Boat Review: Beneteau Sense 43
Courtesy of http://nasailor.com
The Sense 43 and Sense 50 are part of a new line of boats from Beneteau competing with the continuing development of cruising cats and, to a lesser extent, monohulls. Beneteau appears to have continued to invest in this downturn, and is now rolling out a whole series of new innovations thanks to their substantial financial assets. Their patented “Dock & Go” system (also shared with select Jeanneau boats) is available on the Sense 50, while both the Sense 43 and Sense 50 boats reflect major new interior and exterior designs.
We were excited to get on board the new 43, and see what she can do.
Introduction to the Sense 43:
Our initial impression is that the Sense 43 is a big boat. With a 14-foot beam, and max beam carried all the way back to the stern, this boat has some serious space on deck and below. To my mind, this layout made lounging and relaxing on the boat with another couple or a set of friends a top priority.
At the dock, the massive expanse on the stern looked like just the thing for a Mediterranean docking, where the stern is pointed at the shore. In this configuration, the cockpit opens up and draws you into the interior. Yet the same will work on the hook, particularly in the Caribbean or in warmer climates where you want to spend a lot of time outside. I would expect it to be a bit less effective in rough weather, rain or cold as you either have to rig a large dodger or hide down below.
The connection between the cockpit and the salon is an important and remarkable aspect of the design. Note the large windows connecting the salon space both to the outside – whether you’re seated or standing – and to the cockpit. Also note that the steps down are short and lead you directly by the galley and navigation station. Twin windows, which open (although they don’t stay open on their own), also allow additional ventilation and conversation between the two areas.
This is different from traditional monohull designs in several ways. First, the combined space of the salon and cockpit take up nearly the entire vessel aft of the mast, creating a spacious and flexible lounging, relaxing and social space.
Second, the number of windows and the design help remove the sense of living ‘inside’ the hull common among monohulls. This living ‘inside’ the hull was particularly pronounced on some of the older Scandinavian boats. It is a common critique of monohulls by catamaran sailors. Third, the lack of a quarter berth allows additional storage, space for a generator behind the salon, and direct access to the ocean off the stern via a short, integrated ladder. There was also substantial storage behind the wheels beneath the deck for swimming gear and beverages. The innovative seats for the two helm stations were also very comfortable, and easily moved out of the way for direct access to the ocean.
We’ll talk more about the limitations of this design in the Cons section below.
The cockpit and sail handling controls were well designed; the boat we were on came with an electric winch, which we used for trimming and most of the heavy lifting. The self-tacking jib let the crew lounge, consistent with the design brief. There were integrated storage lockers for sheets adjacent to each winch, keeping the cockpit clear for guests. We had the in-mast main on the boat; not the highest performance configuration, and our sail shape suffered a bit without battens, featuring a pronounced leech curl. If you’re concerned about boat speed, get the traditional main or an in-boom option. If you’re looking to cruise, don’t worry about it and appreciate the convenience.
The code zero roller furler was on a smoothly operating continous line furler; I’d recommended this option for simplifying the deployment of this flat-cut sail.
The feel of the helm under way – both sail and power – was solid and connected. Even when powered up, the boat tracked well in the 8 to 10 knots peak wind we experienced – credit the twin rudders for eliminating one of the common gripes with wide-stern designs such as this.
Under power, we saw 8 knots over ground at a fast 3,000 RPM, and 5.6 knots at 1800 RPM. Solid numbers, and reflective of the long waterline. The engine was very quiet down below (see video below).
Keep in mind, however, that this is a hull shape with chins and a large flat expanse forward and in the stern. It is designed for fast reaching off the wind, and maximizing space below. We experienced a bit wider tacking angles than you would get with a more traditional hull design, and, as expected, the hull pounded a bit as we sailed through some of the larger powerboat wake outside the cut.
At 45 degrees AWA, we saw high fives to low sixes in terms of boat speed slightly off the wind in the roughly 10 to 12 knots apparent breeze. We were underpowered, as you’d expect with the 95% self-tacking jib and roller-furling main. Even when underpowered for the conditions, the boat tracked well and had a wide groove and plenty of inertia to cut through chop. We did get powered up with a code zero, and saw 8 knots at 120 degrees apparent, with a building breeze of around 12 knots true.
On deck further forward, there were a couple of differences from a standard Beneteau design. Of course, a big one is the use of the raised main sheet on a bar, moving it out of the cockpit area. Big and beefy, it lacked a traveler – again understandable given the design brief. Wide and comfortable side decks, sophisticated-looking flush deck windows, and a large anchor locker rounded out the experience.
The fiberglass work on this new boat looked very professional. The thru-bolted cleat and other mounting points in the anchor locker (see the picture) looked solid, if not quite offshore-substantial.
Down below and forward, there is one head with the expected separate shower stall. The bow has the master stateroom, with ample space and relatively good storage, although the windlass batteries and motor take up the prime dresser space under the berth, and could do with a safety cover. They did a good job getting some additional storage underneath the guest berth in the main hallway, and on the sides of the forward v-berth.
The second, guest, cabin is relatively spacious as well, and offers no big surprises. Of course, no great sea berths – you could probably nap on the saloon area, or in the guest cabin while offshore. But again, that’s not the goal of this boat.
We did come up with a couple things to watch for either as a new owner or a potential used buyer. The biggest concern we had was the poor engine access. With the large engine located directly under the cockpit, access to the oil, fuel and secondary filters was through the two cockpit lockers (after a full unpacking), or perhaps by reaching over a potentially hot engine from the salon. The likely result: delayed maintenance of oil checks and filters. At least the belts and impeller are easy to get to, but I’d prefer to see a hatch directly over the engine – even though it is in the open – to allow easy access to this critical hardware.
A couple other small nits came up; these are several fit and finish items which could be refined on later hulls. One, the port cockpit locker door on this early hull was slightly misaligned, chafing on the edges when it opened and closed. Second, the companionway doors (which generally look too fragile for offshore work), were not staying open during the show. The bolt didn’t appear to keep the door in the open and locked position. Third, the windows connecting the salon to the cockpit don’t stay open – would be good to fit hydraulics as was done in all the other ports. Fourth, the stainless-steel inner-forestay support on deck just behind the anchor locker was a trap for unprotected toes or lines. It should be recessed or removable.
I’m really excited about the Sense series. I see it as a good example of new thinking, and a user-centered design which questions what we want out of a cruising boat. It is a well designed and executed cruising boat perfect for coastal cruising or a short hop down to Mexico or the Bahamas for a couple with occasional guests, or for two couples.
The real question is whether you are the right person for this boat’s design brief. It is not for everyone – someone who wants great windward abilities, wants maximum performance, or doesn’t like heel isn’t going to be satisfied by this boat. Nor is this a great choice for a serious offshore cruiser; it’s wide stern and flat hull will pound if you get caught out like in this year’s Carib 1500. But if you want to relax in luxury with family and friends for a couple days or a week in the Bahamas, this is a fine choice.