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High-class sailboats, from the Carolinas to you

Beneteau USA debuts its Beneteau 58 

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Upsizing its sailboats in a downsizing economy, Beneteau USA Inc. in South Carolina is all about forward thinking. It will begin selling its latest and largest luxury sailboat in America this spring. "I think once you reach that large size, it just gives you a whole other realm," says Erika Gay, with the Marion, S.C.-based American division of the world's largest sailboat manufacturer. "The interior design -- it's supposed to give you a feeling of just the wide open space."  

The new Beneteau 58 is a top-of-the-line model, with prices starting at $800,000 and reaching $1 million, depending upon amenities. The sailboat's length is 59 feet, 10 inches, while the hull's length measures 58 feet, 3 inches. The sails' area is about 2,000 square feet. Typically, new models premiere in the United States in the spring, following a fall debut in Europe, as occurred with the Beneteau 58.  
Beneteau USA has been building sailboats in South Carolina since 1986, drawing upon its advantages as a division of its 150-year-old French parent company, Groupe Beneteau. "We're always trying to use the latest and most innovative material on our models," Gay says of the Beneteau 58. "There's a great deal of research and development that takes place in France.  
The USA division may have downsized its production due to the economic impact on demand, but it's continued to produce some 200 sailboats annually. And it's also continued to pursue innovation, investing in a new woodshop with CNC machinery that uses programs to execute a series of machining operations, and an overhaul of its production areas. When completed, the 250,000-square-foot facility will be the most advanced production plant of its type in the United States, and the only one to build boats ranging from 30-footers to 50-footers using this streamlined process.  
Wayne Burdick, president of Beneteau USA, credits innovative teamwork at the plant for the implementation of its ongoing upgrade. "This should give Beneteau a strategic advantage to quickly provide the best value in exactly the model our customer wishes to buy," he says. "When the plant reconfiguration work is complete, and we are able to turn on the new lean, mean production machine, no one else in the United States will be able to make cruising sailboats with as much efficiency and flexibility of product mix."  
The company's research and development has led to improvements that have also nearly doubled the average speed reached by yachts. At one of the company's production sites in France, about 300 cabinet workers supply all the other sites, providing lavish molded wood via a process used in yacht making that's similar to the process used to make fiddles. 
Besides the sailboats crafted in South Carolina, Beneteau's North American dealer, St. Barts Yachts, can provide customers with a range of Beneteau's motorboat yachts and sailing yachts, as well as custom boats. The dealer has locations in Oriental, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.