As my own boat, the GEKKO, is nearing completion and the day of collecting the boat and bringing it to her new home berth is coming closer day by day, my excitement is growing ever since. Every one having bought a new boat knows what I am talking about: It´s just pleasant anticipation and I really enjoy the time before delivery: Plans, ideas, designs. Thinking of what I might do with the boat, where to sail, what to see. It´s just great. The First 27 is a very special boat. The yard calls her a “pocket yacht”.

Andraz Mihelin – the father of the Seascape brand

And it is exactly this ability to provide some sort of comforts, which I call “micro cruising” combined with her sailing capabilities, swing keel-feature and fast sailing properties have at last been the key points for me to opt for the First 27 in the end. Seascape – now re-branded “First” by Beneteau – is the brainchild of Andraz Mihelin. I was lucky to catch Andraz and chat with him.

On the origin of Seascape

NO FRILLS | Lars Reisberg: “Andraz, as the legend goes, it was your MiniTransat-experience that brought to you the idea of how to make “the best small boat possible”. Which main points come into your mind when you think back to that decision you planned to make differently?”

Andraz Mihelin: “Yes, indeed, Lars. Our first boat – the Seascape 18 – had a very simple brief: Can we make a boat that is 80 per cent of the fun of a MiniTransat prototype we sailed with Kristian – but at 20 per cent of the price. With this price tag of our Minis around 100.000 Euros we actually overdelivered on price at the end. The launch price of the Seascape 18 back in 2008 was just over 18.000 Euros. Performance-wise, well, another blow: Looking at the results of the Silverrudder race or 500 metres speed record rankings still available on for instance I can firmly say that we indeed hit that target as well.”

A Class Mini boat compared to the Seascape 27

NO FRILLS “After the Seascape 18 three new models have been added to the line over the past years showing significant improvements, easily visible by looking at the design of the boats. Anything you would say you would do in a different way now?”

Andraz: “I know it might sound like dodging a question, but not much. Even after 13 years the 18 feet-boat still looks modern. It is super-fast, has a healthy class life and is dead easy to maintain. Sure, today we might build it in infusion like our other boats and make a composite/lead keel like on the 24, which would save some weight. But benefits of those technological updates wouldn’t be even close to outweigh the benefits of having over 500 one design boats doing organized cruising, adventure racing or cup racing.”

Personal interest: The Seascape 27

NO FRILLS “You know that I am eagerly awaiting my own Sescape/First 27 now. In this, how does the 27 fit into the context of your company´s history – why did you guys decide to make an 8 meter-boat and what are the pillars on which the concept of the SC 27 is resting?”

Andraz: “Lars, the Seascape 27 was and still is a very unique boat. For example, as the German magazine YACHT tested the boat they called her “Alleskönner” – which translates to “allrounder”. And she really is a boat that can tackle all. We targeted for the 27 performance and seaworthiness a bit higher than in a MiniTransat-racer. But this in a much more user-friendly package. Hence, she is trailerable without need for a special license, she has a swing keel instead of a canting keel, she sports up to 6 full berths, has a fridge, a proper marine toilet, no backstay and so forth. At the moment First 27 SE (exSeascape 27) is the only trailerable keelboat on the market that can regularly gather 10 boats on a start line of shorthanded offshore races. And these are all private owners, no rented boats. It´s fantastic!”

The crew of Gigo Design discussing over the cardboard mock-up

NO FRILLS “Why did you opt for Sam Manuard as the principal designer? Was he the first choice and what exactly did make you think that he´d be the best person to design the boat?”

Andraz: “When choosing the designer for our MiniTransat-prototypes me and Kristian spend quite some time looking at who has a design philosophy that most fits with our approach to things. And since these guys are all creative people with strong opinions and their own approaches to things, we also looked for a designer who is easy to work with. Sam was an easy pick. His last proto had won the MiniTransat, he was designing cruisers for small French yards and – most importantly – he completely shared our philosophy towards sailing. For me one of the quotes that best encampsulates it is the one from St. Exupery: “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away.” Sam in this respect was the perfect choice and I am sure it still can be seen within the boat itself.”

Designing the Seascape 27 with Sam Manuard

NO FRILLS “What was the main design brief for the Seascape 27 like – did Sam Manuard do some changes to your initial ideas? How was collaborating with him be like?”

Andraz: “In fact, the brief was framed as simply as explained above. Then ourselves, Sam Manuard and Gigodesign went through an extremely well-organized and professionally executed design process of making numerous loops in our thinking while looking for solutions. The whole process could be hardly called work: Bringing an ultimate 8 meter sailing boat to life with this team was a dream come true.”

First hull in the yard during vacuum infusion process

NO FRILLS “How many design iterations did you guys do before agreeing on the final draw? How did the boat change over the course?”

Andraz: “Hard to tell, Lars, because it was an ongoing process lasting about a year. As always, some small, on a glance, simple things like storage bags or magnetic doors took a disproportional amount of time compared to hull shape or rig design. And then there is a folding inboard system, hydraulic keel and so forth. Looking back from what we know today it is hard to imagine going through such a complex design process for such a small boat. But then again looking at the 27 even today it was definitely worth it.”

NO FRILLS “What was it like to see the prototype? Did you do a mockup first?”

Andraz: “Oh yes, indeed – we did build a 1:1 cardboard mockup first. Afterwards a full scale prototype that was used for ergonomic and sail tests and only then we went into production of the boat.”

The prototype is out of the mould

NO FRILLS “There is a great video on YouTube showing (one of) the test sails of the SC 27: Did the boat behave like you planned? Can you talk about your feeling when first boarding and sailing the 27?”

Andraz: “It´s a cool video, I know. And yes, she behaved like if she was a much larger boat in terms of how safe she made you feel, but she as well was incredibly fun to sail. Downwind accelerations were even better than on my Mini since she has more volume in her bow. Upwind, well she is a much longer boat with heavier keel. I remember going downwind with fractional kite and one reef in over 30 knots of wind. Mind you – no backstay! She just kept accelerating – speed never dropped below 15 knots and peaked at around 20. It was absolutely incredible as you can imagine. Off course we took the full advantage of having the prototype so at the end her deck looked like a premium Swiss Emmental cheese due to constant repositioning of the deck gear.”

Seascape, Beneteau and future perspectives

NO FRILLS “The Seascape 24 and Seascape 18 (respective FIRST 18 & 24) are the best-selling boats, not so many 27: Why is that? Who is sailing and or buying a 27 from your point of view?”

Andraz: “Well, you acquired one for yourself, didn´t you? You perfectly described the decisions you´ve made which brought you to that boat. The smaller boats on the other hand are designed to be much more accessible in terms of their complexity, price, but also ability to be slip launched and masted without the crane. For most sailors they are better choice than the 27 since they are lighter and hence more fun for inshore sailing. Here I have to stress that each of the Firsts is designed to be perfect for its type of sailing. So, the 14 is an recreational performance dinghy, the 18 a pocket performance cruiser/racer, the 24 is a family inshore sport cruiser and OD racer and finally the is 27 a pocket yacht. She is an all-weather performance cruiser/OD racer. We always encourage people to buy the smallest boat they still feel comfortable on. The smaller the boat the more intense the experience. That said with 150 boats sold the 27’s are still representing respectful 15 per cent of all of our boats.”

Sailing action!

NO FRILLS “There is an alu-rigged, pin-head-Dacron variant of the SC 27 coming up: What do you expect from this “downsized” version of the boat?”

Andraz: “Let me start by acknowledging I am in business of building boats so positive expectations are my normal state of mind… That said, I’m genuinely excited about the new First 27. It is not at all a downsized First 27 SE (Seascape edition), but a completely rethought boat. She has a new structure, a new deck, a completely new keel and – as you pointed out – a new rig. She also has an inboard diesel engine as standard. Her mission is to bring modern sailing where planning at over 10 knots of speed is a common experience to a wider circle of sailors than her more complex and even more high-performance sisters which feature the SE-badge.”

This is why you get her: First 27 anchoring in prime position

NO FRILLS “Last not least: The Beneteau yard lately announced some cuts “in Slovenia” in order to cope with current C19-crises. Can you give some more detail on this, how will this affect building of the boats, the future of First/Seascape and possible future projects?”

Andraz: “In fact, there will be no cuts in Slovenia. In contrary. We are currently working on a setup where our business relationship with Beneteau would somewhat change, but the project of rebuilding the new generation of Firsts would go on even more efficiently than so far. It´s a delicate and complex process that involves a lot of people and thoughtful planning. We will be revealing more and detailed info in the next months. But current and possible future owners be assured: No cuts, no restraint – we go full throttle and are excited to keep on satisfying our customers, just like you, going to pick up your new First 27 very soon, Lars.”

Sounds good indeed. Thanks Andraz for that little backstory of the Seascape 27. I am looking forward to – hopefully – seeing you guys in the coming month if Covid-restrictions will permit.

Also interesting to read:

In the Seascape yard in Slovenia

Micro Cruising tested: A night aboard a First 24

Britton Ward on designing boats