By the end of 2002 Beneteau will have built and launched 400 Oceanis 473s in the two years since her launch. Matthew Sheahan finds out why this particular model has achieved such succes
Is the Beneteau Oceanis 473 just another average white boat? On the face of it, yes.
But as I eased the throttle forward and her engine revs climbed there was a hint that we were about to experience something quite different.
At the risk of sounding like a motoring mad teenager who judges a car’s top speed by how far round the needle goes.
I have to admit to being impressed by the Beneteau Oceanis 473 before we put the sails up.
At 3.000rpm most boats engines would be running out of puff as the increase in boat speed started to tail off.
The Beneteau Oceanis 473, however. was bowling along at 8 knots.
By 3.500rpm you’d normally need a Ventol in inhaler to gel any more out of the engine but the Beneteau Oceanis 473 was just getting into her stride and upped the pace to 9 knots.
By the time we hit full throttle at 4,400rpm the engine’s turbo was whistling away.
The bow had come up by about 5°, the stern squatted in the water like a badly trained dog in the park.
And the boat speed had hit a staggering 10.5 knots.
Even more amazing was that she seemed happy to keep this up all day if required while remaining quiet and smooth.
All this from just a 78hp engine. There has to be a catch.
Bringing her off the plane I began to put her through a few manoeuvres.
Once again she responded well, her large three-bladed fixed prop and a good traditional shaft drive dragging her back end wherever you felt like putting it.
And with very little lag on the engine she was one of the easiest mid 40-footers I’d handled under power.
With an optional bow thruster fitted and an ability to power astern at speeds that could sink most boats. there should be lit tic reason to get caught out.
But this is a sailing boat and I had a suspicion that such sparkling performance under power might be providing some form of compensation for a lacklustre performance under sail.
If this were true, our light breeze of 8-10 knots would highlight any shortcomings. But first a few details.
Above and below decks of the Beneteau Oceanis 473
The Oceanis 473 is huge.
Once you’ve managed to scramble up the topsides and climb aboard (portable gunwale-hung steps would be a good idea), the first thing you notice is the ample beam, which seems to run right back to the transom.
The result is a vast cockpit area.
Nestling in each after-quarter are the two wheels separated by a walk through passageway to the transom.
There’s a stainless steel bracing bar mounted in the cockpit, which also provides the mounting bracket for the cockpit table, neatly stowed in one of the many cockpit lockers.
For an aft cockpit boat her on-deck stowage is pretty good, with several amply proportioned lockers – on our test boat one or these had a generator fitted in it.
The primary winches are just forward of the twin wheels in a position that both the helmsman and crew can access comfortably.
The rig is manageable, with a wide chainplate base ensuring good support for the mast and two sets of aft-swept spreaders.
In fact, my only real criticism was my familiar old chestnut of the mainsheet positioned out of reach of the helmsman.
A detail which could have prevented a harmless but textbook windward broach later on during the test.
Elsewhere she’s a simple, practical boat with no fancy under deck leads for control lines.
Instead, control lines arc out for all to see and grab rails are of the chunky teak type.
Her foredeck looks a little cluttered, with seven forward-facing low-profile deck hatches between the mast and forestay.
Presumably these make up for the lack of dorades in this area.
And she has bulwarks. albeit fairly low but still big enough to provide a firm foot brace.
Below decks there is a familiar Bcneteau layout: large saloon with an ample galley and navigation station slotted just in front of the main head.
The forward cabin is a standard double with ensuite head.
Perhaps the real point of interest is the hugely spacious double cabins aft – hardly surprising given her beam.
Other layouts provide either a two – or a four – cabin version.
To deal with the negatives first, she has a heavy helm which at times lacks the kind of feel you might expect on a boat of this size.
The reason seems to lie in the twin wheel arrangement, which adds friction to the system.
Having said that, you quickly get used to her slightly dulled feel and as the speed increases this is less of an issue.
And to my surprise, that was it on the debit side.
From the minute you set sail she’s off, ready to accelerate at the hint of an extra puff but well mannered with it.
In 8-1 0 knots or breeze she was clocking over 7.6 knots on a tight reach and slipping along hard on the wind at around 5.5 knots.
Downwind in such light breezes she lacked the fizz she had shown upwind but few could blame her for that.
This Groupe Finot design is a cruiser and will never challenge that more pumped up racer-cruiser, the Beneteau First 47.7.
Nevertheless, pop up the cruising chute and she’s off again.
In breezes of 10-15 knots she simply accelerates quicker, regularly bowling a long at 10 knots plus in stronger puffs.
The cockpit may be spacious but the stainless crash bar-cum-table mount works well.
While the cockpit coamings are deep enough to provide security without making each trip to the cockpit feel like an assault on Annapurna’s south face.
For those who prefer to be higher up, the coamings are angled slightly outboard, making her comfortable here as well.
Having been taken by surprise from the minute we left the dock, I believe this is one of Beneteau’s best cruisers for years.
At a basic price of £116,515 ex VAT for the 78hp version, the Oceanis 473 is very good value for money.
But then she has to be as there are other boats breathing down her neck; Jeanneau’s Sun Odyssey 45.2, the Bavaria 47 and the Grand Soleil 46.3 are just three like-sized cruisers with a similar performance.
For anyone seriously in the market it will be a tough decision and my best advice is to make sure you sail all four.
And be sure to give them the gun under engine, too.
First published in the June 2002 issue of YW.
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