In the 22 years we’ve conducted our Boat of the Year contest, we’ve tested literally hundreds of boats, sailed thousands of miles and splashed across Chesapeake Bay in just about every condition imaginable. But we’ve never had a racing sailboat test drive as unusual as the one conducted for the 2015 competition on the Salona 44.
When the judges boarded the boat, the water was glassy, the breeze nonexistent. But a front was coming; the western sky was dark and menacing, and closing in fast. A few minutes later, a solid 25 knots of wind, with higher gusts, lashed the bay: Breeze-wise, we’d gone from zero to 30 in record time.
The Salona 44, with its tall triple-spreader rig and feathery twin wheels, handled it with aplomb. Upwind and down, the boat was stiff and fast, ultimately topping off in double-digit boat speeds that etched a smile on the faces of everyone aboard. On a power reach heading back to Annapolis, closing in quickly on the U.S. Naval Academy, one of the company reps asked, “Should I run the sheets?” He was ready to set the spinnaker, and no one doubted the boat could handle it. “Um, no thanks, mate,” we replied. We’d already found what we came looking for.
A few days later, at the conclusion of our sea trials, the judges named the Salona 44 the year’s best Cruiser/Racer. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
It’s not every year that we have the racing sailboat entries to form a proper dual-purpose Cruiser/Racer category, but for 2015 there were three outstanding nominees, the others being the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 and the C&C Redline 41. As a cruising magazine, it must be noted that we place a heavy emphasis on the cruising part of that equation. Had we inverted the class title and judged it as the Racer/Cruiser division, the results might have been quite different.
After all, the judges — all of whom list a fair bit of racing on their sailing resumes —fell hard for the Sun Fast 3600. Yes, it has a workable, even comfortable interior, though one better suited for a bash to Bermuda with the boys than a cruise to the islands with Mom and the kids. As a pure sailboat, however, it was nothing less than superb.
“They’re very upfront about the design purpose; this is a performance boat for one-design, doublehanded and crewed racing, either around the buoys or offshore,” said Mark Schrader. “Our test boat came with twin wheels, though that’s a concession to the American market. Most of the European buyers prefer the standard tillers.
“Sailing this boat, to me, is a real sailor’s idea of a good time,” he continued. “The deck and cockpit are laid out for racing. There are miles of color-coded lines with a variety of clutches and tackle, but everything is nicely labeled with an obvious purpose. It’s sort of a trimmer’s candy store. The dual rudders are canted out and placed far aft, which makes for really good control. The wheels spin with a very light touch. The hull shape really lets everybody know, the driver and the trimmers, when you’re in the groove. You get an instant response on the wheel and the boat just surges. It tells you when you’ve got it right.”
So, yeah, Schrader liked it a lot.
The new C&C Redline 41 also intrigued the panel; it’s a fresh design from a new builder. C&C, of course, is a venerable brand with a long history in the marine industry. But this 41-footer is a thoroughly modern high-tech machine built to exceedingly high standards. It sports a tall carbon rig and carbon bowsprit, and a deep fin keel, and is laid out for a full crew to race from Newport to Bermuda and then head south for a winter’s cruise. C&C also introduced a flat-out 30-foot racer for 2015. In other words, these aren’t necessarily your daddy’s C&Cs.
“These boats are nothing like the previous generation of C&Cs,” said Tim Murphy. “They’re now being built by a Rhode Island company, USWatercraft, and have a new designer for the line, Mark Mills, who made his name in Grand Prix IRC racing. I really enjoyed sailing this boat and I think what they’re doing is very exciting. I’m psyched to see how this new partnership evolves.”
Still, the combination of cost, construction, features and sailing performance led the judges to award the category’s top prize to the Salona 44. But it wasn’t an easy decision by any means.
“We should point out that there’s a large size and volume range among these three boats,” Murphy said. “The Sun Fast 3600 displaces 10,000 pounds, the C&C 15,000 pounds and the Salona 20,000 pounds. In that sense we’re not comparing apples and oranges. But the Salona is built with a steel grid, so a lot of that weight is down low. It allows for a stiff structure with a light skin around it; below the waterline it’s vacuum infused. Moving around the boat was very nice; it had a solid motion. And it sailed beautifully.”
The judges were also impressed by the boat’s innovative transom — which swings up and out to reveal an incorporated boarding passerelle — the abundant handholds and the comfortable accommodations. Taken together, the sum of these many parts made the Salona 44 a winning design.