Designed to attract a new generation of sailors, Bente is a new dynamic company that has produced one of the most economical, small, fast cruisers ever seen. The Bente 24 is positively brimming with fresh ideas.
There was one yacht many visitors to the world’s biggest boat show in Düsseldorf would have walked straight past in the sailing boat hall, not knowing what they were missing – and probably assuming it was a motor boat. Actually, this grey, bare, rig-less, chined hull with a bright orange cuddy was the new prototype of what is the most exciting and engaging project I’ve seen in years.
There is so much new energetic thinking surrounding the Bente 24 – a stimulating platform to encourage a younger generation of sailors back into yacht ownership – that once drawn into the stand, I found it difficult to leave.
The result is a unique, utterly refreshing 24ft cruiser-racer with a base price of just €25,000. It is spacious and well thought-out for cruising, yet is quick, light and fun. For that price you get an empty, but solid shell, to which you can add removable galley, beanbags, etc – but more on the spec later. This is a racy, affordable boat to bridge the gap between dinghy and cruiser – a gap that often means young sailors give up on boat ownership. The Bente 24 is also offered in a performance version (with square-top main, bowsprit, stainless steel fin, etc) for racing.
And it’s struck a chord – over 20,000 people have been following the project on Facebook.
Bente is the brainchild of Stephan Boden, a sailing writer and filmmaker, and designer Alexander Vrolijk, son of prolific naval architect Rolf from judel/vrolijk & co. It’s a dynamic collaboration, mixing innovative design with the medium of translating the project to a social media-savvy audience. The founders, both from Hamburg, are far from the traditional brokers or yard reps who typically frequent boat show stands. Their look – young, energetic, bearded, with baseball caps – represents their target market. “Sailors are becoming older and older every year and nobody changes a thing,” says Boden. Well Bente is out to address that.
Boden has had two books published about cruising aboard his Varianta 18 with his dog Polly, and his sailing blog is one of the best read in Germany. That four-month voyage changed his life. He discarded materialistic things to be more like his yacht: small, flexible and low-cost.
Boden’s desire to go long-term liveaboard cruising drew him to the Düsseldorf boat show last year, which he toured with Vrolijk, looking for a 24-footer. “Every boat I saw had nearly the same problem: I had to pay for stuff that I don’t want,” he told me. They decided the solution was to develop their own boat: “A modern, good sailing boat – sexy, innovative, with a good price. After that we called our project: ‘Rescue the world’.” From discussions over a bottle of Bordeaux, it took just nine months to the joining of hull and deck, and the birth of a new approach to economic fun sailing.
“We wanted to produce something young and affordable, to encourage young people to go sailing again,” says Alexander Vrolijk, who is acutely aware that the industry needs to attract a new market if it’s going to survive. On their stand was a ‘wall of fame,’ a giant clipboard showing how the project had developed.
It shows how Boden and Vrolijk were invited by sailor and professor Michael Adlkofer to work with 18 industrial design students at the Hannover University of Design. “We decided to show them no briefing, no mood boards – nothing,” Boden explained. “We were aiming for what we call ‘mind freedom’.” Each student came back with different design details for the Bente, from furniture to safety gear. With an impressive, growing Facebook following, the Bente team had live feedback to these ideas and were already engaging a young generation of supporters.
Check out this Flexi Rack solution for example, an open locker with flexible/latticed mesh to keep items safe at all angles. This picture was taken of a prototype they had worked up from an Ikea cupboard. Vrolijk demonstrated it by pulling it out of its frame, as if it were a locker that had come open, and shaking it, showing how the contents remained completely captive yet easily accessible.
The Bente project had become an online collaboration.
The Bente 24 = KISS philosophy
The boat itself is simple, minimalist, but well thought out. There’s no timber on board, no real furniture in fact. The curved backrests to the saloon benches are the hull-sides. Beanbags are designed to go here or in the cockpit – or even on the dock. “Sailing is about social happenings,” Vrolijk told me as we sat in the stark interior. “You put the beanbag on the pier, with the removable pantry, and all cook together.”
If you do want to cook on board, it is possible to have full standing headroom under the cover of the cuddy, thanks to the asymmetric companionway design. A fixed sprayhood, chosen because “people don’t put sprayhoods down”, allows you to sit in protection to control the pit winch.
The hulls are being built in Poland at Yacht Service, a company that produces hulls for X-Yachts among others. Vrolijk told me that they are planning to produce the hulls in 200 hours and that they only started building this first boat 36 days before the Düsseldorf show! (You can see the timelapse videos on Bente’s website). This helps to explain why the design comprises predominantly straight lines, so the hull can be quickly fabricated from CNC-cut, ready-laminated panels. The whole boat is designed to be stitched and glued to form one monocoque structure. It takes just three hours to join hull and deck.
The mast is deck-mounted to keep the hull watertight for offshore racing. The bilge has some curvature, and there is significant rocker forward – Vrolijk wants the Bente to be good upwind. The freeboard forward also allows for seated headroom on the forward berth.
“I designed the interior on a calculator,” says Vrolijk, “I didn’t want to use a computer for styling”. The result offers low, long benches for proper seated comfort and there is surprising volume aboard – room for five in the cockpit and five below.
Innovative solutions include the sink and galley solution, which retract on rails. These will stow away above the long (2.6m) aft berths, to be pulled-out like drawers when required. The sink drains straight into the heads for simplicity.
Bente went to Torqeedo to develop a 4kW retractable electric engine; this weighs just 60kg. It uses a lithium ion battery that weighs 23kg, yet has the same capacity as 100kg of lead acid batteries. Vrolijk concedes that this is an expensive option at €10,000, but similar to installing a diesel inboard and the tank required.
The hull looks stiff, with ringframes and longitudinal stringers – it has been engineered to last at least 30 years. “It’s the only fully cored small cruiser in the world,” says Vrolijk. “Yes, it’s cheap because it’s minimalist. We want to keep it bloody simple and make it easy to upgrade.” Hence Bente’s ‘fighting price’ of €25,000 including rig, sails, and lead bulb keel.
The Bente 24 will be offered with a 1.5m or 1.8m fixed keel or a swing version. It can be rotated on a trailer to 2.55m beam for road trailing. Indeed, Alexander Vrolijk is trailing the Bente to Sweden this summer for his honeymoon! Boden and his dog, Polly, meanwhile plan to go off cruising on a Bente for three or four years from 2017.
And the name? Bente is the name of the wife of one of the judel/vrolijk design team, who said she wouldn’t come on the boat if there was no heads. So from then on each idea had to pass the ‘Bente’ test.
Fast-talking Vrolijk says they’re not out to make money and that he wants to encourage others to build the boats all around the world. “`You can’t live off this, it’s not why we’re doing it. Sailing is fun sport, but people don’t understand it. For example, you have to pay €100 extra to get white sails, because we hate white sails!”
Boden agrees that sailing should be fun. “But mostly, the branch does not behave like a fun sport. And we want to communicate it, with our story, with our stands and with our boats. Bente is not only a boat; it is an event.”
The pair envisage new types of low-cost boat shows, with young like-minded partners, social events and regattas, even a Bente 24-hour race. The Bente team will go into stealth mode this spring, a hardcore test phase during which they will try to break everything.
“And we did rescue the world,” says Boden. “A guy visited us in Düsseldorf. He had a powerboat. And on that boat, he was reading my book. After he finished it, he decided to sell his powerboat and buy a yacht. And now, guess what, he is going to buy a Bente 24!”
See more at Bente24.com – but be warned, it makes surprisingly addictive reading.