It was an outstandingly unpleasant day today at the Baltic Sea: 4 Degrees Celsius (at least, two days earlier we still had freezing windows with below Zero temps) and a strong, very gusty wind. Rain pouring down occasionally with violent gusts. April´s weather. It would have been foolish to casting off to take her out for a short dash to see if Sam Manuard did the amazing job everybody was waiting for in this new “big Seascape” and although I would have had Seascape-founder and mastermind Andraz Mihelin plus Tomo Novak being the crew, beating this brand-new beauty in these conditions did not seem right. Well, so we sat down and had a long chat.
Which, by the way, wasn´t the baddest thing to happen: That the new First 36, the long awaited new step-up by Slovenian yard Seascape as their first project developed together with Beneteau with a clear focus on connecting the First-tradition of Beneteau to make a more than capable sailboat is a fact that no sane person would try to argue against. No, it was better because the occasion turned out to be perfect on the contrary not to go out and be diverted by sailing fun to fully comprehend and appreciate the work that has been done in the inside of the new First 36. And this, I promise, is truly amazing!
A bigger boat than expected …
In between two heavy rainshowers I jumped outside and went toward the pontoon. Since for the second time Boot Duesseldorf Boat Show had been cancelled doe to Covid-19 this year, Beneteau set up a series of “private boat show”-events where people could book a slot, get a dealer and sail their boats of desire. That is why on the pontoon a set of Oceanis cruising boats and a nice line-up of Firsts were mooring. When I came nearer the new First 36 my first thought was: “She is a big-ass boat! Wow!” And she indeed is!
This boat, being hull #1 by the way, was set up next to a First 27 and by comparison the difference between those two is just huge! When first news got out that Beneteau was going to build a next bigger boat, then the 35 footer-project, the thing was to imagine myself stepping up from 27 to 36. But now, seeing both next to each other, I am inclined to state that the First 36 is not just the “next boat”, she is a fully different level. Much, much bigger!
And I shall also add this: Many, me included, upon seeing the first renderings of this boat, have been kind of … disappointed. We all expected to see a bigger First 27, pushed by the fact that Sam Manuard was to be the principal designer again – a sleek, flat, IMOCA-like racing machine. I´ve read some postings and articles of people saying that her appearance kind of bored them. But, the big but, in reality, this boat looks much better. But, of course, this is a Beneteau First – not a Seascape. And the name “First” does mean something: It is a legacy built up long before Andraz and Kristian founded Seascape, a brand loaded with images, race-wins and famous boats that has a history. And therefore, this new First 36 was of course to connect to this legacy, much more than to continue a “Seascape-esque” style. In this, the new boat, I can now say, is indeed a beautiful, modern looking and appealing boat. Right so as planned: A continuation of the First-legacy, which is as Beneteau as Beneteau can get.
The saloon: Spacious and clever
“Let´s go down!”, Andraz pushes me, as another shower was about to start a serious downpour. The entryway down is three steps and I find myself in a completely new world. Honestly, I´ve seen the first press-pictures of the prototype and thought I´d knew what to expect, but again – seeing in reality the spacious dimensions of this new boat was a shock. In a positive way, of course.
Fresh colors, less, but well located, LED-lighting that illuminates the room, some natural light (even during this dark, rainy daylight) made for a welcoming first impression. Everything is kept simple, or, as Andraz would put it: “getting rid of 2 tons of shit.” The guys managed to keep up a cozy, maritime but modern look. The First 36 is “classy” in this manner in the best sense of the word: No overly accentuated edges or edges, crazy windows or weir angles: This boat wants to be recognized as a boat but it also wants to be called “beautiful” in 10, 20 years time. I love the small details, like the bent wooden handrails which are a reminiscence of the old First-yachts and a connection to current flagship of the line, the amazing First Yacht 53.
The layout appears to be classic, but it´s not. You have two settees vis-à-vis each other (with stowage behind the cushions and underneath the seats of course) and a folding dining table encompassing the mast stand. The First 36 having a width of 3.80 metres means that even a 1.86 m guy like me can leisurely sit down without having to cramp in the legs. There is really loads of space and even with five or six guys you will be able to sit here and have a late night beer. The dinner table, folded up, may of course just offer space for four plates at once.
I like the slim hull windows which are a nice little nod to the Seascape 27/Fist 27 SE with their coachroof-windows above being the connection to Beneteau, sleeker and more aggressive than the Oceanis-windows, stating that this is a different breed. Andraz, who shows me around, points out that the furniture and all interior elements are part of the inner moulded hull – so each of these elements are also contributing to the stiffness of the boat whilst saving weight. He shows me a list of SA/D-ratios of an illustrious set of competitors, like J111, Dehler 38, SunFast 3600 or even Pogo 36 with only Pogo exceeding the numbers. Impressive.
Racing or cruising: A perfect chart table
This boat is not made for the average cruising skipper. One clearly sees this also inside. There is a full fledged nav-station which you won´t find on cruisers any more except for the rare “real” blue-water brands. In a First 36, that´s for sure, more keen sailors will take the helm, thus the need to give them a dedicated place to set up new courses, work the charts or calculate the next leg of a trip. The chart table is of a decent size and liked the feel of everything by taking the seat.
Underneath the chart table is a flap where all fuses are located. I wish they would fit a heeling-adjustable seat which would increase the value of this place. There is also lots of stowage behind a simple plastic pusher where the boat´s foghorn, flags, a flashlight and stuff can be stored away safely. I especially like the main switch board which is a major step up, the feel of the buttons and the quality of it was cogent.
Sitting on the nav-station´s seat I took a look around. Right in the middle of the walkway on the longitudinal axis, there is a huge rectangular structure. I mentioned that the salon only appears to e of a classic style, but it was not: Well, this is the reason. This structure, as well part of the moulded inner hull, houses the deep top-loading fridge. But it has much more functions: First of all, because the boat being so wide, this pillar will be a great grab-hold. Especially in harsher weather and swell, this will add to the safety down below substantially. Secondly it can serve as a “table” to place a laptop or Toughbook onto, just like the ingenious nav-station on the Pogo 40 right in front of the entryway. And there is even a third function …
A ship´s cook´s dream: First 36 galley
Which brings us to the galley. The First 36 is a boat that can accommodate up to 6 people in 3 cabins easily. If needed, two adults can berth on the saloon benches as well. These guys will get hungry, so a galley is needed. You can, of course, feed a crew out of a single flamed JetBoil but that´s not very tasty nor cruising capable. So the First 36 features a full-fledged and fully stocked galley.
There´s a two-flame stove with oven, two big overhang lockers for plates and glasses and stuff, a big stowage underneath the stove for pots and pans and three big drawers for cutlery and even more kitchen equipment. When it comes to food and water, the classic positions will be put to use: Underneath the seating benches, outside in the cockpit lockers and of course all along the saloon windows. I already mentioned the deep, thus big, fridge that may be a big slim and too deep for smaller crew members but, anyway, it is of decent size.
The third function of the above described “main pillar” is the chopping board which may be placed in between galley and pillar. I asked Andraz where it was and it somehow “disappeared” on this very boat, nevertheless, just imagine having such a big working space in this galley. In fact, if one adds the board to the galley, the Fist 36 actually becomes the boat with the biggest galley in her class. And we all know that the ship´s cook and the Captain and the two most important people aboard.
It is so nice to watch Andraz standing in the middle of the saloon and talking about the boat. Knowing that development time of no less than four years was almost double as long as it is normal in the industry, the struggle of the whole project team and the partners to deliver a special boat must have been a long, hard road they´ve been walking. Now the pride is written all over his face and right so! He can be proud for sure: Andraz fires a barrage of facts, nits and bits of technical details, like 3D-printed door-jams, CNC-milled foam core to allow for minimum clearance and so on … like a father telling about the birth of his first child.
3 Cabins, 6 guys
While another gust is raging up in the rigging – which by the way is higher than the mast of the neighbouring Oceanis 40.1 – I check the cabins. I remember that by chance my kids saw me once checking pictures of this boat and asked me what kind of boat she was. I replied: “That´s the new big sister of GEKKO.” And when they saw that there were real cabins on the First 36, both, with bright eyes, dragged on my sleeves, yelling: “Daddy, Daddy, get one – we want a real cabin!” Well, dear Santa! So, I first stepped into the fore cabin.
A classy V-shaped bed that is more than fitting for two adults. In fact, the side panels being covered with a soft canvas, high ceiling, kind of made the room have a bigger impression on me than it actually had, size-wise. I catched myself thinking that some nice big hull-windows would be awesome here but of course this is a matter for the cruising boats. Natural light comes through the big skylight hatch which also functions as an escape hatch. Half of the fore cabin´s entreé is the backside of the head.
The two aft cabins are as well of decent size. If occupied by a single crew member, the big locker will be sufficient, when occupied by two one I guess must live out of his duffel bag. Nevertheless, being on a 36-feet yacht, the size was pretty okay. Andraz showed me some details, explaining the efforts both Beneteau, Seascape and the external development team have taken to create such a product. One sentence was so important for me: “Honestly, if we didn´t had Beneteau as a partner, this level of dedication wouldn´t have been possible.” And I can see his point: The creativity of a small, determined team, utilizing the power and competence of a big market leading brand.
Finding solutions: The bathroom
I enter the bathroom which also was subject to many articles. The First 36 features only one head and this is a good thing. The head is placed in the bow-compartment of the boat, so crew members must cross the full saloon to take a wee when underway. Also, it is a bit narrow given the fact that in the bow the hull is narrower than way aft. To counter this less available space, another nice idea has been incorporated: A folding sink.
In “dump mode” the sink is folded away, a nice wooden facing adds to the feel of the room. When taking a shower it is also folded up. For washing your face or getting a decent shave, you just let it down. The sink is very flat so having water in it to wash decently isn´t possible. But I guess in real life use-case this can work pretty fine. The head is narrow indeed – but who buys a boat for taking a luxury shower?
First 36: Cruiser-Racer or Racer-Cruiser?
So, what is it now, this new First 36? A racer-cruiser or a cruiser-racer? Well, sailing wise I hope I will get the chance to take her out for a dash the coming days during the sea trial days to get a proper impression of her under sails. Judging by the sheer numbers and now having seen her in real life I´d say she is a cruiser-racer with a high emphasis on sailing fun. Andraz says: “She is a huge boat, sporting a cockpit like a 40-footer, having the sails area like a 40-footer and down below – you´ve seen it now – feeling almost like one. But on the helm, believe me, she is nimble as a First 24 SE!” Well, I cant wait to feel it myself!
Judging just from her interior, I´d say that this boat is definitely a cruiser-racer that will either make cruising more racy or a regatta more cruising-like: The level of comfort is amazing for a boat that capable. The accommodation is great, the galley, if utilized by a proper chef, will put out great food and even on a shitty, rainy day like this when you are forced to stay down below, she conveys a high level of friendliness, comfort and coziness. Seeing Andraz chatting with the other guys, watching their reactions to the boat, is amazing: Mission accomplished, I´d say.
For today I say Goodbye to the First 36: It was a fruitful day and in a way more worthwhile than if we´d gone out sailing. The bad weather made me re-focus on her interior, which is a soft start and a better start than just immediately set sails and go out. Now, that I kind of know what she is like from the inside, the craving to feel her at the helm is even bigger. Let´s hope that weather will ease up a bit. Stepping off of her deck, a last glimpse back, I see the First 36 next to the 27. And again I am puzzled how big of a step this simple “next big boat” really is. Stay tuned, for sure!
Related articles you might find interesting:
Talking to Andraz Mihelin about the First 36´s concept
A new generation of IMOCA racing yachts
Abord the Archambault A35