Winner: Elan GT5
This is going to be a tough category,” said Bill Bolin of the Best Midsize Cruiser 40 to 44 Feet division. “We have three very different but very good boats in this class — the Elan GT5, the Hallberg-Rassy 412 and the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440.”
To begin, Bolin said of the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440, “It’s the best Jeanneau I’ve ever seen.” The judging panel agreed, crowning the boat the fleet’s Most Innovative design for 2018.
And what, exactly, led to that designation? “One big reason is the side decks,” said Tim Murphy. “One of the design features is wide-open side decks all the way aft” that permit easy egress going forward without the need to scramble over cockpit coamings. “It’s a clean path ahead,” he noted. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it’s something we expect to see on more boats, including a scaled-up Jeanneau 490, in the very near future.
“You go down below and, maybe for the first time, Jeanneau has separated the mast compression post from the main bulkhead,” he added. “Now there’s just a compression post that runs down into the main saloon, and the main bulkhead that would’ve come to that position is now several feet forward. So they’ve opened up more space in the main cabin and taken it away from the forward cabin, where they’re arguing you don’t need it quite as much. I think that’s also a fine change. It has twin rudders, and under sail, I thought the helm was beautiful. It’s a solid boat.”
So, too, thought Bolin, was the Hallberg-Rassy 412. “This is the largest aft-cockpit model Hallberg-Rassy has built,” he said. “There is a 40-foot center-cockpit model, but this is a different hull entirely, optimized for upwind performance, with a code zero sail for downwind work. There’s a retractable bow thruster — we saw a lot of those this year — to reduce drag and get the thruster deeper in the water and farther forward as well. The boat we inspected had upgraded sails, and when we went sailing, they were spectacular. There was a beautiful full-battened sail and the boat sailed very well.
“It had a slippery hull and moved nicely,” he added. “We sailed it in 12 to 14 knots of breeze, so there was decent wind. Most of the time we were making 6.5 to 7 knots. As we fell off on a beam and then a broad reach, I think this was the first boat where we didn’t see a drastic drop in speed. It performed well on all points of sail. It had a nice big wheel and great visibility forward. It would be an easy boat to singlehand. I really like it.”
“This is a mainsail-driven boat, and I think that might explain why it’s so peppy off the wind,” said Murphy. “So the sail plan is a small jib with a big main. They’re one of the few remaining builders that are giving us a true traveler but also genoa sheet-lead controls from the cockpit, showing that they’re concerned about sail shape, and rightly so. Going down below, it’s the classic Hallberg-Rassy mahogany interior, and it’s just lovely, as lovely as it ever was. We’ve talked about good handholds, but on this boat, they weren’t just good, they were also beautiful. The fiddles are these beautiful rounded shapes that are perfect for your hand. They look great and feel great. Very nice.”
That left the Slovenian-built, 43-foot-4-inch Elan GT5. The company builds dedicated lines of racing and cruising boats, but, said Murphy, “The GT5 is sort of a hybrid between those two lines. It has a high-performance hull and a very comfortable cruising interior.
“Sailing it was pretty joyful,” he continued. “We sailed in very light air and it was still moving very nicely. It looked really good on the water. It really seemed to have answered the performance side of Elan’s DNA.”
“The company is doing some progressive things in terms of systems,” said Ed Sherman. “The electrical system on the boat has a nice, graphically designed power distribution panel with push buttons that light up things to let you know, for instance, that the running lights are on and that sort of thing.”
“I was really taken with this boat,” said Bolin. “It looks like a race boat from a distance, and as Tim mentioned, its DNA is rooted in that. But you go below and it’s very unique, with lots of special features. I like the galley-forward arrangement a lot. You come down into the main cabin and you’ve got max beam where the living quarters are, you have a great sense of entry. Figuratively speaking, you’re not walking through the back door and the kitchen to get into the house. I think this layout makes very good use of space. And there’s lots of storage. Finally, I’d say it’s a high-tech boat, vacuum-bagged with 100 percent vinylester. There’s a lot to like about it.”
At the end of the day, Bolin’s colleagues agreed, which is why they chose the Elan GT5 as the Best Midsize Cruiser 40 to 44 Feet.