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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Beneteau Gran Turismo 49 Fly

The competitively priced Gran Turismo 49 Fly from French builder Beneteau makes a big stateside splash.

It was a fairly rough day out in the Atlantic, a mile or so to the east of Fort Lauderdale’s sea buoy. I’d guess the waves were running somewhere between 3 and 5 feet at the time, and rolling around in a confusing, omnidirectional (or seemingly omnidirectional) muddle. Nevertheless, our Beneteau Gran Turismo 49 (not the sleek express model but the more muscular-looking flying-bridge version) bopped across the rowdy craziness with a solid, noteworthy aplomb.

Indeed, the boat’s ability to track side-sea at higher speeds was especially impressive. Largely because Beneteau’s naval architects have tweaked both the 49’s modified-V hull form and her LCG (Longitudinal Center of Gravity) to nicely synergize with Volvo Penta’s pod- propulsion technology, she adhered to a near-arrow-straight course line, with her twin 435-metric-horsepower IPS600s whirring away methodically and quietly, no matter whether we were cresting waves diagonally or descending into troughs with abandon.

“You keep the power on her,” I commented to the Beneteau rep onboard, “and she keeps her nose up, but not overly so—your engineers did a nice job of balancing the boat. She tracks like gangbusters.”

LCG placement is critical to the proper development of any watercraft, but particularly to pod-powerred vessels, which, like stern drives, tend to concentrate machinery weight (i.e., drive units, super-thick fiberglass drive-mounting collars, and engines) towards the stern, a characteristic that’s been known to produce overly bow-high running attitudes and related tracking issues.

Savvy engineers at Beneteau obviously took all this into account. They put just the right amount of buoyancy into the after sections of the 49’s hull and then added a subtle weight-forward emphasis. The end product avoids both the bow-steering issues that often accompany running attitudes that are too low and the pounding and tracking issues that attend running attitudes that are too high. More to the point, our test boat’s auto-tab-governed pitch coming out of the hole was quite reasonable at 6.5 degrees, and her 5.5-degree running angle at an average top speed of 29.9 knots was not far off the optimum spread (between 2 and 4 degrees) for planing boats in general.

There were other aspects of performance I enjoyed while test-driving the 49. They included a sporty, comfortably inboard-heeling hard-over turning circle (with a diameter of approximately three boat lengths, I’d say) with no prop blowout or appreciable sideways slide; a wholly informative array of sightlines at both the lower and upper helms; the comforting presence of a MaxPower bow-thruster control on the dash at each of our test boat’s helm stations (for those few times when IPS may not be quite up to Mother Nature’s wiles); and a set of ergonomic details (seating placement, instrumentation layout, etc.) that were totally friendly, except for one significant detail.

The placement of both the binnacle and joystick engine controls at the upper helm seemed pretty impractical. While on the helms of most other boats these two important pieces of equipment are positioned in the horizontal or semi-horizontal plane, usually on an inwale shelf or some other sort of molded protuberance, our test boat’s topside controls were mounted on the upwardly sloping dashboard, an oddball scenario that produced a couple of vexations.

First, because of the binnacle control’s slanted orientation, I occasionally made the mistake of thinking my sticks were in neutral when they were actually detented idle-ahead. And second, because the pushbuttons at the base of the IPS joystick control were angled downwards toward the deck (and therefore obscured from view), I had a dicey moment or two bringing our test boat back up the swiftly flowing New River to her berth after our sea trial. Finding the pushbuttons in a hurry, while blindly fumbling with my fingers from underneath the control, proved pretty challenging in one particular instance.

Doing a dockside walkthrough after we’d tied up was a most agreeable eye-opener, though. During more than a few boat tests over the years, I’ve come across “gyms,” small cabins “for the grandchildren,” “workshops,” and other seemingly contrived onboard spaces designed to make sensible use of the extra cubic feet pod-drives typically toss into the after portions of a layout. But as I toured the 49’s accommodation spaces, I came across no such finagling.

For starters, the main deck featured a very straightforward, elbowroomy arrangement, with a helm station and credenza to starboard and a lounge area (with electric pedestal table) to port. Thanks to a wraparound array of windows and doors the ambiance was bright and inviting.

The lower deck was just as simple and sensible. Our test boat had two staterooms—a VIP forward and master aft—and a galley/dinette area (with nifty pullout pantry, residential-sized reefer, and opening ports on either side for ventilation) in between. Everything was conventionally laid out but stylishly ample, although the underside of a low-hanging molding on the starboard side of the master cut headroom to 5 feet 3 inches and perhaps portended at least a few blows to the ol’ noggin. A three-stateroom version of our test boat’s layout is available from Beneteau, by the way, with a two-berth cabin substituting for the dinette area opposite the galley.

I finished up my dockside tour of the 49 in the engine room, a rather cramped space laying abaft the master’s aft bulkhead and immediately below a garage ample enough to launch, retrieve, and stow a 9-foot outboard-powered RIB. Basic machinery arrangements were mainstreamy, with our two 435-metric-horsepower Volvo Penta D6-435D-E diesels on centerline, a couple of aluminum fuel tanks forward, sanitation equipment to port (abreast of the engines more or less), and a 9-kW Cummins Onan genset to starboard.

All good stuff, of course, but there was little breathing room, particularly around the engines. The distance I measured between the fuel tanks (or rather, the semi-bulkhead with plex-protected electricals immediately abaft them) and the forward end of the engines was just 13 inches; the distance between the engines themselves was just 8 inches; and the clearance between the tops of the engines and the overhead was just about 5 inches. Impossible to turn a wrench in this ER? No, but I’m guessing the task may prove difficult.

Which is not to say, of course, that the French-built Beneteau Gran Turismo 49 doesn’t have lots of engaging qualities going for her. Not only is she a speedy, well-mannered performer offshore, she has serious dockside appeal, offers a layout that’s both straightforward and ultra-roomy, and, with a base price that’s considerably less than other manufacturers are charging for similar models, offers stateside customers one heck of a deal.        

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