How did this really come about? Why didn't anyone think of this before? Well, we can tell you that it wasn't easy. And it certainly took a long time. So if you want to know how it all happened, here's a look behind the curtains – the unusual story of a four-year process that was not only riddled by covid and the delivery crisis but also had an extra twist: Facing the challenge of merging two very different cultures. Maybe the learning of it all is that sometimes a long and winding road is what it takes to create something truly remarkable.
First 36: The genesis of a new creature
As soon as the new First 36 started hitting the boat shows last year, it was clear that something extraordinary had happened. Then, after years of work behind the curtains, things started moving fast. Already now, just over a year after the launch, the latest new generation, First has become one of the most awarded boats in the industry.
A future classic?
According to rumours, this could easily become a future classic – the start of a new trend: A good-looking GT model with extra gear and added fun factor – so easy to handle that anyone can do it right out of the box. And yet with a modern, comfortable living space below deck, comparable to a substantially bigger cruising boat from previous generations.
A long and winding road
Reinventing the First range
Let's roll back to the Annapolis Boat Show in 2018. In the back room one afternoon, a conversation took place between the two founders of Seascape, Kristian Hajnšek and Andraž Mihelin, and two decision makers from Beneteau, Gianguido Girotti and Damien Jacob.
When talking about it today, Damien Jacob remembers the situation clearly: "From Beneteau's side, we had already wanted to reinvent the First range for some time", he says. "For the bigger boats, we felt confident that we already had the right team in place. But for the smaller boats, we knew that the Seascape guys had done great things and that they had the necessary edge to do it."
A spot for a new 36
"Beneteau already had a remarkable designer working on the new generation", says Jacob, "but on the other hand, Seascape had so far a very successful adventure with Sam Manuard – so we decided to move forward with him. In a way, this was the first step in merging forces. The idea was to start the range with a big boat – this is what later became the First 53. We then wanted to make sure it was possible to scale it down and use much of the design later in the smaller models. We also made an effort to target each model to a specific market, so there would be no overlaps between the models. And in this plan, there was a spot for a 36: A sporty boat with a little less focus on comfort than in the bigger boats – and more focus on performance."
"This turned out to be a long process because it was not routine for any of us. In Beneteau, we usually work within our own team, and it's a clear process. Here it was more tricky because we were two teams. One an iconic brand with a 45-year heritage, highly design-driven and with deep knowledge of mass production – and tending to a worldwide network of dealers and customers. The other is an innovative and agile team with a lot of specialized knowledge, especially on composite construction in lightweight performance boats."
The biggest asset
"So the task was to find the right balance between the two teams and find the route to the best product. It's never an easy process, but for me, this was the biggest asset of the project: We had a very wide and knowledgeable team. Of course, it was difficult to synchronize everybody. But in the end, we had a design that we were all really happy with."
It had to be a light boat
"Right from the beginning, we said we wanted a light boat. We wanted to bring the thrill of a planing hull without compromising comfort. We wanted to make a boat where anyone that stepped on it, without fine-tuning or special knowledge, could have fun handling the boat. And we understood that this comes with a light boat."
"I clearly remember the first time I sailed the 36 myself", Jacob says. "We had 20-25 knots of wind, three people on board, two of them on the boat for the first time. We put up the sails and instantly did nine knots without even starting to discover the boat. And as soon as we started planing on the waves, we did 12-16 knots, jib and mainsail only. It was instant fun! We didn't need the perfect sail trim, we didn't need the perfect crew, it was really just pointing the bow in the direction we wanted to go. So I can say for sure that we really made it happen. Looking back, I can tell you it was quite an adventure with the 36. For sure, there were times with friction and frustration between us. But I am very happy to have made this journey with Andraz and his team."
How to unlock the potential
From the Seascape side, Andraz Mihelin is instantly ignited when asked about the four-year process of creating the First 36.
"Normally, it doesn't take four years to develop a new model", he laughs. "A year is more the norm, I would say. But as Damien says, we had two very different entities where we had to build trust and a working relationship. When the idea came up in 2018, Beneteau was working on the First 53. On our side we had our Seacape models, all of them well below 30 foot. But when the idea of a 36 came up, sitting right in the middle, we had to cooperate. We had to unlock the potential that was hidden in having two organizations that both were really strong in what they were doing – but in very different ways."
A wider public
"We all wanted to create a new generation of the legendary First line", Mihelin explains. "That was the brief: To reinvent First. This meant that the new boat had to appeal to a wider public than we, from our Seascape lineage, was used to. It had to be a good-looking, timelessly designed mainstream boat with nice, comfortable amenities below deck. It had to be priced in the range you would expect for a 36-foot First. And it had to come with extraordinary sailing performance."
Lighter but reasonably priced
"The last part was really the challenge. Because you can easily make a very fast boat with nice cruising facilities, but it will become very expensive. So it was when we came down to production that we met the real challenge. We knew what weight meant for sailing performance, and we really wanted to show the world that we could do something no one else had done in a production boat: To shave so much weight off the boat that it would deliver true planing experience, with no effort, with full cruising comfort – and still keep it within the price bracket."
We could not have done it without each other
"So we spent a lot of time, money and energy working with exactly this piece of the puzzle. And we hired the best people in the world – I'm not afraid to say that, because they really are – to help us with a very clever weight reduction that would still allow us to produce the boat with the necessary cost efficiency. And I must say I'm pretty proud of being part of that process. To do it, we needed Beneteau's heritage, massive production experience and technical know-how, and our specialized dedication and knowledge on weight reduction and high-performance sailing. Also, I should mention that it's not enough to hire the best designers and structural engineers in the business to be successful in a project like this. They have to share common values with the rest of the team – in this case, both teams – which is very rare. So, if I had to point out one key magic ingredient for the success of the 36, it would be the fantastic relationships we built between team members around an idea of an ultimate sailing boat for enjoying the wind and the sea.
Now, with all the awards coming in and the boat receiving such a warm welcome, it feels like finally edging the football over the white line between the goal posts after a long and hard fight back and forth on the lawn. Of course, the game is not over. But for sure, we scored the first goal."
Already now, just over a year after the launch, the latest new generation First has become one of the most awarded boats in the industry.
It's never an easy process, but for me, this was the project's biggest asset: We had a very wide and knowledgeable team.
Published on 07.04.2023