Today we received another delivery of Beneteau First boats from Seascape in Slovenia and I normally wouldn´t mention this if it wasn´t for a special boat. Next to a batch of five First 14 SEs our first 27 “Aluminium version” arrived, a boat I was particularly looking forward much to receive. Why? Because I feel that this is much more than most people think it is. First of all, let me get this straight right at the start of this article, I remain and will always be a big, big fan of the 27 albeit selling my own one recently. Still considering the First 27 SE the most attractive fast cruiser/performance sailboat under 30 feet bringing together superior sailing abilities with sufficient cruising capabilities.
I am really touched by your replies and direct messages I received, wishes and thoughts of sadness regarding the selling of GEKKO, but also your curiosity and excitement to learn which boat – if any – will follow next. In this, the headline of this article is a bit misleading: I don´t want to imply that I change SE to “Alu” with the title, but rather instill a thought experiment, comparing the experience I now have gained with GEKKO to the very changes and differences which this version of the First 27 comes with. This article is a follow-up to my exterior and sailing-layout walkthrough of the First 27 I´ve produced during last year´s Salon Nautique in Paris.
Misconceptions and snotty talk
Let´s discuss some misconceptions and rumors of the First “Aluminium” versus “SE”-versions. Most of the people I talk to – and I´d count myself definitely in – think of the Aluminium-versions as Porsche Boxter versus 911: We say, “well, if your friend tells you that he had bought a Porsche and it turns out it is just a Boxter, mostly you´d react … well … okay, not a real Porsche.” A mix of disappointment and “nice try”. Obviously, we all tend towards the “real” thing, which of course would be the 911. Kind of the same with First 27 versus 27 SE: “Get the real thing!”, most would say and I can speak for my company as Beneteau dealers, 19 out of 20 boats range-wide are SEs.
Deserved? Well, I personally tend towards suggesting to go for the “real” thing which for the First 14 and 24 would always be the SE as my boat of choice. (The First 18 is only available as SE) I kind of changed my mind on the First 27 fundamentally as I was pointing out in my previous article on the Aluminium-version, this is not a “version” but a completely new boat, in my eyes. It´s not just “reasonably priced aluminium rigging, ordinary Dacron sails and fixed keel” to attract a more lower budget target group – it´s a fast hull taken and a racing boat turned into a proper mini cruiser.
Small cruiser: Obvious pros of the First 27 over SE
Here are the most obvious advantages of the First 27 over the SE version. The fixed keel is a good thing. I can tell you from 2 years of my own experience with the 27 SE: I´ve never really properly used the swing keel. Anchorages have always been at least 3 meters deep – no need to get up the keel – and my sailing area does not have any shallow obstacles. I know very few sailors who encounter both frequently. So, in essence, the swing keel may seem a handy feature but in reality I never really used it.
A bolt on fixed keel makes you getting rid of the hydraulics system (no maintenance needed anymore) and has another, even bigger advantage I will later show. Second obvious pro is the inboard Diesel engine installed with First 27. It is simply so much more convenient than the all-electric engine on the SE: No swinging-workout, no water in the engine shaft, no worries for battery charging level, software updates and the known downside of high tech-electronics. Just pushing a button and the Diesel will come to life.
Being able to go at a sufficient cruising speed (under electric engine it´s not more than 3.5 to 4 knots if you want at least 40 to 25 miles range) to bridge a calm day would come for me as a First 27-owner as a big relief. I must say, anxiously re-evaluating and always calculating if the power left in the battery and thus the range of the boat will be enough was putting stress to my skipper´s brain which you simply do not have with a Diesel.
An interior worthwhile
But best argument for the First 27 – unless you seek a pure race-winning performance machine, which of course the SE will always be – is the surplus of interior comforts on the “Aluminium”-version. Just look at her saloon: As a matter of fact, since the keel does not need any housing nor any hydraulic parts to fit any more, the boat now features a saloon free of obstacles.
I know my GEKKO very good and although I liked the space internally and found it also very nice to work from inside in my “boat office”, the First 27 salon takes it to a whole new level: Freedom for your legs, you can move about much better. I could also imagine to turn the two side benches into one single big playground by adding a simple wooden base and some cushion. Unthinkable on the SE.
Also, the managed to change the layup of the GRP of the deckhouse-construction to being able to fit two big windows. These are already nice on the First 24 SE and they do not only look cool on the 27 but add so much more natural light that the now bigger salon appears even bigger. All in all, I am surprised and really taken with the great impression of this totally changed salon.
This adds sufficiently to the cruising capabilities of the First 27. On my last sailing trip with GEKKO we´ve had two or three days of not so nice weather on Bornholm. Time we´ve had to spend inside the boat as it was raining and blowing quite unpleasantly outside. I would have wished for a nice open salon like this one on my boat back then. Of course, on a regatta this all does not matter.
On our new boat some other things – gladly – haven´t been touched at all. The fore cabin is still absolutely okay in my eyes for housing two people. I always found a very restful healthy sleep in here, be it when sleeping alone, with my two kids or with my partner. Both length and width, especially at the bow end, was okay. Although, of course, a big island bed as we have on our dedicated Oceanis-cruising yachts or better, the loft-like cabins on our catamarans are much better, this cabin will do it, if #microcruising is your thing.
I still love the First 27´s toilet room so much that I dedicated a whole article on “taking a dump” here, you might want to check this out too. The folding magnetic doors are congenial and once you sit on the toilet it is quite comfortable indeed. Yet, for me personally, I found it increasingly annoying to crawl on my knees to pee as a 44-year-old now, but again, that´s a personal thing.
Pocket cruising plusses
You´ve maybe read my piece on seasickness for first timers where I tried to capture the impressions of sailing on GEKKO in a bit rougher sea state from the perspective of my girlfriend. She sailed with me on the 27 SE for the first time and had quite a bit of a rough start. I remember the poor one half laying on the cockpit floor, half grabbing onto a line, hopelessly at the mercy of the seas. Well, not so on the 27.
At least she would have been able to let herself sink down on proper seating benches, even with proper cushions. I do not have any problem with sitting on the cockpit floor all the time (especially since I changed to EVA-foam which enhanced comforts very much, although I will have to renew the flooring from cheap China-amazon-stuff to something done by a proper company specialized in boat decking) but these benches are definitely a great plus for cruising.
Not just from a comfort-angle but also by the fact that these benches create some nice stowage underneath where life jackets, mooring lines and all the stuff you need to run the boat can be put away at a convenient range: Rather down below where this equipment eats up valuable interior volume. Nice thing, don´t you think?
Worth a second thought?
With all these features, you might think now, wouldn´t a 27 have been the “better” GEKKO rather than the 27 SE? Well, in my personal use case: Yes! I must say that all those features combined are enhancing the cruising capabilities of this boat to a great extend. More space, easier handling, more range, worry-less equipment. In this, yes I must admit, a 27 would indeed have been a better suiting boat for me. I unpack the sails in our new boat and this reminds me of another fact.
The First 27 “Aluminium” can be turned into quite a racing beast too: According to the options list, you can skip the Seldén alloy mast and get a carbon rigging too. Along with the laminate sails instead of the Dacron-cloth. In this, my need for speed and the excitement in sailing fast and competitive would easily have been satisfied by the First 27 as well. Back then, I couldn´t know this and I was deafened by the “Boxter vs. 911”-snotty talk. I am cured now.
From what I know from the bare numbers, the 27 is 300 Kilogram heavier than the F27SE. Also, the “Alu”-version carries 37.3 square metres of sail area (Dacron-Alu-rigging) versus 45.7 square metres of the laminate sails-equipped SE-version. This is sufficiently more area but both boat testers I know who have sailed the 27 and many people at Beneteau tell me that an ordinary sailor who is not attending a head-on all-out race won´t really tell a difference. And as I said, the carbon rigging plus laminate cloth can be put on her too. She indeed is worth a truly serious second though if you want to go for a new pocket cruiser.
Let´s see what she is like in the water
Part in me hopes we won´t sell her too fast as I´d love to put her in the water next season to sail her and really try to get a first hand impression of just how different she feels and sails in terms of naked numbers. Right now she got craned onto her cradles and awaits antifouling treatment. This boat, which I internally christened LIME DANCER (according to this tasty cocktail) will be made shiny and pretty to be a sparkling star of our showroom-fleet during winter.
In regards to answer your question of what my own next boat will be: It won´t be LIME DANCER and no First 27. I learned now that my first boat, OLIVIA, a barely 34-feet-cruiser, had exactly the length and volume I´d call fitting for me. As much as I loved sailing GEKKO (and I know I will painfully miss her great Manuard-abilities!) the cruising skipper in me, my kids and my partner missed a proper cabin, a proper bathroom (shower!), standing height and a real galley to make real food. But this, dear reader, is an ongoing struggle in my brain – of which you can be sure of, I will tell you detailed in some coming articles on decision making which new boat I might call me owner of in the coming weeks or months.
Familiar articles of this topic:
Exterior walkthrough of the new Beneteau First 27
All entries on GEKKO and First 27 SE
Andraz Mihelin on the First 27 and SE