Nestling into Beneteau's centre cockpit line-up, the all-new Beneteau Oceanis 42CC promises some innovative design in a family-friendly cruiser. But is this enough to set her apart in the hotly contested 40-something size bracket? Tim Thomas sails her to find out
Love ’em or loathe ’em, there’s no denying the popularity of centre cockpit yachts.
Beneteau’s current range spans sizes from 36ft to 44ft and the Beneteau Oceanis 42CC, which started building in November last year, features a new hull and some innovative design features that set her apart from her stablemates.
The first thing you notice when approaching the Beneteau Oceanis 42CC is her enormous rear end.
With her high counter stern, it is easy to assume she has been drawn with retro styling in mind, yet beneath this traditional-looking skin is one of the main innovations of the Beneteau Oceanis 42CC.
The central part of the aft deck slides back to reveal steps, and with the help of a remote handset linked to a hydraulic powerpack, the middle pan of the transom folds down to form a bathing platform.
This neat bit of design works well and also allows for a large aft deck which would happily accommodate a couple of sunworshippers, as well as providing deep locker space either side.
The one drawback of this stern arrangement, in my view, is that it affects the aesthetics of the yacht.
The twin-spreader rig suddenly looks to be set very far forward, as does the centre cockpit itself, which is of an unremarkable design – albeit surprisingly deep – save for the hard windscreen over the companionway.
Although it seems as if you get a lot of boat for your money, it does give the hull rather chunky lines.
But if you can live with this – and let’s face it when you are on board it doesn’t really matter – there is no problem.
With the standard 55hp Volvo fitted, the Beneteau Oceanis 42CC was competent under power: with the revs peaked at 3,000 she pushed 8.8 knots – not enough to worry the drag-racing Ocean is 473 but still perfectly acceptable.
There is an option io go for a mighty 75hp Yanmar but unless you are bent on keeping up with the Oceanis there is little need for such excess.
The Beneteau Oceanis 42CC is happy cruising at a shade under 8 knots, with the revs just resting a smidgen over 2,000, and even at this speed she was pleasantly quiet below decks.
We had some concerns about her manoeuvrability at lower speeds with lifeless and imprecise hydraulic steering – more on that in a minute.
Under sail in a steady 10 knot breeze, the Beneteau Oceanis 42CC felt easy to handle on all points of sail.
Although we did find a problem with the test yacht in that every time the speed dropped significantly below 5 or 6 knots, under sail or power, she became difficult to hold in a straight line.
I have never been a great fan of hydraulic steering systems on smaller yachts, although it has to be said that the system is common to the whole of the CC range, and there have been few reported problems with it.
We subsequently found out that there had been a problem with air in the hydraulic plumbing of this particular yacht and work was underway to purge the system – which could make all the difference.
Sadly, there is no option for cable steering due to the complexity of running the lines through to the quadrant.
Apart from this minor glitch, she felt positive and showed her best speed on a shy reach, making around 6.5 knots.
She happily pushes to windward at a shade over 5 knots, which, considering the size of the hull and her relative heaviness, was promising given the light conditions.
Having the steering wheel on the bulkhead felt very strange indeed, although this apparently appeals to many who convert from motor cruisers.
But more than anything is the slight feeling of being cheated – there is barely enough deck in front to focus on, and she feels pitifully small from the helm for what is, after all, a voluminous 43-footer.
It is only when you look aft that you become aware of the tennis court behind you, and this is well worth remembering when you are trying to manoeuvre in a tight spot.
I certainly would be happier choosing the conventional helm placement, at the aft end of the cock pit, which would also make handling the main track from the helm a lot easier.
With the cockpit moulding set forward, there is obviously going to be some compromise below decks, and so there is with the Beneteau Oceanis 42CC.
The saloon feels rather like a dentist’s waiting room, a small square, albeit one with plenty of headroom. which seems more a stopping off point between the aft and forward cabins.
Maybe that is a little unfair, for there is plenty of room for a family to gather around the table, perhaps this was just an effect of the dark wood interior.
To some extent, this slightly truncated living space is compensated for, on our test boat at least, by two large cabins, the after one of which featured a spacious berth, good cupboard stowage, a dressing table and an ensuite head compartment running along the starboard side of the cockpit moulding.
The port side of the cockpit moulding is taken up with a competent longitudinal galley, which has enough stowage to cater for all the family’s needs on a reasonable cruise.
The navigation area is on the port side of the saloon and is a fairly standard arrangement, with its forward-facing chart table, but top marks go to the designers for including a long hull port by the table, giving plenty of natural light to help you pore over the pilot book.
The forward cabin is offset to starboard and reels rather compact considering it is one of only two in this layout, although the berth is a good size and there is room to move about.
The fact that it does not occupy the forepeak means that the forward head can take pride of place in the bows, positioned on the centreline and with good brace points either side.
An arrangement that I personally liked, if for no other reason than the practicalities of using the head when sailing heeled on long passages.
The reaI surprise, however, comes when you lift the companionway steps to take a peak at the engine installation.
At first, access seems prohibitive, with the steps being supported on strong rams.
These nearly took my chin off when I undid the catches at the base, the hinge point is quite low down making anything more than a cursory inspection awkward.
But the secret is in a large access panel at the back from the aft cabin.
Crawling into the engine compartment on all fours, you are suddenly struck by the amount of space in here, with crouching headroom, nearly enough space to swing a cat and room for every add-on you could think of – watermaker, generator, air-con would all fit in here without a problem.
It also means that you have ample room to work on the engine, even if you wanted to strip the thing down and rebuild it (brave. indeed).
The Beneteau Oceanis 42CC was originally intended as a replacement for the more conventional 40CC, although since the latter has been phased out, there appears to have been more demand for it than ever.
So at present both models will stay to fight it out.
Beneteau are planning to build 80 42s a year and have gone out of their way to add the innovative counter stern and bathing platform in a bid to create a product for a niche market.
They say time will tell which of the two models proves more popular, and this will decide which stays in the line-up.
The Beneteau Oceanis 42CC is a very competent yacht which will suit many cruising families.
She offers safety with her centre cockpit and deck details, like the small bulwarks which make it safer to walk around the deck, and practicality with the extra locker space provided by the counter stern design.
Opting for the wheel at the aft end of the cockpit would make sense, although it is not possible to change the steering system from hydraulic – while you should not encounter any problems with this system, it is worth bearing in mind our experience with the test yacht, and make sure you take yours for a sail first.
First published in the June 2002 issue of YW.
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