Reprinted from RCR Yachts Racer’s News #340, October 21, 2009

First 40 with deep draft

First 40 with deep draft

First Impressions of the Beneteau First 40, by Garth Hichens: “My first sight of the Beneteau First 40 was at Paris Boat Show December of 2008, it looked spectacular but then all the boats looked great in Paris, indoors and displayed with all the chic that only the French can do.
The next time I saw the First 40 was when it came off the ship in Baltimore Harbor, even wrapped in white shrink wrap it stood out, tall, long and powerful looking, I was lucky and drew the long straw so I got to motor her home to Annapolis. I was almost angry as I motored home the 3 hours with a 15 knot beam wind, I hate wasting anything and here I was in perfect sailing conditions on a Beneteau built, Farr designed sailing machine with no mast; luckily it wasn’t long before I got to sail her in earnest.
Once back at Annapolis Yacht Sales the boat went together easily and we had
First 40 Deck Layout

First 40 Deck Layout

 her ready for sailing 10 days later. So on Friday October 2nd with a main and 106% non overlapping jib supplied by Neil Pryde sails (More on this later) and a borrowed Farr 40 Masthead spinnaker we picked up two of the guys from the Farr office and off we went.
Motoring out of the entrance to Back Creek we were met by a stiff 20 knot breeze with a good amount of chop, not the perfect conditions for the first sail on a new boat, but we had plenty of experience on board. Soon we had the main up, which was easy with the 2 to 1 halyard, which has the double benefit of reducing the load on the sheet stopper by 50% and making small adjustments easy.
Both drafts and Layout

Both drafts and Layout

Once the rig was checked we hoisted the 106% jib, which has battens and a positive roach to the leach, and sheeted in. Wow, our immediate reaction was “this is a powerful boat”. The 8 foot fin keel with the lead bulb way down at the bottom kept the boat on her feet and the tall 3 spreader rig shoved us forward. We soon settled down to a long beat out into the bay with a true wind around 20 knots and boat speed of 7.1 knots. What interested me, as we rotated the helm amongst 3 or 4 helmsman, was that the speed quickly got back to the same numbers. This reminded me of a conversation I had with Eric Ingoff who heads up the Beneteau First division in France for Beneteau. He told me that the Farr office had designed a hull that tracked well through the water and made helming easy both up and down wind. When you look at the hull you will see that it carries its beam further aft and with nice clean lines, less constricted by design rules than the previous “dot seven” First boats.
Downwind at 10 knots, a Beneteau with a big Spinnaker at last. After a beat of
First 40, photo by Guillaume Plisson

First 40, photo by Guillaume Plisson

a few miles we turned around and hoisted the Spinnaker. Wow again, the spinnaker is big, being both masthead and having a 115% penalty pole. The boat speed easily jumped up to 9.5 knots, surfing up to 10.5 knots, and once again the helm was positive and direct. One of the guys driving said it was like driving a car, it went wherever you pointed it.
Seldom have I been sailing along at 10 knots with the spinnaker cleated and everybody standing around the cockpit taking turns helming and working out how we can get to do the next Annapolis Newport race on a First 40. Downwind the helming was easy and even though this is a moderately heavy boat at 17,000 lbs it felt fast and exciting. We had some very experienced crew on the boat with several Key West and National championship wins amongst us, but the First 40 excited all of us.
This article would not be complete without a short note about the sails. Beneteau supplies all First series boats without sails so we went to Neil Pryde, who supply all the standard sails for the Beneteau line and asked them on short notice to make a main and jib so that we could do the magazine test sails after the Annapolis Boat Show. Three weeks later the sails arrived and not only did they fit perfectly, the finish was excellent and for those of us who are used to their standard Dacron sails these Membrane sails were an eye opener. During one of our test sails we were beating to windward in 25 Knots True with full sail sheeted in hard and they set with clean leaches and no stress wrinkles…even some of the rock stars on the boat were very complimentary about the shape. For more info go to
Our next test sail on the 40 was with John Kretschmer from Sailing Magazine and 4 of us from Annapolis Yacht Sales. Leaving the harbor we had about 15 knots of breeze which died over the next few hours down to 6 knots. This gave us a chance to play more with sail controls than during the first test and we all shared time on the wheel, I will let John tell his story in the article that will appear in
For this test we had the removable cockpit seats onboard and did not find them constricting, we have decided that one addition the cockpit needs is a foot rest for the Mainsail trimmer, we are busy designing a S/S folding footrest similar to what we installed in many Mumm 30’s.
One of the neat controls for the Jib is the In-hauler (Barber hauler) which allows you to sheet the sail about 6 inches further inboard than with the track. This is important because it lets Beneteau keep the coach roof wider for space below but still gives us inboard sheeting of the jib going upwind. The mainsheet is led back to winches aft on both sides of the cockpit and allows the mainsheet trimmer to make infinite adjustments with a power of 96 to 1 using the Harken #48 winches, but also gives quick 2 to 1 release when bearing away.
Back at the dock we were given a temporary slip next door to a Beneteau 40.7. As most people know the First 40.7 is arguably the most successful 40 Ft Cruiser/Racer ever, with well over 700 built, and over its 10 year reign has won almost every major race and regatta in the world including Key West, Commodores Cup and Sydney Hobart just to name a few. We know these are huge shoes to fill and it was interesting to compare the two boats side by side. The new 40 is considerably lower, both in freeboard and the coach roof, and wider by more than a foot which makes the boat look much sleeker. The cockpit is huge compared to the 40.7, and with the easily removable stern beam across the back of the cockpit removed, has more than enough space for a tactician to live behind the helmsman. After admiring the much bigger and more racy cockpit it is surprising how much bigger and inviting the 40 is down below thanks to the wider beam. Both aft cabins are spacious and the main salon with the new lighter colored Alpi wood looks much more open, the standard salon table has two positions, one up for eating and one lowered position for entertaining and cocktails. This can be seen at
Wednesday afternoon we motored out to meet the Cruising Word Magazine folks for their test sail, wind was down around 5 knots so we did some testing under power. The First 40 has a Yanmar 40HP diesel with a sail drive and two bladed geared folding prop. At maximum RPM of 3100 it gave us a speed (checked both ways against the GPS) of around 8.15 knots. A cruising speed of 7.6 knots was achieved around 2600 RPM. Due to the large efficient rudder, backing down was easy and we tested the emergency tiller which fitted directly into the top of the rudder shaft by way of an easily opened hatch directly behind the wheel.
With sails up the Cruising World crew took turns driving the boat and even with the small jib the boat performed great getting up to 5.5 knots close-hauled in a 6 knot breeze. It is important for me to point out that the boat has tracks for both a 106% jib and a 150% Genoa. Most people racing the 40 under IRC handicap will probably stay with the smaller jib for rating advantage and those racing PHRF in areas with less wind might opt for the bigger Genoa. After testing the anchor windlass and a short sail with the Spinnaker up the Cruising World guys left me, Chris and Bobby alone with a gentle 5 knot breeze. I learned a great deal about trimming the smaller jib from these two guys who have been on Key West winning Mumm 30’s several times. Most of the time when we have small jibs up its blowing hard and we simply sheet in and hang on, but trimming the jib in 5 knots with all the controls we have on the First 40 was fun. The cockpit winches with the cockpit lockers removed are at a perfect grinding height and all the controls come back to the cabin top.
Our appointment with Sailing World Magazine was for 10AM Thursday, and we awoke to a cold grey sky, pouring rain, 25 knots of wind and a lumpy sea. I was secretly hoping that they might cancel, but not these guys, they were excited and met us out near channel marker #8 dressed for the occasion and raring to go. On hoisting the main they asked for one reef but because of the rush before the boatshow we had not yet run any reef lines. So up went the full sail, outhaul on hard, lots of hydraulic backstay, crew on the rail and off we went. I fully expected to have the traveler down with the main luffing and an open jib leach, but we sheeted on hard, traveler up, top of the main open and soon had the boat sailing hard on the wind averaging 7.15 knots. This is where the deep keel and wider beam really paid off, the boat stood up well with full sail in 25 knots true wind and tracked straight. One of the guys went below and remarked how quiet the boat was inside beating into a lumpy sea, while the decks remained fairly dry from the sea but unfortunately not from the rain which continued to pour down. After several tacks we were reminded that one of the big advantages of a jib boat is the easy tacking, with the jib coming in most of the way by hand.
By now we were on the Eastern Shore up near the Bay Bridge where we used a channel marker to simulate a racing bear away spinnaker set. With the big spinnaker up we took off downwind averaging 10 knots and surfing up to 11.6 knots. We did have a funny moment when the gung ho helmsman called for a gibe, something we had not tried up to now. During a dip pole gibe we pulled the inboard end of the pole up the mast and started the gibe before realizeing we had no trip line on the inboard pole end which was now way up the mast. Fortunately Chuck on the helm was experienced and the was boat stable enough to let us sort the foredeck out and carry on rushing downwind.
Having now sailed the boat 4 times in winds from 5 to 25 knots, and motoring the 3 hours from Baltimore, I won’t go as far as saying I am an expert on the First 40 but I do have some valuable experience on the boat and will happily take calls from anyone to try and answer any questions you have. It is my firm belief that the team of Beneteau and Farr Yacht Design have produced a yacht with feet that might more that fill the shoes left by the 40.7.”
Garth Hichens, Annapolis Yacht Sales,
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