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sail-beneteau_first_45-largeThe automotive industry coined the term crossover; I guess that should be the word we now refer to for those boats that have high performance and comfort cruising. In this vein, the Beneteau First 45 is just that boat.

At first glance, I could see why Anchor Yacht's affable Colin Andrews was so excited about this boat. The hull shape just breathes 'power to burn'; our test sail proved that point first hand. Its acceleration and tracking are amazing; it's definitely got a home in the performance cruiser market. This new performance cruiser niche has a few manufacturers innovating their own designs to address the growing need for bigger boats influenced by the ever-increasing participation in events like the Lake Ontario 300. It's driving innovations on all fronts; the Beneteau First 45 designer Philippe Briand does not disappoint. Taking a page from his First 50 launched previously, this also has a lot going for it.

Results so far – from the Rolex Middle Sea race off Malta in October to the Australia's Hamilton Island Race Week regatta – have more than proved this boat's racing pedigree. Impressive results early in its career are reinforcing the scuttlebutt about this boat fast.

The sail plan is optimised for IRC, has a large and powerful full-batten main and a non-overlapping jib set on a roller furler system and a triple-spreader, 9/10 tapered aluminum spar with Dyform wire.

The hull configuration of solid glass is laid up with a unidirectional, bi-axial glass fibre with an inner structural liner affixed with adhesive. The hull and deck are joined both "mechanically" with fasteners and a polyurethane adhesive. This liner carries the chain plates, deck mast, engine and keel. The infused fibreglass and balsa sandwich deck – reinforced by solid glass where mounting points are needed – is supported by hull and deck bonded bulkheads.

Right away, this boat means business! Its neat features such as the open transom, teak cockpit sole, dual steering wheels, flush mount hatches and lines under the coach roof deck to its huge aft lockers and fold away anchor all add up to a boat that's made to race and comfortable to cruise. We loved the comfort and feel above decks immediately and the wide forward access and open cockpit is perfect for racing and wonderful for cruising.

The double composite steering wheels and well-positioned primaries and the cockpit sole mounted mainsheet all add up to an ergonomically pleasing and efficient sailing trim system that is both comfortable and safe to operate. Harken 60 primary winches are positioned well in reach of either steering wheel as well as the travellers lines for powering up after a tack – while the mainsheet is led aft ending at a pair of 48s.

Below decks, this boat is a dream with neat features abound – its lighter oak wood trim to its well done upholstery. The three-cabin layout is a natural for this boat. From the forward cabin with its wonderfully spacious head and stateroom to a huge saloon with an outward facing navigation table, it's well thought out. The nav station's unique lap top insert feature is cool, complemented by great space to add numerous electronics.

We liked a few features from the neatly camel-hide, wrapped hand rails to the leather desk pad.

In the salon, the multi-position seats swivel through 360 degrees and actually slide under the dining table to allow unbelievable space below underway. The interior natural light is perfect but the small reading lights positioned throughout are a neat touch. We also noted a unique hot dish grille in the center of the dining suite table protected by fiddles.

The starboard-positioned galley is well laid out with ample storage. The centerline mounted sinks with the L-shaped configuration and complementary bar area (as I call it) lead neatly forward into the saloon. Refrigeration is a well done and more than adequate and the option of adding other appliances is quite doable.

Opposite the aft head (that can double as a wet locker) can accommodate a 6-foot plus 220 pound crew to move about easily.

The aft cabins, similar to the First 50, are functional and provide more than ample room, including tasteful, fabric-lined hanging lockers.

Our test sail provided a great insight to this boat's power. In a light fading fall breeze upwards of seven knots, we were powering though at a solid five plus knots easily. The medium depth keel (7'10") and rudder (6'8'') allowed this boat to track with a single tweak on the rudder and to turn effortlessly as we tacked easily though 100 degrees.

Heading home, the standard Yanmar (54 HP) configured with a 3-blade sail drive performed well, pushing the boat at the obligatory 6 knots, as needed.

By John Kerr

To see if this boat is available, go to www.boatcan.com to check listings!