A Couple's Cruising Boat with Offshore Capabilities
With more than 400 boats sold worldwide since it was introduced in 1997, the Beneteau 411 has already joined the ranks of modern cruising classics as one of the more popular and successful 40-footers of all time. While about 10 percent of the boats in the three-cabin version have been built for the charter trade, the remaining 360 boats have proven to be remarkably good sailing platforms, with a good turns of speed, well thought-out accommodations, and simple, logical systems.
Direct from the factory, the boat is the foundation of what can become a good passagemaker and liveaboard cruiser. In fact, all of the boats that have been put in the charter trade in the Carribbean and Pacific have been delivered on their own bottoms by crossing oceans. That's what intrigues BWS about the boat.
The base price of $170,500 for two cabins puts a new 411 in the same price range as many used and well-equipped 45-footers, yet the interior volume of the 411 will match that of many of those larger boats. An older boat will need a refit, most likely, before heading to sea, so the cost of equipping a new boat for passagemaking will not greatly exceed the cost of a refit. In our experience, the cost of a thorough refit of an older boat will be approximately 15 percent of the purchase price, easily climbing to 20 percent. For a new boat like the 411, similar percentages will cover the cost of initial offshore outfitting.
In the end, a couple planning to set off for an extended cruise or an offshore rally might do very well to consider a slightly smaller boat that has the benefit of being built with the latest technology and equipped with new gear. With this in mind, we set off to test the 411.
Design & Numbers
Designed by Group Finot, the 411 has a European look, with a flat sheer, a molded blister coachroof, and a noticeable minimum of exterior teak. The bow sections are narrow, with a small amount of flare in the forward sections. This gives the boat an easy entry and will add to performance in light air and to windward. As the hull fills out aft of the bow section, more significant flare has been added. This increases initial stability, adds to hull volume, and helps keep water off the deck when sailing to windward.
The stern sections are full and the run aft very straight, which means that the boat will have an untroubled wake and the stern wave will be pushed astern of the boat at hull speed. This will add to its ability to sail up to hull speed in a moderate breeze and stay at that speed for long periods of time. The design of the stern puts a lot of buoyancy well aft of the boat's center of gravity. Boats with this configuration tend to be more squirrely but faster running in big seas than a heavier, narrower boat.
Under the water, the big, balanced spade rudder gives the boat a lot of steering power. The size and shape will enable the helmsperson to get the boat into the groove upwind fairly easily. It also will be a boon to directional stability off the wind, offsetting some of the skittishness created by the wide, buoyant stern.
Two keel configurations are available, with a regular deep fin drawing 5' 7" and a shoal draft bulb keel that draws only 4'9". The deep keel, which has a small bulb and winglets, will give the boat better windward performance, while the shoal bulb keel gives the boat the ability to explore thin water. Interestingly, due to the massive bulb at its bottom, the shoal keel gives the boat a slightly more stable feel under foot and a slightly faster righting moment.
The design numbers tell something about the boat's overall profile and abilities. The 411's Displacement/Length ratio (D/L) is 163. This falls at the light end of the cruising boat scale and indicates that the boat's long waterline and moderate displacement (17,195 lbs.) combine to give the boat a good turn of speed and a lively motion.
The Sail Area/Displacement ratio (SA/D) is on the moderate side. The classic version, with a full-battened main, has a SA/D of 17.8, while the furling version has a ratio of 16.7. These numbers indicate that the boat's rig is conservative. The boat should be able to carry full working canvas up to 20 knots of apparent wind, where a sister ship with a ratio over 20 would have to reef at 15 knots.
A low D/L and a moderate SA/D combine to indicate a hull that will be easy to drive, driven by a rig that can be managed by two people in a wide range of conditions.
We have visited the Beneteau plants in France and in South Carolina. The world's largest builder of production cruising and racing boats has invested heavily in automation, production-line technology and product development. The result is the ability to roll boats off the line at an amazing rate, while building them to a very high level of uniformity.
The hull of the 411 is solid glass-fiber, polyester and isophathalic resins molded in a rotating female mold. Glass is hand-laid and rolled out in the hull and deck, whereas smaller parts are constructed using chopper-gun applications of glass and resin. The company, having thousands of boats out there, has been a pioneer in preventing osmotic blisters by introducing new generations of resin and controlling the quality of materials and the climate inside the factories. While any fiberglass boat can suffer from osmotic blistering, the latest building techniques used by Beneteau and others have greatly reduced the risk from blisters and thus has reduced expensive warranty claims.
Beneteau builds the standard keels for its cruising boats from cast iron. The keel is attached to a keel stub molded into the bottom of the hull with stainless-steel keel bolts that run through massive fiberglass transverse stringers. While an externally mounted keel used to be derided as a weak point should the boat suffer a hard grounding, the last two decades have seen huge strides in both engineering knowledge and the development of sealing compounds. The result is that the impact loads from a hard grounding will be distributed throughout the grid structure inside the hull and absorbed to a large extent. Keel bolt leaks can still occur, but far less frequency than was the case a generation ago.
The rudder of the 411 is all composite, even the rudder-post. The blade of the rudder is formed of foam sandwiched between fiberglass layers. The post is a glass-epoxy composite that is both lighter than stainless steel and stronger. Epoxy rudder shafts have several benefits. First, the blade and the shaft are one inert piece, so water will not migrate into the foam sandwich where the shaft and blade join. Take a moisture meter to any boatyard and measure the water in the rudder on the hauled boats. You will see that virtually all of those with steel shafts joined to foam sandwich blades have high moisture readings.
The second benefit is the flex inherent in the epoxy shaft. The rudder is the most vulnerable point on the boat in heavy weather or when grounding. When the boat falls off a wave sideways and come up short at the bottom of the trough, there is a huge side strain on the shaft. In rare instances, a steel or aluminum shaft can bend or even break under such loads. An epoxy shaft could brake as well, and every year leading-edge racing boats lose shafts that have been engineered outside the envelop.
But the 411 is not a racing boat and has been engineered well within the envelop. The shafts Beneteau uses have tested out in Beneteau's own tests as being three times as strong as stainless steel, largely because the shaft will flex and deflect the side force. This is not experimental technology anymore; instead, it is rapidly becoming the best way to engineer a rudder.
The guts of the boat rest on an interior grid pan that is joined to the inside of the hull with polyester paste and fiberglass tabbing. Integral to the grid are two levels of fore-and-aft stringers, the chainplates, engine mounts, tank cavities and bulkhead slots. The downside of such interior pans used by many big production builders lies in the inability of a skipper to get to and repair a breach in the hull that lies behind the interior liner.
That noted, however, the grid system adds strength to the hull without adding excessive weight and simplifies the building process, thereby keeping costs down. Prefabricated interior modules fit neatly into the interior grid, where they are tabbed into place. The whole boat, once the deck is on, becomes a virtual monocoque.
The 411's deck is a fiberglass, end-grain balsa sandwich. The hull and deck are joined on the flange molded into the hull, glued with polyurethane mastic, and fixed in place with stainless-steel screws. It used to be the rule that flange joints should be thru-bolted on 6- or 8-inch centers. Nowadays, the adhesives used in hull-deck joints are so strong and reliable that screws have taken the place of bolts. Beneteau makes a point of noting that none of their boats has ever suffered a hull-deck-joint failure.
The basic systems that come with the 411 include a 420-h.p. Westerbeke diesel driving a three-bladed prop. Aluminum fuel tanks of 40-gallon capacity and a Racor fuel/water separator are standard. The water tanks are fiberglass and molded into the grid pan that lines the hull. These are coated with gelcoat, which prevents the water from being tainted with the taste of styrene. Plumbing systems are set up with easy access to valves and pumps beneath settees. The electrical wiring gets installed in bundles that run through conduits, which simplifies the installation process, but will make it slightly difficult for an owner to add new reading lights and fans as he gets used to living with his new boat.
The morning we sailed the 411 on Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound, we had barely a breath of wind. We motored away from the mooring in Falmouth Harbor and steamed out through the jetty. The boat we tested had a fixed three-bladed prop that bit the water with authority and at maximum revs moved the boat in flat water at 8-plus knots. The boat is extremely maneuverable under power, turning very nearly inside its own length. It stopped easily with power applied in reverse, and backed straight as an arrow.
Once on the Sound, we put the pedal down and motored toward a wind shadow lying a mile or so offshore. This was the beginning of the sea breeze, but it was a slow beginning. We rolled out the main and jib and looked for an angle of sail that would give us some headway. Although the wind was blowing at less than 5 knots, we soon had both sails drawing and the boat sliding effortlessly through the water at 3 knots at an angle of 40 degrees from the wind.
The boat's light displacement shone here. After half an hour, we gybed around and headed back for Falmouth. Off the wind, progress was slow, but we ghosted along and closed the shore an hour later. Along the beach, we found a new little breeze that we followed for a while. It puffed up to eight knots and gave the 411 a shunt forward. Sailing close to the wind, we managed six knots for a short burst.
We did not give the 411 a rigorous sea trial. But we did get a chance to see how the boat handles in light air and under power and came away impressed with her maneuverability, easy helm and ability to move even when beset with calms. The helmsman has good views forward over the low cabin-top, and can steer comfortably from the helmsman's seat or from either the windward or leeward side. The self-tailing Lewmar 48s that come as the standard genoa winches are adequate for the 125 percent genoa. Secondary winches are an optional addition.
Moving around on deck on this flat calm morning, we did not get a chance to test handholds or the natural bracing corners you need when working forward in bouncy weather. Because the decks are wide and the cabin-top so sleek, we can foresee the need for stainless-steel granny bars on either side of the mast, against which you can brace your butt, lash deck gear, and tie down halyards.
A cruising boat with a nice turn of speed under sail, the 411 handled the light stuff well and will really get up and go in stronger breezes. How the design will behave in heavy weather remains an open question. However, from experience with similar designs, when the wind gets over 30 knots, we expect the boat will be most comfortable going upwind under triple-reefed main and no headsail; off the wind, a scrap of genoa rolled out and held in place with a pole and a furled mainsail with keep the boat under control and making tracks. Because of its light displacement, the 411 will have an active motion in heavy weather that will have to be factored into her skipper's heavy weather tactics.
The BWS Conclusions
When we set out to test-sail and review the Beneteau 411, we wanted to take the boat's measure as a cruising boat with the potential to be equipped and fitted out for transoceanic sailing and live-aboard cruising. As it come from the factory, the boat is an attractive, modern coastal cruiser, that has been well designed, solidly engineered and well built. But, naturally, it will need to be fitted out with specific gear for offshore sailing. And some modifications will be needed to suit living aboard away from civilization. Outside the standard list of optional extras, Beneteau does not undertake custom modifications to boats like the 411.
Were BWS getting a 411 ready for ocean sailing, here are some of the choices we would make when purchasing the boat and when fitting it out. We would select the two-cabin version, with the good seagoing galley aft to starboard. And we would select the Classic version with the full-battened main. This would allow for a high-roach main that would add a bit of sail area and power to the rig. We would add spinnaker gear for downwind sailing and a storm trysail on its own mast track for heavy weather.
In the cockpit we would add secondary self-tailing winches, a rugged dodger, weather cloths and a Bimini top. We would go for the electric windlass option and the deep bulb keel, which is still less than six feet of draft. Our aim is to have a boat that will perform well and easily in a wide range of wind conditions, yet be as simple as possible.
The cruising version has two reasonable seas berths the after double and the port settee. The aft double's cushion would be made in two halves and fitted with a lee cloth down its middle and the settee would get one that tucks under the cushion when not in use. In easygoing sailing or the trades, the forward double will work well as a sea berth also, and it, too, could benefit from a mind-bunk lee cloth.
Handholds on deck and below are always important safety elements. There are several good ones on the boat, but we would add granny bars at the mast and a vertical stainless-steel post at the inboard corner of the galley counter where it could be used by crew moving about the boat's interior. Also, on deck we would add Wichard folding padeyes on the side decks, on which we would shackle stainless-steel jacklines. In the cockpit, we would add two or three sturdy padeyes for life harness tethers. And we would add a good six-man life raft.
The boat has ample water tanks, but 48 gallons of fuel is not enough for independent cruising, so we would add a 25-gallon bladder diesel tank Blue Water Boat the bottom of the sail locker. Also, we would add a second fuel/water separator in the high-side of the fuel line. On the engine, a 120-amp. hour charger would replace the standard 50-amp. alternator. This would charge the batteries through a phased regulator. The house battery bank would be expanded from 200 amp-hours of capacity to at least 600.
For self steering, we would add a windvane, which will require an interesting bracket on the swim platform and a good electronic autopilot. Otherwise, we would keep electronics to a minimum, adding only radar, GPS and an SSB/Ham radio.
What would all this cost? You can estimate the cost of outfitting a 40-foot boat for offshore sailing and extended cruising at around $30,000 and you certainly could spend much more or much less. How long would it take? Allow six months to sea-trial everything, have warranty work done, and to shake the bugs out of the systems. At the end, 411 will be a fast, capable pasagemaker that will also be a comfortable floating home when far afield.
|Classic||743 sq. ft.|
|Roller||695 sq. ft.|
24 North Market Street
Charleston SC 29401
Tel: (843) 805 5000
Fax: (843) 805 5010