BOAT REVIEW Beneteau First 36

November 2023 Yacht Reviews
Words by Sarah Ell. Photography & video by Lissa Reyden.
Build Quality
MODEL Beneteau First 36
DESIGNER Samuel Manuard Gigodesin, Pure Design & Engineering
BUILDER Beneteau/Seascape Slovenia
LOA 11.98M
LENGTH (Waterline) 10.25M
ENGINE Yanmar 3YM30 29hp
Sail Area 80 SqM
  • Room for a family holiday afloat, but also a practical and fun racer in ‘stripped out’ mode
  • Clean, nautical décor
  • Good use of space above and below decks
  • Generous beam carried well aft and high topsides make for a huge, roomy cockpit and generous side decks

A Kiwi connection has helped to create the newest in Beneteau’s First series, a performance cruiser designed to appeal to club racers who also want to take the family away for a comfortable cruise.

Adaptable’ is a key descriptor for the First 36. Out of the box, it’s set up for cruising, with a large cockpit with plenty of seating around a central table, plus a comfortable cruising interior. But with a few tweaks she’s ready to go for racing, with a cleaner, more practical setup up on deck and down below.


This adaptation comes about easily through the use of modular ‘boxes’ which form the rear section of the cockpit seats when in cruising mode, then lift out so there is room aft of the primary winches for the trimmer to move around and sit on the coaming. These boxes easily clip on and off, replaced by slip-on rope-trail bags, and act as storage as well as seating when back in place.
The main adaptation down below is the clever reconfiguration of the galley by removing a chopping-board ‘bridge’ that links the main worktop to the central fridge unit, turning it into an island so sails can be stowed and people move easily down either side. Tie up at the dock at the end of the day, put the board back in and voilà, you’re back in off-duty mode.

Up in the cockpit, drop in the boxes, put in the central table and unfold the drop-leaves, chuck on the cockpit cushions and you’re away relaxing, the generous beam and outward-angled seating creating a roomy entertaining space for family and guests.
The First 36 has a pleasingly yacht-like cockpit: this is a boat that is meant to be sailed, unlike other more cruising-oriented designs where practicality and sailing performance are secondary to keeping this area as uncluttered as possible. The twin black composite wheels, raised on pedestals, look suitably racy, and the mainsheet traveller runs across the cockpit in a channel forward of the helm.

A pair of Harken Performa 40 winches are positioned at either end of the traveller, while a larger pair of Harken 46 self-tailing primary winches are positioned on the cockpit coaming, and a further pair of 40s on the cabintop by the keyboards. The cockpit configuration has been designed with short-handed sailing in mind, as well as fully-crewed racing; all sheets can be cross-sheeted to windward and there is room for the helmsperson to reach forward and operate the main winch if required.
Another useful addition for racing is the large triple instrument display panel on the mast, mounted on a carbon bracket, providing excellent visibility for the crew and helmsperson. For the driver there is also a Garmin chartplotter screen mounted on the pedestal bracket of the starboard wheel; there is also a small single instrument panel by each primary winch for compass direction.

Rails across the wide stern can easily be clipped off to open up the transom for boarding and loading off the dock, and a large but lightweight honeycomb-cored panel folds down to create a boarding or swim platform. There is a single, central Harken hydraulic backstay, and the mast is a deck-stepped, tapered Z Spars 9/10 aluminium section with two sets of swept-back spreaders.
Moving forward, there is a generous solid toe-rail right the way to the foredeck, and a moulded non-slip deck surface for safety. There are also grabrails on the low-profile cabintop.
At the bow there is a split pulpit to allow for access to the jib and gennaker furlers, the latter of which sits out at the end of the short but substantial looking carbon prod. There’s a large anchor and chain locker up here, too, with an electric windlass.

Other cleverly thought-out features include the sink in the head, forward to starboard and tucked into the corner of the double cabin in the bow. To save space, the rectangular sink is mounted on a fold-down panel above the head itself. The whole unit is pulled down and the tap popped up for handwashing, then the whole thing vanishes away into the bulkhead. This maximises space and allows room for a decent-sized shower area in here too.
There’s plenty of room for relaxing in the saloon, with a settee either side and a central table with leaves that fold up when in cruising mode, and a central bottle storage area. On the starboard side at the aft end of the settee is a small dedicated nav station with a hinged desk top and flexible reading light, next to the VHF radio and switch-panel.

The galley is small but practical, with a two-burner gas hob and oven and a large single sink ranged against the cabin side. The top-loading compressor-driven fridge sits on the centreline forming its own island, allowing access down each side of the cabin, but with the insertion of a chopping block panel between it and the sink, and L-shaped galley with extra bench space is generated.
There is a pair of double quarterberths aft, each of which can easily convert into a single berth with storage beside if you have fewer crew or more stuff (especially useful for stowing sails when racing). The floorboards lift up so you can easily sponge out the bilge if you’re chucked wet gear in there.
Overall, the interior décor is simple yet nautical, with clean white cabinetry, pale grey upholstery and a timber floor and detailing. Recessed LED lighting highlights the curves of the interior, designed by Slovenian firm Gigodesign, and there is plenty of downlighting too, as well as through-hull and cabintop windows.

One of the issues when showcasing yachts in a magazine is that weather that is good for photography is not necessarily good for sailing. Fortunately, Auckland’s mercurial spring weather managed to throw up the perfect day for us to go for a sail on the First 36, and actually find out what she’s like to sail. There is perhaps a little more wind than we might have liked in what is essentially a brand-new boat, fresh out of the box (the forecast is for 15 knots but we get in excess of 30) but the First 36 handles it like a pro.

Under motor – she’s powered by a 29hp Yanmar 3YM30 inboard diesel with saildrive – she’s easy to manoeuvre out of the marina berth despite the fresh cross wind. And under sail, with her twin rudders, she does exactly as she’s asked, being responsive to steering adjustments without being twitchy or oversensitive. There is no sense of driving the bus here – she has a real race-boat feel. Upwind she sits nicely in the groove – despite the solid gusts we regularly get hit by – and while we decide it’s probably not wise to chuck up the gennaker and try that out, on a two-sail reach she accelerates smoothly and feels like she’s having fun.

It might be an odd thing to say but the boat feels much larger than it is: with a hull length of 11m (36 feet), her generous 3.8m max beam, carried well aft, and high topsides make for a huge and roomy cockpit, generous side decks and plenty of space down below – a good combo for both racing and cruising.
There’s more than enough room for a family to holiday afloat comfortably with all the cruising features deployed, and the ‘stripped out’ racing version makes the boat practical to use in competitive situations, and a pleasure to sail. It seems like Beneteau’s new collaboration with Seascape has hit that sweet spot between comfort and performance that the First range has become well known for.


Ryck 280

At first glance the boat appears to be a large centre console, although hidden beneath the console and forward area is a sizeable overnight cabin.