Editor’s Note: Last issue we took a look at the history of Beneteau, their factory in South Carolina and their popular sailboats in French Style for American Fun – The Beneteau Story. This month, we look at their powerboat strategy.
Beneteau, the French boat manufacturer, had an early start in the powerboat market when Benjamin Bénéteau took a revolutionary step in 1912. He built a boat with no masts and with an engine! The fishermen in the Vendée region along France’s rugged west coast were skeptical, fearing the engine would scare away the fish. Fortunately, the success of Benjamin’s boats convinced the locals and his son, André, inherited a thriving boat building business in 1928.
In the early 1960s, André’s children took over the company. Daughter Annette expanded the sailing component while her brother André continued designing motor yachts, developing the popular Antares line. While still in production in Europe, the model is not imported into the United States.
Today, Beneteau produces a line of sleek express cruisers, the Gran Turismo; the Swift Trawlers for comfort cruising; and the newly introduced Barricuda 9 that combines fishing and cruising capabilities.
The Barracuda is fun and funky-looking, very different from any other Beneteau line. The wheelhouse is reminiscent of a tug boat at first glance, but it certainly doesn’t perform like a work boat. Bob Denison, owner of Denison Yacht Sales in Fort Lauderdale and a Bénéteau dealer, compared the boat’s performance to driving a sportscar. “Particularly when you’re on the flybridge, it’s a wind-in-your-hair type exhilaration. I loved it!”
Bénéteau displayed 20 boats at the 2012 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. The Barracuda “was by far the busiest boat,” said Kevin Frawley, a member of Denison’s team. “Whenever you introduce a model that is so different, it generates a lot of interest.”
The 29-foot boat was designed to adapt to those who want a smaller fishing boat that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. It has space and amenities for a couple to enjoy a weekend cruise, including a petite fridge, a compact head and a comfortable stateroom forward. And, with a shallow draft, you can step from the bow to the beach, wetting only your feet.
It’s also quick, with a top speed of 40 knots with two 450 hp outboards. It comes in a flybridge or hardtop version and has Bénéteau’s new Airstep hull, developed as an alternative to existing stepped hulls. Scoops on the superstructure funnel air to two openings at the bottom of the hull. Frawley said this “creates less friction and gets the boat on a plane faster. It makes for a softer ride.”
In the wheelhouse, the two helm seats swivel to face aft with two fold up tables and a settee across the back. Aft, a bench seat can be folded up to clear the cockpit for fishing. The transom tilts forward providing just enough space to tilt up the outboards.
Elegant Gran Turismos
The Gran Turismo series offers 34-, 38-, 44- and 49-foot models. All are sporty boats with a touch of Italian elegance and twin, high performance engines that can speed you from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini at 30 knots burning only 20 gallons an hour. “You spin the wheel and the boat responds,” Frawley said. “The first sea trial convinces the customer. It’s a fun boat to sell.”
The Gran Turismo models are equipped with retractable hardtops and are light and airy below.
The larger the model, the more comfort features abound, but even the 34-footer has a roomy saloon in the bow, a comfortable stateroom amidships, and a spacious cockpit complete with a grill for entertaining, as well a cushioned lounging pad on the foredeck.
The most popular, the GT38, has a master cabin forward, an L-shaped dining area in the saloon, and more sleeping quarters aft. The cockpit adds another dining area and lounge settees.
The level of luxury steps up in the GT44 with a guest stateroom in the bow and a large master stateroom aft of the saloon, both with en suite heads. The cockpit also has a U-shaped settee and table.
The GT49 is the flagship of the line. The two staterooms are in the same positions but more spacious. There is an option for a third twin cabin. The main saloon is on the level of the interior helm with a U-shaped settee and table. The galley is on the lower level, aft of the guest cabin.
Of course the cockpit is roomy but a flybridge option provides yet another outdoor playroom. A curved stairway leads you to a helm station with comfortable seats. The port side is lined with cushioned seating that stretches to encircle the aft section of the bridge where there is also a table.
To put things just a little more over the top, there is a storage area big enough for an inflatable tender just forward of the swim platform. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the swim platform itself which hydraulically moves aft away from the hull and lowers slightly into the water for your own floating raft!
In 2003, Bénéteau set out to develop a trawler that had the traditional seaworthiness but cruised at faster speeds in more comfort. The result is the Swift trawler line.
The ST34 that completed the Great Loop (see our October issue) is “the best selling model in the Bénéteau lineup in the last five years.” Frawley explains,
“it is still creating a lot of buzz because it showed you could comfortably do the Loop in a boat under 40 feet and have enough storage.” It has two enclosed cabins and the settee in the saloon makes into a bed. The 34 also has a sedan version without a flybridge helm.
The ST44 and ST50 are examples of how Bénéteau’s R&D department constantly looks to improve each boat’s details and features. The ST44 replaced the ST42; the ST 50 replaced the ST52. The hulls are the same so “it’s a redistribution of space, opening more liveability space,” according to Wayne Burdick, President of Bénéteau, Inc. “It makes them more American in proportion.”
Denison added, “It’s an improvement on the 52 with IPS drives and a different layout. The galley is on the pilothouse level and it has the hydraulic swim platform” like the GT49. The first one in the U.S. sold at the Annapolis boat show.
There’s obviously a reason why Bénéteau is the largest producer of boats in the world.