Six or seven years ago , in another forum, on a thread about tendencies in design regarding future hull shapes of cruising boats, I said that I believed that cruising boats were gonna be more beamy and with the beam carried aft. I was so flamed that i give up to post on that forum but I was pretty sure that I was right. Now the biggest mass production boat builder has all its cruising series (Sense and Oceanis) designed that way.
The question is why? Well today's cruising boats and even more in the future are solo sailed or sailed by a couple and most of the time the help the wife gives is very limited. Given this picture it seemed obvious to me that the hull shape more indicated for short crew sailing was the shape developed for solo racing: beamy boats with the beam carried aft.
What are the advantages: Boats with a superior stability given by its huge form stability and boats that can be designed to have a good performance without heeling much and are incredible stable an easy in downwind sailing that it is much of the sailing cruisers do (upwind most just turn the engine on). The performance downwind is also better in what regards performance. They provide also for more interior space and more space on the cockpit.
The disadvantages are: More wet surface (they need more sail area to compensate, sail that they can carry because they have more stability), less pointing ability and worse performance upwind, specially with waves (more wave drag), more slamming upwind in bad weather.
Comparing advantages and disadvantages it is (and was) obvious to me that for the big majority of cruisers the advantages were much bigger than the disadvantages and that stability, sailing at good speed with a small angle of heel, interior and cockpit space are probably the things that have more importance for most cruisers.
So, Benetau that always had his boats designed by the most advanced NA (that design race boats and cruising boats) have understood this quickly and have been pointing in this direction from some years now.
One of the best boats in the Oceanis line and one that has been there more years without being replaced (because it was advanced for its time and continues to sell well) is the Oceanis 37 that was this characteristics.
Well, the new Oceanis 41 is designed exactly by the same NAs, Finot/Conq and as a kind or reward by the excellent design and market success of the 37, Benetau has done something very rare: This time they did not give them any directions regarding the boat they wanted. Just the best they can do regarding a 40ft cruising boat that would appeal to the majority of the market.
The result was the 41 (and the 45 that was also designed by them).
When I saw the first drawings I didn't like very much the shape of the boat, the arch and specially the interior that looked unappealing and regarding sailing, after having read the tests sails made to the Sense Series I was not very convinced. Not that the Sense sail badly, but for what the testers said it was a kind of sparkles performance. Yes the sailed well, but did not point high and the sailing feeling were kind of indifferent, meaning nobody is going to buy a Sense by its sailing performance or the pleasure it gives at the wheel. at least this was the feeling I got from what they have said.
The funny thing is that they have said exactly that on the boat test, I mean they were not expecting much and they have said that they where surprised by the boat. The boat was tested by Voile and Voiliers and by Voile magazine and on both tests they were convinced and think this is going to be a great sailboat and a big market success. The best test was the one from Voile magazine, a 100Nm test and they measured these speeds:
Close to the wind with 6K wind - 4.9K speed....with 7.5K wind - 6.6K speed
with 18/20K wind at 140º - 9.5K speed.
These is a very good performance for a cruiser and show all the expertise of Finot/Conq designing this kind of hulls. They have a huge experience in designing solo racing solo boats: Minis, Class 40 and Open60.
Voile and Voiliers on their boat test also commented on how well the boat sailed and particularly in what regards the negative characteristics of this kind of hull that were non apparent in sailing.
On both test they said that the sensation at the wheel was good and particularly on the one where they sailed 100Nm, they said that they had fun at the wheel.
They had made only a really negative remark in what regards the dificulty to put all the sail in the lazy bag and zipe it. It seems that the boom is very high. That is a problem for the ones that would not chose in mast furling. Benetau had said to them that on the next boats to come the boom was going to be lowered 20 cms to make easier to work on the mainsail.
I saw the boat on the Paris boat show and I was surprised. The boat looks a lot better than what the bad designs that I had saw make me believe and the interior is also a lot better. I guess that those photos with a dark interior don't help in what regards to feel the space. However I still think it is rather dumb from Benetau to insist in showing the boat in dark mahogany when they have other options in ligther wood that makes the boat look a lot better.
The guys from Voile and Voiliers criticized heavily the position of the mast on the boat interior (not the mast but the compression post). I don't think that way. Like on the Oceanis 37 the mast is more aft than what is usual for giving the boat a perfect balance between the front sail and the main and I find that it gives a very good holding point and is integrated on the interior decoration. Like the one on the 37 it is mirrored all around and that helps to its integration.
The boat has the less inclined steps, from the cockpit to the interior, that I ever saw in a sailboat, an incredibly good access.
The galley is huge for a 40ft, the size of the 2 fridge are remarkable (130L and 85L) and the saloon is nice and cozy with a good outside view. For charter I would say that the saloon table is small, but on a 40ft most of the time there are not more than 4 or 5 and for that number it is fine.
The head is good with a big separated shower and even if the 2 head version is chosen, the one on the front cabin is not small because the front cabin is really big. On this boat you don't need the 2 cabin version because the galley is already big enough and there is enough storage space on the outside. Quite rare on a 40ft boat, where on most boats I would chose a 2 cabin boat to have a bigger head or/and a bigger galley. No need for that on this boat and I bet that the 2 cabin version will not sell.
But the best part of this boat is the cockpit that seems to belong to a 45ft boat. It is HUGE and the extension that gives the swimming platform is incredible. A private beach
The cockpit table is huge (I guess they have considered that while cruising most cruisers are going to use this one) but because the cockpit is so large does not clutter the space and serve as an adequate support for the feet while sailing.
The quality of the interior is the one that we all know from Beneteau, perhaps a bit worse than Jeanneau or Dufour, but globally good for the price of the boat.
I bet that some of you are thinking: well he have said so nice things about the Jeanneau 409 and now he is impressed with this one! after all this one is better or worse than the Jeanneau, what would be the one he you would chose?
Well, I would chose a Salona 41
but I am quite sure that the vast majority of sailors would chose a Jeanneau 409 or an Oceanis 41. As I have said many times, all boats are compromises and my preferences are not main stream in what regards the market (and that does not make them better, just different and mine).
If I had to choose between the two I would chose the performance version of the Jeanneau 409 (much more expensive than a Oceanis 41) but that's because I don't mind to sail with more heel and I make a lot of upwind sailing, even when the sea is rough (I only stop when everybody is seasick and complaining
One thing cannot be denied: The Oceanis offer a much bigger cockpit and an incredible swim platform. It offers also a much American huge dodger. Well I was going to write sparywood, but this one is so big that can only be a dodger
It is also very rigid because the arch integrates the structure. Regarding the Arch I have to say that you don't feel its presence on the cockpit and it is certainly very resistant (on one of the tests a big guy was on top of it just for putting the sail in the bag and I could not see any flexing).
The system to regulate the main is not certainly as good as the big traveler on the jeanneau 409 but nobody was complaining on those test sails, so the system should work reasonably well.
I guess that these are just two unusually good and well designed sailboats, sailboats that would have been a dream 10 years ago and that represent the best of modern design