Innovative designs and well-executed production caught the attention of this year’s Boat of the Year consumer judges. We interviewed them after they’d walked the docks and visited their assigned boats during the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland. Overall, the group was quick to praise the workmanship, seaworthy gear, and comfortable living spaces that they encountered; still, some of what they saw, as one couple put it, “makes us love our boat more.”
As we’ve done for the past several years, Cruising World asked readers to submit essays about a boat they’d owned, and then we selected four teams— three couples and a solo skipper this year—to visit the same boats that were inspected by our Boat of the Year panel of industry experts. We asked our teams to act as “secret shoppers” so they’d get the same information and boat-show experience that any reader would. For the most part, they praised salespeople who spoke knowledgeably about their boats and who asked good questions in return. But builders, take note: Our consumer teams—some of whom were in sales themselves—also complained about a few brokers who ignored them when they stepped aboard or, worse, seemed to make up answers when asked questions. Finally, our consumer judges tended to favor manufacturers who chose to equip their boats with premium gear and who found ways to offer more choices when it came to layout, upholstery, and types of wood and finish.
Read on to learn what each team found in Annapolis.
Bill and Terri Saint sail out of Charleston, South Carolina, aboard their Beneteau 473. They visited the Full-Size Cruisers, 45 Feet and Above. They began their debrief by saying that the Bavaria Cruiser 45 felt solid. They liked its dedicated nav station built with a laptop user in mind, and they were intrigued by the nav station’s seat, which has a back that can be flipped to provide seating at the dining table, too.
Both the Bavaria and the Beneteau Oceanis 45 have fold-down swim platforms in the transoms. Though the couple saw their value for the tropics, they said that for their own style of sailing, they’d rather have a storage locker across the stern; they wondered if the builders couldn’t make the platform a “Caribbean option.”
“Gorgeous” is the term they used to describe the Beneteau’s “very open” interior, and they said that the boat had the best companionway—steps that extend into the saloon rather than a steep ladder— of any boat at which they looked. Of interest, they felt that consumers would pay a little more to get more sailing-dedicated hardware on both the Bavaria and Beneteau.
The ballpark-$1 million price tag and a tight companionway on the Passport Vista 545 CC caused the Saints to pause, but they agreed that the boat was “beautifully made, with incredible workmanship.” Another sailboat that caught their fancy was the Leopard 44 catamaran. They were impressed with the amount of storage, while the openness of the cockpit, aft, and of the smaller sitting area forward of the house piqued their love of outdoor space.
Last on their list was the Nexus 600, another South African-built catamaran. They found innovative details when they stepped aboard, such as the bamboo cabinetry, but they also found that they missed the warmth that more extensive woodwork provided on some of the other boats. In the end, they concluded, “We’ll just keep our Beneteau.”
Thad Kubis is an experienced sailor and a licensed captain, and although he doesn’t presently own his own boat, he maintains a 33-foot Beneteau and will someday soon be in the market for another sailboat. He looked at the Midsize Cruisers, 36 to 40 Feet. After visiting his five boats, he came away with two conclusions: Nav stations are getting smaller, and builders are bringing more homelike features aboard.
Getting down to specifics, he termed the new Catalina 385 the “People’s Boat” because of the value he found in its accommodations and its sailaway price of less than $200,000. “It had a beautiful galley area,” he said.
The Bavaria Cruiser 36, he said, had its fine points, too, including opening ports that delivered lots of fresh air to the V-berth and saloon. But though he found amenities throughout, he missed the personality that he said he encountered on some of the other boats on the list.
The well-equipped cockpit and the swim-platform area on the** Island Packet 360** caught Thad’s attention, as did the well-organized deck layout and the anchor-roller and anchor-locker setup. Thad is a good-sized guy, and his one concern was that the boat below felt a little cramped.
His favorites? Well, Thad was charmed by the Hallberg-Rassy 372, which he termed the most beautiful boat that he looked at, except for its head; he found this area of the boat to be a little too utilitarian.
The most user-friendly boat to his eye was the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379. “It was entertainment from stern to V-berth,” he said, noting that the interior was both comfortable and practical.
Mike Smith, who, with his wife, Amy, circumnavigated aboard their Island Packet, came to the show in part to find their next escape module, which will most likely be a catamaran.
“I love that boat,” Mike said of the** Outremer 49** catamaran. Amy added, “I loved the windows. There was so much light.” The couple was so smitten by this cat’s details, from the cockpit to the helm station to the cozy feeling below, that it was difficult to get them to turn their attention to the other Compact Cruisers, 30 to 35 feet.
Though it wouldn’t suit their sailing style or cruising plans, they acknowledged the advantages of the fold-down transom on the Bavaria Cruiser 32, and they thought the boat’s systems were well installed.
Amy found that the cockpit on the Hunter e33 was inviting, and she remarked on the amount of light that streamed into the well-laid-out saloon below. Both concluded that for the price, the boat offered a good value.
The J/108, meanwhile, just looked like fun to them. “You could cruise on that boat,” they said, mentioning the Bahamas as a possible destination. “It’s very livable.”
Asked about their final boat, the Mystery 35, the Smiths immediately mentioned its tiller, a rarity on boats this size. Mike is tall, and he found the boat’s traditional styling and narrow beam made it feel small to him, but he did think its price tag was reasonable for the quality he saw.
Our final couple, Cliff Selover and Nancy Binder, are frequent charterers and former Pearson 30 owners. They focused their attention on the Midsize Cruisers, 40 to 45 Feet. “Impressive” was the word they used to describe the room aboard the Bavaria Cruiser 40, which they thought would make a good family boat. But they were more taken, to be honest, with the Dufour Grand’ Large 445, which Cliff found to be a “beautiful” design, right down to the built-in wine locker under the cabin sole.
Of the two Jeanneaus, the Sun Odyssey 439 and the Sun Odyssey 44 Deck Saloon, they preferred the more traditional 439 because of its light-colored interior woodwork, simple cabin
forward, and well-laid-out deck.
She liked the Beneteau Oceanis 41 “a lot” because of the room below, the light-filled owner’s cabin forward, and the Dock and Go boat-handling system.
He liked the Tartan 4000 because of its fit and finish. “I guess I’m a traditionalist. I loved the Tartan all around.”
And so our consumers have spoken, and once again they’ve underscored the point that all boats represent a series of compromises between what you want, what you need, and what you can afford. The only way that any of us can narrow down the choices to a single special favorite is to hit the docks and have a look.