By Jack Hornor
Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012
Beneteau has long been one of the industry's most prolific boatbuilders and at times has offered models very close in size and similar in style. Beginning with the 2004 model year the company introduced the Beneteau 323 and discontinued the Beneteau 311 and Beneteau 331 models. The Beneteau 323 is priced and equipped to appeal to buyers looking for a mid-sized boat with a big boat feel.
As are many of Beneteau's models, the 323 was designed by the French design firm Group Finot. At 32' 10" LOA, the 323 is closer to 33 feet than the 32-foot length suggested by her model name, a departure from the manufacturer's more typical practice of a model name that suggests a larger-than-actual size. Viewed from abeam, the "generous freeboard" - a term coined by boatbuilders to convince us it's a good thing - is apparent. Not apparent in the drawing is the equally generous beam of this design. The length-to-beam ratio is more than three and the beam is carried very far aft so that beam at the transom is nearly 85% of the maximum beam. For comparison, the transom beam of a contemporary racer/cruiser would be in the range of 70% of the maximum beam and a classic design would be closer to 50%. This is clearly the trend in most production boats and creates the interior volume necessary for large aft staterooms with the secondary benefit of roomier cockpits. To the designer's credit, they have made good use of radiuses, accent lines, and windows to disguise the exaggerated features, and under sail this is a better looking boat than on paper.One of the difficulties of reviewing newer boats is that they haven't been around along enough to gain a track record or to see how they hold up when put to hard use and that's the case with the Beneteau 323. That said, as a boatbuilder, Beneteau has a long track record. Hulls are solid fiberglass with vinylester resin for outer skin and polyester resin for interior laminates. Laminates are engineered with a variety of fiberglass fabrics for strength, cost control and weight reduction. Beneteau makes maximum use of modular construction techniques with molded hull and deck liners. Hull liners include a grid system of stringers, floors as well as engine and tank supports. And, the inclusion of conduits through the grid system has addressed some of the drawbacks of this construction and improved the ease with which equipment and systems can be added or upgraded. There is still no avoiding the fact that many areas remain inaccessible for routine or periodic inspection with this method of construction.
The Beneteau 323 has a large cockpit that accommodates four adults comfortably, six in a pinch and has a couple of unique features to improve access. First, when not in use, the helm can be rotated clockwise 90 degrees so that the wheel aligns fore and aft rather than amidships, allowing easy passage, and secondly, the helm seat is attached in a way that allows it to be tilted out of the way and for unencumbered assess to the transom boarding platform. Deck hardware is through-bolted with backing plates, all sail controls are led to the cockpit and inboard and outboard genoa tracks are standard equipment. There is a foredeck anchor locker and an anchor roller on the stemhead although retrieving the anchor, over the anchor roller, will result in the anchor banging and damaging the hull due to the nearly plum bow and short roller.
The cabin is open and roomy with a V-berth forward and opposing settees and a centerline drop-leaf table in the main saloon. There is a huge head aft to starboard, a port galley and large double berth tucked under the cockpit. The manufacturer&s brochure shows a double galley sink with no counter space although the actual boats I have seen have a single sink surrounded by a small counter area & too small but better than nothing.
Auxiliary power is provided by an 18-hp Yanmar diesel engine with reasonably good access for service and maintenance.
The sailing performance of the Beneteau 323 is a bit of a mixed blessing. By my calculations, sail area/displacement ratio is 19.6 and displacement/length ratio is 168. With these numbers it is not surprising that the 323 is an excellent light air performer. On the other hand, the ballast is only 26% of total displacement and even though the VCG (vertical center of gravity) is lowered with the modified-bulb keel, it not surprising that she is also reported to be a bit tender. Her broad beam and wide transom make it more important that she be sailed flat - like the big dinghy she resembles.
The Beneteau 323 is a roomy, lively cruiser and should turn in a respectable performance as a club racer and offers sailors looking for a nearly new or new boat a lot of bang for their buck.
Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.