Designed by Bruce Farr, the Beneteau First 47.7 builds on the phenomenal success of her smaller sister the 40.7, over 300 of which are now afloat.
The Beneteau First 47.7 looks set to follow in the footstep of the latest yachts that have come before. Cost has clearly been a big factor but there are other good reasons for their popularity and versatility is at the top of the list.
The Beneteau First 47.7 offers a variety of standard rig, keel, engine and accommodation configurations to create a boat that is optimised towards either racing or cruising.
This is not new – several of the big production builders do the same – but Beneteau appear to do it to best effect.
Three Beneteau First 47s took 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the overall results in IRC Class 1 at the Hamble Series, while several cruising versions with shorter mast, smaller sail plan and shallower draught have turned up in the same neck of the woods.
Common to all versions of the Beneteau First 47.7 is the simple cockpit, with its single-wheel steering, low pedestal and conventional winch layout.
The cockpit is not as large as the Starlight 46’s since the 47’s maximum beam on deck draws in more towards the stern, resulting in a less beamy transom.
She’s also a far simpler affair, with no walkthrough to the bathing platform, conventionally arranged cockpit lockers and primary and secondary winches fitted in the usual positions. Overall the layout on deck feels more angular and basic than the Starlight’s.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but where she does get marked clown in my book is her lack of foot braces, especially for the helmsman.
The single wheel means it’s more difficult to get well out to weather and once you’re there there’s little to keep you in place.
Apart from this, she remains manageable and has good quality equipment throughout.
Above the deck she has swept back spreaders. There are three sets of spreaders, a nine-tenths fractional rig, and she carries slightly more sail area in her racing guise.
Below decks and construction
To achieve the number of boats the French marque intends to build requires huge versatility, vast amounts of planning and considerable expenditure in tooling.
Indeed, it took a full year just to develop the tools and moulds for the Beneteau First 47.7.
Since Beneteau were criticised for their use or inner tray mouldings for large performance/racing boats, things have changed considerably.
The First range now uses latticework mouldings to provide the structural matrix within the hull.
Unlike their predecessors, these liners have no floors between the longitudinal and transverse members. which means each element can be bonded and glassed into the hull.
The hull laminate is more sophisticated, too, with a combination of chopped strand mat and woven rovings providing a solid laminate.
When it comes to the interior joinery, don’t expect to find a quiet and sweet-smelling woodworking shop and a sea of wood shavings and off-cuts.
Instead you’ll find several massive factory units filled with huge CNC (computer numerically controlled) machines routing out hundreds of items from bulkheads to locker doors, before they are carried off for finishing and varnishing.
To witness a modern Beneteau being built may not be quite the same as seeing multi-tooled robot arms flailing around on a car production line, but it’s not far off.
When you stand back and compare both building processes, the Starlight and the Beneteau are worlds apart.
However, that’s not to say the French production technique leaves something to be desired when it comes to quality.
Indeed. quality control checks are impressive, thorough and are made at many stages of the production system, which ends with a spell in the test pool.
Below decks the finished product has the slick, glossy feel that has become such a trademark of Beneteau’s range.
From seating to locker doors, sweeping curves dominate most areas while the moulded headliner and highly polished stainless steel tie rods provide a sharp modern contrast throughout the layout.
And all the while the brochure details and salesman’s patter seem to have anticipated precisely the layout you were after, with colourful arrangement drawings you can mix and match to confirm your ideal layout – no wonder they sell.
This is an impressive boat for the money. But if you’re looking for differences, take a closer peek in front and behind the scenes.
Ample use of Velcro provides a cost-effective way of holding seatbacks and headliners in place and the floorboards creak throughout the cabins.
You’ll find neither on the Starlight. Lightweight panel mouldings and teak ply in-fills fastened with simple Philips screws are two more examples of where the differences start to appear.
Unlike the current crop of popular deck saloon cruisers of a similar length, the Beneteau does not have a dedicated engine room, preferring instead to position the engine under the cockpit floor.
The result was Beneteau First 47.7 was noisier under engine than you might expect. The noise and vibration over six knots bordered on excessive and was very disappointing for a cruising boat.
In her defence, she was fitted with a two-bladed MaxProp which was thought to be over-pitched and could have contributed to the vibration.
Setting this aside and given it did not have bow thrusters, it easy to handle under engine. And light enough to respond quickly to the throttle ahead and astern and having tight enough turning circles to get you out of trouble. Little cause for complaint here.
Under sail, it was well balanced, responsive and gave the impression of being able to be pushed hard without causing the helmsman too much stress.
The Beneteau is easily handled with just a few crew aboard and the position of the secondary winches means short-handed sailing is not out or the question.
But where l believe this boat will score with owners is from behind the wheel.
It’s easy to assume that the more direct and responsive the helm the better, but not everyone wants sports car steering; systems that provide too much feedback can be intimidating.
Here a tolerant and forgiving helm will win the day.
And this is where the Beneteau First 47.7 scores.
First published in the February 2001 issue of YW.
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