The new Beneteau Oceanis 35 offers ‘three boats in one hull’. But do they work? Graham Snook heads to Palma to find out
Think about the space you actually use on board. If there are two of you on a 35ft boat, the chances are you’ve got a cabin or two behind a bulkhead, lying redundant. This is something Beneteau is aiming to rectify with the Beneteau Oceanis 35.
When you think about it, it seems a waste, doesn’t it? That space you’ve paid for; out of sight and out of mind. Wouldn’t it be better if you could remove the bulkhead and at least see the space?
Maybe until you have visitors, then the lack of privacy might leave you embarrassed.
The good news is that Beneteau’s latest yacht in its ever-popular Océanis range has a removable forward bulkhead.
It also comes in three different versions: the basic Day Sailer, the Week Ender (sic) and the Cruiser, which has the usual cruising spec you’d expect to find on a 34-footer.
The first day of the test was blighted by light winds – a flat calm. The second day, we had a few knots more and still flat seas. The performance of the Beneteau Oceanis 35 was transformed: much more respectable and enjoyable.
As the apparent wind built from 15 to 18 knots, boatspeed jumped from 5.4 to a more engaging 6.8 knots.
With a wide hull and twin rudders she didn’t heel too much, and even when she did there was no danger of losing grip.
With her asymmetric spinnaker set at 75º off the 10.2 knots of apparent wind, she was making 6.5 knots. Under engine she made 4.8 knots at 2,000RPM and 5.7 at 2,500RPM.
At the helm of the Beneteau Oceanis 35
I found the helm position of the Beneteau Oceanis 35 comfortable and with Harken 40 primary winches just forward of the wheel, tacking singlehanded is relatively easy.
The outboard seat is clear of the deck and bracing was limited to one foot block inboard of the wheel.
Our test boat had the optional GRP arch that gives crew in the cockpit the feeling of looking through a thick, white-rimmed glasses frame. It adds handholds and does a good job of keeping the sheet clear, but the mainsheet suffered from friction.
The arch also supports the sprayhood and means the mainsheet moves onto the port coachroof winch.
The standard mainsheet layout sees it in the cockpit, but this prevents the option of the excellent deluxe cockpit table.
With twin rudders, she heeds the call of the helm instantly, but unfortunately the feel on the helm of our test boat was very poor: like helming through gelatinous custard.
The wheels wouldn’t run free and the feedback was mostly absorbed in the mechanics of the steering system. Initially the blame was placed squarely at the door of the autopilot ram, but even with the ram disconnected it was little better.
I did note the system had little to no play in it, so it might have been over-tightened and may free up with use.
Design & construction of the Beneteau Oceanis 35
With the five different interior layouts available in three versions (both Weekender and Cruiser have the option of one or two double cabins aft), interior units can be added or removed at the time of purchase or later in the owner’s or the yacht’s life.
The downside of this is that where usually a unit is attached to the hull, on the Beneteau Oceanis 35 some of them aren’t – witness the port-side hanging locker in the forward cabin.
There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s a bit unnerving to see a gap open behind the unit if you grab the fiddle and pull.
The deck is injection-moulded GRP, so while the interior finish of the deck itself is neat there are a number of areas that lack Beneteau’s usual finesse: the lights in the aft cabin for instance are mounted on a vinyl-covered board and attached to the deck, sadly the bolts these panels cover are still visible at the end.
Also, all the panels that are attached to the deckhead have screws with plastic covers, some of which were popping off already.
The Beneteau Oceanis 35 has a 9/10 Sparcraft rig with discontinuous shrouds and single-line reefing.
She carries a 102% genoa and both gennaker and code zero tacks can be taken down to an eye on the substantial stainless-steel double bow roller.
The cockpit is well laid out, there’s a nice, 0.62m (2ft) deep liferaft locker forward of the fold-up bathing platform; with the platform down the liferaft could be lifted, shoved, kicked or dragged into the water.
The hard angle in the cockpit backrest might add style, but it did little to comfort my back.
Deck stowage on this, the version with two aft cabins, was limited to lazarette lockers beneath the helm seats and a sole depth cockpit locker. In the single aft cabin version, most of the starboard cabin becomes the cockpit locker.
The deck width between the shrouds and genoa track is narrow where the walk-through clearance is limited.
Living aboard the Beneteau Oceanis 35
The decor below – light Alpi oak and grey fabric covers upholstery and panels – is pleasing to the eye, as are the large hull windows that give a decent view out.
Alas, what pleases the eye does not always please the body. There are a number of 90-degree angles on the interior furniture, which you wouldn’t want to be thrown against in a lively sea.
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The bottom-hinged lockers on either side of the saloon brought flashbacks of a certain Swedish furniture retailer.
A single anodised fiddle runs through three lockers, gaps can be seen at their rear and the bottom-hinged doorstops are a piece of cord, but each door stops at a different height.
Not quite up to the high standard of finish I’ve come to expect from Beneteau.
The L-shaped saloon seating in the saloon is comfortable, but the aft seats lack a backrest; fine if there are just two or three of you.
A main selling point of the Beneteau Océanis 35 is her removable forward bulkhead. It’s a four-part bulkhead held in place by 12 bolts and three clips, which takes two people about half an hour to deploy or remove.
The hanging locker to starboard also has to be removed, which opens the combined saloon/forward cabin up further. If all that sounds like too much work, you also have the option of a curtain divider.
You’ll find some nice stowage areas and recessed lighting in the forward cabin around the windows, next to the berth.
There’s also a drawer with soft closures under the forward V-berth, but the drawer has to be pulled out to access the under-berth stowage beneath it, which makes accessing the space difficult; you have to stand aside the open drawer and reach over it.
The chart table uses the aft end of the saloon seating. The table itself is aft-facing and a good size, at 77 x 50cm (2ft 6in x 1ft 8in), with the lid supported by a gas strut.
There is a knee-biting support beneath the table; with time you’d either get to know it or toughen up.
The head-height lockers could scrape the scalp of an unwary navigator, but the hinge-down electrical panel is neatly wired and easy to access and understand.
Aft of the chart table is an excellent full-height hanging locker – at the bottom of the companionway, just where you need it.
The linear galley might not be the most practical at sea – with fiddle-less, front-opening lockers and fridge – but in port it works well with good workspace, although you’d need the optional oven to bake or roast anything.
The single sink looks lonely and I didn’t like Beneteau’s choice of fridge handle; the overhanging rod ends, when fitted horizontally, catch on clothes and pockets as crew pass by.
There is good stowage outboard behind the work surface, but the under-deck lockers lack shelves and a proper, solid fiddle.
Grabrails are lacking around the saloon and galley, but there are chunky fiddles there that serve the purpose.
Engine access is excellent, with all service points easily reachable. Even the primary fuel filter has its own supporting panel in front of the engine. The uninsulated hot water pipes to the calorifier (under the saloon seats) could be moved to improve access the cooling water impeller.
Our verdict on the Beneteau Oceanis 35
What’s she like to sail?
For a yacht so responsive to the helm – thanks in part to her twin rudders – it was a shame the steering system was robbing it of any feeling.
Even with the autopilot physically disconnected, it felt like steering through treacle. There was no play in the system, and I was left wondering if the whole system was over-tightened.
I went out on her over two days and what a difference a few knots of breeze make! In 15 knots of apparent wind her performance was alright, but nothing to shout about.
Increase that to 17 or 18 knots and she changes gear, accelerating nicely: still not a racer, but much more rewarding to sail.
The helm is comfortable and well laid-out, especially if you opt for the fold-up helm seats.
The genoa winches are close to the helm, but sadly not the mainsheet if the optional arch is chosen: the mainsheet then goes to the port coachroof winch.
Her raised cockpit sole is only 35cm (1ft 2in) below deck level.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
Her anchor sits forward on the substantial stainless steel bow roller, which has a tack attachment and is supported by a solid bobstay.
She’s available with three different keel configurations including a lifting centreboard for creek crawling.
The seating in the cockpit isn’t as comfortable as some, thanks to the hard angled ‘chine’ in the backrest.
There is plenty of flat lounging area forward of the mast, but at 1.49m (4ft10in), the cockpit seats are too short to lie flat on.
Down below, the big windows in the forecabin, saloon and galley give a great view.
They are recessed into the hull, but I’m not sure how they would stand up to years of fender wear.
With the forward bulkhead in position her layout isn’t the most spacious. But with the bulkhead removed she is roomy and feels much bigger than her hull length would suggest.
The galley works best in port: front-opening lockers and fridges will be interesting to use on starboard tack.
Would she suit you and your crew?
If you’re after a daysailer, there are better boats for the job.
It seems odd, in my book at least, to put frugal accommodation in a 34ft hull designed for offshore cruising.
Choosing either the Week Ender (and opting for the bulkhead) or the Cruiser version makes more sense: she’ll make a fun coastal cruiser for two.
As guests or children arrive, she can be partitioned for more privacy and stowage.
The galley on the Week Ender is small; on the Cruiser it’s a decent size, but an oven is still optional.
If you’re a couple occasionally sailing with friends or family, now or in the future, the Oceanis 35 could make a lot of sense.
You’d have a big, spacious boat most of the time when it’s just the two of you, and a practical layout when there are more.
The removable bulkhead gives her open-plan living; forward of the companionway is all forecabin with en suite galley and heads.
If her modular layout appeals and you can disregard what this means in the way of her visual appearance below – areas of furniture not attached to the hull and some protruding fastenings – then the Oceanis 35 could grow with you, in step with your life or family commitments.
First published in the July 2015 issue of YM.