Is the CNB 66 the largest Sailing yacht that can be handled by a family crew? Toby Hodges reports
Congratulations. You’ve finally received that hefty bonus. Or perhaps you cashed in your pension, married wisely, or are a successful gambler or racketeer. However you came across the funds, you have decided now is the time to spend them and live the dream.
You want a modish monohull, a yacht that is both spirited to sail and sexy to look at – something out of the ordinary. You crave a yacht that is as at home crossing an ocean with friends as it is providing premium class coastal holidays with the family. And you want something that you can contemplate with pride.
At first glance, the CNB 66 could be the ideal choice. But is this just another pretty face or will she perform? And will she, as CNB suggests, be manageable by owners and their families without needing paid crew? We sailed her off the south of France to find out.
An increasing number of production yacht builders have moved up to this mid-60ft mark, but the key difference with CNB is that it has come down in size from superyachts. It uses the Beneteau Group’s buying power and industrial experience to help keep price tags modest, combined with its own R&D, engineering and big boat know-how to produce elegant craft that are a cut above the mainstream in style and substance. Think superyacht looks and feel but without the cost of a similar-sized semi-custom yacht.
The base price of a CNB 66 is around 40 per cent less than that of an Oyster or Contest, though if all the optional extras are chosen, as was the case with the test boat, that margin reduces considerably.
The 66 marks CNB’s 30th anniversary and is a model that plays on the success of the Bordeaux 60 (46 sold in nine years) and the CNB 76 (21 in four years). She shares a similar Philippe Briand-designed sporty hull and coachroof shape to the 76, but the bowsprit option is new.
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Docking out of the bustling marina at Port Cogolin, we were met by ideal sunny sailing conditions. It was the day after the closing regatta of the Mediterranean season, Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez. A Force 4 easterly was blowing and we had the Golfe de Saint-Tropez to ourselves.
Beating upwind under full main and genoa, we could pinch up to 22° to the apparent wind, making 7.5 knots. This rose up to 8.5 knots at 25° apparent as the breeze picked up into the mid-teens. My three crewmates demonstrated how easy it is to reef the CNB 66, an important consideration in taming this powerful cruiser.
The test boat has a carbon mast and hydraulic roller-furling carbon vee boom, developed with Hall Spars. Although this is an option over the standard aluminium rig, it is a significant feature for CNB in its efforts to convince couples that this is a manageable yacht.
Once the main is hoisted, the mandrel is hydraulically engaged. To furl, a remote switch powers the mandrel while the halyard is eased from the mast base winch. The system can also be controlled manually using an emergency line.
Without changing our heading, the main was sheeted out, a reef was wound in and we sailed on – at the same speed and with a bit less heel and pointing. Point nicely proven.
The boom and reefing mechanism is a seriously expensive option though. I would expect that, for €140,000, it might hoist or lower sails automatically and make drinks at the same time. Yet this system still requires a crewmember at the mast base to work the halyard winch and the control switch for the mandrel.
With full sail quickly and easily restored, we were soon out of the bay and into a steady sea breeze – and the 66 was in her element. Once she has that extra couple of knots of wind and degrees of heel, the CNB 66 accelerates another half-knot.
The sweet spot
It was a noticeable and delightful difference – she is a boat that sails best powered up. Indeed, it is once we cracked off a little onto a fetch that I found her sweet spot. This is the way to cover the sea miles, I thought – 15 knots wind at 50° apparent, clocking a steady 10 knots boat speed. We spent an intoxicating hour like that, close reaching back and forth across the mouth of the bay, savouring the experience.
In general, the feel on the helm is fun and authoritative. When the boat is less pressed, it can feel a little neutral and she can wander. The large twin rudders suit her design though.
Despite a noticeable amount of drag off the leeward blade, the direct grip they provide make easy work for the autopilot.
We hoisted a bright pink asymmetric sail for the return leg into the bay. This felt wonderful for the short spell when I could heat her up a little, making up to 10.5 knots.
But depth restrictions soon forced us to bear away to a more sedate angle, heel and speed. If we tried to sail much lower than 120° apparent, the asymmetric would lose too much apparent wind and start to flog.
As we slid past the old harbour at Saint-Tropez under port gybe, I couldn’t help thinking how at home the CNB 66 looked. This is one chic and stylish mini superyacht that will stand out for the right reasons wherever she sails.
Modern deck design
The twin helm stations are well designed. The outboard helm seats enable you to sit out in comfort, both to windward and leeward, with full vision along the side decks. Foot chocks will help when standing at the helm, and these are installed at handover stage according to each owner’s specification.
Directly in front of the helmsman’s seats are consoles for plotters, instruments, engine throttles and thruster controls. However, I found the motorboat-style joystick thruster controls were positioned too close to the wheel and could easily get knocked. Bow and stern thrusters help alleviate concerns about handling a yacht of this size with twin rudders in port – but I’d ask for conventional switches.
To get to the winches the helmsman has to walk outboard around the large consoles or inboard around the pedestals. It is then possible to keep a hand on the wheel and let off a lazy sheet. In reality, however, either one crewmember (or the autopilot) would helm while one or two others trim main and foresails.
The benefit of keeping the sailing systems aft is that, like most big yachts today, it leaves the main cockpit free of sailing systems. The seating area is larger to port and the companionway is offset a little. This slightly unsymmetrical design continues below through to the forward accommodation to provide privacy to the offset berth in the owner’s cabin.
The cockpit coamings are low, maintaining the sleek aesthetics of the superstructure, but offer little comfort or protection. This makes the optional padded backrest cushions a wise choice. Playtime at anchor and a smart means of getting ashore are important considerations for a yacht of this type.
A large, hydraulic-powered bathing platform lowers to reveal a tender garage roomy enough to house a 3.25m Williams jet RIB. Runner boards can mount onto the platform to help deploy the dinghy and an electric belt winch aids retrieval.
The forepeak sail locker is large enough to be used as an optional crew cabin, it has 7ft headroom, a proper fixed ladder and a useful watertight door into the interior. I liked the workbench with sockets for charging power tools and the tower of bosun’s boxes for spare parts.
Deck saloon appeal
Jean-Marc Piaton has designed another elegant, modern and light interior, which, as with the CNB 76, produces an air of quality and distinction throughout. The beamy deck saloon, with its ample natural light and views, creates a superb first impression.
Feedback from owners about its previous models led CNB to maximise interior space in the saloon and adjoining galley. It uses the full beam in the saloon, with the sofas taken right out to the hull sides. Elsewhere the 66 shares a similar layout to the 76, except the aft galley adjoins the saloon and the aft double cabin is suitable for either guests or crew.
Open spaces have their downsides at sea, however. Going below when the yacht is heeled quickly establishes that the CNB 66 badly needs a handrail on the deckhead in the saloon. It is a good distance between the saloon table and the sofa. And the carpet had yet to be secured down, which merely compounded my precarious efforts to walk forward. I also found the 90° companionway steps too angular for use at heel – curved sides would help.
An open bulkhead separates saloon and galley but allows interaction between both. These areas are divided by an aft-facing navstation, which is well placed to communicate with those on deck.
The danger is that this could become the ‘hall table’, however, a dumping ground between galley and saloon. The option of a dedicated navstation to starboard therefore, rather than the huge daybed cum sofa, will appeal to more traditional sailors.
The cabins have an attractive décor. They feature lit and ventilated wardrobes, bookshelves, leecloths and fittings, fabric on the hull liners and full-length mirrors on the doors. It’s a harmonious mix of designer and practical details.
The word ‘smart’ littered my notes. Even the heads and shower compartments, which have heated towel rails and electric flush as standard, are very, um, smart. The effect is of a modern, chic apartment. The cabins are all rather compact though. A combination including both a sail locker and a tender garage squeezes the rest of the accommodation space slightly.
For a new boat, she also felt very complete. Yacht Solutions, an independent company based near CNB in Bordeaux, supplies equipment for most new CNB clients, ranging from safety and technical gear to crockery and bed linen.
Below the saloon
Another reason a deck saloon is popular on medium-to-large sized yachts is that it allows the builders to install tanks and mechanics beneath it, keeping the weight central and freeing up accommodation and stowage space elsewhere.
CNB uses a modular build system where the interior is fully constructed before being lowered into receivers in the hull. This ensures consistent quality and reduces build times.
The engine room, all contained in one metal box, is one of these five modules on the CNB 66. Two quick access points in the saloon sole allow for regular maintenance checks, otherwise, the carpets and chairs need to be removed to lift the soleboards. The benefit of doing so, however, is that access to machinery is then excellent.
It needs to be. With tanks, plumbing, and optional watermaker all contained in here, it is a crowded machinery space. Indeed, the hot water tank has been moved aft on future models to free up room around the genset.
A generous fuel tank capacity (1,300lt) helps provide a motoring range of over 1,000 miles, including three hours’ genset use per day. I like the way the filters, separators and coolant refill are neatly mounted and easy to access. CNB has certainly made sure the parts that require regular servicing are as user-friendly as possible.
The galley is a spacious area to work in, a practical U-shape, with plenty of light and headroom. There is ample cold stowage space, including a 157lt domestic-style fridge. If all the extras are chosen, as aboard the test boat with its extra fridge-freezer, washer-dryer, dishwasher and wine climatiser, dry goods stowage space is compromised.
CNB uses electric cooking appliances as standard to avoid the need to carry gas. These are powered off the batteries and inverter for quick cooking, or the genset for Sunday roasts.
The aft cabin is versatile because it will suit either guests or a paid crew, and the separation in space to the forward cabins ensures a good degree of privacy from and for the owner. However, the cabin is on different sole levels and does feel slightly cramped, particularly in the compact ensuite heads where a larger-framed crewmember would struggle to get through the doorway. To provide space for a separate shower cubicle, the heads is crammed in behind the door.
The owner’s cabin décor is clever because it feels calming and luxurious despite this not being a particularly large area. It lacks stowage space for couples staying aboard for long periods, but there is an option to choose a dressing room over the fourth heads (currently accessed via the bunk cabin).
The ensuite heads forward has a generous sized separate shower. A door through the forward bulkhead provides useful internal access into the sail locker. The other two guest cabins are a double and a functional family bunk cabin, both with ensuite heads.
The CNB 66 is pitched at the point where two markets meet: where semi-custom luxury rubs up against the economic practicality of serial production. You are led to feel you are aboard a superyacht, but the focus is still on ease of handling for a crew of family and friends at a price that is (just about) still within production yacht territory.
It’s a contemporary design that ticks many boxes that potential owners looking at this size level desire: enjoyable sailing, plentiful deck space, a garage for a jet RIB, a proper deck saloon and a luxury feel to the interior.
CNB says this is the largest yacht that can be handled by its owners. That may be the case, but only provided the owner/skipper has some experience in handling big yachts and their associated loads.
You would need to have a few reliable sailing friends if not using a paid crew. The test boat has a clever in-boom furling system, but still requires at least a couple of able sailors to work it.
This is a dream boat for doing an ocean crossing at pace and in real comfort. It’s sporty enough for the odd social regatta and offers a luxurious platform for holidaying with family. But once you moor up and leave a boat of this size, cost and quality, it would still be prudent even for an owner-operator to have someone to help with maintenance. Volunteers will surely not be hard to find.
LOA: 20.61m (67ft 7in)
LWL: 18.45m (60ft 6in)
Beam (max): 5.51m (18ft 1in)
Draught: 2.95m (9ft 8in)
Displacement (lightship): 31,000kg (68,563lb)
Ballast: 9,350kg (20,613lb)
Sail area (100% foretriangle): 208.8m2 (2,248ft2)
Engine: 180hp Volvo D4
Water capacity: 1,000lt (220gal)
Fuel capacity: 1,300lt (286gal)
Price from: €1,390,000 (ex VAT)
Price as tested: €2.1m
Design: Philippe Briand & Jean Marc Piaton