2012 Boat of the Year Winners: A Classy Class of New Boats
There's plenty to consider when looking at the lineup of new sailboats visited by our Boat of the Year panel of expert judges. "Boat of the Year" from our January 2012 issue.
There’s no doubt about it, these are challenging economic times, and of course the boatbuilding and marine industries are in no way immune to roller-coaster international markets and politicos who can’t seem to agree on where to go for lunch, never mind how to steer us out of this mess. So when we sent out our call for entries for our annual Boat of the Year competition last summer, we did so with no small sense of both trepidation and curiosity. Exactly who, we wondered, would show up? And how many boats would they be bringing?
As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. Not even a little bit.
At the risk of tooting our collective horn, we sailors, of course, are a resilient lot, and so too are the men and women—not surprisingly, sailors all—who produce the vessels to which we invest our waterborne dreams, goals, and aspirations, not to mention our hard-earned dollars. And for 2012, despite the realities of financial uncertainties, there’s no other way of saying it: the builders and designers not only met our hopeful expectations for a good turnout of interesting new models, they far exceeded them.
How so? Well, let’s begin with the sheer numbers. All things considered, we would’ve been delighted with a fleet of 19 boats, our total tally for 2011. So it’s no exaggeration to say that we were more than a bit excited when our final list of nominees for 2012—the Class of ’12—registered a surprising 22 yachts. But as our judging panel convened in Annapolis, Maryland, last October, to start inspecting and testing the list of contenders—and we began, so to speak, to peel back the layers of the onions—it wasn’t the quantity of boats that was impressive, but the overall quality of the field.
Frankly, when times are tough, consumers expect (and deserve) more for their money, and partly for that reason, and partly because in recent years the larger production builders have ratcheted up their games in terms of assembly-line efficiencies; new tools and technologies; and their incorporation of top-of-the-line materials, systems, and hardware, we expected a lot from the major brands.
And across the board, they delivered.
With a fresh infusion of capital and entrepreneurial energy, Bavaria USA—the new stateside arm of the German builder—introduced not one but a quartet of new models from the distinguished office of Farr Yacht Design. Beneteau, with a cool and consistent look to their revamped Oceanis line, showcased a pair of new boats. Not to be outdone, Jeanneau—which resides under the same corporate umbrella as Beneteau—had a trio of new boats in the water.
Continuing on the stateside front (both the Beneteaus and Jeanneaus are now fabricated in South Carolina), a very complete roster of domestic boats from established and even beloved brands—Catalina, Island Packet, and Tartan—were all proudly stamped with “Made in the U.S.A.” (as was a flash newcomer, the PT-11 Sport Tri, built in Rhode Island). And on the overseas side, the fleet was represented by a veritable United Nations of imports from the following lands: China (Passport Vista 545 CC), France (Dufour Grand’ Large 445, J/108, Outremer 49), South Africa (Leopard 44, Nexus 600), Sweden (Hallberg-Rassy 372), and the United Kingdom (Mystery 35). Trend-wise, hard chines, stable hulls, voluminous interior layouts, and multiple shoal draft/deep keel options are all in. Boring? That’s out.
Included in this wrap-up of the 2012 Boat of the Year contest is a look at the judges and the judging process; consumer picks; profiles of the slate of winners (linked to the winners in each category below); and capsule summaries of other contenders. But first, here’s a breakdown of the five categories for this year’s fleet:
Compact Cruisers, 30 to 35 Feet
Sometimes, it’s a difficult task to fairly categorize the BOTY field, but 2012 was not one of those years. No, the monohull fleet broke down neatly into four divisions of between four and six boats, designed along fairly similar lists of characteristics and objectives, at neat, five-foot intervals, the smallest of which was the Compact Cruiser class. For many of the boom years in the business, builders neglected smaller cruising boats because the profit margins of big yachts were too lucrative. Perhaps it took austerity for companies to again focus on good boats under 35 feet, but whatever the reason, it’s a positive development. You don’t need a 50-footer to take the family cruising.
All four boats are testaments to that fact. The Bavaria Cruiser 32, the smallest boat in the company’s Cruiser line, which extends to 55 feet, is a nifty pocket cruiser with, according to judge Beth Leonard, an inviting interior. She said, “I really liked the general aesthetics down below: the stainless rails, the blond wood, the dark countertops. It’s a little on the stark side but not so much that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s handsome and fairly warm.”
Alvah Simon, whose first circumnavigation was aboard a simple plywood boat, still felt a natural affinity with the robustly built Mystery 35. “It has a classic style with one of those deep, long cockpits of yesteryear where you feel quite secure when you’re nestled down in it,” he said. “You can lean up against the enormously high cockpit coamings with a grip on the tiller and feel pretty safe.”
As the deliberations continued, however, it became clear that in this division, it was a two-boat race. A strong contender was the versatile J/108. “I personally really like the shoal-draft centerboard concept, and I think it was very well done,” said Ed Sherman. “They’ve set up the system so it’s a pretty bulletproof application. And it’s very easy and a lot of fun to sail.”
When the final votes were cast, however, in terms of overall value and bang for the buck, the panel chose the Hunter e33 as the Best Compact Cruiser, 30 to 35 Feet.