Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beneteau 423 Review

One thing we noticed while on our cruise in Mexico is that people cruise aboard an astonishing variety of boats, from sophisticated luxury yachts to clunky old wooden double enders, and all manner of boats that lie somewhere in between those ends of the spectrum.

On a scale of one to ten, with one being the luxury yacht and ten being the wooden double-ender, we are looking for about a number five: Our next boat will have some luxury but not too much, and be reasonably priced but not cheap in any way. We want a boat that is big enough to be comfortable but not too big for a couple to handle. We want it to be fast and weatherly under sail, yet capable of motoring three hundred miles. It should be good-looking and not too deep of draft, nor too shallow. We want a solid boat that can stand up to a blow, yet is not so heavy that it’s no fun to sail. We want a boat with a good engine and a simple and reliable rig. Down below, our boat should have a nice, big galley with a reefer and a freezer. We want a big double berth with plenty of ventilation and we want at least one good sea-berth that’s snug and warm in all conditions. We want a head with a separate shower and plenty of crystal pure hot water. We want a boat that is easy to operate and to maintain. Finally, we want a boat that's beautiful inside and out. In other words, we want our ideal boat. Over the last year we've spent a good deal of time searching the Internet, walking docks and studying new boat brochures.  We have settled on a length of 40 to 44 feet as the optimum and have a few boats on our short list of contenders. Let's see if the Beneteau 423 makes the cut.

In my opinion is by far the best place to look at boats without actually going aboard them and it is from there that all of the photos in this review come from. As of today, there are 25 of these boats listed there, all built between 2003 and 2007 and ranging in price from $159,000 to $293,000. 

Beneteau 423. 
Cruising is to a large extent about living aboard your boat in exotic, or perhaps not so exotic, places. So I thought I'd start with the living spaces on this boat. Beneteau offered a two cabin and a three cabin layout in the 423. The three cabin version appears to be designed for the charter trade with the galley arranged lengthwise along the port side of the main cabin. I think this makes it unsuitable for passagemaking so I'm going to focus on the two cabin version, which is the only one we'd consider buying.

B423 Two Cabin Version
I really like this arrangement. There is a spacious owner's suite forward of the main bulkhead that includes a head with separate shower stall, plenty of storage space and a big double berth. The berth has storage space under it and the top is hinged and fitted with gas springs to make it easy to lift, making all that storage space is easily accessible.

The salon includes a storage locker above the forward end of the port settee. Several of the 423's we looked at had flat screen TV's mounted there which was convenient for watching while lounging at the dinette. The table can be lowered, converting the dinette to very nice double berth. There is a seat opposite the table with a hinged lid. One of the 423's we looked at had this area converted to a wine cellar.  The Honcho has small windows in the hull that provide a surprising amount of visibility. The 423 has a pair of good sized windows adjacent to the dinette area, providing a good view of the outside world from the settees.
TV works better mounted above the forward end of the port settee.  The three skylights have shades, a must in the tropics. 

The galley is large enough for a true long range cruising yacht, with plenty of counter space and room for a microwave oven. This is one of the few boats of this size that features a top-loading freezer and a separate front loading refrigerator, making life in the galley much easier. Along with the big reefer/freezer, the 423 features substantial pantry space so finding room for a couple month's provisions is not a problem. Overall, I give this galley high marks.
Lots of light, space and ventilation in the galley.

The nav station, opposite the galley, is rather small but well designed. There is room for a laptop, radar, VHF and SSB, along with a bank of breakers for the electrical system. Aboard the Honcho we used a Garmin 440 plotter in the cockpit and a laptop with Maxsea software connected to a GPS receiver in the nav station. These worked well but in Mexico they both interface with what are essentially digital versions of paper charts. The GPS can locate the boat within a few feet of its actual position, but then overlays that position on charts that were created before the advent of satellite photography and are not always accurate, especially with regard to longitude. We found that our I-Pad with Navionics software was superior as it projected our position onto perfectly accurate satellite earth photos. Very cool.

Aft of the nav station is another head with access to the aft stateroom as well as the main cabin. The quarterberth is cavernous. Since there isn't a good sea berth in the main cabin, I'd rig a lee board in this berth to create a snug place to sleep while under way. Though there are sleeping accommodations for only two couples, I think that's about right for a boat of this size.

Clean lines and nice proportions.

I like the design of the deck of this boat much better than the current offerings from Beneteau. The new boats are, to my eye, not very pleasing to look at. The 423 has a low, well proportion cabin trunk and a large and well designed cockpit. Never a fan of built-in cockpit tables in the past, I find myself liking them more and more if they are well designed and don't hinder the crew too much. Let's face it, we're not going to be short-tacking up to a weather mark, or engaged in jibing duels in this boat. Tacks and jibes will invariably be casual affairs in a boat like this so the table shouldn't be a problem. The cockpit itself is spacious and well designed for relaxing as well as sailing. There is a step-through transom with a large swim step equipped with a shower. Fishing is important and that swim step will make getting a fish aboard fairly easy.

Big cockpit. Here the drop-leaves have been removed from the table.

The Beneteau 423 is a fairly husky boat, which is a good thing for a cruising yacht, with a long waterline and a moderately shallow canoe body. Notice in the accommodations plan above that it is rather full in the bow and carries its beam well aft, resulting in a wide and powerful stern. Here are some numbers:

LOA:         43'-2"
Beam:        12'-11"
Draft:         6'-11" (deep keel)
Disp:         19,797 lb
Ballast:      5,865 lb
Sail area:   860 sq ft
SA/D:       18.8
D/L:          154

As you students of yacht design know, the SA/D (sail area/displacement ratio) is an indicator of the power in the rig relative to the weight of the boat. At 18.8, this is a moderately powerful rig which would provide reasonably good performance in light air, yet is not so large as to be difficult to handle in typical tradewind conditions. The D/L (displacement/length) ratio is interesting. At 154, the B-423 is considered a moderately light boat. But in studying the hull, the fullness in the ends of the boat combined with the relatively shallow hull (not including the keel), along with the powerful stern indicates that the 423 has a fairly high prismatic ratio (Cp). The prismatic ratio is an indicator of the hull shape. Without getting too technical, we can say that a high Cp is indicative of a boat with more wetted surface, resulting in more parasitic drag than a boat with a low prismatic ratio. On the other hand, it would also generate a flatter wake, that is to say smaller bow and stern waves as it passes through the water. This is referred to as induced drag or wave-making drag. All of this means that the Beneteau 423 might be a bit sticky in light air, but should trundle along quite nicely at or near it's hull speed in a bit of a breeze. I want a boat that handles well and shows good speed when the wind is up, and I'll take the trade-off of possibly motoring more in light air.
This is a long, fairly slender boat for a cruising yacht. The displacement is pushed out toward the ends of the hull and the ballast is concentrated near the bottom of the keel. This boat will show a good turn of speed in a breeze.

Notice the sailplan of the 423. It is fairly short with a long "J" and "E" dimension. This is not what you'd choose for a racer but I think it's a good compromise for a cruising yacht. The main traveler is on the cabin top so the dodger and bimini can be deployed all the time, whether at anchor or under sail. In the tropics protection from the sun is vital. The mid-boom sheeting is not as efficient as end-boom, so you'll want powerful winches and at least 6:1 purchase on the traveler and mainsheet. If those controls are not easy to adjust, they won't get adjusted much and overall performance will suffer.

The long, uncluttered foredeck will be handy for carrying a dinghy and the big anchor locker can handle plenty of chain and rode. I'm a fan of oversize ground tackle and will outfit our next boat, as I did the Honcho, with a powerful windlass and big anchors. I think the overall proportions of the deck, coupled with the moderately sprung sheer and short overhangs give the B-423 a respectable, offshore capable appearance. We've been aboard several here in southern California and were pleased with the looks, quality of construction, and engineering of this boat and have added it to our list for serious consideration whenever the Honcho sells.