Winner: Solaris 50
For 2017, the big-boat category on the monohull side of the equation featured three worthy contenders, two of which were offered by a pair of major French players in production boatbuilding — the Beneteau Yacht 62 and the Jeanneau 58, whose builders are both subsidiaries of Group Beneteau — with a third built in Italy, the Solaris 50, which was a first-time nominee in the BOTY program. Given the size of the yachts and their respective nations of origin, there was no question that the matters of style and luxury would play key roles in determining the winner, and so it came to pass. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues with the crew tasked to sail the boat to New York to deliver it to its new owner, for the first time in the history of the event, the judges were unable to conduct sea trials on the new flagship from Beneteau. Their deliberations, then, were based on their extensive dockside inspections during the Annapolis boat show.
“We compared it to the Jeanneau, which cost $750,000, and the Solaris, at $1.2 million,” said Tim Murphy. “The Beneteau comes in at $1.3 million, though in cost per pound ($24) it’s about in the middle between the Jeanneau ($16 per pound) and the Solaris ($38 per pound). This 62-footer is part of Beneteau’s Yacht line, which they’ve been revamping over the last couple of years.
“There’s a lot of splash and style to this boat,” he continued. “We came aboard from the stern, so the first thing we noticed was the ‘dinghy garage’ aft, which many boats this size are starting to incorporate. This is a truly well-designed space. As with the Dufour 460, there’s a barbecue in the cockpit aft, so you open up a cover and there’s the grill, a sink and a cutting board. There’s a big cockpit table that’s on a telescoping leg that drops down into a daybed, though it would also be comfortable for overnight sleeping. Down below there’s a very big, very long — maybe the longest I’ve seen — in-line galley to starboard. The forward cabin is very spacious and well laid out.”
With five different interior options, the Jeanneau 58 offers something for all cruisers, whether they’re sailing as a couple with friends or with a large extended family. “There was a lot to like about this boat,” said Carol Hasse. “It had my favorite toerail in the fleet, and one of my top chart tables. There are great fiddles down below. They had a big double bow roller standard, where other boats had that as an option. You step down into the galley, which I liked because once you were in it, you felt very secure. In the cockpit, the table is beautiful, and the ample lounging seats are great. Under sail, it moved along nicely, too.”
“They did some good things electrically,” added Ed Sherman. “If you are indeed going to sail around the world, you’ve got both 12- and 24-volt service, as well as 110 and 230 AC converted with an inverter and generator.”
The newcomer to the fleet was the Solaris 50, and especially under sail, it left quite an impression. “It was one of the most delightful sailing experiences I’ve ever had just in terms of how it moved through the water, how powerful it was and yet how easy it was to drive,” said Hasse — quite a statement considering her years of voyaging and sailmaking. “It answered the helm like a dinghy, and it was just absolutely fantastic.”
“This is a boat that just exudes style, both static and dynamic,” said Murphy. “At the dock there was a real wow factor. This boat just jumped out. There was the design itself and also the paint job; together they contributed to this sort of sparkling, really outstanding look. It’s a performance boat, and it feels like a worthy expression of Mediterranean luxury on the Riviera. When we were sailing the boat, the helm was gorgeous, just beautiful. Being on board, moving through the water so effortlessly, was an absolutely lovely feeling.”
“The boat sailed great. I mean, there’s no question about that,” said Sherman. “There was no boat in the fleet that sailed closer to the wind. It was right there.”
As the judges deliberated over this trio of fully found yachts, the discussion drifted to lifestyles and the inherent differences between the French and Italian nominees.
There was no question that the Beneteau and Jeanneau would be ideal platforms for traditional cruising, with both passagemaking and lounging at anchor being pastimes at which both yachts would excel. The Solaris, on the other hand, would be an ideal ride to sail to the Caribbean for the winter racing circuit, with an equal measure of competitive sailing and island-hopping on the docket.
“I think the Beneteau offers the most real luxury in the strict definition of the word, certainly in the interior and I think in the cockpit, too,” said Murphy. “That said, I don’t think we had a better pure sailing experience in the whole fleet than with the Solaris. The luxury there was the sensation of the boat moving through the water.”
In the end, with a team of sailing-mad judges, that was enough to tip the scales, which is why they awarded the Solaris 50 the banner for Best Full-Size Cruiser Over 50 Feet.