With more than 25,000 boats built since 1977 the First marque celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. It remains one of the main global benchmars for racer-cruisers. Throughout the summer, Tip & Shaft has told the First story through some flagship models from the Beneteau yard. Finally this week a look through the current range which is adapted to the upswinging market.
In the mid-2010s the Firsts did lose some of their appeal. The market seemed to prefer cruisers and catamarans and the Firsts contributed to less than 10% of the yard’s revenue. “The boat market experienced the same shift as the car market,” explains Yann Masselot, director of the Beneteau brand. “In the 1980s everyone wanted GTIs. Then came station wagons, 4x4s and SUVs.”
After the boom of the 2000s, the 2008 crisis reshuffled the cards. The racing-cruising market sees the arrival of small series of very specialized sailboats around the IRC rule against which it is difficult to fight. François Chalain, the real soul of the First brand, died in 2007 and the failure of the First 30 based on a Kouyoumdjian design that was launched in 2010, nearly ended one of the most beautiful chapters in the history of yachting. But….”I want to see a First range again!” was the very explicit message that Annette Roux sent to Gianguido Girotti, the new product manager whom she appointed in 2015.
Back to basics
“To relaunch a complete range, the market was actually not big enough for our industrial capacity”, explains Yann Masselot. And so the best option was to buy Seascape in 2017 and integrate it into the Beneteau operation.” The small Slovenian manufacturer has made a name for itself in a few years with its 14 to 27 foot sport boats designed by Samuel Manuard. The boats are rebadged First and benefit from the size and strength of the network. The brand is relaunched and so buys time to develop a real product strategy for the larger sizes.
In 2019, the First Yacht 53 was released, designed by Italian architects Roberto Biscontini and Lorenzo Argento, a real break from the regatta boats on the market. “The First 53 has the “wow factor!”, a boat that makes you dream”, highlights Yves Mandin, product manager at Beneteau for 30 years. “That is to say, boats that meet the expectations of a demanding clientele. Of the 35 delivered, about ten race quite actively, mainly in the Mediterranean, the others are more in the spirit of yachting.”
First 36: the bridge
But they were missing a hyphen, a bridging model between the small First and the 53-foot Admiral. And so in 2019 the studies for a 36 footer was launched with Sam Manuard. Modern lines, relatively light and planing, sleep on board but laid out in a sober way, the First 36 revives the best dual purpose boats in the history of the yard.
Developed jointly with Seascape in Slovenia, where it is built, it uses technical solutions that would not be possible on a large production line: sandwich bulkheads, infusion, grafting of the structure with re-lamination, the 36-footer is built like a racing sailboat in its own right, but its versatility makes it a very attractive object. And the market responds favourably because after six months after the launch a full two years worth of orders have already been placed!
For the First 44, which will have its world premiere in September at the Cannes Yachting Festival (September 6-11), the same logic prevails, designed by the same architectural duo as the 53-footer, it will be built in a dedicated factory in Poiré-sur-Vie, in the Vendée, by a small team of around twenty people. It is a fast cruising boat more than a regatta machine, it is available in several deck plan versions and with rigging to adapt to multiple programs. As an option owners can choose ballast that eliminate crew weight on the rail. “We are aiming for around thirty boats a year. 45 feet is the premium size in a market which we have neglected for too long and the expectation is high”, concludes Yann Masselot.
45 years on the story of the First continues…….
Photo: Ana Šutej