Everyone it seems, is taking to the water in the post-pandemic normal. Boating has grown double digits over the last year and there’s interest in all segments from wakeboarding and kayaking to ocean fishing and big boat cruising. It’s no surprise then, that a large cruiser, which was recently launched by Beneteau, has cruisers knocking on the French builder’s door.
The hull was introduced a year ago as the First 53 racer that generated buzz at the boat shows. The first hull on American shores looked ready to chew up the waves and was presented as a minimalist gentleman’s racer. Based on this initial design, Beneteau developed a new model that slotted nicely into their “Oceanis Yacht” line, the upper stratus of their Oceanis cruiser offering. The result is the new Oceanis Yacht 54, a performance cruiser that sails like a race boat but lives like a posh condo.
Design & Construction
The swanky design is by Roberto Biscontini and Lorenzo Argento who masterminded the exterior and interior design, respectively. Biscontini, now based in Milan, brought an America’s Cup background to the project since he spent two decades working with New Zealand and Italy race teams. This put an emphasis on speed and a balanced hull with a carefully positioned center of buoyancy. The profile includes a plumb bow, a vertical and open transom, and a low coarchroof that’s almost more of a suggestion and barely hints at the livability below. The beam is carried all the way aft so from the stern, she looks very much like an offshore racing machine. The visibility forward from the helms is exceptional with uninterrupted views all the way to the bow.
Below the waterline, two keel depths are offered: standard at 8’ 2” and shoal at 6’ 7. Our test boat was fitted with the latter. Combined with twin rudders, the Oceanis Yacht 54 is well balanced and once she finds her groove, you can take your hands off the wheel or steer with one finger.
The construction combines fiberglass stringers that are fixed to an aluminum substructure and a hull that’s cored with balsa to the keel. The 54 gained about a ton over her racing predecessor. That’s just a rounding error given the overall displacement of 37,000 pounds the load of gear that cruising boats typically heap aboard.
Sails & Rigging
Sail combinations include a self-tacking jib or 105% genoa and a furling mainsail although a classic, fully battened main is an option. Our boat had the genoa and in-mast main. The aluminum, deck-stepped Sparcraft rig comes in two flavors: standard air draft at 78’ 9” or the performance mast that adds another 5’ 11” and 33% more sail area. The sheeting angles are tight and the decks are clear. With the composite sprit, you can add a Code 0 or a full spinnaker for speedy downwind work.
Just like on the racing sistership, there’s not much on deck to catch a lazy sheet or the wayward toe. Six pop-up wing cleats fold down neatly when not in use and the Lewmar windlass is mounted below deck which not only looks clean but also protects the winch from the elements. The bulwarks are high and provide good footing when heeling. Since the stanchions are mounted on top of these bullwarks, the lifelines are nice and high and that can be a lifesaver offshore.
The cockpit is a head-turner and it’s aspirational of sailing superyacht layouts. The social area is ahead of the wheels and out of the way of the working crew. Two small tables on either side open up a center path from the companionway to the transom which creates an easy traffic flow. Long settees on either side are the perfect spot to relax over dinner or linger under the night skies.
The working section of the cockpit is all on one level so it’s easy to move quickly between the wheels without tripping. There’s also extra room on the aft deck for a tactician or observers who can keep out of the way but still feel like they’re in the middle of the action. The decks are spectacularly clear and from the transom you can walk all the way to the bow with just one step up. The path from the wheels is a very civilized way to reach the side decks making crawling over the cockpit coaming a distant memory.
At The Helm
Also reminiscent of superyacht design are the twin binnacles that hold the wheels and the slim dashboards with 12-inch B&G MFDs. Engine controls are on top of the binnacle rather than at knee level. This is crucial when docking so you can keep your eyes on the dock and your mind in the game rather than fumbling with levers down low.
Four Harken winches manage the lines which are led aft to the helms where the driver can manage them easily. A dinghy garage is tucked into the transom and it’s accessible via a cockpit hatch or when the transom is lowered – at the touch of a button. It will hold an eight-foot inflated RIB or a nine-foot deflated one.
Beneteau is a high-volume production boat builder, but the Oceanis Yacht 54 is more of a semi-custom offering allowing real opportunities to personalize the details. You can request different furniture structures to a point like adding a nav station in the forward port corner of the saloon. This goes well beyond just spec’ing equipment like a bottle fridge, a dishwasher or a generator, which is more the norm with production designs.
The layout on our test boat included three cabins and three heads with the master suite in the bow. You can forego the port head entirely, choosing instead to dedicate the space to a longer galley which seems like the right choice for those who want to entertain aboard. A crew cabin can be added in the bow or it can be used for fender and line stowage.
Below, as on deck, the design is minimalist with all the necessary functionality like appliances tucked away discretely behind paneling. There are few visible switches, handles or pulls that meet the eye. The overall effect is elegant and streamlined.
There are two steps that interrupt an otherwise flat cabin sole. One step down is into the galley and the other is into the master stateroom ahead. Here you’ll find a large island berth, a split head and shower, an impressive amount of stowage space and plenty of light from the hull windows as well as his and hers overhead hatches. Aft are twin guest cabins.
Our test boat was finished in a darker walnut but a light oak is also available. The double rail at the companionway will be a blessing when moving in and out of the boat in gusty conditions.
Our boat was fitted with the upgraded 110-hp Yanmar turbo diesel and a straight shaft although standard propulsion is a Yanmar 80-hp with Saildrive. The larger engine makes this big boat nimble and the retractable Sidepower bow thruster helps in narrow fairways and tight slips. Beneteau’s Dock & Go joystick steering system is an available option with the 80-hp engine, but with just a thruster, she’s quite maneuverable and turns on a dime even without the upgrade. We motored at 9.2 knots and 3300 rpm at wide-open throttle. A more economical cruise can be found at 8.6 knots and 2400 rpm.
Test day came with a blessing – 15-20 knots of wind. Add to that some flat water and plenty of sun and test conditions were just about perfect. In 17 knots of true wind, we made 9.1 knots at 65 degrees apparent wind angle. With the Code 0 , we fell off to a beam reach and topped out at 10.2 knots. We never reefed. The hull is slippery and the sail was exhilarating. An experienced couple will likely never get bored. Because we sailed the 54 on Chesapeake Bay, there was no way that day to test how the hull would do when bashing into head seas.
The Oceanis Yacht 54 is a luxury cruiser with a wild side. She’s an exciting boat that delivers a fast cruise and will respond well to an experienced crew. With the beautifully redesigned cockpit and vast customization below she’s also a classy and comfortable cruiser that can go just about anywhere. It’s a safe bet that she’ll arrive at her exotic destinations quickly and turn heads when she gets there.
LOA: 56′ 2″
LWL: 50’ 6”
Beam: 16′ 5″
Draft: 6’7”, 8’ 2”
Displacement: 36,586 lbs.
Air draft: 78’ 9” (+5’ 11” for performance rig)
Sail Area: 1,378 sq. ft. (with furling mainsail)
Fuel/Water: 106/190 gallons
Engine: Yanmar 80 w/ Saildrive or110 HP w/ shaft
Designer: Biscontini Yacht Design
Builder: Groupe Beneteau
As tested price: $861,000 USD
View Beneteau Oceanis Yacht 54 yachts for sale on YachtWorld.
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