Does the Bénéteau Oceanis 55 represent a move to a more comfortable-cruising oriented boat in the Oceanis range? Toby Hodges gets behind the wheel to find out.
Since they launched the radically different Sense range three years ago, French builders Bénéteau have marketed their other cruising brand, Oceanis, as more of a traditional sailor’s boat, but does this remain the case for the new Bénéteau Oceanis 55?
The marketing plan has obviously worked well as Oceanis continues to be the breadwinner for the company, accounting for 65-70 per cent of sales.
Sense, with which customers have a love/hate relationship, makes up 25-30 per cent and the performance First range a mere five per cent.
However, when testing the Bénéteau Oceanis 41, 45 and 48 last year, we noticed that the divisions between the two cruising boat ranges were beginning to merge.
Now as I approached the new Bénéteau Oceanis 55, with its pronounced chine, its mainsheet arch, those huge hull windows, even the gun metal colour, I did wonder if I was actually stepping aboard the Sense 55 I had tested the year before – indeed if he found them parked side by side, an owner of the Sense or Oceanis 55 could be forgiven for stepping aboard the wrong boat.
“The difference is it’s still a more secure/sailor oriented interior,” said Bénéteau’s Yves Mandin,
“but customers now want the vision from inside.”
That explains the hull windows. It was going to take a couple of test sails in Palma Bay to decide for myself if this Bénéteau Oceanis 55 still carried the true Oceanis bloodline.
What is the Bénéteau Oceanis 55 like to sail?
The 55 is the first Oceanis to sport twin rudders (another Sense trait). “People with not so much experience now have more control,” says designer Olivier Racoupeau, who joined us for our test sail. I questioned this philosophy, however, as to me that means those same sailors might lack the
telltale signs to reef in time.
Indeed, the Bénéteau Oceanis 55 had apparently sailed in 30 knots true with just one reef the daybefore – proving her stiffness, but arguably not prudent. Like multihulls, beamy cruising boats with twin rudders generally need to be treated with caution and depowered early.
We did not have such stirring conditions, however, for our test – the wind generally averaged a Force 3-4. We were carrying upgraded Hydronet Incidences sails, including a fully battened main and 105 per cent genoa, but the Bénéteau Oceanis 55 felt sluggish in the lighter airs, as if it were too much effort to try to drag all that wetted surface along – the figures showed 4.5 knots in 7 knots on a close reach.
In fact, with the wind under 10 knots she felt rather lifeless in any seaway, like a grumpy child being dragged unwillingly uphill, and a fixed three-bladed prop didn’t help. But a bit more horsepower in the shape of a Code 0 made an astonishing difference; as soon as the Bénéteau Oceanis 55 was persuaded onto her hard chine, power and performance instantly improved.
In 12-14 knots true we consistently clocked 7.5 knots upwind and 9 plus close reaching at 60°A and, with the Code 0 unfurled, reaching numbers were more like 6.5 in 8.5 and 8 in 10 knots, once again the code sail proving a transformational option. She obviously feels light on the helm
with twin rudders, but with breeze and heel comes an appreciation of her beamy power.
Sail handling is kept to the area abaft the cockpit table and benches, leaving the forward area free for relaxation. The helmsman has a comfortable private space behind the wheels, with a raised sitting-out seat each side, and slight angles in the sole for grip.
Reefing lines and running rigging are split between the two winches in front of the wheels, but the main sheets only to the port one. Unfortunately, there’s no option for sheeting the main to both winches, which I would favour for ease of dumping.
Having a second screen to the pedestal each side, as we had aboard the test boat, was plain annoying as it prevents easy access to the winches from the helms. Does anyone really need four plotter screens?
Mounting the primary winches inboard is an ideal solution both for preventing crew from grinding dangerously on the leeward rail and for ease of handling for cruising couples – the helmsman can easily tack the boat single-handedly. But the working area does quickly become a tangled mess of lines, especially when changing over foresails. There are dedicated bins for rope
tails each side, but with halyards hoisted as well these soon start to overflow. A separate
tail bag for genoa sheets might help.
Bénéteau wanted to create a larger cockpit and more exterior space than the Bénéteau Oceanis 54, which this boat replaces, could muster. “The cockpit has become more and more like a living area,” says Racoupeau.
So the arch and companionway were moved forward to allow room for L-shaped cockpit benches and a companionway at a gentle 45°. Coamings are low, however, so protection from the big sprayhood forward of the arch is vital, but the cockpit is extraordinarily comfortable, with easily
enough space to seat eight around the table.
What is the Bénéteau Oceanis 55 like below?
A boat designed to compete with models from Hanse and Bavaria needs volume and versatility, and the Bénéteau Oceanis 55 has plenty, offering three, four or five-cabin versions – the latter has a Pullman instead of a second aft heads – two, three or four heads and even a crew cabin in the bows.
The test boat’s three-cabin/two-heads layout felt capacious. A shallow companionway is a real pleasure, but perhaps it felt extra luxurious on the 55 because of a perplexing waste of space on descent. The empty area here between the saloon, navstation and galley is large enough to conduct tango classes.
The modern Bénéteau, from either of their cruising ranges, is very much geared around the idea of a week or two’s pleasure and relaxation. As with their people-carriers, the French like to make things convertible to suit families and/or guests. So for sailing or at anchor, the 55’s saloon and cockpit are geared towards relaxation.
At least there is a dedicated chart table, an item the smaller Oceanis models dispensed with, and traditional sailors will still find the general layout more acceptable than a Sense.
Clients must learn to appreciate the veneer as there is only one choice only – alpi mahogany – the individual touch comes in the choice of seven types of upholstery. Furniture is well-fiddled and there’s good engine access below the companionway, although I found it a noisy interior, especially under engine.
All sorts of electronic bells and whistles are available as options – the test boat had €180,000 of extras – but long-distance cruisers will appreciate the ability to add extra optional extra tankage, increasing water and fuel to 1,000lt and 600lt respectively.
This review first appeared in the July 2013 edition of Yachting World.
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The Oceanis 55 is a good-looking boat with a powerful shape. The test boat felt luxurious, but there was a host of optional extras to help create that. While she sails commendably once the wind gets up, this is a big boat and needs the extra grunt of a flying sail to get any feel or performance in lighter airs. If you’re making a choice between the Oceanis and the Sense, it’s worth pointing out that the latter costs 10-15 per cent more, but the test boat had twin rudders and large hull windows as extras, putting them much closer on price. The galley and navstation work better on the Sense, but if you’re sailing further with more people, the larger saloon and cockpit of the Oceanis would be preferable. The Oceanis 55 also compares in price to the Hanse 575. The latter is a foot longer, a foot wider and nearly three tonnes heavier and feels bigger below. The question is: how much space do you really need aboard?