What a mix of purpose and design. A dedicated cruising boat from a Danish brand perhaps better known for crossover racer-cruisers: the Xc 35. A German yacht with an important American connection — its naval architects, Farr Yacht Design, are based in Annapolis, Maryland — from a builder that continues to make strong inroads into the U.S. market: the Bavaria Cruiser 37. And finally, a French design to be built in the company’s Marion, South Carolina, plant that comes in various stages of fit and finish depending on the owner’s budget and sailing agenda: the Beneteau Oceanis 35.
Once again, the judging panel was tasked with sifting through very different mission statements to determine which boat best suited its stated design brief. First up was the Xc 35. “I’ve followed the company, X-Yachts, for many years, and I’ve loved a lot of what they’ve done,” said Tim Murphy. “They’ve branched out into two different lines, the Xp series, with a ‘p’ for performance, and the Xc series, with the ‘c’ for cruising, which started in 2008.
“This 35-footer is a little different in that they didn’t go for the big interior like some of the other builders in this size range,” he continued. “There’s less volume in this hull, so you go below and in the interior spaces — the cabins, the bunks, the shower and so forth —there’s less room, comparably. I think, given the sailing we had today, where the boat really performed well on a windy day, that the payback comes right there. I’d describe the ride as ‘joyful.’ I really liked steering this boat. At times we had the traveler loaded up too much, but she always answered her helm, and never threatened not to. It was just beautifully light and responsive. There was a little bit of pushback under power — you felt the prop wash — but I think that’s a consequence of such good steering.”
If the Xc 35’s strong suit was its sailing prowess, the Bavaria Cruiser 37 earned high marks as a boat from a high-production builder that still does the little things well, particularly with the layout and systems installations. “Bavaria is one of the world’s great boatbuilding factories, I think with a capacity for 2,000 boats a year,” said Murphy. “That is serious production boatbuilding.”
“They’ve really raised their own bar in terms of how current models present over earlier models,” added Ed Sherman. “They keep getting better every year. I’m pleased to see that progression.”
The Bavaria Cruiser 37 we inspected in Annapolis had in fact been in prior charter service for much of the year, a fact that impressed Mark Schrader: “So you know that things had been used, and you’d expect to see visible wear patterns, and there was very little of that. The Volvo sail drive had 127 engine hours and it was immaculate. I think that, more than anything else, speaks well to how handy the systems access was and how sailing leads were right and how the equipment actually worked well. Take the emergency steering, which is very smooth and nicely positioned on the transom with the emergency tiller in place. You could sit there for a long time, all day in fact, and steer the boat; it’s that easy. I liked this Bavaria, I thought it was honestly done.”
The third yacht in the category was the Beneteau Oceanis 35 — a sister ship to the company’s Oceanis 38, introduced last year — a boat with an unusual but incredibly well-imagined and executed interior plan from Nauta Design. It was so well done, actually, that it earned the boat top honors as the best Midsize Cruiser for 2015.
“This is a very interesting boat,” said Murphy. “The interior, I think, is great. The floor plan in the main saloon is completely open with no forward bulkhead, which is very unusual, but it works. They offer the boat in three stages, so you can buy it as a daysailer with no galley whatsoever, and then up through two more levels, as a weekender or a full-on cruiser. We were on so many other boats this year, many of them in the mid-40-foot range and larger, and my notes over and over again say the Oceanis 35 compares favorably with them.
“There are just so many little things that add up,” he continued. “For instance, on this 35-footer, there’s a separate head with a completely separate shower room. The aft cabin is a wonderful space. Those are always a challenge, to get that space to actually work under the complex curves of the cockpit sole, but they nailed it. In the main cabin, there are windows in the hull, which you see on more and more boats. I liked sitting down there when we were sailing, with the light coming in, watching the shoreline and the water pass by. I reviewed a 58-footer recently with the same features, and the view on the Oceanis 35 was exactly the same. I think that’s quite a nice thing.”
“The target market, I think, is the millennial generation, the kids who played with Transformer toys,” said Schrader. “They’ll have a number of different things to do with the interior here; it’s really very clever. The Lewmar steering package was very smooth, and the mechanical installations were good. The cockpit was huge, thanks to a wide, wide transom. It’s a lot of boat in 35 feet. They also offer a seven-year hull and structural warranty, three years on equipment, and all the warranty work goes directly through Beneteau.”
That final point sealed Schrader’s vote, and ultimately, those of his fellow judges too.
“I like a company that stands behind what it makes,” he said.