2015 Full-Size Cruisers Under 50 Feet

Go anywhere in 50 feet or less: Meet the Full-Size Cruiser Under 50 Feet category nominees in Cruising World's 2015 Boat of the Year competition. All the judges in our independent panel agreed that they'd be more than happy to take any yacht in this quartet on an extended cruise, but top honors went to the Garcia Exploration 45.

This four-boat category of dedicated cruising boats ranging from 45 to 48 feet was the single biggest class in the 2015 BOTY competition. All the judges agreed that they’d be more than happy to take any yacht in this quartet on an extended cruise. Yet in many ways these boats remained vastly different. Tim Murphy, who breaks down the contestants on a cost per-pound basis, used those admittedly rough figures to delve deeper into this division, and also offered his opinion, based on manufacturer input, as to the more specific purposes for each boat.

"The Bavaria Cruiser 46 comes in at $315,000; that's $11.34 a pound," he said. "We have two boats, the Island Packet SP Cruiser MK II at $550,000 and the Garcia Exploration 45 at $850,000 that cost around $25 per pound. The fourth boat, the Morris 48 GT at $1.4 million, is about $48 per pound.

"The Bavaria Cruiser 46 aims at the widest demographic of sailors; it's inclusive, if that makes sense," Murphy continued. "The Island Packet is aimed toward experienced, perhaps older sailors who may be thinking of graduating from a sailboat to a trawler. This boat will keep them sailing longer. This particular Morris was built for a couple to live aboard and winter in the Bahamas, but then in a different season, to go ocean racing with a full crew. To accommodate that special purpose, the idea would be to return to the yard and swap the cruising keel and rudder for racing foils. And the Garcia Exploration 45 is an aluminum boat that's clearly designed and laid out for high-latitude exploration, to go up into the ice. In fact, this is the very same boat Jimmy Cornell commissioned and used to sail north of the Arctic Circle."

Despite the Bavaria’s being, by far, the most economical boat in this grouping, it held its own against its competitors. Mark Schrader said, “There’s a great opening transom, it’s electric with a manual override. The twin rudders and wheels, coupled with the Jefa steering system, are very smooth. The mechanical installations are good, very traditional, with a bow thruster and generator. The anchoring setup was excellent; I underlined that in my notes. There’s a striker plate on the hull because the anchor will inevitably bounce around and bang something at some point, and they’ve made provisions for that. We didn’t have a lot of breeze for our sail test, unfortunately, but this is another solid entry from Bavaria.”

The judges found the Morris 48 GT to have the overall good looks and attention to finish that we've come to expect from the Maine craftsmen on Mount Desert Island. And they had no doubt that the owners, longtime Morris customers, would have a fine time with the twin objectives for the boat: cruising for a couple and racing with a team. But they also felt the cost and complication of swapping keels and rudders for those rather opposing goals would make it less than ideal or practical for most sailors. That said, in a workable breeze, carrying the self-tending jib setup for cruising mode, the boat would be quite easily sailed by a short-handed crew.

As deliberations continued, it soon became a two-boat battle for top honors in the category, and the deliberations became more focused. Attention turned next to the revamped Island Packet SP Cruiser MK II.

“The construction is typical Island Packet, and I mean that in the best way,” said Ed Sherman. “They’re a conservative company. They work with proven, high-quality components. The people who assemble these boats really care about what they do and how they do it, and it’s quite obvious when you look at the way everything is laid out. And I like the layout of this boat a lot. Their design brief is perfect. This is a four-season boat, with this interior, that will be great to cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway and shoot over to the Bahamas. With the shallow draft there will be no issues there. Or you could comfortably take it to Alaska.

“At first glance, I labeled this boat a motorsailer; frankly, I never expected it to sail particularly well, Sherman continued. “But I was pleasantly surprised by its sailing performance. Even in light air, and to windward, it did just fine.”

That left the Garcia Exploration 45, another boat the judges approached with a slight sense of trepidation. A metal boat with a centerboard conceived for the Northwest Passage: Would it be a one-trick pony?

What they found was a bulletproof yacht with an incredible array of features, an innovative (if slightly cramped) interior, and the ability to sail anywhere on the planet. “This boat is truly meant to go on any ocean, any sea, and let you feel really good about it,” said Sherman. “I think they tried to put a 65-footer’s equipment list on a 45-footer, but that’s my one real criticism. Underway, I was immediately overwhelmed by how quiet everything was — no squeaks, no groans. This is a really solidly built boat. With the wind generator and solar panels, you have power-replenishment capabilities without the necessity of running a generator.

“The service items on the engine that you’d need to get to on a day-to-day basis were pretty accessible. On top of all that, it was actually fun to sail. That was almost icing on the cake.”

As a veteran Northwest Passage sailor, Schrader found the boat to be smart and effective.

“There are lots of things anybody planning to do deep ocean stuff will really appreciate,” he said. “There’s a window in the centerboard trunk that’s helpful. The visibility from down below is outstanding. I like the sheltered cockpit with the partial hard dodger. There are three headsails, so you have infinite options. It’s a very well-done boat. It will take you where you want to go.”

In the end, it was the Garcia that steered the judges in their final deliberations, earning it the title Best Full-Size Cruiser Under 50 Feet.

Garcia Exploration 45 Sailboat

Garcia Exploration 45 Sailboat

The judges found the Garcia Exploration 45 to be a bulletproof yacht with an innovative interior.Billy Black
Morris 48 GT Sailboat

Morris 48 GT Sailboat

The Morris 48 GT was an example of fine Maine craftsmanship.Billy Black
Bavaria Cruiser 46 Sailboat

Bavaria Cruiser 46 Sailboat

The Bavaria Cruiser 46 was a solid contestant with sharp appointments.Billy Black
Island Packet SP Cruiser MK II Sailboat

Island Packet SP Cruiser MK II Sailboat

The Island Packet SP Cruiser MK II did better than expected under sail.Billy Black