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New Beneteau First 36 from BJ Marine Attacks the Fastnet Race

10th August 2023
Andraz Mihelin and crew on the new Beneteau First 36 at the Fastnet Rock
Andraz Mihelin and crew on the new Beneteau First 36 at the Fastnet Rock

At BJ Marine, we have been incredibly excited about the re-emergence of the First range and what it could mean for offshore racing, round the cans racing and fast performance cruising in Ireland and the Irish Sea. After a couple of seasons without boat shows, we debuted the First 36 in Dusseldorf in January 2023, and the first boats were handed over in spring 2023. We were particularly proud to have sold hull #9 to Stevie Goddard at our Pwllheli office. Such is the importance of this new model for Beneteau that Andraz Mihelin, the main man for all Beneteau First models below 40ft, was onboard for the Fastnet race and James Kirwan, BJ Marine Group Manager, took the opportunity to catch up with him now that the dust has settled after the race.

The new Beneteau First 36(Above and below) The new Beneteau First 36

The new Beneteau First 36

James Kirwan: We have been really excited about the new Beneteau First 36 since it was announced at our Beneteau dealer conference as we instantly felt it was a great fit for Ireland and the Irish Sea. For those who aren’t familiar with the model, can you us give a brief overview of what you wanted the First 36 to deliver and how it is fundamentally different to the previous generations of successful First’s such as the First 40, 40.7, 34.7, 36.7, 35 etc?

Andraz Mihelin: Basically, we first had to admit that with .7 series and its evolution in 35/40 we had pretty big shoes to fill. Also, we noticed that the sailors became more demanding on the performance sailing boat should achive as well as on the comfort she should offer. It was clear we have our job cut out for us. So essentially what we aimed for is a boat that at 36ft offers interior of an old First 40 while reducing the displacement by almost 3 tones. By avoiding exotic materials like Carbon or Epoxy we managed to achive that without pushing the price of the boat in niche racer market. After this year's Fastnet we can say that she works as advertised – upwind in a breeze she can keep up with the First 40s but she is radically faster and more fun in reaching and downwind.

JK: BJ Marine sold Faenol, hull #9, and the boat was delivered to our Pwllheli office for commissioning. The Fastnet Race was the big target for this season and it represented the first true IRC test for the model anywhere in the world. Can you tell us who was onboard for the race and how you felt as a crew in the 24 hours before the race with the forecast as it was?

AM: I was excited about the forecast. As I said she is a production boat displacing only 4.8 tonnes with all the wood, Corian tops and inner liners, so having a proper real-life test in an iconic race as Fastnet was the best we could hope for. Especially since we had the designer – Sam Manuard joining the team as well as super experienced Jochem Visser. Altogether we were eight – Apart from Steven Goddard and his friend James Dean and the guys I mentioned, there was also world-class meteo guru Jure Jerman, Norwegian journalist and sailor Oyvind Bordhal, First 27SE owner Milan Tomek and myself. In essence a lot of afterguards but not so many skilled bowmen. We never really sailed together but the chemistry was great and I think I can say for all of us we had a great time despite the testing conditions.

JK: From the start to the Fastnet Rock, you seemed to have every condition imaginable; what did you learn about the boat, and yourselves, in that section of the race?

AM: Basically it was all upwind from 40+ knots after the start to super light just before the Fastnet. Interestingly enough she proved to be very well behaved and fast upwind in the 20+ knots true wind. Even though we were missing a J4 jib we could pretty much keep up with First 40s and other race boats of our size. What became clear is we need a bit more rake on the rig while the rest seems pretty much as it should be.

JK: Once around the rock, the First 36 really seemed to take off. What numbers were you seeing and how did the boat feel?

AM: First part to the Scillies was a close reach about halfway under code 0 and the rest under J1. There were no real overtaking opportunities there since we were all pretty much on displacement speeds.

It was really only the last 160M where we could ease the sheets and show what she could do. We covered this distance in about 15 hours averaging 13-14kt for longer periods of time and peaking over 20kt when we caught a good wave. Also worth mentioning is that we really only had an A2 spinnaker so after the wind started to get over 30 knots, we had to change down to the jib. Plenty of potential still with some A5 kite and jib-top reacher. That part was absolutely amazing. All the time, under full control and cheering like little kids, every time we exceeded 20kt of boatspeed.

JK: Looking back now having recovered, what are your thoughts on the overall performance of the boat under IRC in the race? Are there performance gains there that we can look to optimise for future races and to help future owners?

AM: Absolutely! 14th in IRC1 was as good as we could hope for a boat that was pretty much out of the box. With 2-3 extra sails, improvement in rig and rudder trim and more training, there are still hours to be gained in a race like this year's Fastnet. Also the conditions where ¾ of the race was upwind or close reach were not ideal for a boat like 36. So essentially, Fastnet was the first big entry in our knowledge base on how to race 36 in IRC so with more owners starting to race we are excited to collect and share more insights on how to sail and tweak her in order to get even better.

JK: To finish, what was the big highlight from this race for you personally?

AM: A surf where the boat speed went 20, 20.5, 22,... 10, 9.5, which meant the whole bow all the way to the paddle wheel was out of the water like we are used to see on offshore racers. I would pay good money to have a drone shot of that. 

For full details on the Beneteau First 36 and the entire Beneteau range, please contact BJ Marine at [email protected] or call the Greystones head office on 01 287 8334

Published in BJ Marine
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BJ Marine has six bases; two in Ireland, three in the UK and one in the Mediterranean. The Managing Director is Bernard Gallagher and the Group Sales Manager is James Kirwan. The Irish headquartered marine firm represents market-leading brands including Beneteau Power and Sailboats, Fountaine Pajot Catamarans and Power-Cats, Sea Ray Sports Boats and Cruisers, Wauquiez Custom Yachts and Cranchi and Monte Carlo Luxury Powerboats. BJ Marine has a brokerage sales division that has delivered to every continent and a brokerage list with as many as 300 used boats for sale in Wales, across the Island of Ireland and across Europe.

At A Glance – BJ Marine Agencies

BJ Marine are agents for the following international yacht and powerboat brands in Ireland: 

  • Beneteau Sail
  • Beneteau Power
  • Monte Carlo
  • Sea Ray
  • Fountaine Pajot Sail
  • Fountaine Pajot Power
  • Cranchi
  • Wauquiez

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