It is the first model of an ambitious new Bénéteau brand: “exaggerated” catamarans, different from all the others, which are quick and fun to sail. They have come to the market to attract mono-hull users, and also those who already use cats but are looking for both excitement and large volumes. Did mission accomplish?
by Luca Sordelli – photo by ®Excess Library – photographer Christophe Launay
A sea test was the chance to discover a new boat. But this time there was something else as well. A day’s sailing to get to know the new brand, how it began, and indeed why it began. I was in the cockpit of the Excess 15, and next to me was Yann Masselot, Managing Director of CNB – Construction Navale Bordeaux, having previously spent 17 years heading Lagoon Yachting. All of which was done inside the big Bénéteau Group family, which not long ago decided to transfer construction of its big single-hull sailing boats from Bordeaux to Monfalcone, and to concentrate the production of all of its catamarans at the CNB facilities.
Excess is a brand that has only just arrived on the market, after a long and intense launch campaign that created great expectation. The advertising slogan is already a big commitment, saying: “Be immoderate”. So, it is asking us to “go too far, be excessive. Even sinful”.
Well, I had never tried out a sinful boat before, and it made me very curious. A smiling Masselot explains: «If you want to understand how we got to Excess, it makes sense to start from the beginning. The first thing to say is that twenty years ago catamarans were only five per cent of the market in terms of sailing boat sales. Now they are fifty per cent». That is indeed very striking, but how did you actually end up with Excess? Yann gets out a notebook and pencil. He draws a diagram: on the x-axis, you have comfort at one end and fun sailing at the other. On the y-axis, you have luxury at one end, and simplicity at the other. Next, you add dots, representing competitors – some more or less direct.
From in-house ones, the Lagoons, to all the others – Fountaine Pajot, Catana, Bavaria, Bali, Outremer and so on… «Ninety per cent of the market is represented here», continues Masselot «And as you can see, there is an uncovered area, one without dots. Down below, and to the right, but not too far from the centre. It is from there that the idea of creating the Excess boat stems. They are boats for people who are keen to go out to sea and enjoy the pleasure of sailing – something that pure cruising catamarans don’t often guarantee – and with simple, but very functional, set-ups. No extreme luxury or exhibitionism. But nothing should be missing, and everything should be in the right place».
All of which is very interesting, but you have to move from theory to practice. A good marketing analysis. But how is an “immoderate” catamaran put together, and how does it sail? The day we found out was one to relish, with perfect conditions. The Bay of Palma, in Mallorca, with the wind between 14 and 22 knots and blowing from the north, so there weren’t many waves.
Excess 15 derives from Bénéteau’s experience with the Lagoons and for the moment shares hulls with similarly-sized boats from that cruising range. But everything else is different: from more aggressive and interesting sides to the central platform and the sail plan.
But why do they use the Lagoon hulls? Wouldn’t it have been better to start out with something that was completely new? «We will get there. The next models will be created from new moulds and the entire Excess production will be done in Bordeaux, but for the moment we have to keep costs down and get the most out of the economies of scale that the group gives us. To position ourselves towards the centre of the diagram, rather than on the sides, you have to keep the end price competitive. For the same reason, we haven’t done anything extreme either with the materials or the construction methods».
But you can really sense the other changes. Excess 15 is the flagship of the range, quite a beast of a boat at nearly fifteen metres long, and as much as eight metres wide. Despite that, it is a pleasure to helm. It has two wheels, placed right in the stern. That means being really close to the sea, and hearing the sound of the wake that we leave behind us – at a stroke, we are doing over nine knots – and it also means having a perfect view of the luff of the fore and mainsails.
The central part of the canopy can actually be opened by hand, which is very simple to do and only needs a few seconds (just the same as in Bénéteau’s Sense range). That is something for real sailors, a nice difference from normal cats, the other dots on the diagram that in 90% of cases only have one steering position, located “upstairs”. Whereas in this case there isn’t even a fly bridge.
I felt the boat nicely in my hands when at the wheel, the tiller rope is made from fabric and is very sensitive and direct. I also liked how the winch positions have been worked out, as I had everything to hand, and could manage everything on my own. It was a real pleasure. Windward (and we are talking about sailing windward in a cat so at around sixty degrees) we were doing around 9.2 knots, with around 16 to 18 knots true wind speed.
Our boat was the Pulse version, so a slightly more aggressive one, with an extra eleven square metres of canvas available, and we already had one reef in the mainsail.
I tried to sail close as possible to the wind and we did 8.5 knots, but you quickly realise that is not the way to do it. It is better to get this cat moving. Bearing away and using the code 0, the average speed stayed high, we were continually doing above nine knots, and the boat felt as if it were on rails.
Even a hardened single-hull fan like me had a lot of fun, and the feeling with this sinful cat was immediate. But what I didn’t like was the blind spot that you have as you look forward, and which is created by the height of the deckhouse: so for example when I was at the helm, from the starboard wheel I was blind to about fifteen degrees, not right in front of me, but slightly to port. It is true that you are not obliged to have the helming position in any one place, you can easily move to one side or even steer from the other wheel. But you have to get used to it and to be alert.
And what about the interior? As a marketing strategy, it is in line with the overall project: simple, essential and functional. “I like to say it is a bit Japanese”, Masselot says. And I think that was the perfect way to put it. There is an embarrassment of choice for the lay-outs, ranging from three up to six cabins. The common denominator is nevertheless the chance to experience the combined cockpit and central saloon as a single, large open space. One that is both inside and out, and close to the sea.
PROJECT: VPLP (naval Architecture) • Patrick le Quément (Exteriors) • Nauta Design (Interiors)
HULL: LOA 14.76m • Lenght 14.31m • Maximum beam 8.03m • Maximum draft 1.4m • Displacement 18,400 kg • Fuel tank volume 520 l • Water tank volume 2 x 240 l • Main sail surface 104.5 m2 • Self-tacking Jib surface 55 m2 • Code 0 surface 117 m2 • Upwind sail area 159.5 m2 • Upwind sail area Pulse Line 171.6 m2
MAIN PROPULSION: 2 x 57 hp Yanmar (2 x 80 hp as optional)
EC CERTIFICATION: CAT A 12
PRICE: starting from 925,730 €, Excl.VAT
(Excess 15, simple and essential – Barchemagazine.com – February 2020)