Every year, it seems, the list of nominees for our annual Boat of the Year competition takes on a collective identity of its own. In the years following the great financial crisis of nearly a decade ago, there was a rash of imports from all points on the international compass rushing in to fill a vacuum left by many U.S. builders that were either outright casualties of the distressed economy or scaling back operations until the smoke cleared. It was difficult to tell what the future held.
Then, for the next several editions of Boat of the Year, the big stories were often the big cats — specifically, the huge influx of catamarans that seemed to dominate the new-boat market as well as the docks of the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, where BOTY judging takes place each year.
So, what was the overriding theme for model year 2019? Well, it was a year dominated not by boutique builders focused on a relatively limited run of high-quality heirloom yachts (though the Hylas 48 will certainly play that role for a select few lucky owners, as will the Tartan 395 and Wauquiez Pilot Saloon 42), nor by a herd of stampeding cats.
No, 2019 will be remembered as a year for an influx of production boats from some of the planet’s largest high-volume builders. And their aim, in a couple of notable instances, wasn’t just to make a splash in the market, but to take no prisoners while doing so.
How else would you explain the very similar strategies of the massive German boatyard Hanse, and the aggressive approach of the French builder Jeanneau, both of which covered all the bases with fresh launches in the 30-foot sector (the Hanse 348 and the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 319), the 40-foot range (Hanse 418 and Sun Odyssey 410) and even the 50-foot category (Hanse 548 and Sun Odyssey 490)?
And not to be outdone over there in the “kitty corner,” how about Lagoon Catamaran saturating the market with a sweet Lagoon 40 and a Lagoon 50? Heck, taken together, these three builders — Hanse, Jeanneau and Lagoon — accounted for nearly half of the 22 brand-new boats introduced in Annapolis last fall. Add in a couple of cool boats from another set of perennial French production builders (the Beneteau 46.1 and the Dufour Grand Large 360), and a pair from Denmark’s prolific X-Yachts (the Xp55 and X4⁹) and you’ve got what you might call a juggernaut.
That’s not to say there wasn’t some real innovation and forward thinking, and a lot of that came, perhaps not surprisingly, in the two dedicated multihull classes. A trimaran, the Neel 51, was one of the Annapolis show’s real head-turners, and more cats from South Africa (Leopard 50), Vietnam (Seawind 1260) and, naturally, France (Bali 4.1, Catana 53, Fountaine Pajot Astréa 42) ensured that there was plenty of variety for those who enjoy their sailing on more than one hull.
As always, judging took place during and after the show in Annapolis, in a process with two components: dockside visits and sea trials. At the dock, our three-man panel of independent judges considered each boat’s layout and design, construction, systems installations, safety factors and livability. Underway, the judging team performed anchoring and emergency-steering tests, and put each boat through its paces under power and on all points of sail.
And in the pages that precede that wrap-up, check out the composition of the individual classes and their respective winners. Yes, it was a big year for foreign builders, but with it came a welcome return to the winner’s circle from Island Packet, one of America’s best-loved brands. You can call it a win-win situation.