Every year, it seems, the collective fleet of new sailboats introduced into the marine marketplace takes on a distinct personality all of its own. Sometimes the roster tips heavily toward dual-purpose racer/cruisers whose selling point is versatility. Other years are distinguished by a long list of all-oceans voyagers meant to chase far horizons. For 2013, however, with one notable exception—it’s significant, and we’ll get to it in a moment—the “major trend” was actually the lack of any particular one.
When the Boat of the Year judging panel convened in Annapolis, Maryland, last October to begin deliberations during the annual U.S. Sailboat Show, the members encountered a field of two-dozen nominees that, in terms of size, price, and intent, was arguably as diverse as any that preceded it in the competition’s 20-year history.
Read on to see this year's nine winners!
Best Inshore Cruiser
- Truly expansive accommodations and interior for a 31-footer, with a forward cabin that rivals the staterooms in some of the larger boats in the 40-foot range.
- Outstanding value for the money: With a sailaway price tag of $145K, the Catalina 315 was the least expensive entry of the Inshore Cruiser contestants.
- Tremendous attention to seemingly small items: real mattresses in the cabins, generous lifelines and cockpit benches, excellent engine access, and on and on.
Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are noteworthy and memorable, and for BOTY judge Tim Murphy, that was certainly the case with many of the features on the Catalina 315, CW’s Best Inshore Cruiser for 2013. Take the boat’s forward stateroom.
“I think you’d consider this the prime cabin in the boat, and it’s better than the main cabin in many of the 40- and 44-footers that we’ve seen,” he said. “It’s a cabin in which two people can not only lie down comfortably but also sit up and read, with good light and with their backs against a solid bulkhead. That doesn’t happen in a shocking number of boats that are 10 or 15 feet bigger than this one. Then consider the full-on galley and the standing headroom throughout, and you realize this is a boat that’s really got all the comforts of home in a neat package.”
Judge Ed Sherman concurred: “The Catalina rose to the top of its class because of the creature comforts, and not just down below but also on deck and in the cockpit. This is just a great boat for a young couple, even one with a couple of kids. The quality of the systems installs is right there. It sailed pretty well. It’s just a good little coastal cruiser that has a lot going for it.”
“I’ll say this flat out—I admire Catalina designer Gerry Douglas because he has an approach that’s not just profit driven,” added Alvah Simon. “He has a sincere relationship with his customers, he takes a lot of pride in his boats, and I think he and his team just deliver a lot of bang for the buck.”
In many ways, the Catalina was a throwback to traditional values and conservative themes. There’s one helm station on the boat, not two. Douglas opted for a conventional shaft and strut for the auxiliary, rather than a saildrive, because he feels the setup is more reliable and less prone to potential warranty issues. “He wants to make sure any problems are minimized,” said Sherman. By taking care of those little things, Catalina maxed out a winner.
Best Midsize Cruiser, 40 to 44 Feet
+ A good all-around cruiser for extended voyaging or living aboard that sails well and has good visibility, storage, handholds, dodger, and propane tanks.
+ Handsome interior with nice touches including wicker cabinet façades and the choice of three optional wood finishes.
Since 2007, the longtime british brand known as Moody has been built in Germany by Hanse Yachts AG. And perhaps ironically so, for in 2013, it appeared that the top two midsize boats were the Hanse 415 and Moody’s latest launch, this 41-footer. But after weighing the relative merits of each, our judges unanimously determined that the Moody 41 was this year’s Best Midsize Cruiser, 40 to 44 Feet.
The primary reason may well have been that although the yard that creates them has changed, the British naval architect whose name is practically synonymous with Moody, Bill Dixon, has not. With the new 41, Dixon has retained the core values of strength, seaworthiness, and dependability that distinguished his earlier Moodys.
“The Hanse is a fine boat,” said Alvah Simon, “but I think that as a true cruising boat, the Moody is a better one. Under sail, it moved through the water quite nicely. I very much liked the traditional full-length trunk cabin. It created nice interior spaces that I feel are really going to appeal to a lot of sailors. And under power, when you’re turning or backing, it really handles well.”
“It looked elegant,” said Ed Sherman. “It costs more than the Hanse, but you could see the difference in the craftsmanship and assembly. I liked the gear choices and the way the boat was laid out. It’s beautifully equipped with a lot of the things I love to see on cruising boats, with lots of space for storage and good service access. I mean, I think they’ve done a magnificent job.”
“For me, one word comes to mind,” said Tim Murphy. “‘Integrity.’ Some boats lack it. This one doesn’t.”
Best Full-Size Cruiser, 45 to 49 Feet
+ Exceptional light and ventilation below, thanks to four opening coachroof hatches, a pair of overhead “skylights,” and a series of windows to port and starboard in the hull.
+ Noteworthy cockpit execution, with well-thought-out helm stations and winch placement, a clever daybed for lounging and relaxing, and an offset companionway.
+ The Bavaria Docking Control system, utilizing a joystick, a bow thruster forward, and a retractable thruster aft, is a nifty solution for close-quarters maneuvering.
For 2013, Bavaria Yachts brought a pair of new boats to the marketplace, including the Vision 46, the first in a new series of very contemporary, forward-thinking cruising boats. In layout and execution, it’s meant to be the ultimate “couple’s” cruiser, easy to sail and operate and possessing lavish appointments and accoutrements at anchor or dockside. The BOTY judges believed Bavaria, in collaboration with Farr Yacht Design, more than met its stated objective, and they named the Vision 46 the year’s Best Full-Size Cruiser, 45 to 49 Feet.
Right off the bat, the 46-footer received high marks from the judges for its easily driven hull and notable sailing characteristics. “It felt right,” said Alvah Simon, as the boat registered speeds in the mid-7-knot range in just 10 to 12 knots of breeze. “I thought it performed pretty well, given the conditions for our sea trials.”
The boat also drew favorable reviews under power. One of the new trends in cruising boats are software-driven engine controls; Bavaria’s system employs a set of joystick-controlled thrusters fore and aft. “I found it very intuitive,” said Tim Murphy. “And they’ve done a good job of providing a simple manual override in case of emergency,” said Sherman.
Over the last several years, Bavaria has completely revamped the lines, and Sherman, who’s very familiar with the brand, believes the evolution has been significant. “As far as the overall quality and fit and finish, it just keeps getting better and better,” he said. The proof is this winning design.
Best Multihull Under 45 Feet
+ Fine layout for offshore work, with numerous touches that will promote safe sailing, including an abundance of handrails above and below deck and good visibility.
+ Long-range voyaging capability, with a rig set up for transoceanic adventures, such as a powerful sail plan with square-topped main and full battens.
+ Extremely sound structurally; very good performer under power; also available in a twin-helm version (the Nautitech 442) with aft, outboard steering stations with tillers.
One of the toughest classes for this year’s BOTY panel to sort out was the smaller of the two multihull divisions, but when all was said and done, the judges came up with a clear-cut winner, largely due to its established builder’s long-term presence in the marketplace. As a proven all-oceans voyager, the choice for Best Multihull Under 45 Feet, was the Nautitech 441.
“This is a French-built boat and I think the build quality may have surpassed the other boats in this group, which is saying something,” said Ed Sherman. “Down below it’s a very quiet boat. We sailed it on a windy day with a lot going on and yet down below there was no creaking, groaning, or cracking noises whatsoever. Even under power, we registered some of the lowest decibel readings for our entire fleet of boats.
“Two other things I noted,” he continued. “First, we were moving along quite quickly today in heavy air and there were good handholds everywhere, there were no issues there. And there was sort of an eyelid over the wraparound window parameter around the cabin top, and underneath the fiberglass is all nice and smooth and finished off, with no shard potential. They’ve done a really nice job.”
“I sort of come in as the cheapskate judge and my mantra is always value, value, and more value,” said Alvah Simon. “And I can’t help but think that in this class, even though it isn’t the cheapest boat, that the Nautitech offers more value for money. In terms of overall quality, long-term maintenance, and even longevity for its owner, I have to go with the 441.”
Best Full-Size Multihull
+ Quality construction from South African builder Robertson and Caine—with over 1,000 cats to its credit, the company is one of the world’s best multihull manufacturers.
+ A fine combination of excellent sailing performance with a stellar accommodation plan and layout, particularly the inviting, comfortable forward cockpit.
+ Plenty of attention to design details, including the rigid overhead bimini, generous scuppers, and the very effective raised helm station with at-hand sail and engine controls.
On the heels of last year’s sweet 44-footer, which won its class and was named Import Boat of the Year, Leopard Catamarans has followed up with another strong effort: The Leopard 48 has earned the prize as CW’s Best Full-Size Multihull for 2013.
Leading the praise for this latest South African partnership of naval architect Alex Simonis and the Cape Town-based builder Robertson and Caine was BOTY judge Ed Sherman: “I loved this boat,” he said. “As far as the service access is concerned, I can’t recall being on a boat where they’d actually engineered the ease of access to all the systems as nicely as this one. Every single panel where there was electrics or machinery that will ultimately require service had these quick-release threaded knobs that you undo and you’re there. Beyond that, once you get into these service areas, all the equipment was first class, and the degree of workmanship was very high. And everything was labeled. Terrific.”
“I also enjoyed sailing it,” he continued. “But it performs well under power, too. At max cruising speed, we were making over 9 knots. And it was one of the quietest boats we tested. To me, that’s indicative of the overall quality of construction, because they thought about the things that would reduce vibration and rattles and addressed them accordingly.”
Alvah Simon also found much to like. “The ergonomics worked very well,” he said. “The forward cockpit door struck me as beautiful. It was so convenient and so simple. It just works. And with it, they’ve created a beautiful lounging platform forward. All of my notes, whether they address the storage, the transom, the seats—they all say ‘good.’” Taken together, such praise adds up to a great boat.
Best Bluewater Cruiser
+ Here’s a state-of-the-art example of no-holds-barred, completely uncompromised modern yacht construction and design.
+ Sparkling sailing performance, lavish accommodations, sensational craftsmanship: The list of wonderful features is endless.
With the class winners selected, the judges were still faced with a nagging quandary. Two of the boats they’d inspected were unquestionably among the best introduced for 2013. Yet they were both outliers that, unlike the other nominees, didn’t fit into neat and tidy classifications. Therefore, the judges decided to honor these vessels with special awards. The first was the Oyster 625, which the panel unanimously felt was the Best Bluewater Cruiser for 2013.
The nearly 64-foot Oyster was originally slotted in with a trio of boats in the Full-Size Cruiser group; however, it was soon apparent that in terms of size, systems, construction, purpose, and potential, it was truly in a class of its own. Of course, with a price tag over $3 million, it should’ve been. But that fact didn’t preclude the judges from recognizing, and rewarding, the overall excellence of the Rob Humphreys design.
“When we step aboard a boat, we always ask the builder to describe it, and when we heard ‘a serious world-cruising boat,’ that was no exaggeration,” said Tim Murphy.
“If you have the money, in this case it will buy you a lovely, powerful, elegant, classic, highly technical yet somehow approachable very big boat,” said Alvah Simon. “You can get boats of this size and complexity that are intimidating, yet I stepped aboard the 625 and felt that an experienced couple could jump on it and in a few hours sail it safely. You can drive it and you can dock it because it all worked. We pressed the boat hard when we sailed it, but once we found the groove, we learned what a 70,000-pound yacht with a big rig can really do. It felt beautiful to be sailing at 9 knots with that kind of power and ease of motion. I mean, what else is there to say?”
+ Truly unique and successful approach to interior space, with a very good nav station, cavernous centralized engine room, and outward-facing berths in the ama cabins.
+ Fantastic sailing performance, perhaps the best for 2013 models, with easily driven hulls, a versatile and manageable sail plan, and consistent double-digit speed potential.
+ Cool details, including an excellent emergency tiller, highly effective nonskid, simple but clever dinghy davits, and sloping decks with ample walkways that work well.
The second of this year’s special awards goes to the Neel 45, the only production trimaran introduced for 2013, which the judges felt was easily the Most Innovative of all the entries. For many years, builder Eric Bruneel was the managing director of Fountaine Pajot, and in that capacity he oversaw the construction of roughly 2,000 catamarans. He’s also an accomplished solo transoceanic trimaran racer, so it perhaps goes without saying that he knows more than a little about multihulls. So when he started his own company, he had a specific vision of what he wanted to accomplish.
Tim Murphy, for one, believes he succeeded in his quest. “I truly believe this is a breakthrough boat,” said Murphy. “Under sail, it behaves differently. It looks different. You live differently in it. It solves problems that had previously not been solved. Bruneel said it’s a 10-knot boat, that it trucks along at 10 knots on coastal cruises or on passage, which translates into 240-mile days. We saw that.
“And the thing is,” he continued, “it’s not just the speed itself. It’s the kind of speed. It’s beautiful speed. The way the boat moves, it kind of has this floating motion. You feel relaxed. I believe you’d feel rested after a passage at 10 knots on this boat.
“Look, it’s not perfect,’” he concluded. “The aesthetics aren’t for everyone, and there are some production details that need to be addressed. But you can think of boatbuilding as an art, and there are a handful of boats this year that expressed that artistry. Bruneel is kind of an artist. He gets the business, and design, and how his boat will be used. There’s a lot of art in his boat.”
“I want this on the record: Sailing this boat was the happiest sailing experience I had this entire contest.” -Tim Murphy
Domestic Boat of the Year, and Best Performance Cruiser, 30 to 39 feet
+ Terrific construction technique and materials, including a resin-infused epoxy/foam hull, balsa-cored deck, carbon-fiber rig, solid-teak cabin sole, and cherry interior.
+ True dual-purpose racer/cruiser with outstanding sailing qualities and high-performance potential along with simple but fine amenities for coastal cruising.
+ Versatile cockpit layout with open “floor plan” for racing, and first-class Harken hardware package, along with plenty of room for daysailing with a posse of friends.
Prior to this year’s Boat of the Year testing in Annapolis, Maryland, one of the judges posed this open-ended question to no one in particular: “Where is the next generation of designers and builders going to come from?” Two weeks later, at the close of the competition, they had at least a partial answer. With his very first effort, young naval architect Tom McNeill knocked it out of the park: His C&C 101, built in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, is both the Best Performance Cruiser, 30 to 39 Feet, as well as CW’s Domestic Boat of the Year.
“First of all, that was one stable hull,” said Alvah Simon. “I put these boats into hard turns to see what happens, and the C&C was just rock solid. Tacking and jibing are effortless. I thought that cockpit was extremely simple, and I just really enjoyed sailing this one.”
Ed Sherman agreed: “Of the three boats in this group, I liked sailing the C&C the most. As a racer/cruiser, it more than passes muster, and the entry-level pricing, at $175,000, was the least expensive in its class. Taken together, in terms of cost and performance, that’s a tough combination to beat.”
The solid construction, utilizing isophthalic gelcoat, a closed-cell foam core in the hull, resin-infused epoxy, and an internal structural grid, helped seal the deal.
“And the carbon-fiber rig is standard, which I think is great value,” said Murphy. The conclusion? With the C&C 101, youth was served.
“This 33-footer is so stable, so quick, so responsive, and so much fun to sail. They’re really on to something here.” -Alvah Simon
Import Boat of the Year, and Best Full-Size Cruiser Over 50 feet
+ Conceptually, interior space with compartments for machinery and systems aft and living quarters forward neatly defines the Sense layout and philosophy.
+ An optional aft arch with dedicated spots for solar-panel and wind-generator installations provides a nifty arrangement for onboard power management.
+ Traditional mainsail with full battens and a nonoverlapping headsail that is easily tacked and jibed provide stellar sailing performance.
When the boat of the year judges stepped aboard this flagship in Beneteau’s Sense range, they also stepped away from some of their preconceived notions about what constitutes a state-of-the-art contemporary cruising boat. But once they divested themselves of such hard and fast thinking, they came to truly appreciate the fresh ideas in this Berret-Racoupeau design. After that, they were converts, which they proved by making the Sense 55 the year’s Best Full-Size Cruiser Over 50 Feet, as well as 2013’s Import Boat of the Year.
Tim Murphy led the charge. “In the way they’ve laid out this boat, I really feel they’re onto something new,” he said. “And I don’t mean new for the sake of novelty or as a gimmick, but this 55-footer represents, embodies, and invites a different kind of living aboard a boat. It’s not traditional, but you have three great cabins that aren’t even really cabins ... they’re really nice little apartments. I just found this whole approach to be very successful.”
Ed Sherman found other features alluring. “The optional aft arch with solar panels and dual wind generators was very cool,” he said.
“It was a nice arrangement, very well done. It has a significant amount of charging capacity, which really enhanced it in terms of offshore passagemaking capability. That was pretty neat; I liked it a lot.”
“This boat is a break from tradition,” concluded Alvah Simon. “You sort of need to get over our attachment to the spit-and-polish British view of sailing, as opposed to the French adventurer. It’s definitely new. Get used to it.”