New First 44 “Lenny” will race in the 2023 Transpac
from California to Hawaii
The latest performance cruiser sailboat of the BENETEAU FIRST line, will race in the 2023 Transpac with a seasoned crew before embarking on a Pacific crossing to Australia and entering the Sydney-Hobart Race.
The story of the FIRST 44 begins first and foremost with a visionary. In 1976, François Chalain, who had just joined the Groupe Beneteau suggested to the company’s young president, Annette Roux, that they buy the molds of the Impensable, winner of the 1973 Half Ton Cup. The Vendée boatyard switched from wood to polyester in the 1970s, but it only produced recreational fishing boats, not racing boats. Annette Roux readily admits: “Nobody was really waiting for us to go there.”
François Chalain won her over, and, with the designer André Mauric, he modified the keel of Impensable, lengthened the coachroof and gave it a more comfortable fit out. With this, they had just found the right balance between racing and cruising.
Named the FIRST 30, she was displayed in 1977 at the Paris Boat Show. It remained in the yard’s catalogue for five years, selling 824 boats.
Since then, 70 different First models have followed, from 14 to 53 feet. The FIRST 44 is the latest, and launched last September at the Cannes Yachting Festival and earlier this year at the Miami International Boat Show.
In the mid-2010s, the Firsts lost some of their appeal. “The boat market experienced the same shift as the car market,” explains Yann Masselot, Groupe Beneteau’s Chief Brands and Communication Officer. “In the 1980s everyone wanted GTIs. Then came station wagons, 4x4s and SUVs.” But Annette Roux was clear. “I want to see a FIRST line again!” she told Gianguido Girotti, the new product manager she appointed in 2015.
The FIRST 44, designed by Italian architects Roberto Biscontini and Lorenzo Argento, the same duo who designed the 53-footer, is a real break from the regatta boats currently on the market.
She is built in a dedicated factory in Poiré-sur-Vie, in Vendée, by a small team of around twenty people. It is a fast-cruising boat more than a regatta racer, and is available in several deck plan versions, with rigging tailored to a range of programs.
As an option, owners can choose ballasts that eliminate the need for crew rialto lean out.
45 years on, the story of the First continues with the First 44.
"Lenny", named after the late Leonard “Lenny” Shabes, Chairman of the American Sailing Association and a great friend of the Naos Yachts team, arrived in Marina del Rey, CA early April. The work to commission her started right away in the adjacent Boatyard. The Naos Yachts team and their counterpart at the Boatyard affixed the keel, painted the hull, and started working on wiring the boat; all work typically done for every new boat delivered at Naos Yachts. Whether the boat owner wants to race, fish or cruise, commissioning is the most important step.
On April 26, the boat was launched, the mast was steeped, and she was driven to her temporary slip where the commissioning and rigging will continue for a few weeks.
Lenny’s navigation program makes commissioning the boat different from the usual preparation work. She will first enter a legendary race, the Transpac, that spans from the Los Angeles coast to Honolulu, HI.
Lenny will then be prepped for a Pacific crossing, a more leisurely paced trek. The sails and rigging will need to be changed over to a cruising configuration in Hawaii. New crew members will join the boat and start on their adventure in early September with an arrival in Nouméa, New Caledonia scheduled for October, just in time to attend the local Boat Show in partnership with the local BENETEAU dealership.
Lenny will then depart for Sydney, Australia where she will undergo yet another reconfiguration into a race boat to enter another legendary race, the Sydney-Hobart, in December 2023.
Published on 08.05.2023