After so many years of waiting for the First 36, the First 44 came sooner than I would expect. The First 44 is a good-looking boat, elegant and nicely designed although, like the First 36, with nothing new and a deja vu look, but that is not necessarily bad, even if it does not contribute to creating a brand’s image, a distinctive look for the Firsts.
In fact, it looks a bit like a GrandSoleil and like the GrandSoleil GS 44, the First is offered in two versions, one pointed to cruising, with a simplified rigging, and the other for racing, or for the ones that like to trim perfectly their sails while cruising.
The “racing” version comes with 6 winches and a smallish mainsail traveler, the cruising version comes without a mainsail traveler and only four winches. The “racing” version comes with a bigger bowsprit but contrary to the cruising version it has not an anchor stand and that makes it pretty useless for cruising unless you decide to mount the smaller cruising bowsprit.
Following the modern tendency of sailboats maximized for beam reaching and downwind sailing the First 44 is a beamy boat with a 4.25m beam (GS44 – 4.30) and unlike the GS44 has all beam brought aft. LOA is 14.15m or 14.65 depending on the bowsprit size (GS 44 – 14.32 or 15.01) and 13.15 HL (GS 44 – 13.40).
While the GrandSoleil 44 is truly a 44ft boat, the First 44 is a 43ft sailboat. Depending on the version and keel the First 44 displaces 10300kg or 9800. For the GS they give the same weight for the two versions, 9500kg. It is a mistake or it means that the racing version, with more draft and the same ballast, is much more powerful.
Regarding draft and ballast, the First 44 has a standard T cast iron keel with 3400kg ballast and 2.15m draft, an optional one with 2.60m draft (cast iron/ lead) with 3000kg ballast.
The standard GS keel is already a cast iron/ lead keel with 2,60m draft, it has an optional 2.80m draft keel and an optimized ORC keel. The given ballast is 3000kg and they don’t say if it is the same in all the keels.
Comparing both standard versions we can see that the GS is a more powerful sailboat. For similar hull stability, the First has a bigger B/D (33.0%), compared to the GS 31.6%, but if we consider that the First keel is a cast iron one with a 2.15m draft and the GS’s is 2.60m with a lead torpedo, the gain in efficiency will clearly surpass the difference in B/D.
And we can see that in what regards sail area, that is about the same for the two boats, although the GS is lighter. The standard First has 106m2 (race version 121) and the standard GS has standard 106m2 and optionally 123m2. if we consider the standard versions this will give the First a 22.8 SA/D and the GS a 24.0 SA/D. On the racing versions, the First has a 26.9 SA/D and the GS a 27.7 SA/D displacement.
GS44, two consecutive times World ORC champion
In what concerns racing the First 44 will be an interesting club racer but at a high level, I doubt the First has a fair chance against the GS44 (with similar quality crews). The GS 44 won this year the second consecutive World ORC championship and has lots of victories in smaller events. hard to beat that.
Probably due to the transom design, the GS is faster upwind and with weak winds. Maybe the First will be easier downwind with stronger winds, with a small crew, but this is assuming both hulls have maximized their potential with those hull characteristics and that is impossible to know. If so the First 44 can have an interesting performance in offshore races, but we would only know when we see comparative racing results, with the boat being sailed with a top crew.
But all this regards racing. In regards to cruising even if the GS has probably an insignificant very narrow speed advantage, the two boats are very close in performance and things like the interior layout, design, and overall quality versus price will be more important.
For the ones who want a performance cruiser with fully trimmable sails, the possibility of having a car for the mainsail is also important but I don’t know if that will be possible with the First because having a car with that type of traveler implies a different running rigging and 6 winches and while on the GrandSoleil the boats are completely interchangeable and you can order your own version with options from the two boats, I don’t know if that it is possible with the First.
Choosing one winch set up (4 or 6) and running rigging for cruising is a question of taste but the 4 winches at the back have their own disadvantages, with many stoppers for two winches and the winches very close, making it difficult to operate them. On the “Yacht de” magazine test, the test sailor complains that the winches are too close on the First, and that can lead to problems with the lines getting entangled.
On the version with the 6 winches you have access to the ones aft, if you seat forward to the wheel, and you can have optionally electric winches for the other two. That will allow you to operate them from anywhere in the sailboat.
Another difference between the First and the GS is the rudder option: a deep single rudder for the GS44 and a two-rudder setup for the First 44.
Both have advantages and disadvantages, offering the single rudder a marginally better performance in traditional regattas, a better feeling, and considerably better maneuverability on the marina, while the two-rudder system offers slightly easier control in difficult offshore conditions, better reliability regarding rudder accidents that result in breakage, and a considerable advantage in what regards med mooring.
|GS44 performance cruiser|
The interior layout is very similar in the distribution but on the First instead of having it aligned they choose to have it following the boat hull. That creates a lot of angles. It looks odd to me but I want to have a look at the boat before saying more. In regards to style and functionality, I don’t really like any of the standard interiors but typically the GS has better materials and finish. Again, I will need to see the boat to have a definitive opinion and I hope to do so at Dusseldorf.
Some things I can already tell: both have small galleys, the one in the GS44 has an open cabinet that serves for nothing (it seems they don’t know sailboats heel). It can probably be closed….at a cost. The GS has, in the saloon and cabins, a shelf that is protected by a low and not continuous metal work, which can be nice to the eyes but does not serve the purpose of keeping the things stored there from falling when the boat is heeled.
Above First 44, below GS 44
On the First the option of following the hull lines ends up allowing for more saloon volume but less storage space, having very shallow cabinets and even less storage space in the saloon/galley area than the GS, with a smaller chart table.
Most of all, the GS44 has as an option the possibility of having a beautiful and great saloon, full of cabinets, with plenty of storage and that explains why the standard version galley and saloon seem a bit odd.
They are so because they were designed taking into consideration this expansion, that is impossible on the First.
What seems to leave no doubt is the better building quality of the GS which uses Vinilester resin, airex foam on the hull sandwich and carbon in stressed areas while the First uses a cheaper balsa core on the sandwich.
Also, Beneteau does not mention the resin they use and that probably means that it is a polyester one. On the GS the bulkheads and the keel structure are laminated and bonded while on the First they are only bonded.
Many things that in the past were standard in a cruiser-racer, like 6 winches, and traveler for the mainsail, are today expensive extras (when available as options), so, to really know what is the difference in price between the two boats, you have to make a simulation with both boats, with the equipment you want, to see if the difference in price justifies having the First 44 over the GS 44.
To understand how expensive top sailing hardware is you can look at the difference in price between the First cruising and racing versions. The standard First racing version is a very naked boat, does not include a windlass and has a very small water tankage (200L), but even so it costs at least 10% more than the cruising version, and that does not include carbon spars. If we look at the Oceanis 46.1 price, that has a better cruising interior, we will see that it costs 11% less than the cruising First 44 and 22% less than the First 44 with better sail hardware. That shows you how expensive it is to make good and fast sailboats and explains the differences in price between big brands’ boats and performance cruisers.
Today most cruisers choose to motor, even in perfect sailing conditions, so, the market for good sailing boats is shrinking and the arrival of a new performance cruiser with great sailing ability is to be saluted, even more if it is a model produced by one of the big manufacturers. Beneteau is, among the big ones, the only one that offers such type of sailboat, hopefully, at a lower price than boat builders specialized in this type of boat like GrandSoleil or Italia yachts.
More information regarding the GS44: https://interestingsailboats.blogspot.com/search?q=GS+44