There will always be a market for a big volume, people-carrying cruiser with modest looks and just enough style to make it easy on the eye. One such 50-footer is the Beneteau Oceanis 523
When most yards talk of success in this size range they’re talking of tens, maybe scores of boats built. Beneteau talk in hundreds. The predecessor of the Beneteau Oceanis 523, the Beneteau Oceanis 5o, was one of the company’s most successful big boats with 300 built in just five years.
The fact is that Beneteau build production boats, so when it comes to making your mark, ticking boxes in a list of options will be the only area in which you can express your preference.
In this respect the new Beneteau Oceanis 523 is no different. In essence, she’s a standard boat with a standard list of optional extras, a menu from which you can personalise your boat. This, of course, helps to keep costs down but there are other advantages to choosing this route.
With many thousands of boats afloat, Beneteau draw on vast experience of what separates the good from the bad and the ugly. The Oceanis 523 falls in the good group.
She’s clearly modelled on the current Oceanis style with its proliferation for portholes and hatches. There are no less than ten on-deck hatches between the bow and the forward edge of the spray dodger.
The stepped deckline profile has become one of the trademarks of a new Oceanis. As has the sweeping rise in the sheerline forward and the bulwarks that run from stem to stern.
Aft cockpits are another common feature of the modern Oceanis range and here the layout of the Beneteau Oceanis 523 is generally impressive.
Split into two main areas, the cockpit has twin wheels and the familiar central walkthrough.
A pair of Harken 66ST primary winches are positioned on peninsula-type mouldings, well within reach of the helmsman and crew.
Unfortunately, the mainsheet is positioned so far forward on the boom that not only is it out of reach of the helmsman but the loss in mechanical advantage when sheeting in could make this an unnecessarily difficult sail to handle in a breeze.
This issue aside, the deck layout is generally very good with a deep cockpit, decent coamings, plenty of grab handles and good security for family sailing.
The area is, however, not entirely free from the sailing action, with control lines led back to a pair of Harken 44ST winches either side of the companionway, but the cockpit is big enough to cope with this.
It is worth noting, though, that in its standard form, this boat has just four manually operated winches, something worth considering when you’re ticking the boxes.
Other details that catch the eye include the large lockers under the helmsman’s seat. The recessed mouldings for mugs and glasses in the seat itself and the lockers in the cockpit coamings.
Best of all, however, is the neat footstep recess in the side of the hull – at last, a builder who accepts the problems of high freeboard when attempting to climb aboard.
Yet even if you overlooked all these details there’s one feature that is nigh on impossible to miss, her overall beam. At 4.90m (16ft) the Beneteau Oceanis 523 is 42cm wider than the Oceanis 50 and just a 20mm short of the beam of the 57.
A characteristic of many other Finot designs, her beam runs from amidships most of the way aft. The result is acres of space on deck and a cavernous interior.
The Beneteau Oceanis 523 has a cavernous interior
Below decks there’s no mistaking the volume. The Beneteau Oceanis 523 layout is pretty straightforward, with a U-shaped saloon to port and a longitudinal galley to starboard.
Aft lie a pair of large double cabins, each with its own ensuite head, while the owner’s cabin is of Hilton proportions with a head to match.
Accessed from a hatch on deck, the skipper’s cabin, and head, is tucked up in the fore peak. Despite the space she remains easy to move about in when heeled.
A central island dividing the galley from the saloon provides a good brace, as do the various handholds.
Other details to get my vote include the amount of worktop, stowage, microwave and dishwasher (I can’t believe I just said that) and the cream-coloured trim – so long as it was someone else’s to look after.
What I wasn’t so keen on was the front access for the cold storage which wouldn’t be much fun on starboard tack.
The nav station was a bit short on instrument space and, while the standard of finish of the varnish work was up to Beneteau’s usual high standard, there were a few areas of joiner work that looked vulnerable.
Modest, straightforward looks above and below decks mask a surprisingly good sailing performance. When compared with the Greek-built Ocean Star, the Beneteau is a full two tonnes lighter and carries 1om2 more sail area upwind.
The result is a significantly better potential performance.
Our sailing trials were in light conditions, but even so she was surprisingly light and responsive on the helm.
So often twin-wheel configurations numb the overall feel of a boat with gear ratios and linkages that make the wheels feel lifeless and heavy to turn. But not so with the Beneteau Oceanis 523, which remains light and easy to handle.
Under engine there’s little to report other than docile handling and a good turn of speed with a top end of around ten knots.
First published in the May 2005 issue of YW.
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This boat may roll off the production line looking much like the one ahead and the one astern, but it's the detail that stands out aboard the Oceanis 523. From conveniently placed handholds to thoughtfully arranged lockers, sometimes it's the practical arrangements that are among her best features. Unless you have specific ideas on what you want, the 523 offers a good deal of boat and experience for your money in return for very little effort on your part.