Beneteau designed the Sense 55 to appeal to a wide range of boaters -- not just sailors -- who would like to do serious cruising as well as partake in local club activities in a large and elegant yacht. We think the Sense 55 should appeal to baby boomers who have enjoyed 30 to 40 years of sailing but are thinking that it is now time to switch to power. She is also designed to attract powerboaters who would like the low operating costs and low maintenance requirements of a sailboat – without giving up their creature comforts.By building in easy sail-handling, simple systems, and a joystick docking control system, boaters can have the confidence of being able to single-hand the Sense 55 if need be...or, lavishly entertain a large party.
She's An Exciting Breed
Sailboat design has been going through a major revolution since the late eighties, in large part because of the innovating thinking at Beneteau. Beneteau's hull shapes, interiors and on-deck layouts are nothing like sailboats were when I was a kid. This is not your father’s sailboat…With the Sense 55 Beneteau's designers have virtually eliminated all of the hard chores of sailing and effectively eliminated most of the objections people might have to owning a large sailboat. By making the boat beamy she has the room of a powerboat. By putting lots of hatches and windows in her topsides she is bright and airy below. And most importantly, by not trying to squeeze out every last knot of speed possible under sail, her owners do not have to struggle with large, unruly sails -- which is the biggest objection most older boaters have with sailing.
The main focus of any sailboat is its cockpit. That is not only where the steering and line handling takes place, but it is also where a family and guests want to enjoy their day on the water. The cockpit should be a comfortable place to sit -- or lounge -- to experience the thrill of sailing and the Sense 55 is about as comfortable as it gets.
The deck and seats are covered in teak. This standard teak treatment extends out onto the integral swim platform which is another focal point of the boat. The transom retracts into her hull which means there is nothing to climb over to reach the swim platform and it becomes one with the cockpit. Our test boat had the optional powered cockpit table which moves up for dining, down to be a cocktail table, and even further down to provide a platform for cushions to make a huge and luxurious lounging area. The standard table goes the same places, only manually.
The Sense 55 comes standard with two wheels and two binnacles each with a large compass. Two wheels provide more comfort and better visibility no matter if the skipper likes to sail from windward or leeward. And a companion can sit in the opposite forward-facing seat (with comfortable seatback cushions) to help with piloting and stay part of the action.
No Helm Hogs Here.
Because the bench seats are so wide behind each wheel two adults (or one adult and two children) can sit behind each of them. This is an ideal place to teach someone how to sail. It is also a way to let guests enjoy steering while the skipper keeps an eye on things from the other helm.When at dock or at anchor, the cockpit can be converted into a huge open deck for sun bathing or a cocktail party. This is made possible by a drop-transom and lift-away helm seats. A five-step swim ladder and a cockpit shower makes the stern of the Sense 55 nothing short of a moveable teak beach.
The Composite Arch and Dodger
Every sailboat that does any serious cruising should have a dodger and the Sense 55 has an optional one that has been carefully designed for the boat. It is supported by a standard composite arch which serves several other purposes as well. The main sheet blocks are affixed to the top and below it are housed cockpit lights and two stereo speakers. By having the main sheet blocks on top of the arch rather than on the coach roof or in the cockpit several potential problems are solved. When tacking the blocks and sheets are kept out of the cockpit and away from everything, which eliminates something to trip over. The mainsheet is led to the base of the mast and then back through the channels under the deck to the starboard brace of cam cleats and the self-tailing winch.
Important Cockpit “Lockers”
By carrying most of the beam of the Sense 55 back to the transom, its designers have created not only a huge cockpit, but also two very large compartments below the seating, coamings and side decks. In traditional cruiser/racers of this size the space is used for cramped cabins for the owner and navigator. In the Sense 55 the space is used for critical storage. Access is under the cockpit seats.
To starboard is the sail locker. Since most owners’ do not need anything more than a small, emergency back-up headsail, most of the room in this locker is free to use for other purposes. One function is to give access to the starboard side of the engine which sits on the centerline just below the cockpit deck. The second is to store the cushions for the cockpit. A third might be to house a rolled up inflatable used as the yacht’s tender. It’s large enough for a bicycle or two. In all respects, this is the ship’s lazerette.
To port is an equally large compartment that as an option can be fitted with a single berth. A hinged plexiglass window has been thoughtfully placed under the lip of the cockpit seat to provide ambient light and air into this space. In addition there is an opening portlight. If this space is not used for crew, then it provides even more storage for water toys, gear and optional equipment.
Let There Be Light.
Going down below was a new experience for an old sailor like me. On conventional sailboats one would normally have a long climb down into a dark cavern. On the Sense 55, it’s just three easy steps down to a huge, bright salon. What a breath of fresh air!
Leather covered hand rails flank the companionway. Once “below” it seemed as if I was surrounded by glass. There are five hatches in the 6'6" (1.98 m) overhead, long windows in the sides of the coach roof port and starboard, and there are even large windows in the aft bulkhead facing the cockpit with opening portlights. (What a great place for windows on a sailboat -- the crew below can easily see what is going on in the cockpit and vice versa.)
Innovative glass panels on the top of the salon’s forward bulkheads, port and starboard, allow natural light into the salon and galley from the guest staterooms forward. In the hull side there is a large portlight, port and starboard, letting in even more light and allowing seated guests to see outside. Light comes in from five of the six sides of the salon and galley.
Adding to the open, bright effect is the Fruitwood Alpi joinery, lacquered white cabinets, and the light-colored vinyl coverings on bulkheads and the overhead. The cabin sole is covered in a light oak wood laminate. In short there are no dark woods or fabrics to soak up light, rather every surface reflects it. There is never enough storage space on any boat no matter how large, but Beneteau has worked hard to provide access to every bit of space possible. All bulkheads have cabinets, and even little spaces have sliding doors so that small items can be stowed. Opening portlights in the windows on three sides let a breeze in as do the overhead hatches which all have screens.
The U-shaped settee to port seats four or five people. The table has a high-low adjustment as standard. Across the aisle is an island for the galley which also contains a fold-out bench seat for dining. With this seat sprung open six people can be comfortably seated for dinner. In the lowest position it makes a platform for a filler cushion turning this settee into another double bed. (Which means four couples have berths in a pinch.) Our test vessel had the optional powered table which moved up and down at the touch of a button.
Let There Be A Galley.
The ship's chef will appreciate the 8' (2.4 m) long galley counter stretching along the starboard side of the salon, plus nearly 3' (.9 m) of working counter along the aft bulkhead. Add in the 3'6" (1.06 m) of counter space on the "island" amidships and the galley with covers on the stove top has a total of over 14' (4.26 m) of linear working counter space.
The galley comes standard with a two burner gas cook top and oven below. With the addition of an optional generator an electric stove top and oven can be installed. Forward are two rectangular sinks, which are a Beneteau signature feature. One has an optional garbage disposal. The counter top is made of a special resin material that has an attractive grey color. Overhead is indirect LED lighting behind the cupboards. There are places for both an optional dishwasher and microwave.
Designed for Sailing.
By laying out the galley this way instead of a more traditional U-shape, two or even three people can work at the same time on food prep or clean-up. This is an important feature of this boat both for entertaining and for cruising. The island has been carefully placed opposite the stove top and oven so when on starboard tack the cook will have support. This is a feature not possible with a conventional U-shaped galley which typically can only handle one cook at a time.
Forward Stateroom – The Master.
There is a long passageway with headroom that we measured at 6’8” (2.03 m) from the salon to the forward cabin. Here we find a diamond-shaped double bed nestled in the bow. Because the stem of the Sense 55 is nearly plumb there are no long overhangs forward that waste interior space. Headroom is 6’4”(1.94 m). Large portlights bring in light as does the overhead opening hatch. There are two large storage drawers under the bed and there is even a shoe locker under the two hanging lockers. The widest part of the bed is 5’7” (1.7 m), the narrowest is at the foot where it is 3’10” (1.17 m) and it is 6’8” (2.03 m) from head to foot.
To port is a desk/vanity covered in optional leather. A seat comes standard, something that will prove handy when putting on shoes and socks. Aft is a split head which couples like because it permits them both to get ready at the same time. To port is a good-sized shower stall with 6'4” (1.97 m) headroom. To starboard is the water closet with toilet and sink.
Just forward of the salon and galley are port and starboard guest staterooms with en suite heads. These cabins are virtually identical. Both are entered through pocket doors that save room, by requiring no deck space to open. Both have 6’6” (1.97 m) head room, both have large portlights and opening hatches overhead. The heads have a toilet, sink, and faucet that doubles as a shower wand for the wet head.
These staterooms have double beds that are 6’7” (2 m) long, 5’1” (1.56 m) wide at the head and 3’3” (1 m) wide at the foot. There is a single hanging locker, storage under the bed and cubbies in each of these staterooms.
These staterooms are obviously a bit tight, but that is because of the double beds. Every boat is a compromise, and this is that place on the Sense 55 for one – but it is the preferred sleeping arrangement of most cruising couples who plan to be on the hook by night fall. Nevertheless the cabins are comfortable – and private. The most important thing is that Beneteau was able to fit three en suite staterooms in a 55’ sailboat.
“Dock & Go”
When it comes to getting underway in the Sense 55, she’s yet again, not your father’s sailboat. The 55 I tested had the optional Yanmar “Dock & Go” joystick and software. The Yanmar "Dock & Go" propulsion system connects a diesel pod drive unit with a bow thruster through a black box and it’s all controlled by a joystick. The “dock committee” isn’t going to like this little option because it eliminates those panicked docking situations that keep them amused when the fleet is returning to their slips. With "Dock & Go" skippers can make the boat go sideways, turn in its own length, and thread through tight marinas and into narrow slips. I think it is the best thing to hit the sailing world since the invention of the roller-furling jib.
Once underway, the next step is to get her sailing. Our test boat was equipped with the standard full-batten mainsail with lazy jacks and a roller furling headsail with 105% overlap. The Sense 55 is intended to be sailed with this rig and a large genoa will probably not make her go much faster in anything other than very light winds. (In which case most sailors use their engine in any case, particularly when going to windward.) An asymmetrical spinnaker is an option and the boat is rigged for a spinnaker pole and topping lift. There is a tang on the stem for the tack. I suspect that most Sense 55 owners will not go with the spinnaker unless they do club racing.
Standard deck hardware includes two H60.2 STC genoa self-tailing winches within easy reach of either helm and two general purpose self-tailing winches (H46.2 STC to starboard, H50.2 STC to port) mounted forward on the combing for halyards and other controls. All lines and halyards are led back to the cockpit to cam cleats except the topping lift. This set-up means that only one crew is needed. (And he could be the skipper!) Because the winches are self-tailing and because the halyards are run back to the cockpit one person can manage all of the string pulling. This is all standard on the 55. The optional equipment we had on the test boat included four powered self-tailing winches, all with two buttons for two speeds – fast and slow. With this equipment the mainsail could be raised and trimmed, and the headsail could be unfurled and sheeted home by the touch of a button. Almost anyone can do it.
Beneteau offers two different keels for the Sense 55: the "deep draft" one draws 7'10" (2.39 m) and weighs 10,803 lbs. (4,900 kgs.); and the "shallow draft" one draws 6'1" (1.85 m) and weighs 12,125 lbs. (5,500 kgs.). Since we were sailing on the Chesapeake Bay it is no surprise that our boat was fitted with the "shallow draft" keel. On test day the water was flat and the winds started off very light. Thankfully as the day progressed the breeze slowly built up until we had about 10 to 13 knots of true wind. She sailed along at a respectable 6 to 7 knots when we were on a beam reach to close reach. But when we hardened up she picked up speed, hitting 9 knots at one point when close-hauled and the wind freshened.
As seen in the photos and our video her angle of heel when beating to windward was not at all excessive and she was quite comfortable on all points of sail. Could I have made her go faster? Sure. There is no substitute for spending lots of time on a boat getting to know her, and this was my first time on the boat. Overall, I was quite happy with her performance on our test day.
We have all met people who as guests on boats don’t like much heel, and others who are not happy until the rail is awash. The Sense 55 was designed to perform best when heeling about 10 to 12-degrees, and that is where she should be sailed. This is also close to the edge where she is most comfortable from the standpoint of guests aboard except the most salty. On the other hand, her twin rudders assure that steering is never compromised even by excessive angles of heel.
I found her to be a pleasure under motor, which is the way a lot of cruising sailors get around in the light stuff anyway. And in a fresh breeze dead to windward it is nice to know that she has a 75-hp diesel engine and a three-bladed prop to drive into wind and waves. Under full power I recorded 10 knots wide open throttle which is slightly beyond her theoretical hull speed. We did not measure her fuel burn. As mentioned above, depending on conditions, I would run her at about 8 knots under power which should be fairly efficient. She carries 110 gallons (415 L) of fuel and an optional 110 gallon (415 L) fuel tank is available.
Going from the cockpit forward there are the hand holds on the aft edge of the dodger arch to help one to the side deck. Once there, the deck forward is as clean and uncluttered as any. Stainless steel hand holds are recessed into the outboard edge of the coach roof nearly until it reaches the waist of the vessel. All halyards, the topping lift, pole controls, down haul and reefing lines are expertly directed under the deck in dedicated tubes that emerge to a row of labeled cam cleats forward of the self-tailing winches. All hatches are in-set flush with the deck. In other words there is virtually nothing to trip over or on which to stub a toe.
Outboard there is a teak toe rail the length of the boat and a double stainless steel lifeline that runs to the bow pulpit. About the only things protruding from the deck are the block for the jib sheet lead and track for the optional self-tending jib forward of the mast.
At the Bow
At the stem there is an anchor davit with twin rollers for two anchors. Our boat was fitted with one plow anchor and its chain was run back to a standard 1500 W windlass with chain pipe. Abaft the windlass is a sizable hatch which opens with a gas-assisted strut. Below is a stainless steel ladder and locker that is large enough for a crewman to work. This is an important compartment because it is large enough to house fenders, lines and the optional asymmetrical spinnaker. Most important it provides access to the chain locker to sort out any tangles.
Her masthead is 78’5” (23.91 m) high, creating a high-aspect ratio, which is one of the factors contributing to her good up-wind performance with a 105% headsail and a fully-battened main. The mast is stepped on deck which eliminates problems of leaks below to say nothing of the room lost. It is supported by twin spreaders, a bridle backstay and conventional standing wire rigging which is tightened by open turnbuckles. Upper and lower shrouds attached together to chainplates at the rail. A forestay and chainplate is optional for those who might want to rig a staysail.
The boom is 20'10” (6.35 m) long and comes equipped with lazy jacks and a lazy bag that takes virtually all of the work out of dousing the mainsail and packing it away. An optional roller-furling main in the mast is available and makes handling the main even easier; however, this is another compromise of ease over speed and one I’m not sure I would make. I like supporting the main on the foot and I like the full battens which can't be used with a furling mainsail. There is an aluminum boom vang, which like virtually everything about this rig, is controlled from the cockpit.
The Sense 55 displaces 40,918 lbs. (18,560 kgs.) when light. Her stability comes not only from the weight and depth of her cast iron keels, but also from the tremendous form stability she gets from her considerable beam and canoe hull shape. This is why Beneteau is able to offer the 55 with a “shallow draft” keel that draws 6’1” (1.85 m) and weighs 12,125 lbs. (5,500 kgs.) That makes cruising in many places around the world – such as the eastern Baltic, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Bahamas – easier. (The deep keel version draws 7’10” (2.39 m) and weighs 10,803 lbs. (4,900 kgs.)
Because of her robust beam and because nearly all of it is carried right back to the transom, the Sense 55 has two moderately deep rudders canted outward from her buttocks, port and starboard, rather than one very deep rudder on the centerline. One of the rudders is able to stay fully submerged at even the most extreme angles of heel. For years ocean racing sailboats have proven the desirability of this approach. An added advantage is better controllability at low speeds under power.
The Disappearing Companionway Hatch
Push Button Sailing
Sailors have also benefited from advances in headsail design for cruising boats over the years. Gone are the days of giant genoas, overlapping the mast, covering 150% of the fore triangle. Across the board, sails are easier to handle, but the Sense 55 has taken full advantage of the available design trends and equipment to make it even easier. On our test boat was a 105% headsail on a roller-furling drum. This jib is 845 sq. ft. (78.5 sq. m).
The mainsail on our test boat had a slightly rounded leech and kept a productive sail shape throughout our test thanks to the full battens. When we doused the main, lazy jacks caught the sail and it fell easily into the lazy bag except for the last few feet of the head. Integral sail ties on the lazy bag made securing it an easy one-person job. The sail area of the main is 796 sq. ft. (74 sq. m).
From out on deck, or down below; underway or at anchor, the Beneteau Sense 55 has something for everybody. Beneteau has the experience and expertise – along with brilliant business savvy – to add a lot of value to the boats it builds. Traditional-minded old salts might not understand the utility and functional beauty of the Sense 55, but I invite them to look long and hard and perhaps the light bulb will go on.As far as how far to go with the options, it is simply a matter of matching the intended use and geography to the option list. I personally would recommend going with power winches, the “Dock & Go” joystick, autopilot, and chartplotters. These four options take the stress and work out of boat handling, and allow anyone with even a minimum amount of experience to easily handle this 55-footer.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Beneteau Sense 55 (2014-) is 9.1 Knots.
- Tested power is 1 x 75-hp Yanmar POD 120 Diesel.
Standard and Optional Features
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|
Boats More Than 30 Feet
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