In the grand scheme of things a Bene or a Catalina are not worlds apart, but there are real differences. I do have to agree with Haleaki (sp?) and a few others, noting that its absolutely ludicrous to compare a Bene to an Island Packet let alone a Halberg Rassey. Once someone posts anything like that, everything else that person might write is suspect.
The other thing that must be noted is that Bene has different boats and thus different qualities have come from them. Beneteau has made some very good boats. The First 40.7 comes to mind, but they have made some very 'uninspiring' boats too. (ocean series come to mind and I have heard some negative comments on the sailing qualities of the 36CC directly from their owners. The word "bathtub" was actually used more than once). As noted before the First series are generally a cut above for racing, but the amenities and "feel" down below is much more "sterile and utilitarian". (hey its a race boat, what do you expect
) The problem is most "Admirals" are less enthused about the First Series unless their name is Dawn Reily.
The comment about Steel keels vs Lead not being a big deal is something everyone with a Steel keel likes to tell themselves to make them feel better. Other that an ultra race boat where the foils on the keels are extremely thin and thus you need the extra structural integrity of steel is the ONLY reason steel might be preferred. All one need to do is hit a simple rock at 4 kts to understand the impact that is produced. I personally know dozens of boats that have hit with a lead keel and dozens with a steel keel. Lead is FAR superior to steel when it comes to impact absorption. The lead keel boats had far less or NO damage to the hull after impact, most all steel keels create much more structural damage. The lead deforms and absorbs . The steel transmits almost all of the force to the hull keel interface = recipe for disaster.
If you've got an ultra high aspect keel foil race boat, I will give you the edge for steel. For this discussion that does not count.
If you NEVER hit any bottom when sailing then the Steel vs Lead argument is moot. For all the other sailors. Lead wins hands down. Not that a Steel keel isn't fine - its just that lead is FAR superior for a regular crusing boat. One should never put the two on a level playing field.
Here is one more point that I have noticed when it comes to quality of a Beneteau vs a Catalina. Now I am not talking about a new "boat-show" boats.. Beneteaus do look good while wandering on them at the boat shows. They have they nice Cherry stain and everything. What I am talking about is different. Take a look a 10- 15 Year Beneteau vs a 10- 15 year Catalina. Not always, but usually the Catalina seems to look like its aged more gracefully. At first I though maybe the Catalina Owners are more hands on and take care of their boats and Beneteau owners just "ride em hard and put em away wet".
BUT then I started to notice something and after I noticed it, it was more and more glaring every time I went to a boat show. Take a look at how Beneteaus make their interior doors to their cabins. At the boat shows everything looks great, but upon closer inpection its compressed wood with a thin dark cherry wood veneer. Look at the door jambs where the latch is. I was on a boat on at the boat show and something caught the edge of the veneer on the door and the 1/32" cherry wood veneer was peeling off the side of the door and exposing the raw white compressed wood. It looked like crap.
Since then I have noticed gouges on the doors of some Beneteaus. Instead of being dark cherry wood, what you see is the white compressed wood. I think if you want you can paint the gouge, but it doesn't look as good.
Not saying that Catalina is a Hinckley or anything, but one thing I have noted is that all their doors are SOLID TEAK. You get a gouge or a scratch in that, you just varnish back over it beacuse its solid teak. You don't have to worry about white pressed wood showing up under the Cherry Veneer.
Since learning this about Beneteaus and how they cut corners I brought it up with a local surveyor and he actually laughed and jokingly commented "There isn't enough real wood on a Beneteau to start a girlscout campfire".
Maybe it doesn't matter to everyone and the boat probably still sails well, but how a boat looks after 10 years might matter to some. I also note some other corner cutting so in this case I give the edge to Catalina.