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Giddy up! Beneteau First 36

by John Curnow, Global Editor, 20 Jun 2023 17:16 PDT

Anticipation had mounted ahead of my time aboard the wicked First 36 (Hull #8). It certainly then galloped away too as we plied Pittwater looking for any and every puff imaginable. So a big thank you to the team at Flagstaff Marine who knew about this, and were so keen to create a time to get me out there.

All of it was probably set off by the video of the factory cracking over 17 knots, and you just knew it was both stable and a real hoot. We did not see that unfortunately, as it was flat water and the squirt was sporadic at best. We did see 11s, however, and this was more than enough to be proof of concept in my eyes.

So it might have whipped through at 18 knots for a spell about as long as a batter who gets a Golden Duck has time at the crease (and sorry to everyone overseas in non-cricketing countries), but there was a bit more action in the 8-12 bracket (very occasionally 15), and you could SOOOOOOO use this, both uphill and down. What a joy. Thank you form stability, which is in the bucket loads and in part due to the 3.8m beam, and the 1550kg cast iron fin and T-bulb stretching down a healthy 2.25m. It also means this is a boat to be sailed to her angle of heel more than any other reading.

Right oh. Before we get into anything we need to say there are two things you spot instantly on approach to the First 36.

One. She’s well made. Seriously well made, and the vac-bagged Corecell, outer Vinylester tile nature of construction is immediately obvious if you’re a trainspotter, so I guess I just dobbed myself in. Resin infused PVC cores comprise the remainder. That all equates to light and strong. There is no doubt the Seascape team in Slovenia are doing a great job, albeit that just 24 units pop out per year. (BTW, just at the time of publishing it looks like Seascape are now at 3 units p.m, or 36 for the year...) Next, you take in all the friction rings, the lack of bulky deck hardware, and this in turn allows you to see the deck, which means you see the finish on every curve, whether that’s toe rail, or recesses for deck hatches.

Two. This boat is a racer/cruiser. It is in the way she bobs around in the pen (slip), and tugs at her mooring lines like a testy thoroughbred that needs to take a chill pill. Now at 4800kg dryship she is not a flyweight. Perhaps not even a bantam weight either, but definitely a featherweight, and one very eager, agile, and aggressive one at that.

Fighter or lover?

The First 36 also punches well above her weight, for she feels like a 40 all day long, and the expanse of her deck space is certainly part of that. Yet it is the turn of speed, the desire to find every bit of squirt around, and subsequently turn that into both SOG and FUN that is so utterly addictive. It is into the 7s uphill, over 8 when cracked, and name your ticket after that.

I could have stayed out there all day, so when the option was given to get another spell behind the wheel I leapt at it, even offering to pack the 140m2 masthead A2 kite once more! Yes please. Glory days…

Now I suppose the other thing to note early on is that, ‘There can be only one, McCloud’, to reel out the old Highlander line… Yes. Do not go looking for the deeper or shallower keel version, or the two head/two cabin arrangement. There’s just the one, so take the vanilla, you’ll love it, and don’t grizzle about wanting pistachio, or coconut sorbet.

Yes you can have a black stick over the tin one (if you’re after the ultimate in tunability or going short-handed), but it is the same 15.5m height, and you get a pinhead main on both, but that’s it. No runners and fathead on the books. Don’t think you’d need the power in anything but the super-light, anyway. A decent roach and wand for tacking, with a good tunable shape, and there’s nothing the backstay, smart pig, sheet and traveller won’t sort out from there. Similarly, there was talk of a tiller version, but the rejig of the traveller to make it so has been shelved for now.

Beneteau has 200 or more of the First 36 to deliver, which means it is time to crack on, so one size fits all! Good thing then that it is such a well-tailored bit of kit. No Emperor’s new clothes here. The First 36 is the genuine foie gras… If you are already in the queue, well done you! If not, no stress, just see Flagstaff Marine now. Their first two are sold, but their third vessel (Hull #52) can be yours in mid-2024, but I’m not sure for just how much longer? Heads up. I would not dilly dally. P.S. As an added bonus it is not too late to spec it to your way, either, so that’s a pretty cool added inducement.

Picky, picky…

Don’t get me wrong, there is an options list, but it is for things like the super-handy, demountable cruising boxes in the cockpit, same same for the cockpit table, there’s an extension to go into the galley to join it all up, various nav and electronics packages, and black accents for outside if that’s your thing. Some halyard and other running rigging changes are on offer, and a different prodder with integral anchor roller kind of round it out, apart from your choice of rags.

On this latter point it kind of reminds me of BMW’s 3 Series. The core shell is happy being a 318i, and can go all the way up to an M3, with changes to drivetrain, suspension, brakes and so on. Same thing here. Just exactly where do you want to land? The brilliant Samuel Manuard has created a great hull from that deploys a lot of his learnings from Class 40, and even IMOCA.

Now I’m not saying you are going to go and take them on, for I am certainly sure you do not punch quite that far above your weight, but the First 36 won’t bite like those two if you happen to get wrong, either. A significant sail area to displacement ratio means you’ll get moving even in the very light, and you’ll definitely be smiling and giggling in anything over 8 knots.

All you need to do is work out where you want to land on the spectrum. At 1.058 to 1.063 under IRC (dependent on your spec), as long as there is puff you’ll be game on. Add waves, with time off the breeze, and the deck gets stacked more in your favour with each nautical mile. Giddy Up! Plumb bow, over 95% of beam at the transom, with a dedicated, skinny running surface supported by that chine and you’re into the max LWL territory that a 36-footer can support.

It is probably fair to call the First 36 a semi-planer, for there is a bit too much rocker involved, which is there to assist with seakindliness when in cruising mode. That said, the aft section is very flat (i.e. fast), and this is clearly where the First 36 is intended to be.

So was that Edward Hyde, and this is Dr Henry Jekyll, or is that vice versa?

You know what? None of it really matters, for there is no evil, split personality disorder going on here. The very same things that work so well up above are your friend here in cruising mode.

Space is arguably the hardest thing to design/engineer into boats, and as such, perhaps THE most valuable commodity when afloat. The First 36 has a marvellous swim platform well close to water level, and if you’re stern to, it is an easy access point. You go up to cockpit level between the two wheels and the impression of capaciousness is settled right there.

You’re just not cramped, which is the pervading sense across the entire deck level. No matter whether you’re up on Adventure Island, or lounging along the cockpit seats, it is chilled and easy. I do love the demountable ‘cruising boxes’ as they take all the strings and hide them beautifully. Equally, the table is well position and collapses into a narrow slot for companionway access. It too is demountable.

One thing that is not demountable is the huge (by 36-footer standards) lazarette. It will carry fuel for the tender, fenders, non-perishable foodstuffs, sails and whatever else you have in mind, but remember to empty it when going racing. That amount of weight that far aft is no good mate.

Down below is a statement in simple and clean. You can opt to join the icebox into the galley proper, rather than being stand-alone midships, but I like the access both sides. The two aft cabins offer great width, and to be honest, ample standing room in the door area. Equally, under the coachhouse in the main saloon is bright, airy and at 186cm, I was not the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is always appreciated, especially if you have crossed an ocean in a Joe Adams design.

The two doors for’ard of the stick go to the owner’s accom (left) and head (right). I gather there is a rumour that later versions will have the right door swing outwards into the main saloon rather than inwards, which is superior in my mind, as it is not so much that the space is small once in, it’s just that swinging room is at a premium. Not so bad if you are getting the bejesus pounded out of you at sea, but not super high on the amenity scale when hanging off the pick.

OK. So just what are these overarching characteristics applicable to both?

It is nice to be on a boat that accelerates without the use of throttles. The First 36 does not disappoint. It's all about poise and fun. It's very rare to get on a boat that will actually seek the squirt. It takes a puff on the breeze and doesn't deviate. Heels a little bit more for sure, but just says, okay, we're off. You know, you're not trying to prevent it from spearing up. The fingertip control is a delight and quite the beguiling experience.

And you're certainly not shovelling in handfuls of leeward helm to avoid disaster off the breeze. I just couldn't believe how much you could get into the niggle wiggle (and hello Nigel Jones of whom this manoeuvre was named after). If you've got the power, you can kick the bum right out and send it down. I would imagine offshore that that would be one of the biggest attributes you'd have with this thing is to pick up a wave and send it. It was electric, a heap of fun, and the boat took off. You could just so see yourself doing it down 10-12 footers. No worries.

The other thing of note is that you don't feel like you're racing on a 36. You actually feel like you're racing on a 40. This is very interesting. You know, it's funny, I think the First 36 is a boat that's of its time. Brilliant. Really brilliant. There’s a subtlety that I don’t think you have to learn as such, but be open to the receiving of. The First 36 talks to you. I'm so glad I got back on board after photographing it, because the time spent in the first session was then able to be applied into the second. The deal was sealed.

The end. (Nearly…)

Flagstaff Marine will have Hull #8 of the Beneteau First 36, which is the very one that I loved so much, at this year’s Sydney International Boat Show in early August. Could be that if you ask nicely, you’ll even get a sail afterwards. Just don’t be surprised if you have to kick me off the wheel when you get there. Especially if it is blowing 15 knots plus, and the A-Bag is packed ready to hoist. I’m not Captain Araldite for nothing. Giddy up all right!

Offshore Racing

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