Print

Beneteau523250Our first stop was the Beneteau wood facility in St. Gilles Croix de Vie. Here Beneteau streamlines their production process for all of their manufacturing plants by producing every wood kit for every boat in every line, including: Beneteau Oceanis, Beneteau Cyclades, Jeanneau, Waquiez, Lagoon and all their power boats as well, including kits for the USA plant. These kits are shipped on a just-in-time basis to minimize storage requirements at each factory; a container is shipped weekly to the USA factory.

Now think about that…every wood part for every size of boat, on every brand they build. That is a mind-boggling number of parts, not to mention the fact that each brand has a different wood finish and colour. Wood grains are recorded for each part in each boat to make replacements (if needed) down the road a bit easier. It all seems complicated, but if you remove any wood piece from your Beneteau, you’ll find a code number branded on it that indicates shape, finish, colour and grain needed for replacement.

The wood factory consists of several buildings that are clean, efficient and full of computer controlled milling and cutting machines. Some of their proprietary processes, namely in varnishing, we were not allowed to photograph so let’s just leave it at ‘Wow’!

[From there, we were whisked off in a Renault by our superb guide, Mr. Yves Mandin, to what Beneteau refers to as the “Big Boat Factory” also in St Gilles, just 10 minutes down the road. The big boat factory is home to the Beneteau 57, 523 and two lines of Lagoon 440s. At tour time, they were also gearing up on the new First 50.

Our interest was specifically in the creation of the 523, which we learned a lot about from our knowledgeable tour guide. As with most boat production facilities, the glasswork and assembly lines are separated for obvious reasons. Touring through the glass side of the plant, we were amazed by the efficiencies–once again–of the world’s biggest yacht builder. In the fiberglass shop, each piece of woven glass is cut from patterns for each yacht, and then labeled in green or red to indicate the side of the mold it is being glassed into. With a rack of fiberglass patterns wheeled out to each mold, the assemblers can glass in the appropriate matt in the proper order without any fitting or time delays. It also helps control the amount of material and thus the final weight of each glassed product being produced.

Over to the assembly side of the factory, four hulls and two decks are found in various states of completion for each line. Decks and deck liners are pre-assembled with all their lights and wiring harnesses, hatches and fittings prior to being mated with the hull. Wood kits are assembled beside each hull in the form of a galley or settee kit or engine housing and then dropped into the hull as a pre-assembled unit. With the boats shuffled up one spot approximately each week, a new yacht comes off the line at the rate of one per week, or in the Lagoon 440 case, two per week.

The 523 is a massive hull form when you step into one un-assembled. The trademark Beneteau hull grid is the first item assembled into a bare hull and is the backbone of the assembly process. It not only provides the template for the assembly of a two, three, four or five cabin floor plan option but it also houses the 900L water tanks, supports the engine, pins the rigging and provides multiple highways for wiring and plumbing routes. Again, Beneteau shines here as each wire (and there are thousands) is not only cut to the approximate size before installation but is also individually numbered for assembly and future service.

All yachts on the line are floated and rained on in the test tank for 24 hours upon completion to check for leaks, engine service and any plumbing concerns.

Our much anticipated 523 test sail was a 45-minute country drive down the coast of France to Les Sables d’Olonne, home of the famous Vendee Globe race. A quaint little fishing town within a boat building community (also home to Privilege cats), you’ll never find a day when at least a dozen shiny new yachts aren’t being commissioned in the harbour.

A short walk down the main dock, we pass five Lagoon 440s being readied for transats to the Caribbean, we found the tall 9/10th’s rig of the 523 standing above all else.

First Impressions

Immediately, we were drawn to the huge cockpit space and helm area. She is similar to the old Beneteau 50 in terms of looks, but her size is deceiving. The additional one and half feet of beam and 3 feet of length add immense proportions. Where the old 50 would fit 6 around the cockpit table, the 523 now sits 8-10. The helm easily accommodates two at each of the two wheels and the space continues to impress down below as well. Our yacht is a rare five-cabin version with each of the cabins housing a full queen width and plenty of length for my 6’4” frame. The heads are big with loads of legroom when ‘sitting’ and are clearly one of the more comfortable spaces for showering on any yacht I’ve been on. The 5th cabin, formerly known as the crew cabin, is now a fully finished double with an enclosed head and shower. No more bunks and a toilet on the floor!

The 5th cabin is accessible by the traditional deck hatch and ladder (if captained crew is aboard) or by a clever doorway cut through to the forward starboard cabin.

The main salon is very similar to the old 50 but the extra beam adds plenty of volume and storage capacity. A microwave, front-loading fridge, full size separate freezer, leather seating and an extendable table make for comfortable living quarters. The chart table/nav station is big enough to lay out those old things called charts but more importantly these days, provides 12V and 110V (through the inverter) to power laptops and ipods. The European galley backed up with the bench seating adds security and makes cooking during a passage very simple. There are solid areas to grab everywhere you look, beautiful wood finishes and plenty of light.

On the Move

We cranked up the 100hp turbo-charged Yanmar, throttled the bow thruster and headed out of the harbour smoothly, under a barely audible powerhouse at about 7 knots. A glassed-in shaft, excellent engine compartment insulation and a standard three-blade folder make for an excellent drive-train combination with no vibration.

Raising the main with the power halyard winch was a breeze and the fully battened main behaved well on the way up through the lazy jacks. With the 130% furling genoa powered up we cruised along at about 8 knots upwind on a 14-18 knot day with eight-foot rollers coming across the Bay of Biscay. She handled effortlessly with little or no weather helm. With the breeze building to 20, we bore off and reached along clearing 10 knots, all in complete control with fantastic visibility and in total comfort from her 35,000-pound displacement, high topsides and relatively low profile deck. One thing boat builders seem to be skimping on these days is winches but the two big Harken #66s aboard handled their duties with ease.

The Beneteau / Groupe Finot team should be proud of what they have accomplished in this project … a big ocean capable yacht, easy to sail, built to high standards with quality hardware.

Our only complaint after a 28-day, 4,500 mile delivery across the Atlantic to her new home in Tortola, BVI, was with respect to the demands of the 800 amp hour battery bank–host of lighting, Lewmar windlass, bow thruster, fridge and freezer. The factory-installed, single 80 amp alternator had to be replaced by double, 120 amp Balmars to give this huge bank of batteries their much needed replenishment. Hopefully, Beneteau will upgrade this in future hulls or perhaps put a generator in as a standard item as they do in their 57.

“Nanuk” – this Beneteau 523, five cabin, five head beauty – is available for bareboat or crewed charter in Tortola, BVI, from www.mangoyachtcharters.com

www.beneteau.com

To see if this boat is available, go to http://www.boatcan.com for listings!

By Patrick Festing-Smith