Rides That Get Up and Go
From the very outset of this year’s BOTY competition, it seemed the most difficult class to consider would be the Performance Cruiser division, with four very strong contenders: the Grand Soleil 43, Dehler 46, Italia Yachts 13.98 and Salona 41. Yes, the judges had their work cut out for them, as Alvah Simon acknowledged when comparing the quartet.
“It’s very rare that we have a category where the reason you dread judging it is because the boats are too similar and very hard to differentiate,” he said. “What their builders all set out to do was create high-performing boats, but with enough interior accommodations, ground tackle and tankage to also work in a cruising capacity. But, obviously, the emphasis was on performance. And perform they did.”
The panelists were already familiar with the Salona brand; the company’s 44-footer was named the top Cruiser-Racer in the 2015 BOTY contest. Simon said, “We sailed the Salona 41 in 15 knots of breeze and managed a steady, easy 7.5 to 8 knots of boat speed. It tacked beautifully. The twin helms were sweet and positive, with no play and yet no resistance. You just felt at one with the wind and the boat, like it was an extension of your will. I really enjoyed that. This is the kind of boat you’re going to drive hard because it’s fun to drive hard.”
Tim Murphy was equally attuned to the Dehler 46. “This is a production boat built in a high-production yard,” he said, noting that the vessel is manufactured in Germany’s Hanse facility. “Yet it doesn’t feel like the furniture just came off a CNC machine, cut out of flat pieces. There are some shapely design features down below that are really quite nice. The boat sailed pretty well, especially considering we tested it in light air. It was very satisfying to make 6.5 knots in not much more wind. It was another one of the boats that felt terrific to sail. We sailed some other yachts in the same conditions, and it was frustrating to try and get them moving. But the Dehler was sort of an ‘Ah, that’s better’ experience.” When it came to the Grand Soleil 43, it was Ed Sherman’s turn to sing the praises. “We had a really good light-air sail, and the helm was smooth as glass,” he said. “It made a very good overall impression. I liked the interior a little better than some of the other yachts in this group, but that’s a subjective matter. I really enjoyed everything about this one.”
It was a newcomer to the American market, however, that finally earned the judges’ votes. When they named the Italia Yachts 13.98 the Best Performance Cruiser for 2016, it really came down to the details, as Simon explained.
“I was quite enamored of the boat even before I stepped aboard,” he said. “The transom had a notable, elegant style unlike anything else we’d seen. Once we’d boarded, the finish of the teak decks was just a little above and beyond what we’re used to. There was a very high bridgedeck — not so high that it was inconvenient, but high enough to prevent downflooding. And the beautiful, recessed sliding companionway washboard was very good.
“Going below,” he continued, “the companionway steps were contained and scalloped with good nonskid. The overall quality of construction was excellent. Every single door and drawer had little rubber gaskets to prevent rattling. The steering quadrants were easily accessed. The life-raft installation was the best in the fleet. I could go on and on. It’s elegant, with a consistent concept throughout. It’s clearly a performance cruiser but could also be a good liveaboard yacht. This one wins out.”