December 2019 48° North

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EASY & Elegant BENETEAU OCEANIS 51.1 BOAT TEST

by Joe Cline There are a lot of different priorities that can take center stage when it comes to boat design. Going sailing is the best way to truly discover what they are for a particular boat. This month, I went sailing on the new Beneteau Oceanis 51.1 and it was a voyage of discovery indeed. The 51.1 is the first release of the new “point-one” series in the immensely successful Oceanis line, and it represents some subtle, but significant, updates to previous iterations. The boat I sailed is the first 51.1 in the Pacific Northwest, and our trip on Lake Union happened to be her maiden voyage under sail. Similar to some prior Beneteau offerings, the 51.1 is all about options. There are different packages that offer three draft depths, two mast heights, and an array of interior layouts and other options. The boat I sailed is likely to have the broadest appeal for Pacific Northwest cruisers: it had the standard-height mast (70’3”), the medium depth draft (7’9”), the “downwind package” to better utilize flying sails including a Code Zero, and was upgraded to the more powerful engine (110hp) with a shaft in place of the stock 80hp with a saildrive. Returning to the notion of design priorities, my first and lasting impression of the 51.1 is that it might be the easiest boat I’ve ever sailed, of any size. Hull form, interior layout, or sailplan can be sexier to talk about, but the systems that help us sail and the ergonomics of a deck layout are of deep design importance and have a massive impact on our enjoyment of day-to-day sailing adventures. The Beneteau design team, in this case led by naval architect Berret Racoupeau, has arranged a bounty of sail-assisting tools into a simple and elegant amalgamation. These include a self-tacking jib, an in-mast furling main, a German mainsheet system (which can be trimmed from either side of boat), dual electric selftailing winches at each of the two helm stations, and the clean and intuitive arrangement of six clutches just forward 48º NORTH

of the winches that manage the under-deck-led control lines for everything you need to get the sails out and go. Some of what makes the deck appealing is what isn’t there: there were no jib tracks on the wide side decks because of the selftacking track in front of the mast, there’s no traveler because the mainsheet attachment point is on fixed dodger arch, and there isn’t a single line in the seating area of the cockpit at all. From the moment we started to unfurl the main until the final dockline was made fast around a cleat at the end of our sail, every process seemed effortless, and it put me at ease. The sophistication of the layout for sailing was reminiscent of the finest gourmet cuisine — the ingredients might be available to others, but it’s abundantly clear when the finished product is a cut above. Even a brilliant deck layout wouldn’t overcome a boat that doesn’t sail, and the 51.1’s sailing performance more than held up to its other impressive features. I’ll be honest, as a performance sailor, I was ready to be underwhelmed. We took the boat out on a lovely, but light, Lake Union day with 4-8 knots of breeze. Many of the systems that make this boat so easy to sail sometimes bring compromises in performance, most notably the ever-more-popular stock configuration of a self-tacking jib and in-mast furling main—these do not allow most boats to sail as well as they could with a traditional setup with more adjustable headsail sheeting and a main with horizontal battens and a real roach. My skepticism was evident when I tactlessly inquired, “Is that main out all the way?” after we unfurled the sail for the first time. Yet, once we settled in, I was quite pleased with how the sails trimmed and found that the boat did admirably on reaches and very well close-hauled. We cruised around the lake at an easy 3-5 knots on most points of sail. Upwind provided the best sailing of the day, and the boat found the combination of efficient waterline shape and 36

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