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Beneteau 46

2009 June 1

This sleek cruiser is an almost perfect blend of style and performance

The Beneteau 46 is a near ideal blend of performance, comfort and user friendliness. The 46 continues Beneteau's sleek new look with a rakish deck design that somehow seems low slung while at the same time allows for large portlights that flood the interior with natural light. This design, like others in the Beneteau Series, is the result of a combination of talents. Naval architects Jean Berrret and Oliver Racoupeau designed the hull and deck while the Italian firm of Nauta Design is responsible for the interior layout and styling.

I really like the concept and the execution of the performance cruisers that make up the "Beneteau Series." Ranging from 31 feet to 49 feet, these boats combine capable, sweet sailing hull shapes and spacious interiors. The 46, which actually has an LOA of 47 feet, 3 inches, just may be the perfect length for an all-around performance cruiser. It is big enough to be very fast and has enough heft to have a nice ride in a seaway and yet can still be easily handled by a couple. The interior is comfortable for living aboard for long periods of time, and although the systems are serious, they're not overwhelming to maintain. And, it's a Beneteau, meaning that it is well made and backed up by the largest sailboat company in the world.

I recently sailed the Beneteau 46 in Miami. The conditions were perfect for a boat test. Gusty winds ranging from 10 to 25 knots meant that we had to be on our toes all the time, and the narrow, shallow waters of northern Biscayne Bay meant that we had to tack frequently. We really put the boat through its paces and I came away impressed. The 46 is a rare boat indeed. It's so easy to handle that you won't hesitate to take it out for an hour or two after work, and yet it's capable of crossing oceans. I suspect most owners will use it for weekend cruising.

My first impression while motoring away from the dock was that the boat didn't seem like it was 46 feet. It is very nimble. We slipped out of the crowded Miami Marina basin without any muss or fuss. We threw off the lines, backed out of the slip and steamed away. There was no need to corral a team of onlookers to fend off, there was no shouting to grab this line or that line. The 46 handles superbly under power and the view from either helm is uncluttered, which is important when maneuvering in tight spaces. Of course, when you drop below the boat seems every bit of 46 feet, but we'll get to that later.

On deck
The simplicity of the deck design and sailing systems became readily apparent as we set the sails right after clearing the bridge north of the marina. Conning the 62-foot, 6-inch mast under the 65-foot bridge was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was nice to know that the 46 is Intracoastal Waterway friendly.

All the sail control lines are led aft, under deck cover, to the cockpit. In-mast roller furling is standard. Just like that we had the main and 140-percent genoa deployed and were clipping along close to the wind, angling to stay in the marked channel. I have mixed feelings about covering plates for the halyards and lifts but it sure does clean up the deck, and the molded plates can be removed when necessary.

The cockpit features twin wheels, a design concept we've come to expect from Beneteau. And I must confess, I've come to like the idea. It's practical, especially in a boat that carries its beam all the way aft like the 46. Not only do you have a nice steering station on either tack, but accessing the oft-used stern step is much easier. A large, molded table incorporates a chartplotter that can be seen decently from either wheel, but it will be up to the owner to equip one or both stations with sailing instruments. The table provides excellent support for bracing yourself when sailing upwind.

Powerful Lewmar 54 sheet winches are easily reached from either helm. An advantage of the twin wheels becomes apparent when tacking. The helmsman can throw off the sheet from the low side wheel as he comes about, shift to the other wheel and haul in the sheet. It's an easy one-man job and it feels natural. The winches are positioned for helmsman trimming, which is the way most of us sail.

The cockpit includes three large lockers and a dedicated life raft locker built into the transom. This should become a requirement on all offshore boats. Mounting a life raft on deck, especially located far forward, makes no sense. The swim step has friendly teak slats and an even friendlier hot and cold shower. Beneteau even provides an outboard motor bracket and flagstaff standard.

Leaving the cockpit you'll find two long stainless steel handrails. As you make your way forward you'll find two more. The side decks are wide and the single pod chainplates are easy to navigate around. Up forward there's a double anchor roller and the small vertical windlass is standard. The anchor locker is large and deep but it would work better if it was divided for two separate rodes. Yes, the teak toerail is a maintenance item, but it sure looks nice.

The rig is a 9/10-fractional arrangement with a deck-stepped mast. I think that 46 feet is around the top end of where deck-stepped spars make sense. The mast features twin, swept-back spreaders. As noted earlier, in-mast furling is standard, and the mainsail includes vertical battens. Naturally, a conventional spar is standard, and a roller-furling boom is an owner option. The mainsheet is controlled by a midboom sheeting arrangement. I can hear the sighs already; here he goes again. I understand the practicality of midboom sheeting, I have it on my boat. Still, I feel it my duty to point out that it does load up the boom and makes trimming the main a bit more demanding. Okay, that's out of the way.

The wind piped up and we accelerated smartly. The design premise of the 46 calls for a lot of initial stability and I was impressed by how little we heeled despite being over-canvassed in the puffs. We braced ourselves as a couple of clueless sportfish boats charged past, going just fast enough to throw the maximum wake possible. The 46 rode up and over the assault without a splash on deck or a creak or moan; it is a solid boat.

The hull is hand-laid fiberglass without a core and incorporates a molded structural grid or liner. A vinylester barrier coat helps prevent blisters. The deck is cored except under high-load areas where it is solid, beefed-up laminate. The main bulkheads are bonded through 360 degrees, providing torsional and compression strength.

Down below
Turning the helm over to my 13-year-old stepson Nick, who graciously took the day off school to help me sail the 46, I dropped below. I like the serious nonskid on the companionway steps and the four stainless handrails. The 46 is available in either a two- or three-cabin layout. The two-cabin plan includes a unique aft cabin with a clever angled berth that allows access from three sides and maximizes the space in the cabin. The three-cabin model includes two identical double cabins aft.

Both models put the galley to port. It is a functional design and the white counter surfaces contrast nicely with the rich interior joinerwork. The 12-volt refrigeration and a 110-volt microwave are standard. The sinks are tucked away next to the companionway, providing for more space and a nice place to brace yourself while underway. There's a surprising amount of storage under the sinks and astride the three-burner stove. In the three-cabin model access to the port cabin is through the galley, in the two-cabin model the galley is completely enclosed.

A large head is opposite with a separate shower. This is an improvement over the multiple small heads found on older Beneteaus. The shower stall is well placed to double as a wet locker. The forward-facing nav station is a great design feature. It's tempting to dispense with nav stations these days, especially space grabbing forward-facing ones, but they still remain essential in my view. The saloon is lovely. There is a U-shaped settee draped around a handsome table to port with two seats on the centerline. The settee to starboard includes a removable armrest, allowing it to become a sea berth. The large portlights are covered with pleated blinds and the overhead hatches have sliding shades.

The owner's cabin is forward in both models. There is a large island-style double berth and en suite head. There's a hanging locker and a dressing table to starboard. The single aft cabin also includes a large hanging locker, a dressing table and a clever removable seat. The double aft cabins each include a small hanging locker and additional storage under the berth and along the hull.

The Yanmar 4JH4AE, 54-horsepower naturally aspirated diesel is standard. The engine is accessed from behind the companionway and through panels in the aft cabin. The soundproofing is excellent, it was hard to actually hear the engine running from the cockpit. A 53-gallon rotomolded fuel tank translates into a motoring range of close to 400 miles under normal conditions. A three-bladed fixed prop is standard.

Under sail
Back on the bay, we tacked east and steered down the narrow channel alongside the Venetian Causeway before it broadened into a delightful sailing area near a colossal monument to good old Christopher Columbus. After several short tacks we were able to crack off. On a close reach, with the wind at 18 knots, we blasted along at close to 8 knots. The boat felt solid, even when the wind gusted to 22 knots, the helm stayed manageable and we tracked true.

Falling off onto a beam reach we touched 8 knots. But we had to harden up quickly and tack before we ran up onto a sandbar. Our test boat was fitted with an electric mainsheet and halyard winch, which certainly takes the strain out of trimming up the main and mitigates the loads of midboom sheeting.

After two short tacks we had open water and a close reach. The 46 accelerated like a small, light boat. I was impressed. We decided to jibe and try some deep reaching. Sailing flat we were able to keep the headsail happy at 130 degrees. Sailing deeper would have required a chute, which unfortunately we didn't have aboard.

The wind started blowing as we headed back toward the marina. The expected cold front was turning up on schedule. We tucked reefs into both sails, a simple operation with two furling sails, and hurried for home.

The Beneteau 46 pushes all the right buttons. It performs well through a wide range of conditions, is comfortable on deck and below, and is very well priced. There's a reason Beneteau builds more boats than anyone else, they know what we want.