Many readers will be familiar with the Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 411 - one of the French builder's success stories over the past decade. A popular choice for bareboat charter fleets, the 411 fleet has grown to some 1200 boats over seven years.
Now it has been updated by the new Oceanis Clipper 423, which incorporates basically the same three-cabin interior in a new hull design by Groupe Finot. There is also a two-cabin owners' interior, but the three-cabin version is sure to be the more popular, and comes with the option of two or three bathrooms.
The 423 fits between the 393 and 473 models in Beneteau's latest Oceanis line up. All three illustrate a commitment by Beneteau to lift the sailing performance of its cruising/charter yacht range, reducing the distance between the new Oceanis models and the French builder's First range of racer/cruisers.
The 411 was never the fastest craft in light airs or the best-performing to windward; the new 423 has a deeper keel than its predecessor, and other exterior features to improve handling and pace.
Meanwhile, refinements such as the inclusion of deck saloon-style windows over the saloon brighten the 423's interior, which is well suited to cruising with a family or up to three couples onboard.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
Because the Oceanis Clipper 423 and the larger 473 are both designed by Groupe Finot, it comes as no surprise that they share design features - one of which is the pronounced upsweep of the sheerline at the bow.
The hull is full and holds its beam down to the waterline, with firm bilges and rounded underwater sections. The moderately-raked overhangs and the topside portholes add a cruising look to the overall styling, which also includes the stepped coachhouse seen on the 473.
The keel is cast iron, carries a flattened bulb at the base and draws 2.10m, while the rudder is a high aspect blade.
The hull is solid GRP, incorporating woven rovings and chopped strand mat, plus vinylester and isopthalic resins in outer layers for protection against osmosis. Frames and an inner grid moulding are bonded and laminated into the hull to support keel and rig loads, and provide a base for the joinery and inclusions.
The deck is a GRP/balsa sandwich, mechanically fastened, glued and laminated to the hull.
The mast is deck-stepped and is supported by twin swept-back spreaders, forestay, cap shrouds, intermediates, fore and aft lowers and twin backstays. The mast and boom are anodised aluminium and the masthead rig includes a roller-furling headsail and a semi-full battened mainsail with lazy jacks and boom bag.
The owner of the test boat Lady Elizabeth II - the first to arrive in Australia - opted to fit a fully-battened mainsail (a factory 'performance' option), set up on roller-bearing mast slides to reduce the load when hoisting and lowering the sail.
Another option selected for the test boat was laid-teak side and foredecks. The teak-slatted cockpit seats and transom boarding platform are included in the standard and quite extensive Clipper package, which also includes an electric windlass at the bow.
As on the 411, the 423's forward cockpit area is divided by a sturdy central table. The fibreglass table moulding is on top of a stainless-steel table pedestal with footrest, and there are varnished-timber drop leaves, which can be unclipped and stowed away in a cockpit locker when not required.
The steering wheel binnacle is a sturdy fibreglass moulding with mounting space for instruments and compass, and a stainless-steel grabrail on top. There is comfortable seating for the steerer on the cockpit coamings or across the aft bench seat, which has a neat new system to drop the centre panel onto the floor to allow easy access to and from the boarding platform.
Controls for the Yanmar 55hp marine diesel engine are in a protected recess on the starboard side of the cockpit, with the throttle close to hand on the binnacle. There is a cockpit shower and plenty of locker space within the seating.
The primary winches, within easy reach of the helm, are upgraded Lewmar 54s. At the aft end of the coachroof are two smaller Lewmar winches (the portside one is an electric-powered optional extra on Lady Elizabeth II) for halyards, control lines and the mainsheet, as the mainsheet traveller is also mounted on the coachhouse.
A sturdy cockpit dodger and separate bimini were factory fitted as optional extras; both appeared to be excellent inclusions, although the bimini still needed to have a clear overhead panel fitted to allow the steerer to see the sails.
Anyone who has previously sailed on a 411 will feel instantly at home below decks on the 423; I know I did, having recently enjoyed a four-day holiday aboard one of the 411s in Sunsail's Hamilton Island-based bareboat charter fleet.
Once again there is the fore and aft galley stretching along the port wall of the saloon, opposite a U-shaped lounge and central bench seat that can comfortably seat six adults around the timber table with dropleaf. There is storage under the seats and in shelves and cabinets above.
The galley has a substantial (175lt) top-loading electric fridge at the aft end, a gimballed two-burner stove and oven, twin sinks and lots of storage cupboards, drawers and shelves. There is pressurised hot/cold water supplied to the galley and the two bathrooms - the larger of which is the ensuite to the master cabin in the bow.
This cabin has an island double berth (1.90 x 1.45m) at the forward end, great storage in drawers under the bed, a bench seat and hanging locker to port and the ensuite to starboard. This houses a shower compartment that can be separated from the vanity unit, a hand basin and a marine toilet with a fold-back divider.
The other bathroom is at the aft end of the galley and is adequately sized as a dayhead, although it is on the small side for showering (the hand basin's freshwater nozzle doubles as the shower rose). There are two doors to this bathroom - one from the saloon and the other from the double cabin in the port aft quarter.
Like the starboard-side double cabin opposite, this cabin has a decent-sized berth (2.00m x 1.50m), a bench seat and hanging locker, reading lights and shelving along the hull wall for books, sunglasses and the like.
The companionway opens to full height on gas struts to provide good access to the auxiliary engine. When closed, the companionway is well designed to provide easy and stable access to the cockpit at all angles of heel.
Adjacent to the companionway to starboard is the navigation station, with a fair-sized chart table, moulded-timber nav seat, red reading light for night vision, space for mounting instruments, radios and so on alongside the electrics panel, and good storage shelving.
A radio/CD player with two cockpit speakers is included in the Clipper package, but is improved far beyond the norm for boating sound systems on the test boat (bear in mind that the owner is an audio engineer). Here there is an amplifier inside the navigator's bench seat, four JBL speakers in the cockpit and another four in the cabin. I'm reliably told that Lady Elizabeth II well and truly rocked the marina after the gates had closed on the final night of the Sydney Boat Show.
Headroom throughout the interior is good (2.04m in the saloon, 1.92m at the galley, 1.86m in the forward cabin and 1.95m in the aft cabins). There are plenty of windows and opening hatches, and the addition of the three large overhead windows at the forward end of the saloon makes this a much brighter interior than its predecessor - in spite of the continued use of dark-toned timber veneers.
Adding to the fresh appearance is the use of Alcantara fabric on the saloon seating - an option offered by the French builder.
We had a cracking day for this test sail, with a razor-sharp winter westerly gusting from 15–30kt and blowing the Sydney smog over the horizon. We started off with a reef in the mainsail and the headsail part-furled, and that definitely proved to be the appropriate rig for the day.
We also started off with the bimini out, but soon decided to zip it away (using a very neat system) because we couldn't see the mainsail. The dodger proved very sturdy and an excellent windbreak.
The boat felt extremely willing and eager to surge down the short waves as we surged seawards through Sydney Heads. With the apparent wind angle at 90º, the 423 sat happily on 8kt and hit 9–10kt now and then.
Coming back into the teeth of the breeze, the 423 didn't take much spray over the decks - that high bow must help - and it remained under control even in the strongest gusts. It would have been a different story had we tried to set full sail, but reefed down the 423 did not gripe and the rudder never cavitated and let go even in the strongest gusts - surely a benefit of the deeper keel and rudder.
This is the second Beneteau Oceanis for Lady Elizabeth II's owner. Already the proud owner of a 411 (and yes, it's called Lady Elizabeth), his enjoyment of that boat led him to order the new 423.
I can't speak for his 411, but this particular 423 would have to be one of the best-equipped bareboats of its size sailing around the Whitsundays, when you consider the upgraded sails, sophisticated sound system and so on.
Leaving aside the specific features of the test boat, the new Oceanis Clipper 423 appears to represent a significant step forward for Beneteau - bringing enhanced sailing performance to an already-popular family cruiser and charterboat.
It's hard to imagine how this can't add up to another successful model for the French company.
Improved sailing performance over the previous generation of Oceanis cruisers. Good use of interior space results in a liveable interior for a family, or up to three couples. Updated hull lines and styling produce a good looking cruiser. Brighter saloon than its predecessor.
Aft bathroom is quite small. Dark interior timberwork won't be to everyone's taste. The standard mainsail will not be as good as the one on the test boat.
|Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 423|
|Base Price $398,000 includes Volvo Penta D255 and basic Tridata instrumentation
|Price as tested POA|
|Material: GRP hull, GRP/balsa deck|
|Type: Monohull cruiser|
|Overall length: 13.09m|
|Waterline length: 12.64m|
|Maximum beam: 3.90m|
|Make/model: Yanmar 55hp|
|Mainsail & genoa: 84sqm|
|Supplied by Beneteau Vicsail, Rushcutters Bay (NSW), tel (02) 9327 2088 or visit www.vicsail.com|