2015 Pocket Cruisers: Compact Cruisers for Quick Getaways

According to Boat of the Year judge Ed Sherman, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349 "has come in at such an exceptional price for what you get that it's really the best value in the entire contest." Meet the Pocket Cruiser nominees in Cruising World's 2015 Boat of the Year competition.

This year's group of pocket cruisers, the Salona 33, Dragonfly 3200 and Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349, while all under 35 feet, delivered big-time thrills under sail. But before launching into the attributes of one of the more enjoyable and spritely classes of BOTY boats in recent memory, let's briefly examine one of the major trends for 2015: the proliferation of truly interesting yachts under 40 feet that are now available to sailors.

Along with this class, another trio of boats from 35 to 37 feet comprised the Midsize Cruiser division. Taken together, they account for almost a third of the year’s 19 new models. It’s been a good while since new-boat buyers had this many solid smaller cruisers from which to choose.

“I’m so happy to see this big group of boats around 35 feet,” said Tim Murphy. “I think, industrywide, that this return to more entry-level boats is a really good move. And in this Pocket Cruiser class, specifically, it was really refreshing to see such a diversity of entries. It’s not, as I think we’ve seen in the past, just a gathering of similar Clorox bottles. The boats in this group are extremely different, and each has some real positive and unique traits going for it.”

Every year, it seems, there's one boat in the fleet that does OK during the judges' dockside inspections, but absolutely knocks their socks off once they hoist sail and take it for a spin. In 2015, that boat was an import from Croatia: the Salona 33. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it was that the sail tests were conducted in light airs hovering around 6 knots. "Some of the other boats came off looking very lackluster in that breeze, but the Salona really lit up even in that," said Murphy. "So many builders talk about 'performance'; it's a word that just rolls off their tongue. But these guys are living it. You can't get in-mast furling, it's only offered with a traditional mainsail. There are options but there's a maximum displacement figure they won't go over. Hats off to them for sticking to their guns."

“We were just loping around out there, short tacking, reaching off, bringing it back on the wind, and it just sailed beautifully,” marveled Ed Sherman. “They got it right on not only sail selection but the way the cockpit’s laid out and where all the gear’s positioned. It was a blast!”

From a sailing perspective, the Salona 33 was a very tough act to follow. But the Dragonfly 3200, built in Denmark by Quorning Boats, which has produced some 900 other high-quality trimarans in the last quarter-century, was up to the task. In other years, this nifty little sportboat might've been a better fit in the Multihull class, but in waterline length and interior volume, for 2015 it matched up well with boats of similar length overall.

“What a fun boat to sail, holy cow,” Murphy said of the folding tri, whose amas swing aft and retract, thus reducing its 26-foot beam under sail to 12 feet, a size that will fit in a normal slip. “We got the screacher up and hit 13 knots of boat speed. I think it would be a whole lot of fun to learn the boat’s intricacies.”

“I was impressed with the overall quality,” added Sherman. “While motoring, it had some of the lowest decibel noise ratings, which was mind-boggling to me because it’s a light boat and my expectation was that it would be noisy in the moderate seas we had. But that wasn’t the case. It’s actually a very quiet boat, with high-quality gear and nice installation work.”

Given such competition, it would clearly take an exceptional boat to rise to the top. That's what the judges discovered when they boarded Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349. After a thorough inspection, they named it not only the year's top Pocket Cruiser, but also 2015's Import Boat of the Year. With over 100 already built and sold, the marketplace has already spoken. There's just tons to like about this "little big boat."

First off was the cost. The base price for the 349 is $125 thousand, though the model we tested — tricked out for racing with a square-topped mainsail and other competitive goodies, along with reverse-cycle air conditioning, a microwave and other liveaboard features — topped off closer to $165 thousand. But that’s one of the attributes of the boat; even in a 34-footer, there’s room both to customize the yacht and to cut costs on items you don’t find essential. It’s also versatile, as the owner of our test model — a dedicated Chesapeake racer who also wants to take his young family on fun Bay adventures — noticeably typified.

“It’s the lowest-priced boat in this class and represents exceptionally good value,” said Sherman. “It could be a terrific entry-level cruiser for a young couple or someone just starting out, but it could also be a fine option for someone scaling back from a larger yacht who still wants to go cruising in a good sailboat.”

“It’s a Marc Lombard design,” said Murphy, “and you can see in the whole Jeanneau range that they are really paying attention to how the boats sail. I think we see that more clearly in the Jeanneau line than we do with other builders with offerings in this size range.”

“The cockpit worked for me,” said Mark Schrader, “and so did the twin wheels and twin rudders. It’s typical Jeanneau grid construction, which they have dialed in very well. I do think they’re giving themselves short shrift when they say it’s an ‘entry-level’ boat. I’m not an entry-level sailor and I really like it.”

Sherman summed up the judge’s collective opinion concisely: “It has come in at such an exceptional price for what you get that it’s really the best value in the entire contest.” The formula, then, is simple: Marry value with quality and the result is a winner.

Dragonfly 3200 Sailboat

Dragonfly 3200 Sailboat

Our judges enjoyed plenty of great sails during sea trials, but none better than a screaming reach on the Dragonfly 3200.Billy Black
Salona 33 Sailboat

Salona 33 Sailboat

One of the contest's pleasant surprises was the sailing prowess of the Salona 33.Billy Black
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349 Sailboat

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349 Sailboat

Jeanneau's Sun Odyssey 349 ghosted along well even in light air.Billy Black