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The Beneteau 361

Argh, Matey! Enough already. Let's be honest. Who enjoys sailing with the boat on her beam ends? Who likes not being able to shower for a week. Eating cold, soggy sandwiches is better than salt cod and hard tack, but not much.

The high-production boatbuilders, while seeking to penetrate current markets and differentiate new markets, have been leaders in pushing the positive to grow the market. Companies like Beneteau learn quickly what might keep a person from buying a sailboat and what would make them think investing in sailing has strong rewards.

So Beneteau's boats, like a number of other production builders' lines, have created a new sailing experience on the water. While sailors from the generations of sailboats of the 80s and 70s might be still happy to put up with a little discomfort, the "reality boats" of the Marion, SC, manufacturer reflect a new perspective of where sailing fun can go.

An interesting boat of the Beneteau line was introduced last April at the Pacific SailExpo. While others of the French-designed line have featured commodious interiors and a sweeping array of incrementalized upgrades, improvements on cabin and deck features, none has come as far as the Beneteau 361. This 36' 5", five-foot draft sloop presents the greatest commitment seen thus far to making a boat comfortable for its sailors.

The single greatest feature of this 12,790-pound displacing sloop is its amazing head compartment. Some boats have walk-through heads that have larger, separate stall showers. The 361 features a head compartment that is larger than most ever seen for a boat this size. Even more surprising is the fact that it is set right off the companionway steps for easy access. The modular unit includes a shower with slatted teak seat in the separate shower stall. The 361 comes with beefed up water tankage of 100 gallons.

"We talk to our dealers and buyers all the time," said Rachel Broadhead, marketing manager of Beneteau. Their market, according to the Charleston-based US office, wants less sailing discomfort and more value. Where the value begins the amenity-filled reaches should bring additional enrichment. The $110,500 sticker price includes these on-board features: roller-furling mainsail (in addition to headsail), 12-volt, front-loading refrigerator (in addition to icebox), double stainless steel galley sinks, optional two or three-cabin interior, and a special "Mellinnium Package" of gear. This includes Autohelm Tridata speed, depth, sea temp; Standard Horizon VHF; sternrail seats; stereo with twin cockpit and saloon speakers; and hot and cold cockpit shower. But Beneteau has cleverly straddled boat genres with the 361. It is no less passager than daysailer.

Designed by J. Berret-Racoupeau, this moderately proportioned masthead cruiser sports the short-end look that is in vogue, with straight sheer and tastefully incorporated ports. The boottop and cove-stripe treatment underplay the height of the topsides, while the sculpting of the cabin has a nice way of blending the composite. Not modest by any means, its 12'6" beam swells amidships and tucks in only slightly aft, where the volume of this cruiser is really attained below.

But as much as the 351 seems interior-driven in it configuration, the well-designed deck plan reveals the experience Beneteau has in perfecting the package. The cockpit, with its standard leather-covered 42-inch wheel and integral drop-leaf wooden cockpit table, is really designed for shorthanded sailing. The controls lead there, while the cockpit winches are indeed easily reached from the helm. A special feature of the 361 is its high boom. While the 361 is a bit Plain Jane in it paucity of wood trim, the French giant of sailboat production knows what touches of wood to add and where. Teak is used for the cockpit seats, the swim platform and the transom skirt, which, by the way, gets a handy rubber rubrail to boot. Beneteau takes leads from the car builders too, and behold the arrival of drink holders to the cockpit.

The interior, largely finished in cherry wood, features the open-layout approach. One of the nicest features of the boat is the keyhole galley.Tweaking living areas here and there, Beneteau has done an excellent job of creating what appears to be a highly well-organized space that will be a dream to operate in. Notice the clever notched-out sink area by which extra floor space was gained without losing counter space.

Another notable feature is the forward-facing nav-center. It's small but purpose-designed for navigating by electronics — today's norm. Lastly, the fore and aft cabins, as featured on the two-cabin layout, are remarkable spaces with a 6'7" by 6'7" berth in the aft cabin and a 6'7" by 5'7" berth in the forward berth. Headroom is 6'4" throughout the boat with the exception of the forward cabin where it is 6'3".

Some other treatments worth noting are: the 361 comes with special sheet-lead tracks alongside the coachroof for easier moving about; there is a foot brace in the middle of the cockpit; there are halyard stoppers on the cabintop, it has a full length perforated aluminum toerail; there is cockpit life-raft locker and separate lazarette stowage areas.

The new Beneteau 361 will be on display at the fall boat shows.

Beneteau 361
Principal Dimensions
LOA: 36'6"
LWL: 31'l"
Hull Length: 35'5"
Beam 12'6"
Draft: 5'
Displacement: 12,790 lbs.
Ballast 4,156 lbs.
Sail Area: 685 sq. ft. (140% genoa)
Price: $110,500
Beneteau USA
24 North Market St., Suite 201
Charleston, SC 29401
For information:
Tel: (843-805-5000)
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Micca Hutchins is offline  
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