The new Bénéteau Océanis 41.1 is bound to be good for chartering, but does she make a decent owner’s boat? Graham Snook reports
Charter yachts have a tough life. Every week is someone’s annual holiday and the boats are worked non-stop throughout the season, so the new Bénéteau Océanis 41.1 is naturally built to be sturdy, but can she also deliver pleasure?
Charter yachts should make sailing feel like a holiday, which, if we are honest, is what it should be. They do however tend to cram on as many berths as possible.
So while a charter version may be ideal for a family of six or more, the owner’s version is often more practical and you’ll get the advantages of space and a yacht which can stand abuse.
Bénéteaus are popular with charter firms because they offer good value for money, are easy to maintain, easy to sail and their customers enjoy them.
But just because they are so good for charter doesn’t mean private owners should discount them as being ‘Mediterranean only boats’.
Bénéteau Océanis 41.1 Performance
Conditions for our test of the Bénéteau Océanis 41.1 weren’t what one expects from Mallorca: grey, wet and breezy. With Force 5 from the south, we had some big swell in the Bay of Palma.
The Bénéteau Océanis 41.1 pointing ability was lacklustre, due in part to our inability to tension the forestay.
Either the forestay or backstay tensioner was too long, or a combination of both – not difficult to remedy, but it should have been set up right.
The result was that the backstay blocks were touching, the forestay sag was noticeable and so was the lack of genoa halyard tension – sadly, none of which could be corrected for our test.
Trying to point any higher than 34°, her speed dropped and she felt sluggish.
Bearing away to 34° she felt far more involving and gained a knot and a half of boatspeed. Off the wind, the lack of forestay tension mattered less and her performance was respectable.
At the helm
While the space between the fold-up seats and twin wheel may look limited, there is enough room to sit facing inboard without squeezing your legs, or to sit facing forward and steer comfortably.
There are small footblocks inboard of the helm but nothing really to brace against when sitting to windward.
There also isn’t much to hold onto when moving around the helm, there are small U-shaped handholds in front of the wheels, but these are a bit low and awkward to use without touching the wheel.
Our test boat had the ‘performance package’, which gives you a German mainsheet system, adjustable from the helm.
It uses the same Harken 46 ST winches as the genoa and both mainsheet and genoa sheets can be locked off independently so the winch can be used for either – ideally, though, the mainsheet should be controlled by the windward winch.
Design & construction
The hull is the same as her predecessor, the Oceanis 41, but Beneteau and naval architects Finot-Conq have worked together to streamline production methods and reduce her weight by 800kg.
Hull construction is the same, only the interior modules have changed. As her designer Pascal Conq explained: ‘where previously two panels of cabinetry met each other, we don’t need two panels, so one of these has now been removed.’
The Bénéteau Océanis 41.1 sailplan is simple and easy to handle, all controls are led back to the cockpit.
The mainsheet is taken to a single point on the overhead arch, then to a Harken 40ST winch on the coachroof as standard.
Our test boat had the optional extended bow roller (with small, fixed bobstay) that can be used to fly an asymmetric spinnaker.
Between the twin wheels in a locker in the sole is gas bottle stowage and the diesel and water fillers – try not to get the two mixed up.
Sheets are led well aft, so the forward seating is rope-free until you get to the lines on the coachroof.
The cockpit table is fixed and stainless-steel framed, this provides the lion’s share of foot- bracing and handholds in the cockpit, and without it moving around the cockpit could be ‘interesting’.
To port is a sole-depth cockpit locker and on the starboard side there’s a big liferaft locker, but you would have to lift the liferaft up and out over the raised front of the locker to deploy it.
Stepping out of the cockpit, you’ve got good handholds on the overhead arch, which also supports the sprayhood.
The hull windows in the forecabin are large and you get a really decent view out of them – if your location is worthy of sitting up in bed and looking out, of course (think Newtown Creek, not Newlyn Harbour).
Stowage here is generally good and there’s more of it behind the head of the bed – a 92cm wide (3ft) storage space with a 12V socket – but the 1.48m wide (4ft 10in) split mattresses don’t go fully outboard to the deep, hull-side stowage.
At the foot of the bed is a handy under-berth storage unit, bottom-hinged and 54cm deep (1ft 9in).
Two doors lead aft to the saloon (one can be secured), where you’ll find nice big coachroof windows, but ventilation is limited with only one overhead hatch and two smaller opening hatches in the coachroof windows.
To starboard is the C-shaped saloon seating, with good stowage behind the seat backs and more under the seats, although small items put in there could escape into the saloon through a gap of several inches at the bottom and liquids or dust on the floor could get into the locker.
The seating itself is a little awkward to get in and out of; you have to step over the seats rather than stepping through the gap between the table and the seat base.
As in the forecabin, you get a really good view out of the hull windows in the saloon. In fact, if you open the double doors forward it’s possible to see out the front windows too, making her feel spacious.
The heads is a nice size and there’s a separate shower compartment with a Perspex screen that goes across, but this makes the shower a bit cramped.
The heads in this three-cabin, single-heads layout is also the en suite for the starboard aft cabin.
In each of the aft cabins you’ll find a hanging locker and a small shelved area outboard.
There’s also a partitioned, deep-fiddled space outboard of the berth. In the centre, under the cockpit, is another useful stowage area.
The aft cabins also have large hull ports, but unless you are sitting near them, on the berth, you don’t benefit from a view.
The chart table is 70cm x 58cm (reducing to 35cm) and set against the forward bulkhead.
I’m not sure that just aft of the forecabin is the best place for a nav station, though. It’s a long way forward for a quick look at the chart or to communicate with someone on the helm.
That said, it’s quite well-equipped with handy little trays outboard of the 6cm deep chart table, a USB socket, space to mount a VHF radio and stereo outboard, and bin lockers, too.
There is also some stowage by your knees, but not a lot of space for books – you’d have to use the locker behind you, which is not that big, for pilot books.
The navigator’s seat is part of the saloon dinette, with stowage beneath it.
The L-shaped galley is rather small for a boat of this size.
The fiddles on the worktop are good, but she doesn’t have a lot of dedicated workspace or drying space for the washing-up, even with just a single sink installed.
There’s a little bit of space just outboard of the massive 190-litre fridge, which can be accessed from the aft-facing door as well as from the top.
There is a microwave aft in the line of lockers and sliding Perspex-fronted lockers below them. All the drawers have soft-close mechanisms.
Overhead is an opening hatch in the coachroof window and LED downlighting.
Behind the galley to starboard is a mirror and another unit, which has stowage for eight bottles, a shelf and a small fiddled area on top.
Top marks for engine access. Under the companionway steps, you’ll notice that the engine is set quite far aft.
This makes it a lot easier to get at the primary fuel filter, the raw water filter and the fresh water pump.
There’s good access to both sides of the engine, too, via inverted L-shaped panels, and via the central unit between the aft cabins.
The batteries are under the port-side aft cabin double berth, while the fuel tank and calorifier are beneath the starboard cabin’s berth.
Our verdict on the Oceanis 41.1
What’s she like to sail?
A poorly set up rig marred her windward performance, which was a shame.
Even so, she handled the Force 5 and lumpy sea off Palma quite well. Coming off the bigger waves she did slam, but this was the exception rather than norm.
When pressed she would heel to the chine in her hull and sail comfortably, if pushed further it felt as if she rolled over her chine: the angle of heel quickly increased and crew sitting to windward in the beamy cockpit suddenly found themselves rather high up.
On the wind, the weight on the helm was fair, but it soon loaded up when we bore away and her speed increased.
With more than 800kg removed from the previous Oceanis 41 model, her speed off the wind was good as she surfed along the swell.
If the helm had been a little bit lighter and with less resistance, it would have been a more involving and enjoyable experience.
Having both genoa sheet and mainsheet led to the same winches at different times takes a bit of getting used to, and if you steer from the leeward side when she’s close-hauled, you’ll have a steep uphill climb to ease the mainsail.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
The accommodation works very well when she’s on an even keel. Having a good view out through the hull windows makes a great difference to life on board (unless you’re rafted up).
I felt the galley was a tad small for a boat os this style and size. Catering for a full crew with the limited workspace could be awkward.
I’d also prefer two small sinks, rather than a large one, so I could rinse and drain while washing up.
The saloon is nice and bright, and when opened its table is vast, even if – with one leaf smaller than the other – it is slightly oddly shaped.
Annoyingly, it takes both hands to click the two latches at the same time to fold it down.
Would she suit you and your crew?
It’s reassuring to know a yacht can weather a Force 10 storm and survive a knockdown, but few of us are ever likely to experience that.
If all I’m doing is coastal cruising with my family and the odd cross-Channel trip, do I need a bulletproof boat?
Probably not, I’d more likely pick this Oceanis. She’s not just a fair-weather cruiser; she handled the swell easily and could cope with a lot more wind than we had.
If you’re going offshore, she has a decent hull form and good sail controls for downwind passages but her galley and heads aren’t great to use when she heels over.
Our test boat’s 2.8m draught rules out many anchorages and any sort of creek-crawling, but there’s the option of a 1.7m keel with a flat bottom for drying out alongside, which is more practical for cruising in home waters and in places such as the Caribbean.
Beneteau excels in producing coastal cruisers, which goes a long way to explaining the marque’s popularity in charter fleets.
No doubt someone will cross an ocean in the Oceanis 41.1, but her natural habitat is a few miles offshore.
She’ll make a great family cruiser for those with modest or average cruising ambitions at the moment – if you plan to cross oceans in 20 years’ time, wouldn’t you be better off buying a boat to do that then, rather than now?
First published in the July 2016 issue of YM