Beneteau Flyer GT 38By Jason Y. Wood
The Beneteau Flyer Gran Turismo 38 may transport you further than you think.
Anyone who’s been to Fort Lauderdale has probably seen the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, a hotel with a design that exemplifies the archi-tecture of the Space Age. The 1960s-vintage tower, complete with rotating bar on top that resembles a flying saucer, seemed a fitting backdrop for my introduction to the Beneteau Flyer Gran Turismo 38, which I met at its marina.
Beneteau is a French company that until recently was best known in the United States for its sailboats. But over the last two years it has stepped up its effort to sell powerboats here and in emerging markets such as Brazil. The company is bringing not just new designs, but whole lines of new designs: This boat is one of the Flyer GTs, which number four ranging in size from 34 to 49 feet. With them Beneteau is looking to establish itself in a challenging economic time, trying to win new buyers with aggressive styling, plenty of design innovations, and attractive pricing.
Which brings me back to that warp in the space-time continuum marked by the Pier 66 tower. The paradigm shift it signified carried over to the Flyer GT 38 pulling into the dock—she looked like something from a parallel universe. Her general shape is similar to other express cruisers, but when I stopped readying my gear and really looked at her as she idled in, striking differences emerged. For one, the gently curved windshield did not seem uncommon until I realized I was looking at a single uninterrupted piece of glass, sharply raked between the A-pillars supporting her hardtop. Those pillars swoop upward into arches as they move aft, then drop to the sheerline alongside the cockpit. They, along with the hardtop overhang, shelter a lounge to starboard and a C-shape convertible dinette to port.
Once I was aboard, the boat had a great can-do feel about it. A logical layout and a full list of standard and optional equipment made me want to head out for a weekend aboard instead of a boat test. Her indoor-outdoor space made me feel like I could enjoy the sun without getting the full exposure to it that many try to avoid these days—respite from the bright daylight is just a step or two away. Yet for sun lovers, an optional sunpad on the foredeck gives unfettered exposure, and a full-length bowrail simplifies access from the cockpit, although the side decks are a bit narrow. Fortunately handholds in the form of grooves molded into either side of the hardtop give those making the trip forward inconspicuous assistance.
Inside the deck is level all the way from the cockpit to the double-wide helm benchseat, where there’s a single step up to improve sightlines. The seat here converts to a bolster with the flip of one hand, ideal for me—I mostly prefer to stand when I drive but change my mind and position often. A single starboard companion seat also flips up and has a stainless grab rail in front of it, which can give the seat’s occupant confidence and security in a seaway. Windows to either side slide down manually to provide ventilation, and a power sunroof that’s nearly full-width slides back to air things out even more.
The instrument panel is a two-tiered affair with analog tachometers and trim indicators up high, electronics and more analog gauges below. The wheel is compact and well positioned, and the Volvo engine controls are mounted on their own outcropping, putting them in easy reach.
Just above the controls was the joystick. To leave our launch pad at Pier 66, I gave it a couple of jolts and the twin 300-hp Volvo D4 diesel stern drives crabbed her away from the dock. Here we were in that parallel universe again: The joystick controlled stern drives, not thrusters or pods. I could hear the joystick engage the stern drives and feel the boat give a bit of a shudder as the props bit, providing confidence-inspiring surety. Once we were clear, I gave the joystick a little twist and the 38 deftly rounded the bow of a docked megayacht. We were on our way.
Score one for stern drives. Seems everyone has been gaga over pod propulsion lately—including Beneteau, since the 49-foot GT uses Volvo IPS. But for the other boats Beneteau has developed what it calls the AirStep hull, which cannot accommodate an azipod installation. (Obviously the Flyer GT 49 is not an AirStep design). What it can do is pipe air from intakes in the hull sides and introduce it to a pad shaped with forward-facing, wedged steps in the aft third of the running surface. We’re back to our parallel universe, since those steps would seem to be walls that water flowing aft along the running surface would have to surmount, stealing speed. Chalk up the fact that it does just the opposite to the reason I don’t design boats: Beneteau says it improves stability, maneuverability, and efficiency thanks to the resulting air cushion. I’m always leery when one boat model offers a choice of pods and inboards or stern drives with the same running surface—this one doesn’t.
So does the AirStep work? The boat ran nicely in the two- to four-footers I saw that day, cutting through chop and staying reasonably dry. (When she did take some spray on the windshield, the big single wiper squeegeed it off, but left an arc of spray across the bottom of the glass, right in my preferred line of sight. Also, my polarized sunglasses distorted the view through the glass.) When I took her into a hardover turn, she cut a nice, tight circle with a diameter of a little over two boat lengths. She felt light, and indeed, with a dry weight of 8¼ tons she is for a boat of this type and size with a pair of diesel engines. Plus, she carried only about 90 gallons of fuel that day. This cuts two ways, of course. On one hand, she bobbed around a bit while idling out there. But on the other hand, she’s not a fishing boat, and generally speaking if I were aboard her out in open water I wouldn’t be floating around at idle—I’d be motoring to the next dock or anchorage, and I’d be thankful that her light weight, ventilated hull, and optional twin 300-hp Volvo diesel stern drives combined to give her a range of nearly 240 miles at a cruising speed of almost 34 mph.
And this 39-footer has another side to her that should interest family and friends. To port of the helm down four steps beneath a skylight—nice touch—is a saloon with an L-shape dinette to port and a galley to starboard. The galley has a two-burner cooktop, sink, and decent stowage. That saloon-galley-dinette combo is cozy and comfortable. Aft of the galley is the wet head, with a porthole for ventilation and a skylight.
Living space includes a master stateroom in the bow with an island berth, which has stowage beneath, and hanging lockers to either side. Hull-side windows and opening portholes add to livability, as does an overhead hatch. A second stateroom amidships offers twin berths, outboard hanging lockers, and hull-side windows with opening ports.
The engine compartment is just aft of that stateroom, with access via a hatch beneath the cockpit-dinette table. Besides the D4s, this space housed an optional 4kW Onan genset, a pair of roto-molded fuel tanks at the forward end arranged athwartships, and a water heater. It’s pretty tight between the engines—they’re just eight inches apart—and headroom is just under three feet from the sole to the lowest point of the overhead. Dipsticks, filters, and fills are reachable but I’d have preferred duplex fuel-water separators to the simplex setup. That snug layout had some free space outboard of the engines that would be useful for stowing a toolbox and some spares. I spotted some exposed plywood, painted on one side and affixed to the underside of the deck above and a few unfamiliar (at least stateside) equipment brands such as a Nautic Boiler water heater and Perfet fire-suppression system.
But the biggest indicator that I’d entered the realm of science fiction was the price: My option-loaded test boat was priced at just over $400,000. At that figure who wouldn’t think he’d passed into a parallel universe? I wondered how long I could stay here.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.