The Boat

BENETEAU FIRST 38 : A POWERFUL RACER CRUISERThe first 38 is a powerful ocean sailing yacht with superb finishing quality rare indeed in mass production. Whit perfectly functional accommodation designed for cruising in comfort for a crew of eight, it is the obvious choice for charter work. The 38S version will allow ocean racing fans to take part in the main international events.

Designed by Jean Berret and introduced in 1982 the First 38 was one of the earliest sailboats to boast the popular three-stateroom layout now found on so many mass-produced monohulls. It also was one the first production boats built with a reverse scoop transom, another widely adopted feature. (The transom on the First 38 is convertible, with solid sections that can be inserted to fill in the scoop.) It is attractive and solidly built for an inexpensive mass-produced boat, an excellent value for anyone looking for a strong, fast cruising boat that can also be successfully raced (typically its PHRF rating is about 108).

Unlike many contemporary cruising boats that have very wide aft sections and thus have a strong tendency to round up when sailing to windward, the First 38 has a more balanced shape with a tapered stern and handles well on all points of sail. Owners describe the boat as being very closewinded, with less of a tendency to pound hard going to weather in a seaway compared to more modern performance boats that have flat bilges forward. The boat can do better than 7 knots sailing upwind in moderate conditions and will surf downwind when pressed, reportedly achieving top speeds in excess of 13 knots. The First 38 also tracks well and its helm is light and balanced in most conditions. Average runs sailing offshore on extended passages are said to be between 150 to 170 miles per day.Structurally the First 38 is significantly stronger than many mass-produced boats built today. The hull is solid fiberglass laminate stiffened with a large pan incorporating a structural grid that is firmly glassed to the hull. The pan is quite shallow, thus does not limit access to most of the hull above the bilge, and features several access ports so most of the bilge can be reached, too. Bulkheads are glassed along their entire perimeter to both the hull and the deck and are also bolted to the floor pan.The deck joint is simple and solid–bonded with sealant and through-bolted. The deck is balsa-cored for stiffness, with solid laminate underneath hardware. There are also raised bosses under key fixtures, such as the chainplate covers amidships and the big genoa sheet turning blocks aft, to shed water that might otherwise try to wriggle its way below. The ballast is cast iron externally mounted on stainless-steel keel bolts.

For a vessel of its size the First 38 can theoretically sleep an enormous number of people. Originally there were narrow pilot berths either side of the saloon, and these, plus the two settees, plus the double berths in the three staterooms make it possible to cram in as many as 10 slumbering bodies. The V-berth forward, however, is quite narrow at its foot, as are the pilot berths, and the doubles in the aft staterooms are a tight fit for two. This isn’t a problem during a short distance race, but cruisers, particularly liveaboards, will probably be happier keeping the body count down to four or five. Indeed, the layout is nearly perfect for families with children who want to cruise for long periods.

The standard engine on the First 38 was the extremely reliable Perkins 4108 diesel. The engine is no longer manufactured, but parts are still widely available and rebuilds are common. A well-cared-for 4108 is capable of running well over 10,000 hours, but the beast is not immortal.