Beneteau chose the beautiful Balearic city of Palma on the island of Majorca to show off its new range of boats to the world press in April and as a former inhabitant of Spain journalist KEVIN GREEN required little excuse to revisit old stomping grounds.
Palma has year round double digit temperatures, regular afternoon breezes so not surprisingly is one of the most popular yachting destinations in the western Mediterranean, a mere 45 minute plane ride from Barcelona. Dominated by kilometres of marina frontage and the backdrop of the beautiful cathedral, it's a city of majestic squares and stylish boulevards with top class hotels, including our press accommodation at Hotel Tryp Bellver which was nearby the boat test venue at the prestigious Royal Yacht Club of Palma. Along the quay bobbed our test boats – the Oceanis 55, Sense 46, Swift Trawler 50 and the eye catching Monte Carlo 5.
Top of my test list was the new Oceanis 55 which is a radically different design from previous models as it utilises hard chines, twin rudders and a more open deck plan. In fact there are many commonalities with it's deck-saloon Sense range, as I found out when I sailed the Sense 46. My walk-through proved interesting thanks to being escorted by Nauta Design's Massimo Gino who pointed out the key features - the first Oceanis with large hull windows, white bulk heads and cabinetry that has been elevated to the gunwales. At sea the 55 felt very similar to the Sense 55 I sailed last year, unsurprising given Berret Racoupeau's has designed both hulls. In the light winds the big hull understandably struggled with the genoa but unfurling the Code Zero brought our speed up to a healthy 6.9 knots in the 10.4 knot breeze as I sat comfortably on the gunwale.
Jumping aboard the much less imposing Sense 46 proved even more enjoyable in the light airs as the 46 footer easily found her groove reaching an effortless 8.1 knots in the 12.1 knot breeze as I beat hard on the wind past the myriad of ferries using the busy port. The functional sail plan allowed easy tacking form the twin helms and the composite wheels felt nice to the touch with just enough feel from the twin rudders to reward the steerer. Coming alongside using the Dock&Go pod drive demonstrated why this system is worth optioning up to.
A big plus for attending these busy press events is catching up other journalists as well as talking to the Beneteau staff about future plans, market trends and all the minutiae that journalists need to be aware off. All this was done in the convivial atmosphere of a traditional Spanish restaurant among the ancient walls of old town. Glasses of Rioja, Valdepenas and other varieties of local wine helped the occasion along as we contemplated our second day on the water.
The Swift Trawler 50 excited me for several reasons. Firstly as an ex-commercial fisherman the practicalities (rather than bling) was a major attraction and I also had liked the simple design of the smaller Swift Trawler. The 50 proved to be a much more refined boat inside than its small sibling with good use of space, a useful service lift to the flybridge and comfortable berths. My only gripe was the sharp edges on some furnishings. At sea the sound levels were low enough to talk among ourselves, including when German journalist Peter and myself did the speed test – reaching the expected top speed of 23 knots with eased. The helm proved comfortable but cabinetry restricted views aft so a camera is essential.
What the Swift Trawler lacked in bling was made up for in spadefuls on the Monte Carlo 5. Oozing bling but done in a very refined way. Even at a standstill it looked fast thanks to curvaceous bridge that contrasted nicely with the angular hull and it's accentuated Vee-bow; all set off tastefully in pale blue paintwork. My walk-through showed a high standard of finish with neat headboard linings, polished pale wood – though edges again let the saloon down – and clear views are apparent from the main steering console. An easy climb to the flybridge rewards the owner with a vast area to party while the practicalities are well taken care off thanks to a large bimini and spray visor. Unfortunately we couldn't test drive the MC5 as the pod drive had been damaged during the delivery.