Best Full-Size Cruiser 54-58 Feet

A full fleet of five big boats made for tough competition in the 54-58 foot category. In the end, the Southerly 540 took the prize.

December 12, 2017
Southerly 540
Jon Whittle

Winner: Southerly 540

With five nominees, the single largest class in the 2018 BOTY competition also comprised some of the biggest boats in the fleet. Given those numbers, it’s little surprise that the Best Full-Size Cruiser 54 to 58 Feet was also one of the most competitive divisions in the entire contest. Sorting out a winner from this quintet of closely matched yachts proved to be a challenging exercise for our panel of judges.

Designed by Germán Frers and built by the venerable Finnish boatyard, the Swan 54 is a bluewater performance cruiser with long-range aspirations that also could be raced in events like the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. “It has a nice layout on deck,” said Bill Bolin. “There were no cabin-­­top winches, a trend we’re seeing this year that we ­haven’t seen before. All the lines come back to coamings along the cockpit, which keeps the cabin top clean. It’s easy to sail and trim this boat. The anchor was self-launching and beautifully executed.”

“Under sail, I thought they did a really nice job of hitting that sweet spot between giving you some control over the rig and keeping it simple,” said Tim Murphy. “We’ve sailed other boats with strings all over the place. It’s clear that a very focused design mind was involved in that deck layout.”


Now in business for around two decades, Discovery Yachts is a British builder that has recently undergone an ownership change. “They’ve definitely been in the bluewater cruising space,” said Murphy when discussing the Ron Holland-designed Discovery 58. “I think there’s a lot of promise in this company. They’ve been around awhile anyway, but I think they’re in growth mode and we’re going to see some fresh things from them.

“This yacht has a deck saloon with a raised cabin,” he continued. “It has one of the biggest navigation stations in the entire fleet, forward facing and at eye level with the cabin ports. There are no engine controls at that helm station below, but it’s a boat where there could be. You’ve got very good visibility, and you could make that a pilothouse situation if you brought your engine controls down there.”

moody 54
The Moody 54 was praised for its outstanding ergonomics (left). Designed by Germán Frers, the Swan 54 is a true bluewater cruiser (right). Jon Whittle

Interestingly, the hull of the Moody 54 is the same one employed in the Hanse 575 and 588. “Moodys are now built by the Hanse Group, and what we discovered when we got aboard the 54 is that they’re doing some of the great things Hanse’s doing in terms of their production-line efficiencies and manufacturing processes that have helped them put a lot of value into some pretty sophisticated boats,” said Ed Sherman. “It’s there on the Moody in spades. There are also top-quality component installations. Systems-wise, they use name brands from around the world. But it’s all stuff that most folks that work within the industry are going to be familiar with, which makes it easy to deal with.”


Murphy said, “We’ve seen a trend this year of opening up the side decks, but the Moody was just exemplary. Because it’s a deck-saloon layout, there was a rail inboard that was just beautiful and took you up to the mast. You couldn’t ask for better, smoother handholds with no sharp edges. And then outboard, you have a true stainless-­steel rail that goes all the way around the boat. I was really impressed with it.”

In speaking about the Hanse 588, Sherman expanded his thoughts on production building. “This is a high-volume boat, comparatively speaking, and in recent years Hanse has really begun to employ some streamlined manufacturing processes that are now raising the bar,” he said. “The goal is to make the boats as easy to put together for the factory workers as possible, and yet still achieve a high level of quality. Hanse is a company that we’ve had the pleasure of watching evolve in that direction between maintaining a price point and still building a better product that is at a higher degree of fit and finish. This boat did it for me.”

Hanse 588
The high-volume Hanse 588 is a good-looking cruiser (left). The Ron Holland-designed Discovery 58 is a British-built beauty (right). Jon Whittle

“Dockside, it’s an attractive boat,” said Bolin. “I like the lines, especially the long, straight, sloping sheer line. The freeboard is quite high, but it gets you that volume inside, for living spaces and tankage and all the other things people want in a big boat like this. Our experience handling the boat was surprising; it snapped-to and did what it needed to do. The 110 hp Volvo pushed the boat along nicely. And when we were motoring, it was very quiet down below. It really struck me as being a solid boat.”


The final boat in this group was the Southerly 540, the signature feature of which is a variable-draft cast-iron swing keel that draws nearly 11 feet when in the full down position and a mere 3 feet 1 inch when raised. “It delivers the best of both worlds,” said Murphy. “When you’re out in the ocean, you want a boat that can handle waves and big seas. But the best part of the cruising life is at the edges where water meets land. The Southerly will take you to both of those places. With the keel down, you’ve got 11 feet under you and all the pointing ability that goes with that. So it’s a deepwater boat but also one you can dry out. It can go places most cruising boats can’t ever go. So the world is very, very opened up.”

“The swinging keel system is very robust,” said Bolin. “It looked foolproof, with a hydraulic ram driving a block-and-tackle system with Spectra line on it. You push a couple of buttons and it goes down to your pre-punched-in level. It takes a few seconds. Under sail, I was amazed that we were under load, closehauled, and [the owner] changed the keel configuration. With all the forces acting on it I didn’t think it would move, but it came right up.”

“The build quality was outstanding,” said Sherman. “It sailed beautifully. It’s a true global cruiser.” For the judges, that combination of traits was irresistible. Which is why they named the Southerly 540 the Best Full-Size Cruiser 54 to 58 Feet.


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