The Bénéteau First 45 is without question a good-looking yacht.
Her looks mirror the First 50, Bénéteau’s flagship performance cruiser launched in 2006, notably owing to the long sleek coachroof and moulded ‘eyebrows’ over the side windows.
And the similarity doesn’t end there – the minimalist, Philippe Starck-style interior, controversially introduced on the Bénéteau First 50, has also been carried over.
But Bénéteau are keen to assert that the First 45 is different from both the First 50 and her smaller sister, the First 34.7.
Where the First 50 is a cruising yacht and the First 34.7 has a definite race bias, the Bénéteau First 45 is designed to tread a middle path – a ‘fast cruiser’.
But there’s still something there for race enthusiasts.
Sailing the Bénéteau First 45
More than ever, Bénéteau have optimised the hull for IRC to give a longer waterline when heeled, a tendency they intend to continue with the long-awaited successor to the First 40.7, due for launch in September.
We sailed the Bénéteau First 45 in fairly light conditions, starting the test with true wind varying from 9 to 12 knots and later dropping to around 7 knots.
She performed well, typically returning half the wind speed close-hauled and proving sensitive to traveller position – fairly small adjustments altered her speed by as much as half a knot.
On a close reach she added just over a knot, while bearing away to a broad reach returned similar speeds to her upwind performance.
Tacking angles were a good 80° in the stronger breeze.
I found the helm direct and responsive, with no slack and moderate feedback, which improved when the drag from the autopilot was removed by disconnecting the ram.
The helm position is well laid out, with convenient bracing blocks on the deck and excellent visibility from all positions, especially when sitting out.
An optional, removable beam can bridge the open transom behind the helms, but proved useless as a seat as the lifelines pass directly over the top – in my opinion the boat looks better and sportier without it.
Hoisting the symmetric spinnaker again revealed good performance, turning in around 6 knots at an angle of around 85° despite the waning breeze.
A broad reach slowed her to 4.5 knots and she still maintained 3.5 knots in only 5 knots true breeze.
Under engine she cruised at around 6.5 knots and was remarkably quiet.
Going astern, she is well mannered with little load on the helm, although even fairly small waves are uncomfortable on the broad transom.
She turns smartly in just over a boatlength.
Despite her cruising pretensions the Bénéteau First 45’s deck layout is definitely aimed at crewed sailing.
The mainsheet, led forward along the boom from the long, floor-mounted traveller before returning along the side decks through a pair of clutches, is routed to the aft cockpit winches, which are set too far forward for the helmsman, but ideal for crew.
Large primary winches take care of the genoa sheets, while all other lines are led aft to a pair of coachroof winches.
Bénéteau buck the trend for concealed lines, proudly routeing them down the length of the coachroof in an open channel.
It’s deﬁnitely practical for keeping them clean and free-running and in this case enhances the look and sightlines of the deck.
These are key to the coachroof design, enhancing its impression of length with the longitudinal lines set by the windows and the strip of hatches running down the centre.
When the crew have time to relax, the cockpit seats are fairly deep and feel secure thanks to a solid centre brace point perfectly sited for my 1.8m (6ft) height, although shorter people may ﬁnd it a stretch.
Cockpit stowage is provided by shallow lockers under the seats on either side and two small lazarettes behind the helms.
A centre locker between the lazarettes is a practical place to ﬁt a liferaft.
Grabrails are moulded into the coachroof as far as the shrouds, which are set well inboard to give a good sheeting angle, adding good access as an additional beneﬁt.
The foredeck is clear and easy to work and there is a generous anchor locker forward.
Bénéteau First 45 interior: Ultra-modern feel
Bénéteau’s interior is minimalist. Good natural and artiﬁcial lighting, pale woods, light fabrics, stainless steel and leather combine with carefully chosen angles to give an ultra-modern feel.
There are several neat features which demonstrate that plenty of thought has gone into this interior.
For instance, the usual mid-table bottle stowage has been revamped as a simple stainless frame under a wooden grating in the centre of the table – a neat twist on an old idea.
But my favourite is the dual use of the navigation seat.
By placing the navstation abaft the saloon table and facing outboard, the seat can be used for both chartwork and socialising by swivelling on an off-centre pedestal.
The saloon is divided into two parts by a ‘wall’ of joiner work to port, which extends to form part of the navstation, leaving a narrow passage past the L-section of the galley.
This makes the navstation a key feature in the saloon design.
The table itself is ranged along the port side of the hull, with the lid covered in a brown faux-leather, which matches the seat.
Above the chart table is the switch panel and space for instruments.
While the wall gives room for several lifting lids concealing small lockers suitable for odds and ends.
And also a large door on the aft face to access the battery switches.
In the kickspace a useful locker makes room for some of the black box electronics found on most new yachts, such as the autopilot course computer.
The saloon table, placed to port, is a curious polygon best described as the shape formed by cutting two opposing corners from a rectangle.
A stainless handhold is cut out from the aft corner and an L-shaped settee flanks the forward and port edges.
Two upholstered stainless stools provide seating along the inboard edge, and can be bolted to the floor when under way.
To starboard a straight settee provides seats for three people.
Between the settee and the main part of the galley, the boat is fitted with two fridges, a large front-opening unit for general cold stowage and a smaller, top-loading icebox.
Stowage in the saloon is provided by two drop-front lockers above each settee and by the space beneath the settees not used for the fresh water system.
There is also some stowage beneath the sole, which is formed of a mix of square panels of darker wood.
In the galley, Bénéteau have made good use of the space released by moving the fridge forward to create a neat unit, which combines two large drawers, a small cutlery drawer, a locker with movable pegs for stowing plates and even a section of worktop which can be flipped over to reveal a chopping board.
To port, opposite the galley, is the aft heads.
This is well laid out with a solid synthetic resin sink and worktop and mirrors above concealing the holding tank.
Below the sink is a useful shelved locker.
Headroom is adequate although overall space is limited, but a nice touch is the proper shower head fitted to a wall bracket, instead of a dual-use sink tap.
The aft cabins are largely identical, with the dominant feature a PVC fabric hanging locker in the same brown as the chart table and seat.
It’s a good, lightweight idea, but unfortunately looks a little shabby and shapeless compared with the rest of the design.
Tankage is fitted below each berth for fuel and water.
The forward cabin is much more luxurious and obviously intended for use by the owner.
The centre double berth is reached by steps up either side and the entire cabin feels spacious, largely owing to good light from a deckhatch and two hull windows.
Lockers and shelves are fitted on both sides above the berth and a good hanging locker is found to port.
The ensuite heads looks similar to the aft heads, but is a much larger space with room for a separate shower cubicle.
First published in the August 2008 issue of YW.