Beneteau 51 Idylle 15.50 Review: A Different Animal

Moorings 51 PDF Flyer (Click to Download)

Beneteau’s Idylle series are not the inexpensive plastic, bimbo boats of Mooring’s charter fleets today. These classic cruisers built in the mid 1980’s are teak laden cruising machines. I once talked to a client who mentioned slyly he had a 38′ boat currently. I politely asked, “What type of 38 boat?” He whispered embarrassedly, “A Beneteau Idylle. Are you familiar with the Idylle series?” Usually, people put out some esoteric, ancient sailboat design and expect you being a “yacht broker” to know everything. Well this time I was luckily. I proudly said, “Oh that’s when Beneteau made good boats!” He happily agreed, “Yes, I am embarrassed to say my boat is a Beneteau because everybody thinks of the current low-quality designs.” Another broker in-house concurred, “Oh yes, Beneteau made some great boats back then. I know it.” The Idylle series and the early First series are quality built Beneteaus as much as that sounds like an oxymoron. The Idylle series includes 34, 38, 44, and 51 foot designs. Beneteau produced the German Frers designed 51 from 1985 to 1987.

Beneteau 51 Idylle 15.50

First Impressions
The 51 Idylle is a Frers designed boat, and Frers always pens fast yachts. His Swan and Hylas racer/cruisers are some of the most beautiful, highest performance yachts of today. In the early 1980’s, he had just left Sparkman & Stephens and was starting on his first Swan, Hylas designs. The 51 has an raked bow, classic sheer, and flat stern. It is odd to see a Beneteau without a swim platform. Her toerail is the perforated aluminum and the trunk cabin is low and racy with the well aft cockpit. Underneath she has a deep, 6’6″ fin keel and spade rudder. The propeller is half way between the rudder and keel. She looks sexy underway with her sharp, low cutting profile.

51 Beneteau Idylle Layout
Beneteau 51 Idylle Sail Plan

Construction and What To Look For
These Beneteaus were built in France. The deck has a 2 inch balsa core. According to an owner, the hull is 1.5 inches thick at the waterline and goes to 3 inches below the waterline illustrating the heavy construction. The keel is lead external coming in shoal and deep versions. The most common is the deep fin with a draft of 6′ 6″ feet. They used multiple molded liners to stiffen the hull and create the interior structure which limit access to systems. Tankage is stainless steel.

Beneteau 51 Idylle Flyer

Almost all were sold on a purchase and charter basis by Moorings. They were run as bareboat charters as Moorings 51’s with the first arriving in April of 1985 to the Caribbean fleet. Generally, we say that 1 year in charter equals 4 years in private ownership. Chartered yachts are usually rode hard and put away wet because the charter operation is trying to make a profit which usually comes at the expense of the owner. The owner as a trade-off pays a lower purchase price. As a result, most of these Beneteau 15.5’s have been seriously refit or in need of one. Besides replacing the rig, repowering, and cosmetic cleanup, the most dramatic change is a combination of the port-starboard forward staterooms. The best choice is to strip out the staterooms, cut-away the longitudinal bulkhead that separates them and create a single master stateroom with a centerline queen berth. Ten Beneteau 15.5’s were owner versions with factory built centerline queens forward and two staterooms aft. The galley is amidships starboardside.

Owner Version Layout

On Deck and Down Below
Aftmost in the cockpit the combing hinges over, back, and down. The combing turns into a swim ladder of sorts with open access from the stern to the aft cockpit. These are cutter rigged, aft cockpit cruisers. The forward most hatch leads to a crew quarters completely separate from the rest of the boat. These bulkhead separated crew quarters have a sink and toilet but no shower. The main interior is solid teak and teak veneer throughout giving her that classic, warm feeling. You feel like you are on a Najad or Hylas with the quality joinery-work and teak and holly sole. Although the Idylle 51 is a different animal from the Beneteaus of today, Moorings used her for chartering. The boat is obviously a designed charterboat with her common 4 stateroom, 4 head layout.

On charter layouts forward most are 2 staterooms each with its own head and shower. In the center is a large saloon with a moon roof. A glass moon roof built into the deck lets overhead light in and does not open. A large galley with freezer and refrigeration is starboardside. Aftmost to port is the captain’s quarters with a berth and head with shower. The 51 has a unique interior perfect for chartering but not exactly the owner focus that you see these days. Often owners modify the standard charter interior converting the two staterooms forward into a single owner’s stateroom with a centerline queen and a large head and shower. The aftmost stateroom becomes the guest stateroom. But there is no way to really change that crew quarters forward into anything normal but a storage area. Of course, modifying the design into a vanilla production boat interior of today takes away from the uniqueness of the 15.50 Idylle.

Mooring 51 PDF Brochure (Click to Download)

Engine and Underway
Along with the aft cockpit flip over swim ladder, saloon moon roof, and crew quarters, the engine access is up there on the unique features of this wonderfully different design. In the saloon, there is a settee portside and table with another seat area amidships. You can pull off this amidships seating arrangement, and below the teak structure is the engine. You have 360 degree, unhindered access to the 85 HP Perkins 4-236 that came standard. Designers love to put the engine here if they can get away with it. It improves sailing performance by getting the weight low and near the yaw, pitch, and roll axis of the boat. The performance is the prime attraction of the Frers Idylle. It somewhat depends on the keel with the deeper having superior windward performance. One owner writes, “Ours is the shallow type, but it sails well into the 30 degree wind angle only losing a knot from sailing in the 40 degree angle to the wind.” Frers always designs fast, flat bottom boats that can really sail. In fact, the Idylle has the same underbody as his 51 Swan design. If look at them out of water, you can hardly tell the difference. The Swan has a taller 70-foot rig instead of the 61′ bridge clearance of this sloop Idylle.

Beneteau has ruined the builder’s reputation with the flimsy, bimbo boats of their charter trade with Moorings. But, in the 1980’s, they were one of the finest builders in the world and yet again may be someday. There are 10 on YachtWorld currently ranging from $113,000 to $179,000. These high performance, amply accommodated Frers yachts are underrated racer-cruisers.