When Beneteau saw an opportunity to add a little thrill to cruising adventures, it repurposed the First Yacht 53 racer it introduced in 2019 and, with a few fashionable changes, reworked her into the new Oceanis Yacht 54. The result is a performance cruiser that sails like a racer, looks like a grande dame and joins the 62 in the French builder’s flagship collection of sailing boats.
Beneteau entrusted Milan-based Roberto Biscontini as naval architect with fellow Italian Lorenzo Argento handling the exterior and interior design, the pair reuniting after working on the First Yacht 53, which has received multiple orders in Asia through Simpson Marine.
Biscontini’s two decades of America’s Cup experience influenced a balanced hull with a carefully positioned centre of buoyancy. The hull is modern and minimalist with a plumb bow, a vertical and open transom, a low coachroof, and a beam that’s carried all the way aft.
The construction combines fibreglass stringers fixed to an aluminium substructure. The hull is cored with balsa to the keel and the infused construction makes the 54-tonne yacht heavier than her racing predecessor but still light for a cruiser of this size.
The aluminium, deck-stepped Sparcraft rig has two versions: standard air draft at 78ft 9in or the performance mast that adds almost 6ft and 33 per cent more sail area.
Sail combinations include a self-tacking jib or 105 per cent genoa – as used on our test boat – and a furling mainsail, although a classic, full-batten main is an option. The sheeting angles are tight and with the composite sprit, you can add a Code 0 or a full spinnaker.
There’s nothing on deck to catch a lazy sheet. Six pop-up wing cleats fold down neatly and the Lewmar windlass is mounted below deck. The bulwarks are high to provide good footing when heeling.
Since the stanchions are mounted on top of these bulwarks, the lifelines are high as befits an offshore vessel. By contrast, the cabinhouse is low, almost more of a suggestion than a real structure, so the deck feels elongated and the forward visibility is exceptional.
There are also two choices of keel: standard at 8ft 2in and shoal at 6ft 7in, which is what our test boat had fitted. Combined with twin rudders, the Oceanis Yacht 54 is beautifully balanced. Once she finds her groove, you can take your hands off the wheel or steer with one finger.
The cockpit is a stunner and superyachts have nothing on Argento’s layout. The social area is ahead of the wheels and out of the way of working crew. Instead of one cockpit table in the centre, there are smaller tables on either side, which allows for a clear path from the stairs to the transom.
Long sunpads on either side of the companionway and forward are great places to relax and sunbathe during the day or watch the stars in the evening.
Twin-angled binnacles hold the wheels and slim dashboards with 12-inch B&G multifunction displays. Engine controls are on top of the binnacle rather than at knee level, which makes docking simpler.
The working cockpit is on a single level and the aft deck provides a great place to observe all the action but still stay out of the way. From here you can walk all the way to the bow with just a step up. It’s a very civilised way to reach the side decks – crawling over the cockpit coaming is a distant memory.
Four Harken winches manage the lines, which are led aft to the helms where the driver can manage them easily while sitting astride the small outboard seat. The aft garage is accessible via a cockpit hatch or when the transom is lowered electrically and can hold an inflated 8ft RIB or a deflated 9ft one.
LAYOUT & ACCOMMODATION
The Oceanis Yacht 54 is a semi-custom build, so you can personalise much of the interior by swapping in equipment like a bottle fridge, dishwasher or generator. You can also tinker with the furniture and add a navigation station in the forward port corner of the saloon.
The layout on our test boat included three cabins and three heads. The alternative layout is to forego the port head and elongate the galley, a good choice for those who want to entertain aboard, although it means both guest cabins sharing a bathroom. A crew cabin can be added in the forepeak.
Below, as on deck, the approach is minimalist, with necessary functionality tucked away discreetly. Beneteau’s Ship Control, a highly customised Schreiber digital switching system, reduces the number of visible switches and controls. Appliances are hidden and the seating is multifaceted so additional people can be accommodated for an elegant dinner.
There are two steps that interrupt otherwise flat flooring. One step down is into the galley and the other is into the master stateroom forward. Here you’ll find a large island berth, a split head and shower, an impressive amount of storage space, plenty of light from the hull windows, and ‘his and hers’ overhead hatches.
Our test boat had the darker walnut finish, while a light oak colour is also available. A detail worthy of mention is the double rail at the companionway that came in handy when we moved in and out of the boat in our gusty conditions.
UNDER SAIL AND POWER
It’s a delight to report that, for once, we had the perfect conditions for a test sail. Warm sun, flat water and a breeze of 15-20 knots allowed us to really see what this yacht could do. In 17 knots of true wind, we made 9.1 knots at 65 degrees apparent wind angle.
When we hoisted the Code 0 and fell off to a beam reach, we topped out at 10.2 knots of boat speed and never reefed. She’s slippery and exhilarating. The one thing an owner will never be with this yacht is bored.
Turning a race boat into a cruising yacht can be tricky. The original is meant to sail fast and heel hard. We were on our ear almost right off the dock. This may appeal to some, but it can be a sporty ride for cruisers used to keeping their gear and bodies in place.
Our boat was fitted with the upgraded 110hp Yanmar turbo diesel and a straight shaft, although standard propulsion is an 80hp Yanmar with saildrive. The larger engine makes this big boat nimble, while the retractable Sidepower bow thruster helps in narrow fairways and tight slips.
Beneteau’s Dock & Go joystick steering system is an option with the 80hp engine, but with just a thruster, she’s quite manoeuvrable and turns on a dime. We motored at 9.2 knots and 3,300 rpm at wide-open throttle, while a more economical cruise can be found at 8.6 knots and 2,400rpm.
Given her racing origins, it’s no surprise that the Oceanis Yacht 54 is an exciting boat that delivers a fast cruise. With the beautifully redesigned cockpit and depowered rig, she’s classy and a slightly tamer option for cruisers who want to arrive everywhere first but in absolute comfort and style.
Note: The original article appeared in Issue 56 of Yacht Style, written by Zuzana Prochazka