Under sail, the Beneteau 523 reveals its racing genealogy, making an effortless 8 knots or so in the 12 to 15 knots of breeze we encountered on Chesapeake Bay and showing no inclination to fight the helm. The inboard sheeting, aided by shroud bases in the middle of the side decks, helped the boat tack easily through 90 degrees. Given the wholesome traveler, the full-battened mainsail, and the 7-foot-6-inch draft, a crew intent on making the anchorage by lunchtime would have no problems.
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All of the recent Groupe Finot boats designed for Beneteau have been big-even the small ones-and the biggest yet, the Beneteau 523, is enormous. Likewise, it made a big impression on Cruising World's Boat of the Year judges, who named it Best Full-Size Cruiser for 2006.
In fact, there's so much room below that Beneteau uses it almost wantonly-only two staterooms in 52 feet allows for mighty comfortable living. A three-cabin arrangement is also available for those who wish to share the largesse.
Descending the 523's companionway, you enter a spacious saloon, which might be a daunting prospect when the boat is in a seaway if not for a counter-height island, connected to the overhead by a handy stainless-steel post.
Immediately to starboard is the nav station, facing forward and flanked by the electric panel and space for instruments. Many people no longer mess with big paper charts, but I think the desk could have been slightly bigger-to accommodate those who still rely on paper-without obstructing passage past it. Besides, most people find a desk useful for all sorts of administrative tasks and as a place to secure a laptop computer and its peripherals.
Forward of the nav station is a settee, divided into easy chairs by what at home you'd call an end table. Opposite is the lounge area; it has a couch outboard and a couple of handsome folding dining chairs inboard of the table.
Of course, such a generous facility must be served by an equally well-laid-out galley. Tucked aft of the chart table and under the cockpit, the galley is amply sized, functional, and secure. The cook can toil away in the worst conditions, well wedged between inboard and outboard counters, and with everything loose contained within deep fiddles.
Abovedecks on the 523, Beneteau has applied its long experience with the same precision as below. The foredeck sports a vertical windlass that services twin anchor rollers on the stemhead fitting. The deep chain locker is watertight to the boat, and its hatch is offset so the starboard rode doesn't interfere with its opening. The side decks are clean, with jib-sheet tracks well inboard by the cabin trunk. Beefy mooring cleats are mounted on the teak cap that covers the low bulwark incorporating the hull/deck joint. The mast rails are a welcome detail, though with every conceivable line led to the cockpit, they're almost redundant.
The engine, a 100-horsepower Yanmar, provided ample power, driving the boat at over 8 knots at the suggested 2,800 cruising rpm, but at a higher noise level (83 decibels) than many of the boats the BOTY team looked at. With a conventional shaft and propeller, the Beneteau 523 may be at a slight disadvantage in that respect to boats with smaller engines and saildrive units. A standard bow thruster makes up for any maneuvering tics the conventional prop setup might initiate. Tucked under the companionway-ladder assembly, which hinges up and is supported on air springs, the engine and its accessories are easy to work on.
This cruising boat's cockpit functions well as both work space and living room. Wide, deep-backed seats provide security and support in both roles, and the permanent table provides bracing and a handy repository for loose gear and personal items. With its drop leaves raised, it can field a banquet. A pair of doors across the aft end of the cockpit well open to provide access to the large swim platform in the scoop transom.
Twin steering stations-almost de rigueur on today's broad-beamed boats-let the helmsman see the jib telltales, whether sitting to windward or to leeward, and the low coachroof permits a clear view forward.
LOA 52' 2" (15.89 m.)
LWL 48' 0" (14.63 m.)
Beam 16' 1" (4.90 m.)
Draft 7' 6" (2.30 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 1,342 sq. ft. (124.7 sq. m.)
Ballast 9,680 lb. (4,391 kg.)
Displacement 34,265 lb. (15,575 kg.)
Water 251 gal. (950 l.)
Fuel 119 gal. (450 l.)
Mast Height 72' 0" (21.94 m.)
Engine Yanmar 100-hp. diesel
Designer Groupe Finot
24 Sand Island Access Road
Honolulu, HI 96819