Second to teaching boat handling, I have the most fun doing sea trials on new and used boats, especially when the boats have new and innovative features that make them not only unique but offer the owner a good value. Of course, the fact that the boat has a top speed of 45 knots doesn’t hurt either.
When the owner of Passage Yachts, Deborah Reynolds, told us that she had the new Beneteau Barracuda 9 at the dock and ready for a sea trial, we couldn’t set the schedule for a test ride fast enough. I don’t get a lot of opportunity to run boats in the 30-foot range, even less often ones that are powered by outboard engines, so this was a good opportunity for me to get some hours on a mid-size boat.
Having done lessons on these types of boats in the past, I have found that they are generally some of the more difficult boats to make behave around a dock. The twin outboards are usually mounted so close together that twisting the boat in anything but the calmest conditions is all but impossible and I quit even trying to get them to slip sideways into a wind or current.
But our host today, Richard Mathews, told me that I would be pleasantly surprised at the close-quarter manners this boat shows. Richard is the service manager for Passage Yachts and has a great deal of experience operating this class of boat. Having commissioned more than 100 of the twin-engine protector boats, he knows how to handle them.
It is a bright sunny morning at the Brickyard Cove Marina in Point Richmond and our new Barracuda 9 is secured at the end tie just waiting for us. Beneteau offers the Barracuda 9 in either a hardtop or flybridge model. Today our test boat is the flybridge version.
Beneteau ships these boats to the U.S. without engines and the local dealers choose what to power them with. Passage Yachts has chosen the reliable and powerful 3.3 liter V6 Yamaha 225’s with the electronic throttles and electronic shifts to power the Barracuda 9. Seeing mostly cable throttles and shift controls on boats of this size and type, I find the new ergonomic drive-by-wire controls are smooth and intuitive.
Shifting and throttle control are combined in one control and there is even an automatic engine synchronizer to make life easier. Selecting between upper and lower helms is as simple as pushing the station select switch and waiting a second for the little blue lights to illuminate. The trim lever on the port handle controls the trim of both engines simultaneously, while separate buttons on the body of the control head trim the engines independently.
Large, Roomy Cockpit
But let us not get ahead of ourselves and have a look around before we start the engines. After stepping aboard, we find that in the cockpit there are three hatches that lift up to expose the fuel tank in the center, the batteries on the port, and storage for lines and fenders on the starboard.
Doing our pre-start engine checks entails not much more than checking the engine oil level in each outboard and making sure we have enough fuel for the day. If needed, the fuel priming balls are under the starboard hatch and easily accessible but out of the way.
Standing in the center of the cockpit it seems that for a 29-foot boat this cockpit is quite large. According to the factory literature it measures 8’3” by 5’4” but feels larger. To get this much space the designers have pushed the transom all the way back and it looks as though the engine will not tilt because they are too close.
But the transom seating tilts forward into the cockpit and allows plenty of room to fully tilt the engines to provide easy access to those giant Yamaha outboards and get the lower end out of the water.
When that transom seating is down, it has room for three persons and while running we discover that it is well protected from the wind. Beneteau offers three different options for the cockpit. First is our version with the aft bench seating, another fold away bench seat at the forward part of the cockpit, and an optional cockpit table that fits between the two bench seats.
The second option, which retains the aft bench seat, appeals to the fisherman, because it replaces the forward folding bench seat with a console complete with sink and work surface to make this a place to prep bait or clean fish.
The third option adds a fully enclosed generator with a flat surface and drink holders on top replacing the forward bench seat. The top of the bulwarks on both sides of the cockpit is capped in teak with slotted chalks. The chalks provide clean access to the cleats that are mounted vertically under the cap rail keeping the cockpit sides clean. Also installed in the hardwood cap are two fishing pole holders on either side of the chalks.
Passing through the large sliding doors to the inside of the enclosed pilothouse we find seating for five with two helm seats forward and a wide comfortable bench seat behind. With the six and half feet of headroom and glass all around, the cabin feels large.
Under the aft bench seat is the refrigerator/icemaker mounted in the center and storage on both sides. The helm is mounted to starboard and the dash is finished in dark grey with a Lowrance 10-inch multi-function display mounted dead center with the engine management displays on either side. Our test boat didn’t have a VHF radio, but there is a perfect spot to mount one either under the Lowrance display or above it.
The helm seats are adjustable and both have fold-up bolsters making standing or sitting at the helm comfortable. When seated at the helm there is a well-positioned foot rest to add to your comfort. Overhead is a large sunroof that either pops up to allow in some air or will slide open allowing lots of sun and air in.
With large windows forward that wrap around the corners, the visibility at the helm is great. The side windows terminate right at the glass sliding doors providing an almost 270-degree unobstructed view. Behind the bench seat is a large window that provides good visibility aft.
On both sides just in front of the bench seats are flip up tables and storage bins. When the helm seats are turned to face aft and lowered, they line up with the tables and this makes a nice conversation area or a place to serve lunch.
To the left of the helm station is a companionway that leads down to the cuddy cabin, which is complete with private head under the helm and v-berth forward. The head has five and a half feet of headroom, a sink with hot and cold water, and an opening port to let air in or steam out.
The 21-gallon holding tank level gauge is also located in this area just below the sink.
There is plenty of room to move around down here with enough room for a couple to stay the weekend. The v-berth has nearly six feet of headroom at the entrance, is large enough for a person taller than six feet to stretch out, and has an opening porthole on the port bulkhead. There is even more storage under the berth and in the forepeak.
As mentioned earlier, the Barracuda 9 comes in two versions, the hardtop or a flybridge. Our test boat being the flybridge version has access via a ladder on the port side just forward of the cockpit. Up top there is a double-wide helm seat with plenty of room for two. Seating at the flybridge is almost all the way aft and provides good visibility all around the boat.
The well-equipped helm is set to starboard with enough dash space for another 10-inch multi-function display. Our test boat has this space empty with only the Yamaha electronic controls and engine management displays installed.
The Test Drive
We started the engines from the lower helm and even with the port and starboard sliding doors wide open you cannot hear the engines running; these engines are very quiet!
With a light breeze and an ebbing current both pushing us off the dock, getting clear was easy. Once we had some maneuvering room, I put the boat into a left twist and sure enough it starting moving right away. Richard was right; this boat will twist like a big boat.
Making our way out of the marina was simple as the boat had good directional stability and was easy to move around the harbor. Out in the channel and clear from the other boats, I nudged the throttles up just a bit. In an instant we were on plane and doing 20 knots without the use of either trim tabs or engine trim. The bow rise was minimal even with the two passengers sitting all the way aft on the cockpit bench seat.
Once out of the Richmond Inner Harbor and flying past Ferry Point, I brought the throttles to a nice comfortable cruise in the two- to three-foot wind chop. Inside the harbor it was protected from the north winds, but out here it is already choppy.
Now on a plane and running, I get the opportunity to play with the trim controls as we take a heading for Ayala Cove at Angel Island. As I’m just getting used to the boat and her handling characteristics, we keep our speed below 30 knots and try to find the most economical speed and trim.
At 26 knots the boat feels good, the engines are turning 3600 RPM, and according to the engine management computer our fuel burn is just 16 GPH total. At this pace we are getting better than 1.6 miles per gallon and would have an expected range of nearly 150 miles and still have a 10 percent reserve. In just about six minutes, we cover the three miles from Ferry Point to Ayala Cove and slow to enter the anchorage area.
After we arrive and take a few pictures at the deserted island, we head over to the San Francisco Yacht Club for more photo ops. Not that I’m guilty, but for some reason you can always count on the ferries to leave a nice big wake to test your boat’s sea keeping abilities. On the ride across Raccoon Straits, we find the wakes of both the Tiburon and Angel Island ferries provide us the opportunity to see how our Barracuda handles a four-foot wake.
I bring the speed up to 32 knots and with just a smidgen of down trim we easily cut through the wakes with barely a pitch or roll and very little spray. It is pretty clear that Beneteau has designed this boat for year-round fishing and boating in all sorts of sea and weather conditions.
Air Step Hull
Over in Belvedere we get an opportunity to take a break from the morning’s hard work while Richard explains the intricacies of the Beneteau Air Step Hull. Having read the literature, but not having operated a boat using the technology, I was interested in how it works.
Air is injected under the center of the hull from vents located at the back of both sides of the pilothouse and is supposed to reduce the surface friction as the boat goes through the water. This air injection, combined with four lifting strakes and excellent spray control, make the Barracuda quicker, more fuel efficient and provides for a dry ride. We agree to do some WOT high-speed tests on the run back to Richmond.
By now if you have been looking closely at the photos you will have noticed that this boat came equipped with a bow thruster. I have to admit that I didn’t notice it until we were docking at the San Francisco Yacht Club.
Although I made a perfect landing (my opinion), the wind was blowing the bow off the dock and the crew didn’t get a line on the cleat quick enough. With the stern secured to the dock, I was trying to decide what to do with the bow when Richard suggested I use the thruster to bring the bow back to the dock.
I must have given him an incredulous look because he said, “Yes, really, there is a bow thruster; it is just to your left of the helm. You have to push the button and move the lever to the right to activate it, but once you do it is like a jet drive.” And wouldn’t you believe it, with a blast of water you would expect from a cannon that bow moved quickly sideways toward the dock. A nice feature on a boat this size.
Coffee break is over and we are back underway. After we clear the minimum wake areas and are abeam of Point Tiburon, I point the boat at the Richmond Harbor Channel light number 6, just three miles away, and hit the throttles. With three persons onboard, a half tank of fuel and two-foot chop, our Barracuda takes off like it’s chasing down a fish for lunch.
We are on a plane in under four seconds and in less than nine our GPS is indicating a speed over the ground (SOG) of nine knots. With a little more tweaking of the engine trim we get our best speed at 46 knots, a fuel burn rate of 44 gallons per hour, and those big Yamaha’s are turning north of 6000 RPM.
Skimming across the two-foot chop and occasional four-foot boat wakes, there is nothing we can do to get spray anywhere close to the windscreen. This boat is as dry and comfortable as I have seen. Flying across the Southampton Shoal Channel the boat starts to list to port and then flattens out again.
It does this several times as I’m looking around for disturbed water trying to explain the phenomenon when Richard comes back into the pilothouse with a huge grin. One way to demonstrate the effect of the Air Step Hull is to block the air intake. When the intake is covered, the boat loses lift at that side and has more drag.
By covering the port vent the boat leans to the side with less lift. Wanting to see this for myself, Richard takes over the helm and I go outside and block and unblock the vent. The boat movement is quite dramatic, and even more surprising is the amount of vacuum at the vent. It actually sucks your hand in like a vacuum cleaner.
Making our way back to the dock, I get to try my hand at docking again with a pretty good wind blowing off the dock and the tide still ebbing. Just to mix it up a bit I decide to operate from the upper helm and see how the visibility around a dock is from up here. Not surprising, the view is great with sightlines along the entire starboard side.
Docking is as easy as a twin inboard/outboard-powered boat.
Around The Foredeck
Back at the dock I get an opportunity to take a look around the foredeck. Getting from the stern to the stem is pretty easy with the relatively wide 14-inch walk around. Grab handles where you would expect them and the high bulwarks, 30 inches, make getting around not only easy but safe. Up at the bow, we again find bulwarks that are 30 inches high making this a comfortable place to fish.
Just in front of the pilothouse there is a bench seat with options for a foredeck sunbathing lounger or a bimini that covers the entire area. At the bow we have the windless set at waist height making handling the ground tackle easy. On either side of the windless are storage lockers with the port being used for the anchor rode and the starboard locker can be used to store lines and fenders.
Most nautical-minded people associate Beneteau with sailing vessels, but that same quality that makes Beneteau sailboats so fast and seaworthy is built into the powerboats as well. The swift trawler 50 and the baby sister to our Barracuda 9, the Barracuda 7, have been nominated European powerboats of the year.
If you are looking for a fast and sporty runabout/tender or a versatile platform that serious fishermen will appreciate, then you need to look at the new Barracuda 9. For more information or to arrange for your own personal test ride, contact Tracy Foran at 415/283-7179.
Passage Yachts is the exclusive dealer for Beneteau sail and Beneteau powerboats in Northern California and has two locations with the Alameda location being the headquarters for the Beneteau powerboats. I heard a rumor that there will be an open house the last weekend of February, so now would be a good time to log onto the Passage Yachts website and get on the mailing list and get invited to the open house: www.passageyachts.com.
1220 Brickyard Cove Road
1070 Marina Village Parkway
As we wrapped up our day in Point Richmond, I was told that Passage Yachts has received a new Beneteau GT 38 and GT 44 and that they are in the yard now being commissioned and that if I’m interested they would be available in a few weeks for a sea trial. I don’t know, more running around San Francisco Bay in a couple of fast cruisers that use the same Air Step Hull technology as our Barracuda 9. I suppose that might be fun!
2012 Beneteau Barracuda 9
LOA 28’ 10” Beam 9’ 9”
Draft 2’ 7”
Air clearance 9’ 9”
Displacement 7,053 lbs
Fuel 106 gallons
Water 26 gallons
Waste 21 gallons
Power Yamaha 225 HP
Maximum measured speed 45 kts