Beneteau Sense 50
Allan Whiting journeys to the south of France to preview the new Beneteau Sense 43 and 50 yachts and gets a closer look at this exciting development.
The Beneteau First series began in 1977, while the Oceanis series of cruisers started in 1985. The new Sense concept was launched late in 2010, and is another design evolution by the world’s highest-volume yacht maker. It’s a particularly courageous move, considering the current economic climate.
The Sense 43 and 50 luxury yachts combine high-performance hulls and rigs with interiors that are unashamedly geared to an owner’s specifications, with none of the charter-vocation compromises built into most cruising yachts. In addition, the shallow step-down from cockpit to saloon is reminiscent of powerboat ergonomics; an impression heightened by a high proportion of glazing in the saloon.
The Sense hulls are state of the art designs, with conspicuous aft chines that taper off mid-hull going forward into quite fine bow sections. Bulb keels have clean forward edges and there’s a shoal-draft option.
A great deal of attention has been paid to making Sense stern-boarding as easy as possible, via a teak-faced swim platform that’s only a short step from the cockpit sole. Two upholstered steering benches, behind the twin leather-clad wheels, swing up on gas struts when not in use, allowing unobstructed access to the cockpit. A nice finishing touch is a powered ‘fence’ that rises from the aft edge of the cockpit, preventing kids (or a bottle of wine) from sliding over the stern of the boat.
Twin steering stations face binnacles with drink holders, individual chart plotters and speed, and engine instruments and controls are at the starboard station. Between the wheels are an icebox and a walk-through section, leading to the main cockpit, which is similar in layout on the 43 and 50, with U-shaped seating around a table on the starboard side and a straight bench to port. The table lowers, converting the seating area to a sun bed.
In the 43, the wide cockpit sole area is broken by a tubular handrail and foot brace structure. This same structure features in the 50’s even wider cockpit, but surmounted by plastic folding panels that allow it to be a narrow table top and an oddments bin or additional ice box that converts into a folding bench, topped with a seat and back cushion.
In the Sense 50 cockpit, the starboard seat lifts to reveal a short companionway and crew bunk, adjacent to the optional washer/dryer that’s accessed from the saloon. Both boats’ glass companionway doors are set into sloping saloon walls that differ from conventional FRP construction: up to coaming height is FRP moulding, but above the waistline the walls are glass. The effect is similar to that of a powerboat saloon entry. In the case of the Sense 43, the door folds and concertinas to open, with the roof glass sliding into a void in the cabin top.
The Sense 50 features the same sliding top but the glass roller door power-glides downwards to open, disappearing into a horizontal slot beneath the cockpit floor, above the engine bay.
Three, very gently sloped companionway steps lead to the saloons and inside these similar-sized cabins, the light from the aft window sections is complemented by large coachouse glass areas, roof hatches and square hull ports. Each galley takes up one saloon wall, with a U-shaped dinette opposite. A central island bench houses a fold-down seat in front of a dining table and the bench can also house a power-raised flat screen TV.
Saloon equipment levels are high, with lift-top fridge freezer (a front-opener as well in the Sense 50 galley), gimballed stove/oven, double sink, ample bench space and a chart table/electrical nerve centre with chart plotter and additional bench and cupboard space. A nice touch is a tilting chart table seat, to compensate for boat heel.
Both boats have bathrooms with separate shower and head recesses with individual access doors. In the case of the 43 there is one bathroom, located adjacent to the amidships double cabin and aft of the forward double cabin. The Sense 50 has two bathrooms: one for the forward cabin and one for the amidships cabin, doubling as a day head, which offers better privacy. The amidships doubles are almost identical in both boats, but the forward cabin in the 50 has an island bed, while the 43 has a conventional V-berth double.
Both Sense test yachts had similar rigging layouts, with twin furlers up front for standard overlapping headsail and optional gennaker. The forward section of each coach house has a moulded recess for a self-tacking jib track.
The Sense 50 was fitted with a tang just aft of the chain locker, to take an inner forestay for a staysail or storm jib for extra control options. The 43 is designed to accept the same fitting.
Sheet and halyard control is down to two forward coaming winches – portside powered on the 43 test boat and both powered on the 50. There are twin sheet running blocks beside these winches, allowing jib sheets to be put onto the forward winches or led aft to the more powerful sheet/spinnaker pair. Lidded rope-tidy bins aft of the forward winches ensure there are no rope tails in the cockpit.
Mainsail control is done by a forward winch, with a mainsheet that runs from the boom, through two fixed blocks on the cabin arch, back to the boom and mast, then aft under the deck. The boom is set well above arch height, so it offers minimal threat to landlubbers in a gybe. The test boats had battened mainsails and one-line slab reefing, but in-mast furling is available.
Both test boats were fitted with spray dodgers on folding frames clipped to their arches. Removal was pretty quick, which is just as well, because folding the sail into its boom bag was much easier with the dodger off, or at least with the forward clear section unzipped and dropped onto the deck. A fixed FRP/polycarbonate dodger, with louvered steps similar to those used by Leopard Catamarans would look quite good on a Sense and would make sail bagging much easier.
Beneteau has given much attention to engine installation and that, in combination with a saildrive rather than a shaft, keeps vibration and noise to an absolute minimum. At full throttle (3150rpm), the Senses managed 8.4 knots and at 1500rpm, 4.7 knots, with only 66dB(A) (about the sound level of normal conversation) on our noise metre in the saloon.
The Mediterranean delivered its usual all-or-nothing weather, and our test sail wind strengths varied from four to 28 knots. The Senses were beautiful to sail in breezes up to around 15 knots with gennakers hoisted, but above that we shortened gear.
In 25 knots, with a partly furled headsail and a single reef in the main, the Sense 50 romped along at 9.4 knots hard on the wind and would have been better balanced with a staysail instead of a reefed genoa. Off the breeze, boat speed climbed above ten knots and the boat felt reassuringly stable.
In strong breezes, both boats felt very dry and secure, but crew comfort was compromised somewhat by the sheer size of the cockpits. Flat seats and large walking areas are great for lounging, but don’t offer much resistance to slipping when the boat is heeled over. However, with a tuck in the main and self-tacker sheeted home, there’s not much need for crew on deck anyway! The helmsperson is better looked after, with seat and foot wedges and drop-down foot braces fitted to the coamings.
Most Senses yachts will be bought by the pure cruising fraternity, but the boats perform well enough to handle club racing. Jib sheeting angles are wide, but a barber hauler is easy enough to rig up and there’s ample winching power to cope with an asymmetric or spinnaker.
In Asia: www.simpsonmarine.com
Technical Specifications – Sense 50
Length Overall: 15.27 m
Hull Length: 14.98 m
Hull Beam: 4.86 m
Light displacement: 15 295 Kg
Fuel tank capacity: 830 L
Fresh water capacity: 730 L
Max Engine Power (Hp): 75 CV Sail Drive - 75 HP Sail Drive
CE Certification: A9/B10/C14
Design: Berret Racoupeau Yacht Design
Interior layout and design: Nauta Design