Last week was a very exciting one: For the first time ever I was privileged to sail the First 24 (ex-Seascape 24) and since I have ordered her slightly bigger sister, the First 27, to be my own new boat I was keen and very eager to experience this moment. Putting the boat on her trailer was a no-brainer, I attached it to my car and pulled the boat up North to the Baltic Sea where on the next day I was to be accompanied by Finn, a skilled boat builder and our company´s prime rigger.
Originally I had planned to take this boat for my own summer vacation´s sailing trip up North to the Danish island of Anholt, a plan I kind of have to postpone: It´s now really late in the season, the first autumn depressions find their way over the UK into the Baltic region and after sailing the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel I have nearly eaten up my leave days. Nevertheless, small dashes out, prolonged weekends with that small boat will be possible, I guess.
A go-anywhere attitude
So here we are. After trailing for 3 hours from our company in Hannover I arrived at Neustadt´s ancora Marina, my “home-port” if you will. That´s a 5-star marina and one of the biggest in Northern Germany. It takes me 15 minutes by car from my flat´s door to the pontoon: Perfect. Similarly perfect was the trailing trip with the boat: The First-family of Beneteau comes with a go-anywhere attitude since all boats are easy to transport by car to any sailing area you want. Besides, as a German, I found it downright chilling not to go fast on the Autobahn but to restrict myself to 100 kilometres per hour, the trailer´s legal max speed.
Anyone who has never had a trailer on his back: It´s for the first couple of kilometres kind of awkward. But you will get used to the driving and will get a sense especially for passing around corners and the new length of the team. The boat is well balanced on the trailer (we go for a Germany trailer brand called “Harbeck”, which is a Bavarian family business selling good quality at a worthy price) and there is no wobbling or instability. In this, owning a First 24 will probably turn you into some kind of adventurous guy because it´s as easy as ABC to tow your boat to a new destination of your choice. Definitely a huge plus.
The do-it-yourself spirit
Next morning I returned to the marina where the crew of the travel lift was ready to put her into the water. Seeing the boat hanging in the belts was warming my heart since for the first time I could appreciate her fine foliation and the racy, catchy design. This boat has been named MADCAP – a harbinger of what is expected to come – and as a showcase boat for the company I am working for she needed to be an eyecatcher. I was proud to say that she really is indeed the prettiest design of the whole marina.
Putting together a brand new boat that´s coming out of a yard is always a big hazzle. For the big Oceanis cruisers we are calculating three to five full working days: Contrary to the common belief that the yard is delivering a finished product, we as a boat dealer have to invest heavy duty working-hours to put together these big man´s puzzles. That´s no different in the First-boats except for the fact that this small boat does not have the cruising-equipment and is much smaller, reducing the puzzling time to a mere day.
Seascape of Slovenia provides the owner with a thick, colorful and rich illustrated manual. In this, the owner is able to put together the boat by his own, simply following the step-by-step instructions and referring to the detailed pictures. We only couldn´t account for one Dyneemy-line – and you will notice the strange mainsheet-lead in the following pictures – but I´ve solved that slight problem now and for the upcoming sailing trips this will be of no concern. The boat sailed anyway.
Stepping the mast doesn´t even require a crane. The boat can be ordered with an A-frame which will enable the owner (plus one or two friends) the step the mast by muscle power, something we have already tried by ourselves back in Hannover. Here at the Sea I decided to invest some money and rent the crane crew to speed up the process. After receiving her mast I “steamed” to her berth where we finished fitting the boat. I put “steam” in brackets since MADCAP is equipped with an electric Torqeedo engine … no steam at all.
Ready to sail in one day (maybe even less)
Another plus is the simplicity of the running rigging. Preparing the boat for the first time will take an experienced rigger three hours. All the blocks (by the way, high quality fittings by Ronstan!) need to be identified and attached, Dyneema soft shackles all the way, upper brand lines by Robline and all the fittings be put in their place. I was stunned by the richness of the fittings: This small boat is small indeed – but she offers the whole variety of trimming instruments like a grown-up racer.
We were so excited to step the mast that we made the next mistake: Before stepping the mast we should have fitted the Lazy Jacks but we simply forgot. So there was no way to store the mainsail accordingly. For me it meant to take down and off the mainsail completely after every dash out – which is loads of work for the sailing crew and a bit, let´s say, adventurous for me being so inexperienced with that new boat. In the end, it worked fine, but having a Lazy Bag shouldn´t be missing on anyone´s order list of a First boat.
Now that´s what I would call a cockpit, wouldn´t I? We have the sheets for the jib, the main and spi halyard, the outhaul (which can be fitted with a reduction inside the boom), the vang, Cunningham, two reefs for the mainsail and spi-boom control line. A nice full setup right at the entry to the boat´s saloon. Everything is within comfortable reach making the boat easily controllable. Now, after one day of work she was tied up at her berth and ready to go.
As wind picked up and more and more rain showers battered down we decided not to go out that very day: It´s a brand new boat and not my property. So I postponed her maiden voyage tot he next day which was a good idea: Sun was shining, wind was coming in at 10 to 12 knots, partially gusty with not more than 15 knots. A blue sky with white clouds and no precipitation in sight. I arrived ad the boat early in the morning and thoroughly cleaned her, polishing the gelcoat in a way that people from other pontoons came over to see what was blinding their eyes with shiny new white from afar.
Although this will be another article, I want to say a word or two on small boat´s comfort. The First 24 offers plenty of it, though in a scaled-down scope. The boat can be ordered with “bean bags”. These things can be put into the cockpit and are damn cozy. You just put yourself into them, stretch your legs and enjoy the sun. Laying around here with my nose up in the fresh air, I dreamed away while my guest was arriving …
Activating the North Sails Turbo
“Hey Lars, get up!“, Miklas violently called me back from the land of deep dreams. Minutes later MADCAP´s electric motor buzzed quietly and I steered the boat through the jetties. Miklas, my sailing guest for that day, took out the mainsail and unfurled it completely – we were still inside the marina. Arriving at the entrance, he told me to put her into the wind, pulling up the mainsail. For the first time in years I left a marina under sails just two minutes later. Another plus of small boats I guess.
Unfurling the jib was a matter of seconds. I stowed away the Torqeedo in “park” position whilst MADCAP sprung literally to live. Once the sails were trimmed the laminates catched the wind and made the boat heel a bit – the rest was turned into acceleration immediately. I cannot remember when I experienced a similar dramatic pick up of speed in a boat before, maybe on the Class 40 some years ago. Really, the First 24 sprung to live and bolted through the water like nothing. Amazing!
My guest aboard was Miklas Meyer, North Sails employer working in the company´s loft in Hamburg, not far from the marina. He is a skilled racing sailor in his spare time and is managing mostly the one-off-projects for North Sails in Germany. I couldn´t have picked a better sailing mate for my first dash out with the boat for sure: Miklas of course is well-trained and skilled in mastering the precious racing laminates of the boat and has many, many, many miles more sailing experience with these kind of boats than I do. I did what he said, watched and learned.
He instantly felt at home on the boat. MADCAP sported to life, held on course by the double rudders. It took Miklas mere seconds to trim the sails and for the purpose of shooting some pics I handed over the boat´s full control to him. Easy as ABC: The boat stayed on course, a skipper can roam freely in the cockpit with having control over the rudders by extending the tiller. We did not have any waves so walking over the deck was no problem, although in heavy seas one should be aware that this small boat does not have a proper reeling – hold steady to the boat at all time.
Going really fast
We sailed some manoeuvres with MADCAP and it was joyful playing for sure: Tacks and Gybes are a no-brainer. The mainsheet is worked by one hand and one foot, veering and luffing the main thanks to manyfold reduction of the sheet easy and requires no muscular efforts. Upwind the boat sports to over 6 knots (we´ve had 10 to 14 knots TWS) and she acknowledges gusts immediately with increased heeling – that can be stopped by veering the main sheet and upon a wink of an eye she calms down.
I found the boat to be very, very responsive. MADCAP is as agile as a small jolly boat. Sitting on the coaming and having control of her rudder and main sheet gives the helmsman full control of the boat. Pulling of pushing the tiller in any direction is translated immediately into course changes making it possible to steer absolutely precisely – a plus in regatta-mode. Very agile – but also very stable at the same time. I did have have the impression of loosing control even in heavier gusts when I purposely did not ease the main to see the degree of heeling.
She will heel to a maximum, then the flat-top main will “open up” at the head and let out most of the wind, taking off some of the pressure. With a boat as light as the First 24 (890 kilograms light displacement) she spurts a 2 metres draft (swing keel) with 320 kilograms of lead ballast. That´s a weight-ballast-ratio of 36 per cent – stable like a big boat!
All these clever little solutions
When they´ve conceived the Seascapes in Slovenia they obviously had been real sailors in mind – and more obviously all the specs and options available for that boat are thought of by real sailors. That starts by looking at the lineup in the cockpit: Two idlers have been mounted on the coachroof – great thing! If one winch is occupied by a line you might divert easily one another line to the second winch. A small detail but great impact in practical sailing.
Everything aboard is made the simplest possible way. Take the rudders for example. The steering mechanism can be detached with two hand movements. At the same time, rudder angles can be trimmed precisely for each blade. I am far away from being competent enough to exert this kind of fine tuning but I can see more and more why this boat was so successful in single- and double-hand racing and still is under the new brand of Beneteau. It just offers everything a keen racer needs and expects from a fast competing boat.
Miklas apparently had much fun in sailing MADCAP. He showed me some hints and tricks for the sails and gave some advice of how to properly treat them the right way: “I personally would say that these racing laminates are a bit over-paced for a kind of normal recreational sailor”, he says, saying that he would rather go for a less expensive and high-tech laminate in stead choosing a good quality cruising laminate for the family sailor, but that may be changed. I for the moment was absolutely thrilled by the looks and of course the performance of this North Sails set-up.
Next run: A sailing magazine´s test
We returned to our berth after nearly two hours up and downs in the Luebeck bay area because I received some phone calls by my new sailing guests. Saying Goodbye to Miklas, saying Hello to Antonia and Jochen, both arriving to as well take a look at MADCAP: Jochen is a sailing legend I shall say in Germany, one of the top boat testers and sailing journalists. This time he boarded MADCAP writing a sailing review on the First 24 for the Skipper magazine of Germany. Antonia is a friend of mine, a Laser-sailing girl with loads of experience in small boat sailing as well of racing experience on big boats.
Wind had eased a bit with virtually no gusts anymore when we arrived back in the bay – better for Jochen who needs constant conditions in order to gather data for his article. We again whizzed out being pushed by the Torqeedo, hoisted the mainsail rather clumsy (I need to have the Lazy Bag installed next time!) but then MADCAP again sprung to life, heeled a bit and sprinted. Sailing on all points of sail, it was the downwind passage creating the most fuzz time.
With speeds around 7.2 to 7.6 knots in a mere 10-knot-breeze it was pure bliss. The swoosh of the water behind us, nearly planning it was this sound that made our faces grin happily. It´s not an exaggeration when I tell you that there hasn´t been a single yacht out there at this day that was faster than us. Maybe they didn´t aspire, but we managed to sail past every single one: Amongst them a Sirius 35 (known for good sailing properties), some older GDP-classics but also a brand new Dehler 34 with laminate sails.
Jochen, steering the boat, was in his own world. I could barely talk to him as he was making up the article in his mind I guess. We sailed pass the other boats, he advised minor sails trim corrections to us and every time we aimed at another of these boats this amazing feeling of competition arose. So much fun!
Darn fast – planning hull!
We worked our way up wind through the fleet of other sailing yachts leaving ancora Marina, passing them to windward and leeward as we pleased. In two weeks we will have another Silverrudder – a very famous single-handed race around the Danish island of Fyn which is for many, many sailors the pinnacle of the year. I know that there are one or two dozens of First/Seascape 24 at the starting line of that race and I can now perfectly understand why.
This boat is abolutely amazing: Darn fast on every point of sail, easily controllable at the helm. Every push or pull on the tiller is instantly converted into course corrections, the boat danced on the rudders, very agile and absolutely twinkle toed. When I texted to Tomo Novak of Seascape that very same evening, he answered with a smile: “That´s what I have told you, Lars: Once tried, you´re hooked for life!” And he is right: Now that I´ve sailed for the first time with that boat by myself, I tend to fully understand the idea behind it.
The best move of Jochen was the overtaking of the Dehler 34. I know the owners, they do have the berth next to MADCAP and we had talked the day before. This boat is built in 2017 and equipped with laminate sails. The couple are keen sailors – they surely haven´t been in race mode that day, but I was impressed how easily our 24 feet boat was overtaking the Dehler upwind, gained distance and veered to broad reach, crossing their course. Absolutely amazing.
A carbon ecstasy pill
Now, that was a great day sailing: My first time on MADCAP and my first time back in a small boat since the days when I learned how to sail on a 6.5 m Menhir jolly boat. The happiness in all of our faces speeks for itself. Jochen was really impressed and while we went back to the marina, spurting downwind, he began to write down the main points for his review article.
Back at the jetty I showed him the interiors (which will be another article) and we spent another hour or so roaming the small boat´s salon. As well as on deck this small boat offers a richness in possibilities to use the boat even as a small cruiser – so versatile that I know of small families trailing their First 24 to various sailing areas and spending whole sailing weeks island hopping or coastal sailing with offshore-passages as well. Sun came out, so did our bean bags, and after Jochen left we enjoyed some quiet moments in the sun being gently swung in the boat´s cockpit.
I will now take MADCAP on a Germany-tour from the Baltic Sea to the lakes of Chiemsee and Constance in the South of Germany. Although not a vacation but for the purpose of sailing the boat with potential customers, I look so much forward to gain more experience aboard a small boat like this, sailing her with Gennaker as well and getting prepared for my own First 27 which is currently in build by Seascape yard. For now: I am absolutely thrilled and happy by this little fast exciting carbon-extasy pill from Slovenia!
Thanks Miklas of North Sails, Jochen of Skipper Magazine and helmslady Antonia for an amazing day out!
You might as well read these articles on small boats too:
Lizzy Foreman on her Mini Transat race