Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cruising Aboard a Beneteau 423

Finisterra at anchor in Bahia de Concepcion

As of today, we've owned Finisterra for a little over two years. During that time we've lived aboard for 10 months and sailed her about 6,000 miles including a six month cruise to Mexico and back.  We are preparing to depart again on another voyage and I thought now would be a good time to review my list of things that I would like to repair, replace, add or upgrade. As part of the process I considered what worked, what didn't, what we love and what we don't love about the boat. I categorized it all into the following groups:

We've always been pleased with the boat's performance under sail. It's a cruising boat so the criteria for good performance are skewed toward ease of handling, safety and reliability in addition to pure boatspeed. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I converted the rig from a roller furling mast to a classic. In doing so, I replaced the original mast with a new one from US Spars, added a Tides Marine sail track, lazyjacks and a stackpack, plus reefing lines and all the necessary blocks and clutches as well. Of course I also installed a new full-battened mainsail to go with the new mast. These changes improved the boat's sailing qualities and made it safer. The new mainsail is more powerful than the roller furling sail so I was able to replace the standard 140% genoa with a 120% without any loss of power, and we sailed the entire 5,000 miles of our last voyage with this sailplan. With these sails we seldom had to reef and whenever we did, it was a simple process. In winds of 6 knot or more, Finisterra sailed well upwind and reaching. Downwind the boat suffered from a lack of power until the wind built to about 12-14 knots, but I expected that and considered it a good trade-off for a more easily handled boat in a breeze. We always sailed with a crew of two, which made me the deckhand and winch grinder, so easy boathandling is important to me. One thing I would like to improve is the rudder. I believe Beneteau uses the same one for the shoal and deep draft models, so it is a bit short. This makes the boat less responsive to the helm than a similarly sized racing yacht and, coming from a racing background, it is noticeable to me. 

Finisterra sails well with the apparent wind at 40 degrees or more. We could sail higher, but VMG drops off significantly and at less than 35 degrees apparent she just wallows along at 5 knots or less. If we had full on racing sails, we would certainly have been able to sail higher and faster than our cruising sails allowed. There were times when we pressed the boat hard upwind and it responded well, but with her thin keel and fairly wide sheeting angles, she doesn't like it all that much. Once we knew her sailing qualities we never asked more of the boat than she could deliver. 

The boat came with a fairly tired old spinnaker which we flew only a couple of times. I would like to replace it with a slightly smaller spinnaker that is in better shape. I want an AP kite that works well in 5-20 knots of wind and we'll keep shopping in the used sail market until we find one we like.

Finisterra's performance under power is excellent. She is equipped with a Yanmar 4JH4E naturally aspirated diesel engine connected to a Slipstream 3 bladed folding prop. In flat water we have 7 knots of boatspeed at 2,100 RPM and a fuel consumption rate of about .8 GPH. Punching into a head sea, I would throttle up to about 2,300 RPM. I could have run the engine harder but never felt the need.

During the two plus years and 6,000 miles we've owned and sailed the boat, there have been no structural failures. Driving the boat hard upwind in 15 to 20 knots of wind for 24 hours revealed no leaks, the leeward shrouds remained taut, and we never felt any concern regarding the boat's structural integrity. With that said, I must say I was disappointed in the construction of the aft-most bulkhead in the boat. My blog entry dated 4-6-2014 describes the issue. The bulkhead didn't fail, but it needed reinforcement. After that incident I went through the boat carefully, examining bulkheads, frames and reinforcements, and found no other reasons for concern. Is it the best boat ever built? Hardly. Is it sturdy enough to take us wherever we care to venture? I would say yes.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of glued versus tabbed bulkheads. I've built many boats with carefully tabbed bulkheads and can attest to the strength, durability and cost of this type of construction. Virtually all of Finisterra's bulkheads are glued into recesses in the boat's fiberglass liner. If properly done, glued and tabbed bulkhead joints are in fact roughly equal. To my mind the more important question is how well the liner is bonded to the hull. In Finisterra it seems to be very well secured, so that loads are adequately transferred between the bulkheads and the primary hull structure. Still, I would prefer that the bulkheads be bonded directly to the hull whenever possible.There are other production boats that have bulkheads that are not as well secured as our boat's, yet they soldier on year after year, with most of their failures, whenever they have them, in the engines and systems rather than the primary structures. There have been a few keel failures, or more accurately, hull/keel joint failures, on Beneteaus over the years. Google "Cheeky Monkey" for an example of the tragic consequences of such a failure. Finisterra's hull/keel joint is massive and I would be surprised indeed to hear of a structural failure of this type on a Beneteau 423.

Our last boat, a Beneteau First 36s7 had a rudder that was supported by a fiberglass cone surrounding the rudder tube. It was pretty flexible and watching it move around when we were under sail was a bit disconcerting, but we never had a problem with it. The Beneteau First 42s7 has the same type of construction and I have first hand knowledge of one that sailed from Los Angeles to Australia with nary a problem, and another that recently completed a voyage from San Francisco to Denmark via the Panama Canal, also with no problems. Finisterra, like all Beneteau 423's, has a rudder tube that is supported by a set of longitudinal and transverse bulkheads, which is a much more robust arrangement. I've watched for flex in this area while underway in various conditions and am pleased, and relieved, to report that there is no discernible movement of the rudder stock, even in fairly boisterous conditions.

Finisterra's rig is just about perfect for the sailing we do. It's not a tall rig but it provides adequate power in all but very light conditions. The mast has double aft swept spreaders and is fitted with forward lower shrouds and double backstays. What I really like about it is that it is simple, reliable and well built. I have no concerns about the rig coming down.

Overall, I am pleased with the boat's structural details. With a full fiberglass liner in the hull and the deck, we hear a bit of creaking when the boat is pressed, but that is to be expected with this type of construction. Flexing is an integral part of any structure and the key is to keep it within the allowable limits. I think Beneteau's boats are well thought out in this regard.

The electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems aboard Finisterra have been almost flawless since we bought the boat. Last year we installed new 6v AGM batteries, rewired the 12 volt system from the batteries to the DC panel and added an auxiliary DC panel. The previous owner had made some changes to the system that were not in accordance with ABYC standards so we corrected that, eliminated some wiring and simplified the system. I converted all the internal and external lighting to LED's and added three solar panels. I wasn't sure that three 50 watt panels would be sufficient in all the situations we might encounter so I brought along a Honda 2000 genset on our voyage to Mexico, but we never needed it and I am considering leaving it home on our next voyage.

The engine has been the epitome of reliability. The previous owner had installed a 125 amp alternator in place of the standard 65 amp unit, which enables quick charging of the batteries. He also replaced the standard stuffing box with a PSS shaft seal and replaced the fixed 3-bladed prop with a folding unit and both have performed very well.  Aside from those improvements, the system is exactly as it was the day it was shipped from the factory.

The steering system is also original and has shown almost no signs of wear. The previous owner had replaced the steering wheel with a Lewmar folding unit which is not as strong as the standard wheel. Those folding wheels make moving around the cockpit easier while in port, but I prefer the solid feel of the original, so I put the old one back on and sold the Lewmar.

The plumbing system aboard Finisterra has also worked well. The boat had two electric heads when we bought it and one failed almost immediately, so I replaced both with simple and reliable Jabsco manual units. The gauge on the aft holding tank stopped working not long ago so I will diagnose and repair that before we leave on our next voyage.

When we bought the boat it was equipped with a Village Marine Little Wonder Model 200 watermaker. It's a simple and reliable unit that fits nicely under the forward part of the dinette. In southern California, where the water is usually less than 70 degrees F it produces about 7.8 GPH of pretty good water, in the 300-350 PPM range. In the warmer waters of Mexico, which sometimes reached 85 degrees, it produced water in the 450-500 PPM range. It's going on ten years old and I think it's time to replace the membranes.

Ground tackle:
The Rocna anchor fits well in the Beneteau 423's stemhead. I changed both rollers on the starboard side to the type with a chain relief. Notice the chain stop just aft of the anchor.

The relief in the  Lewmar anchor roller helps prevent the chain from bouncing on the deck when raising or lowering the anchor.
Not long after we bought the boat I replaced the standard 3/8"BBB chain with 5/16" G4 and swapped the original 40 pound Bruce anchor for a 55 pound Rocna. This required changing the gypsy on the windlass. In doing so I found some corrosion on the windlass housing and ended up replacing the entire unit with a new Lewmar H2 unit. We now carry 200' of G4 chain, 150' of 5/8" nylon rode and the Rocna on the bow and a 35 pound Manson as a backup. The platform that the windlass is mounted on is dead level so the windlass almost always sits in standing water, which is why the housing corroded. I solved that issue by mounting the new windlass on a 3/4" high riser.

I converted the Raymarine wind, speed and depth instruments to a TackTick T104 wireless system. TackTick was recently acquired by Raytheon, which I guess is a good thing. I've been using TackTick racing instruments for years and would never go back to the old wired system.

Tacktick system T108
TackTick T104 Wireless Cruising Instruments.
I added a Vesper wireless AIS system last year. With the amount of commercial traffic we encounter at sea, I find it to be invaluable. Because it's wireless it talks to all of our laptops, Ipads and smartphones. Neither of our installed GPS receivers are wifi enabled so the AIS data don't show up on them, but we almost never use the Raymarine chartplotter, and use the cockpit mounted Garmin 551 mostly just for course keeping. The Vesper system has been flawless.

M802 Single Side Band Radio
Icom M802 SSB. 
I installed an Icom M802 SSB with a GAM antenna, and wouldn't go cruising without it. I plan to have Satphone capability on the next voyage though. The SSB is the more reliable communications device in places like the Sea of Cortez, it's free and there are lots of radio nets that provide weather and other useful information, but I like the convenience of a Satphone in spite of the subscription cost. Iridium has just released their Go! device which enables any smartphone to communicate over their satellite network and acts as a hotspot as well. I'm still researching the details, but this looks like a great solution for satellite voice and data.

Zodiac 250 Rib
The transom folds down to make a very compact package when it's deflated.  It came with a nice nylon zippered bag but it faded quickly in the tropical sunshine. I had a cover made for it out of Sunbrella, which incorporates tie-down webbing straps to secure it to the deck . Photo courtesy of Zodiac Marine.

Danard dinghy wheels
Our dinghy is a Zodiac 250 Rib with Hypalon tubes. At 8'2" long, it's smallish for our needs but that is offset by its compact size when deflated, about 6' long x 3' wide and 10" thick when stowed on the foredeck.  It will plane with two aboard using our Tohatsu 6hp motor as long as we don't have a lot of groceries aboard. Of course planing is relative,  we're traveling at about 15 knots with the engine wide open when we're on a plane. We used only 3 gallons of gas in the six months we were in Mexico so the boat is very economical to run. Whenever we had a beach landing, which was all the time while we were in the Sea of Cortez, we used
Danard pinless dinghy wheels. They use pneumatic tires and are perfectly simple to operate. This is another piece of equipment I would not go cruising without.
We also brought along a Hobie inflatable kayak which we used often. It's perfect for cruising around quiet bays. If we had the space to store it, I'd bring a second one on our next voyage.


We added a set of high quality stainless steel cookware from Magma. At first I was put off by the price but grew to love this equipment because it really is high quality, it nests together and they do a nice job of distributing the heat from the small burners on our stove. The removable handles enabled the entire set to be stored in a small locker under the stove. We also carry a Magma two burner propane grill, which we used extensively while in Mexico. It's another piece of equipment I wouldn't leave home without.

The boat has been very comfortable to live aboard. The fixed dropleaf table in the cockpit was annoying and I replaced it with a small pedestal that serves as a drink holder and mounting base for the GPS. I had planned to fabricate a smaller fold-down table that would mount on the pedestal but didn't get around to it before we left for Mexico last January. On that trip we used a couple of small plastic folding tables that could be stowed out of the way when not in use. Now that we're home I've started making a new table, which will be done in a couple of weeks. The cockpit itself is big and comfortable and the step-thru to the transom/swimstep is very convenient. The previous owner installed a tankless propane water heater in the starboard lazarette, which provides lots of hot water without having to run the engine. This is especially nice for showering on the transom, which we did a lot of in the Sea of Cortez.

I like the tall, sturdy bulwarks and grippy nonskid on deck. They make moving around the foredeck easy even in rough conditions. Whenever we reef the mainsail I have to go to the mast to secure the tack, but aside from that, pretty much all boathandling tasks can be done from the cockpit.

Shade is vital in the tropics so we replaced the dodger, expanded the bimini and added removable mesh screens around the sides and back of the bimini. The screens do a fair job of blocking the sun while still allowing plenty of ventilation. But when it's really hot outside, the most important accessory is the swim ladder and transom shower. A quick dip in the ocean followed by a freshwater rinse on the transom is the best way to beat the heat.

Below, we found the basic accommodations plan to be nearly ideal, but there are some details that would make it even better. For example, in the forward cabin , the Vberth should extend all the way to the hull on the sides. It would also be nice if there was a bit more counter space in the forward head. The main cabin proved to be adequate for entertaining up to six people comfortably and plenty spacious when there were just the two of us aboard. The galley has a lot of usable counter space and is quite large for a 42 foot boat, which makes day-to-day life aboard much more comfortable for the cook. The quarterberth is enormous and I rigged up a leeboard to make it a suitable sea berth. That's where the off watch slept whenever we were at sea. The primary fuel filter, shaft log, batteries, water tank and a couple of storage spaces are all located under the quarterberth, but access to them was difficult because you had to pull out all the cushions and lift up the plywood bunk supports to get at them. So I built smaller access hatches into the panels that enable me to get at the fuel filter, shaft log and storage compartments without disassembling the entire bunk.
Lighting and ventilation in the 423 is excellent but we need a few more fans to keep the air moving, especially when we're in the tropics.

Another item that vastly improved our comfort aboard was the small, 5,000 BTU air conditioner that I bought in Mexico. It was very much appreciated when the thermometer reached past 100 degrees, which it often did in La Paz. I had built a seat in the companionway awhile back, with the thought in mind that it would be a handy place for a portable AC unit, and it worked well.

Overall, the boat has been very comfortable and we have no plans to make any major changes before we head out on our next adventure.


  1. Nice write up, can't wait to see pictures of the new 'teak' seating.
    Will we see you before you head off for Mx?

  2. Hi Leif,
    I have some questions about your boat, I'm hoping to see it this weekend.
    Can you contact me at
    Have some specific questions that the broker can't answer.

  3. Hi Leif, Thank you for this amazing article. I am just about to buy a bed until 423. And you answer a lot of questions that I have, coming from a more traditional and heavier Bluewater boat desire. I am looking for a way to contact you? Can you contact me at