If you imagined that the Beneteau Oceanis 373 would be like a bigger version of the Oceanis 323, you're in for a surprise: she's a very different boat.
The Beneteau Oceanis 323 uses a well-proven, race-bred hull. She’s a mainsail driven design, with outboard rigging and a close-sheeting headsail. By contrast, the Beneteau Oceanis 373 is brand-new, conceived by Jean Berret and Olivier Racopeau as an out-and-out cruiser.
Her mainsail is smaller than the headsail, which sheets outboard of the rigging.
Although the two boats couldn’t quite be described as chalk and cheese – or le jour et la nuit, as one would say in St Gilles – there are marked differences in their appearance and, as I found, in their performance.
After the Oceanis 323, the bigger Beneteau Oceanis 373 was disappointing – largely, I suspect, because of the enormous amount of forestay sag.
Rig tension was lacking both laterally and fore and-aft, with the result that the mast was bending sideways, the leeward rigging was waving around in the breeze and the genoa was hopelessly full.
In view of this, it was no surprise that the Beneteau Oceanis 373 struggled upwind. She heeled readily and rounded up frequently, needing several spokes down on the wheel most of the time to keep on track.
Disconcertingly, the helm loaded up so little as heel increased that it took some time to become attuned to the faint warning of an impending broach; while a light helm is normally something to be praised, a tad more feel would have been helpful.
Taking some slack out of the twin backstays by pulling them together with a mooring warp went some way towards improving matters, as did easing the genoa cars back a few inches and paying close attention to mainsail trim, having tensioned the halyard substantially.
Twist and leech tension, it soon became apparent, were critical, as was the position of the traveller: a few inches up or down the track made all the difference.
A few minutes’ tweaking saw our pointing improve, our boatspeed pick up from 5 to 5.5 knots and, significantly, the boat was controllable upwind under full sail with 17 knots over the deck.
Nonetheless, her behaviour suggested a certain lack of tolerance.
Slack rigging made her a challenge to sail, but her sails were new, her bottom was clean and she had the deep fin keel (6ft 3in/l.90m) rather than the optional 5ft 1in/1.55m shallow alternative.
It’s interesting that Berret and Racoupeau have chosen to buck the trend towards bigger mainsails and smaller headsails with the Beneteau Oceanis 373’s sail plan.
Bear in mind that the larger the percentage of the total sail area you have in the headsail, the greater the effects of headstay sag.
Other considerations are that a larger genoa means more winching, and once it has been reefed around the headfoil it inevitably loses much of its shape.
The crew should also move the cars forward as the sail is reefed, and back again afterwards – a procedure that’s often overlooked, with dire consequences in terms of performance.
Given the proven ability of her designers to create highly-efficient sailing boats (superyachts and Open 50s among them) the behaviour of the Oceanis 373 seems slightly odd.
Maybe she just needed more careful setting up before the press were let loose on her – twenty minutes at the dockside with a screwdriver and adjustable wrench would have made a big difference.
So much for the bad news. What about the good?
Well, the Beneteau Oceanis 373 went downwind happily enough, didn’t mind heaving to, and could then be gybed round with the sheets pinned in so you could carry on sailing without having to bring the headsail across.
Self-tailing Lewmar 44s primaries sited well aft made single-handed tacking relatively simple from behind the wheel, which was big enough to give the helmsman a reasonable view of the headsail’s luff.
Deck hardware was broadly similar to that on the Oceanis 323, and included neat blocks bolted to the inside of the aluminium toerail to guide the headsail’s reefing line aft along the deck.
They were far less obtrusive than the more commonly-found alternatives that clamp around the base of the stanchions.
It was also good to see reefing blocks sewn into the mainsail’s luff as well as the leech.
Since the sailmaker had gone to that trouble, I’d have thought a full-length top batten would have been worth including.
The lower battens were three quarter length.
Back at deck level, you find half-depth lockers to port and starboard in the cockpit and a full-depth one in the stem, reached by a lid either side of the hinging central seat.
Moving forward on deck reveals three hatches ahead of the mast and a single cowl vent over the saloon.
While it might be misleading to brand the Oceanis 373 a motor-sailer, our test model was far more impressive under power than under sail.
The standard engine is a 40hp Volvo – and that’s big for a boat weighing 6.5 tons. Driving a three-bladed prop, it pushed her along at over 6 knots with only 2,000rpm showing on the rev-counter.
Opening the throttle all the way took our speed up to 8 knots, and engaging reverse brought us to a standstill in a matter of seconds.
Like the Oceanis 323, the Beneteau Oceanis 373 was generally predictable and manoeuvrable at close quarters after the initial kick to port.
In terms of construction and general finish, again she has much in common with her smaller sister. There’s more room down below, of course, where two layouts are offered: you have a choice of single or twin double after cabins.
Our test boat had the latter (about £3,000 extra), which resulted in a smaller heads, galley and chart table than if you settle for just four permanent berths.
With twin doubles, the port saloon berth is shorter, too.
After the Oceanis 323, it was good to see a neater, more accessible switch-panel and to find that the engine is reached behind companionway steps that hinge up.
Greater margins with bigger boats allow builders to incorporate such features.
Little and large?
There are substantial differences between the two new Oceanises but, as you would expect, also many similarities in terms of detailing and finish.
The 323 appears to be the better sailing boat; the Beneteau Oceanis 373 offers more space.
First published in the June 2004 issue of PBO.
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