This is one of the best reviews of the First 235, only just now available in English.  It was within the 1987 German magazine called YACHT (Click thumb at right to view the cover scan).  The article contains a thoughtful comparison between the F235, Gib'Sea 242, and the Jeanneau Tonic 23, all boundary breakers at the time. As of now, we only have the intro and F235 review with pic and area comparisons.   All shots below click to FULL SIZE including the color line drawings, unique to this article as well as the point by point comparison between the features of each boat (Please be sure to CLICK on the F235 pics to the right of each text block for larger view of ALL the boats in comparison). Thanks to Peter Mohr for finding the article and to F235 sailor Boudewijn Neijens for the excellent translation.    Yacht Cover at right - links to full
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1987 YACHT Entry level cabin cruisers
First 235 Gib'Sea 242 Jeanneau Tonic 23

At the Paris Boat show in January 1985 a small sailing yacht created a stir: the French builder Jeanneau presented the trailerable cabin cruiser Tonic 23, which boasted a unique set of features for a boat with a mere 2.50 meter beam and 1.67 meter interior height: a cabin under the cockpit, a separate nav station and a separate enclosed head compartment. Journalists were full of praise for this little wonder, and the competition didn’t wait long to respond: one year later Beneteau launched the First 235 with a similar layout, and shortly thereafter Gilbert Marine presented the Gib’Sea 242. A new sailboat class was born.

Click to see full view at 1200pxThese three trailerable yachts were a true breakthrough in the relatively monotonous world of boat building. For starters, people up to 1m70 in height could actually stand upright in the cabin. Older boats could only achieve such a feat by adding a hinged companionway hatch which made the boat look like a camper van. The head was generally located between the main and front cabins and was again a compromise.

The three French boats have true separate head compartments that can actually be used as such – if you are not too big. On older trailerable boats navigation tasks were typically dealt with by spreading the charts out on the main cabin table. The three new boats feature proper nav stations with dedicated seating. An aft cabin was something that simply did not exist on older boats, yet the Tonic 23, First 235 and Gib’Sea 242 have double berths under the cockpit where two adults or two children can sleep in comfort. Two more berths can be found in the generously dimensioned main cabin.All this prompts the question: with all these features, is there any space left for storage? Unbelievably all three cruisers feature big lockers in the cockpit which are perfectly capable of swallowing full sail bags.

All three boats rely exclusively on outboard engines, for which the Tonic 23 and Gib’Sea 242 have a well in the cockpit. All boats are available with either a fixed keel or a swing keel.

The external look of these cabin cruisers is unusual to say the least. Hulls with such a significant interior volume require high freeboards to avoid the cabin looking over dimensioned. So you will need to get used to the look, but don’t assume that the unusual layout diminishes the sailing characteristics of the boats. To the contrary: the three boats sail very well and often keep up with larger yachts. On the other hand the stiffness is not always optimal since the amount of ballast was obviously limited to enhance the trailerability.

This is indeed the tricky subject with all these boats: the Gib’Sea weighs in at 1.55 metric tons, and when one adds all the ancillary equipment you are dangerously close to the 1.9 ton maximum legally allowed to be towed by a passenger car. The First 235 is the lightest boat of the three, weighs 1.2 tons and will be easier to tow. But we recommend you use a powerful four-wheel drive SUV for any lengthy drive.

Not surprisingly, the shelving, galley and other interior storage is disappointing. All these items are basic – if present at all. The new owner will spend his first winter studying and adding improvements to prepare the boat for serious cruising.

We have tested all three boats in France under similar wind and wave conditions. The smaller First 235 points slightly better and keeps up in speed with the two larger boats. All three boats sail fast. You will read our findings in the following test reports, where we have also highlighted each boat’s strongest and weakest points.


First 235 - REVIEW
Overall length: 6.57 meter. Length at the waterline: 6.20 meter. Beam: 2.50 meter. Water line width: 1.94 meter. Draft with fixed keel: 1.15 meter. Draft with swing keel up/down: 0.66/1.75 meter. Weight: 1.2 metric tons. Ballast with a fixed keel: 420 kg. Ballast with a swing keel: 360 kg. Ballast portion: 30.25%. Rigging plan: 7/8. Mainsail: 13.40 m2. Standard jib: 7.6 m2. Mast height: 9.2 meter. Mast height above waterline: 10.22 meter. Hull construction: hand layered and injected GRP. Deck construction: hand layered and injected GRP. Water tank: 50 liter, neoprene. Berths: 4.

List price in 1987 (including tax): 32500 German Mark (16620 Euro|19,840 USD at Feb 2006 rate).
Length/Beam ratio: 2.62 – which is considered to be exceptionally wide (normal is 2.8 to 3.2).
Test conditions: wind 5.4 meter/second (10.5 knots) or 3-4 Beaufort. Wave height 0.5 meter (1.5 feet).
Mainsail 13.40 m2 or 144 sq ft.
Jib 7.60 m2 or 82 sq ft.

This compact mini-cruiser surprises with a seaworthiness that could only be found in larger yachts thus far. The use of space is exemplary.

French builder Jean-Marie Finot has designed a huge range of cruisers, including the legendary Ecume de Mer which won silver in the quarter-ton class in the 60’s.

The First 235 was originally a prototype that successfully participated in the Mini-Transat and in the French Mini-Fastnet. Beneteau then modified the boat to build a family racer/cruiser.

Click for LARGE view at 1200px

The plumb bow is most remarkable and similar to that of the old yawl cruisers. This helps extend the waterline (6.20 meter) and increases the hull speed; and it increases the volume of the fore cabin. The wet surface is very flat and the bow has a hollow shape. The shapes of the hull above water and of the deck are typical Finot: very soft and round, with the front of coach roof blending into the deck. The hull and decks are very well shaped in our opinion, and the boat leaves a true dynamic and sporty impression under sail.

And that’s how the boat sails: lively, sparkling and reacting immediately to every tiller movement. The rudder is attached to the wide transom and is tilted slightly forward, so that there is virtually no pressure on the tiller. The boat handles waves very well and very little spray lands on the decks, thanks to its very efficient stem.

The boat is surprisingly fast: with a standard jib and a full mainsail with 10 knot winds it sails upwind faster than the larger boats. At higher wind speeds one should swiftly switch to a smaller jib and reef the mainsail, because the flat hull doesn’t tolerate strong heeling and the boat will round up eventually. In a short chop one should not try to sail too close-hauled, as this will slow down the boat significantly. On average the First 235 points around 41 to 43 degrees, depending on wind and wave condition.

If the sails are reefed in time, the boat is very stable for its size. The capsize screen is reasonable. We only tested the fixed keel version, not the version with the longer, thinner swing keel. The ballast is lighter in this swing keel version, but since the keel is longer the ballast center of gravity will be lower. Altogether there are four different keel configurations available.

The engine mount on the transom is excellent. It allows easy access to the outboard and the engine can be tilted completely out of the water when under sail – which is the best solution on such small boats. The aluminum rudder bracket seems a bit flimsy.

The cockpit offers a good seating position and the benches measure 1.68 x 0.34 meter, with an average height of 30 cm. The cockpit locker is huge. Deck hardware is not always the best: strong cleats but shackles, travelers and some of the standing rigging are cheap, badly finished or too weak.

In the cabin short people can stand upright: the companionway hatch clears 1.69 meter, and under the rear part of the cabin roof itself 1.63 meter. The double use of the head compartment is very original: the upper part of the partition between the head and the main cabin can be lowered to enlarge the cabin. A hinged seat is lowered onto the toilet and the navigation table slides out of the aft bulkhead. It all works great and is a good and practical solution for such a small boat.

Six people can comfortably sit around the large table in the main cabin. Unfortunately the table itself is a bit wobbly – the attachment system to the compression post could be better. The table can be lowered to create a large double berth, with an individual shoulder width of 90 cm, so that two adults can sleep comfortably. Children will typically sleep in the aft “sleep-hole” under the cockpit which has a limited height of 0.37 meter, and measures 1.88 meter in length and 1.30 meter width at shoulder height. The access to the aft cabin is quite tight, and could be closed with a curtain. The aft cabin lacks adequate ventilation. We recommend adding an opening portlight to the cockpit sidewall. Actually the ventilation of the boat as a whole should be improved.

The galley and storage in the cabins is spartan and will need to be expanded if serious cruising is the goal. The L-shaped galley comes with a good sink and icebox and is well laid out. The original French single-burner stove with attached gas bottle does not conform to German safety regulations and needs to be replaced with a system with external gas bottle.

Overall impression:

The First 235 is a sporty racer/cruiser that sails well. It lends itself well to being trailered. Its unusual layout can accommodate a full family, even for longer cruises. Some details, especially interior finish, will need to be reviewed and expanded.

We liked
- The hull and deck design.
- The interior layout.
- Sailing characteristics and rigidity.
- Engine mount on the transom.

To be improved
- Galley equipment - Stove.
- Attachment of the cabin table.
- Ventilation of the aft cabin.
- Shackles and standing rigging.
- Shelving and storage.

Comments from beneteau235.com

As with all boats, there are weaknesses, but it's 2006 and I have come to like this boat even more with the passage of time.  It's amazing what Finot and Beneteau did with this little boat, especially considering limited dimensions they were working within.  Apparently, Beneteau DID decide to address some of Yacht magazine's concerns, at least in the USA model.  I think the Galley equipment is VERY nice for this size and range of boat, easily besting most I know in this category.  The Origo 3000 stove performs very well in my opinion.  Would be nice to have more storage area but compared to others in this range, there is quite a bit in the galley, especially if you're creative.

I think Beneteau upgraded fittings and gear since this was written.  Issues such as chart storage, among others, have been addressed.  I think the interior finish is a  class leader.  On the other hand, while the cabin can accommodate a full family, it's debatable just how long an extended cruise might be doable without stopping every three days or so.  And the rear cabin really does need a port light placed on the cockpit well wall, this going a long way in helping ventilation. I would also add that the interior cabin sitting position and comfort is not quite the best, this due to the rather upright seating sans any cushioning for your back such as seen on the Jeanneau and Gib'Sea.  Yet, I think this boat is a far better performance sailer and still one of the most compelling choices on the used market.  I don't think there is anything quite like it.    - kh

1987 YACHT Comparative Tables
First 235 Gib'Sea 242 Jeanneau Tonic 23

Yacht magazine actually went through each of the main parts of the boats in review, comparing the attributes with the pros and cons.  Please click on the pictures at right to see the full-size view of each of the boat's in question.  These are separate pages with excellent picture comparisons from the same angle. 

Sailing Quality
In winds up to 15 knots all three boats sail fast and are well balanced. The stiffness is in line with what one can expect from such a boat size. In winds over 15 knots the Tonic needs to be reefed and fly the smallest jib, whereas the First can still be sailed with a full main and a slightly reduced jib. The Gib’Sea can hold on to its full sails longest. In high winds the Tonic has the lowest stiffness of the three boats. The Tonic and First have nicely balanced rudders, whereas the Gib’Sea is heavier to steer.

First: good; Gib’Sea: good; Tonic: acceptable.

Click for full view of all three boats
click above to view all three boats
Hull and Deck Design
All three boats are built around a compromise: a higher standing room in the cabin requires high freeboards and high coach roofs. The First and Tonic have a well balanced design, whereas the Gib’Sea does not look as elegant. The underwater hull is flat on all three boats and offers good form stability. Despite a very wide stern, all three boats flow well through the water. The plumb bow of the First is unusual but gives the boat a very long waterline.

First: good; Gib’Sea: acceptable; Tonic: good.

Click for full view of all three boats
click above to view all three boats
Cockpit and Storage
The high freeboard not only increases the size of the main cabin – it also allows for space under the cockpit. All three boats have an aft cabin under the cockpit but also found enough space for a large storage locker and for a liferaft, which is remarkable. All three cockpits are ergonomically well designed and the sidedecks of the Tonic are best for trimming the boat. The Gib’Sea and Tonic have a well for the outboard engine, whereas the smaller First has a mount on the transom, allowing easy access to the engine.

First: good; Gib’Sea: good; Tonic: good.

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click above to view all three boats
Main Cabin and Berths
The Tonic has the highest cabin at 1.67 meter, whereas the Gib’Sea and First offer 1.64 m and 1.63 m respectively. Under the companionway hatch the Gib’Sea offers 1.78 meter. The main cabin berths can be widened to a comfortable 90 cm each on the First by lowering the table, whereas the table is fixed on the Tonic and Gib’Sea, which therefore only offer 68cm and 63 cm wide berths. The length of the berths is over 2 meter on all boats. The Gib’Sea and Tonic have upholstered back cushions, improving the comfort when seated around the table. All three cabins are clear and well lit.

First: good; Gib’Sea: good; Tonic: good.

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A separate navigation table could only be added to the smaller First in the head compartment. But the unique compromise of having the head compartment double as nav station works well. All three nav stations allow you to work efficiently on charts, come with some storage for the usual instruments and allow you to sit while working. On the Tonic and First you sit backwards, which needs some adjustment. None of the boats have closing cabinets for books, and the First has no proper storage for charts. The navigation table on the Tonic is a bit too high.

First: good; Gib’Sea: good; Tonic: good.

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click above to view all three boats
All three galleys are L-shaped and offer more working and storage space than on previous boats of similar length. Had the galleys offered better storage for dishes and glassware they would have been truly practical. None of the boats offer a silverware tray. Only the First has an icebox. The water supply is also unsatisfactory: only 20 liters (4.5 gallons) on the Tonic and Gib’Sea. The First does a better job with 50 liters (11 gallons). Larger tanks should be added on board.

First:Not ok; Gib’Sea:not ok; Tonic:Not OK.

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click above to view all three boats
Aft Cabin
Due to its shorter overall length the First also has the smallest aft cabin, with the lowest clearance to the cockpit floor and with the narrowest entrance. This being said, the aft cabins on all three boats are surprisingly large and two children (or two adults in a pinch) can sleep here in comfort. All three boats lack an opening portlight to supply some fresh air to the aft cabin. The First and Tonic have a fixed portlight on the stern, whereas the aft cabin on the Gib’Sea is quite dark. None of the cabins are separated from the main cabin, and a curtain might be a good addition. All three have some storage in the cabin.

First: ok; Gib’Sea: good; Tonic: good

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Head Compartment
These compartments literally had to be squeezed into these small boats, making them comfortable only for smaller persons. Yet all three heads are acceptable compromises – even the double-function compartment on the First. Many boats of this size only offer a portable head under a main cabin berth, so the double-function head on the First is not that shocking. The largest head is on the Tonic, which also has a hand wash basin and a cloth hanging bar. The Gib’Sea has a hand wash basin whereas the First does not. None of the boats have opening portlights for ventilation in the head compartment.

First: acceptable; Gib’Sea: acceptable;
Tonic: good

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