Béneteau’s ground-breaking Sense range is leading the way in stylish living and home comforts aﬂoat. Toby Hodges sails the ﬁrst of the range, the creative Bénéteau Sense 50
Like it or not, newcomers to sailing are buying larger boats.
For many people, ease of living aboard is now the focus.
Bénéteau’s striking new Sense range takes this trend to greater extremes than any production boat we’ve seen.
In fact, its open-plan living area and en-suites seem nearly as suited to a two-bed flat with sun terrace as to a yacht.
Apart from extreme aft beam, twin rudders and chines, a pivotal design decision was to dispense with aft cabins.
By keeping all accommodation forward and lowering the cockpit sole, the boat divides into three, yet with little or no barrier between outside and in.
Features such as the mainsheet arch, open transom and large plexiglass windows were trialled with success on the Oceanis 58.
But at nearly half the price yet most of the volume, the Sense seems tailored to suit the cruising couple looking for sailing indulgence.
Groupe Bénéteau’s Yves Mandin says the Sense concept grew from the cruising market’s shift towards deck saloons and catamarans and the desire to create a design with comfort and elegance.
“We also wanted the boat to heel less,” he adds, stating that the Sense will heel 5˚ less than the Oceanis.
The design is rooted in an 118ft concept that architects Berret Racoupeau created in 2006.
Bénéteau liked the Evoe, asked for something similar, but smaller and the Sense was born.
“More comfort, less technical will be much better for the sailing market, with a focus on ease of living 24/7,” says Olivier Racoupeau.
Outdoors was also central to the design – it had to be very big and wide – while an option for a crew cabin was required for markets such as Turkey.
Following the development of four prototypes, build for the Bénéteau Sense 50 began in November and Bénéteau sold 20 during the autumn boat shows.
Half the buyers to date have chosen the Dock&Go joystick steering Half have also opted for crew cabins.
A Sense 43 will be at the London and Düsseldorf shows, and a 55 will follow next summer.
Sailing the Bénéteau Sense 50
For our test, Les Sables d’Olonne provided flat seas and a crisp Force 5 to 6.
Yves Mandin recommended we reef at around 17 knots and I soon appreciated why.
With the lot up for the photoshoot, she was fully powered up on a broad reach.
Armed with a tall rig for lighter airs to propel all that wetted surface area, the Sense certainly prefers to be sailed fairly flat.
As it was, I could sense the power available, but at the expense of feel – with little feedback from the twin rudders, she was hard to keep in a groove.
Out of the water, the rudders had looked deep and close together, meaning they would be constantly submerged.
This could account for the drag and lack of feel. Yet she trucked along nicely, taking a gust with a gentle heel, and accelerated easily.
With a reef in the main and three rolls in the genoa, she was more enjoyable and well balanced.
She still wandered, but made over 7 knots, albeit only at 50-55˚ – pointing is not the Sense’s forte – and tacking the 105 per cent genoa was effortless.
She would be easy for two to handle, or even solo with an autopilot.
Under full genoa and with the wind on our quarter, the speed increased a knot and a half.
The main disappointment was not being able to assess her downwind credentials fully because the wind was deemed too strong for the cruising chute.
It seemed difficult for the helmsman to stand or sit to windward on our test boat – Mandin said an angled sitting-out seat and a raised foot-chock was being added – but the helm seats did offer lavish comfort.
These lift up for access to the bathing platform, but I found the gap between the backrests and pushpit quarters a little alarming.
One benefit of lowering the level of the cockpit sole is low freeboard, which is uncharacteristic of today’s voluminous cruisers.
It also ensures you’re never too exposed while still commanding uninterrupted views forward.
Down below those large hull windows allow good visibility to leeward, and getting across her wide beam proved problem-free.
“It’s a game,” is how Bénéteau describe their joystick-controlled 180° rotating saildrive Dock&Go system.
This is one of the most intuitive systems I’ve ever used.
Within seconds, I had this unfamiliar 50-footer parked against a finger berth in a Force 4-5 crosswind.
Developed with ZF (German) and Yanmar for their 75hp engines, the system is exclusive to Groupe Bénéteau for three years.
Apartment interior of the Bénéteau Sense 50
Three shallow steps lead into an apartment of an interior.
Spacious and social, the Sense is in a league of its own in terms of comfort, light and views.
Saloon seats face the linear galley with an island unit, aft-facing windows blur the division between outside and in, and a vast beam and 7ft headroom create abundant space.
Our test boat had all the electric options – blinds, TVs, tables and washboards.
The island hides a flatscreen TV as well as a bench for extra seating around the table or it can be used for stowage.
It also offers security in the galley and while moving forward.
Our boat had the office over the Pullman berth option, which puzzled me initially.
But given that it’s rare for couples to sail with more than one set of guests at a time, two double en-suites makes sense.
Numerous down-lighters and indirect lighting help create an inviting ambience after dark – central to the apartment feel.
Batteries, water and fuel tanks are in a spacious bilge under the central raised saloon sole.
The sleeping and accommodation zone is forward, away from the dock, while machinery (pumps, genset, etc) is aft to reduce noise further.
A closer look at the Bénéteau Sense 50
Two modes: conventional, which seats six around a fold-out table (including the pull-out seat from the island); or suave, created when the table is lowered to form a cocktail table and the navstation seat raises at the end, chaise-longue style.
A practical option for this lowered format would be to create a large double berth (not yet an option).
There is limited stowage, with only a couple of raised lockers and little room below the berths, but there’s certainly room elsewhere on board.
Certainly comfortable, though a bit of an anti-climax in comparison to the rest of the Sense.
Stowage is limited, but well arranged, with a mix of drawers, cupboards and his and hers wardrobes.
Headroom and light are impressive, and the en-suite contains a separate shower.
With its abundant natural light, views and headroom, the galley is welcoming to the novice nautical chef.
A long worksurface, which can extend over the stove, moulds seamlessly into a large double sink.
Stowage includes a 2ft deep bilge with liners; a large fridge with front and top opening and optional coolbox; plus a double slide-out bin.
The aft windows also aid interaction with the cockpit.
An extension of the saloon, with the inboard ‘chaise-longue’ making this a practical option on port tack.
But it feels odd not to have a backrest. The chart-table is wide and there’s reasonable raised locker stowage.
Wiring access is good via the port cockpit locker/crew cabin.
The aft- facing table allows excellent contact with cockpit or starboard helm.
Maximises space through a large sliding door. In office guise, mattress cushions designed for the desktop store neatly in an alcove, allowing for a makeshift single cabin.
Cupboards and drawers surround the desk – even the stool top lifts for stowage or waste area below.
For and against – Interior
- Touches like chunky door handles throughout, powerful door magnets or slats under the bunk give the Sense the feel of a high-quality boat.
- Metal nipples on the sole boards prevent creaking.
- All drawers have soft-closing latches and raised lockers have slow opening hinges.
- There’s an impressive amount of extra stowage beneath the cabin sole – all boards lift on suckers and lining trays are used.
- White leather is an impractical option and although the cream head and side lining are very smart, they were already decorated in numerous grubby handprints. Could be more durably attached too.
- Look hard and you can see the telltale signs of the production prototype such as bare plywood mounts and flimsy panels in front of the blinds.
- Engine access was acceptable, but we took issue with the complete lack of generator servicing access.
Bénéteau Sense 50 verdict
There will be traditionalists who despise the Sense, but I champion it as an agent of change.
It is the antithesis of the traditional dark yacht interior and its space, comfort, light and views are unrivalled for those who cruise in warm climes.
“It’s about broadening people’s thoughts about how to live on a boat as a couple,” says Bénéteau’s Yves Mandin.
I like what Bénéteau have done here. There are some prototype finishing gremlins, but there’s so much creative thinking and innovation aboard that to my mind this boat is the talking point of the year.
It proved quicker and more powerful than the Oceanis 58 on which it was modelled.
The Dock&Go joystick steering deserves an award in its own right and with her modern design the Sense seems likely to win Bénéteau a new client base.
Our test conditions showed she is rigged for light airs, but she’s happier when sailed flat, so it’s best to respect the powerful form produced by her generous beam.
The true test of the Sense would come at anchor in an idyllic Mediterranean bay; taking a stroll from the master suite to the transom and diving overboard or simply relaxing on deck.
Maybe next time!
First published in the November 2010 issue of YW.