau's proven grid system-a bonded fiberglass hull liner that stiffens the hull and spreads loads from the rig throughout the boat. The deck is a cored sandwich construction to keep weight down, although a solid laminate is used to support high-load areas. The bulkheads are bonded 360 degrees to hull and deck. Over the years Beneteaus have logged millions of sea miles, the ultimate testament to sound construction.

Below the water the forefoot is relatively narrow and somewhat flat. The 423 may pound slightly in a nasty chop but the lack of wetted surface also translates into good performance in most conditions with a hull shape not prone to heeling. The cast-iron bulb keel is externally fastened to the hull. The standard draft is 5 feet, 7 inches. A shoal-draft keel at 4 feet, 9 inches and deep-draft keel at 6 feet, 11 inches are options. The prop is well protected in a small skeg as opposed to a more vulnerable strut. The balanced rudder is positioned well aft for good steering control, and the rudder is composite construction, including the stock.

On deck
Wayne Burdick, president of Beneteau USA, escorted me around the deck, pointing out innovative features with passion. The molded raised bulwarks with a lovely teak caprail, beefy amidships cleats for spring lines, teak or stainless steel grab rails, a well-designed external chain locker housing the vertical windlass and husky stainless steel stemhead fitting with twin anchor rollers were some of the highlights. As always, I was impressed with the high quality of Beneteau's fiberglass work. From an intricate nonskid pattern to subtle incorporation of compound curves, the glass sculpting is excellent.

The sweptback double-spreader spar is deck stepped. The advantage of a deck-stepped spar is no leaking partners; the disadvantage is that in the unlikely event of capsize it is prone to dismasting. A roller-furling mainsail is standard, of course you can choose a conventional main if you just can't tolerate the ease and convenience of roller furling or must have battens. Our test boat was fitted with a new, optional track system from Z-Spar. Profurl headsail furling is standard as are Neil Pryde sails.

The cockpit is large, comfortable and very well thought out. A fiberglass steering pedestal and console incorporates instrument pods and a huge table with folding leaves. The standard wheel is a 42-inch stainless steel Destroyer type wrapped in leather. The helmsman's seat folds up to allow easy access to the transom steps where you will find a hot water shower. Lewmar 48 CSTO winches mounted on the cockpit coamings are the standard primaries. The cockpit is quite wide as the 423 carries its beam well aft, as a result these winches are not very easy to reach from the helm. Of course the cockpit can easily accommodate six people without feeling crowded. All other sail control lines are led aft and there are two Lewmar 40 CSTO winches on the coachroof with stoppers port and starboard.

Down below
The interior is stunning. Dropping below you might think you have accidentally strayed aboard a fine custom yacht. The joinerwork is very nice indeed. Douka, a light wood from the mahogany family, is used throughout and finished with a cherry stained varnish. Overhead skylight hatches offer an abundance of natural light and numerous opening ports and hatches provide excellent ventilation. The headliner is white vinyl, held up with removable wood battens.
The 423 is available with either a two- or three-cabin interior plan. Our test boat was the two-cabin model, featuring a single aft cabin. The three-cabin model includes two private cabins aft and will no doubt be popular with charter fleets. Both versions feature a lovely owner's stateroom forward with a centerline double and a settee to port. Shelves line the hull and there is storage in drawers beneath the berth. The ensuite head includes a separate stall shower. The only drawback is that the headroom in this stateroom is only a hair more than 6 feet.

The saloon is spacious, as the designers have pushed the interior right out to the hull sides. The trade-off is a lack of locker depth and overall storage but it certainly makes for a pleasant saloon. A U-shaped dinette is to starboard with all around seating. There are lockers with louvered doors outboard and a handsome bookshelf on the bulkhead. A settee is opposite to port with additional storage above and behind. Our test boat was fitted with a flat-screen television and DVD player.

The galley is to starboard on the two-cabin model and along the port side amidships on the three-cabin version. The two-cabin galley is a better arrangement, especially for preparing food while under way, and the front-and top-loading 12-volt refrigeration and a three-burner Force Ten stove and oven are standard. The counters are Granicoat with hardwood fiddles. Storage is in lockers above the stove and drawers below. A clever, removable stainless steel basket system is a good way to store fresh goods and there is also a built-in microwave locker on the two-cabin galley.

The nav station is to port on the two-cabin model and includes a large chart desk with storage beneath. The electrical panel is outboard and there is room for instrumentation just forward of the panel. I like that there is not a full bulkhead directly forward of the chart desk, as it helps keep the interior open and doesn't enclose the navigator. Both versions include a second head aft to port. The aft stateroom on the two-cabin model features an athwartship double. There is a hanging locker with a dressing seat just inboard. The aft cabins on the three-cabin model offers fore and aft doubles.
The 423 carries 154 gallons of fresh water. The bow tank is integrated into the hull liner in the bow and the plumbing system is very well laid out and accessible. The rotomolded fuel tank is aft with a capacity of 54 gallons. A Volvo D255-horsepower high-torque low-rev diesel is standard. This engine is extremely quiet and very efficient. Access is from behind the companionway step. A three-bladed fixed prop is standard but the feathering prop, which was fitted on our test boat, is an option worth strong consideration. After our test sail we powered back toward Annapolis at 7 knots and it was difficult to hear the engine in the cockpit. Unfortunately we didn't have the opportunity to put the boat through its paces under power in close quarters.

Under sail
Back on the water, I took the helm and we brought the boat up on wind. The 423 is relatively close winded, although we stalled when sailing inside of 40 degrees. Cracking off the 423 showed impressive acceleration, and we flirted with 7 knots on a gentle close reach. The helm was light, very light, and steering was precise. The visibility from the helm is excellent. Coming back on the wind we executed several tacks. The slippery hull shape came through the wind cleanly.

We jibed over to head back to Annapolis. The mainsheet traveler controls made centering the boom a snap and although the wind was up a bit the maneuver went smooth. Sailing on a deep reach, with just a genoa, we clipped along at 7-plus knots.

The most impressive sailing feature of the 423 is how little effort we were putting into it. Despite my best attempts to act like a hard-hitting journalist, I found myself relaxing in the cockpit, chatting happily and enjoying the ride. Of course, isn't that what sailing is supposed to be all about?

The Beneteau 423 proves that a quality cruising boat with a nice turn of speed can also be affordable. Beneteau should be applauded for that achievement.