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Beneteau 381

1998 June 6

Performance cruiserr

Beneteau continues to bring us beautifully tooled and finished production yachts that seem to offer a lot for the money. When I visit different boats at boat shows, I am always amazed at the level of finish and attention to detail I find in Beneteau's interiors. Beneteau's pear wood veneer finish is my favorite and rivals anything in the market.

The new version of Beneteau's 381 comes to us from designer J. Berret-Racoupeau. The overall look is on the nebulous side. I like defined lines. This deck is quite rounded and softened; I'm sure it will find plenty of Euro-styling aficionados. Aesthetics are extremely subjective, however, so pick a boat that suits your own style.

The hull of the 381 is shapely and appears to have the promise of good performance. The 381 could use additional draft. Standard draft is 5 feet, 4 inches, and for many of you on the East Coast that will be extremely convenient. On the West Coast, we have the luxury of deep water just about everywhere. Cruising in a fleet of shoal-draft boats, the 381 will do fine. Drop this model into a fleet of 38-footers drawing 6 feet or more, however, and you will see a dramatic difference in VMG to weather.

The D/L is 191. Beam is generous and I would guess this boat has good initial stability. The entry is reasonably fine and the stern is broad on deck but not nearly as boxlike as so many foreign models. All in all, the hull is a pretty racy shape for a cruising boat.

The cockpit is big and dominated by a very bulky-looking steering console. A drop-leaf table extends off the front end of this console. I suppose this general look goes with the overall styling of the deck, but it's too Euro for my conservative eye. The transom opens up through a door for access to the swim platform. If your eye has trouble adjusting to swim platforms breaking up the lines of the transom, go cruising in a boat like this. You will become a believer in swim platforms very quickly. Despite my styling reservations, the photos show this boat to be a good-looking representative of its genre.

There are two layouts. One has twin staterooms aft, extending under the cockpit sole, and a galley adjacent to the companionway. The other has an expanded, single stateroom aft and the galley is moved amidships adjacent to the dinette. I call this galley-forward layout the California layout.

Years ago, layouts with a galley running longitudinally were very common. It's a good galley if you are going to cook with the boat flat. If you will be cooking while heeled, you would be better off with the galley wrapping around you. Both layouts feature dinettes with centerline island seats. I think this layout has a distinct advantage when seating six for a meal. The rest of the time I think it looks clumsy. But I've never cruised with a layout like this, so I had better reserve final judgment until I try it. Interestingly, while the longitudinal galley appears to be bigger, it has less uninterrupted counter space than does a wrap-around galley.

The rig is small and simple. You can get a mainsail that stows in the mast or a standard main dropping into a Stack Pack. I have used the Stack Pack and I have found it to be the best way to handle a cruising mainsail. The SA/D is a very modest 15.41. This boat would be good for exploring the thin areas of San Francisco Bay.

This is a good-value, performance-oriented cruiser.