Priority Reviews

CW editor John Burnham explains the bonuses of the Boat of the Year Contest and some disadvantages too. From the "Editors Log" in our January 2009 issue

John Burnham 368

Sixteen years ago, CW's editors took a bold step and set in motion a plan to identify the Boats of the Year from among new-model cruising boats. This wasn't a PR stunt or a sop to advertisers, but a competition in which we would highlight the latest designs and ask independent judges to choose the best. To do it right, we spent thousands of dollars, hiring and feeding some of the best judges we could find to spend 10 days evaluating the boats at the dock and under sail.

In return, of course, some advertisers were annoyed that our judges didn't choose their boats, and some readers griped that we'd sold out to our advertisers. Truthfully, that hasn't changed entirely over the years, but we've kept to our course because we feel the program continues to have integrity and be of value to a large number of readers.

We've also been glad to see that, over time, builders have improved many things our judges noted as being deficient. Deck components got beefier. Anchoring systems have become more useable. Orderliness is much more apparent when it comes to wiring and plumbing-and labels are common and clear. Handholds below have become handier. Fiddles have appeared (though there are still notable exceptions). Just this year, we saw a significant increase in the number of mainsheets that could be reached from the helm. We haven't liked every change in design we've seen, especially those sacrificing sailing performance, but we feel that BOTY has played a consistent and useful role in rewarding builders as they've improved their designs.

Two years ago, we took another big step and rather than holding back our reviews from each fall's boat tests to fill a year's worth of issues, we included summary reviews of every new boat in the January issue and ran the longer reviews subsequently. Online, we enhanced each review by publishing photo galleries of each boat. Another expensive, labor-intensive effort, but worthwhile considering that boat buyers may not be waiting all year to decide what to buy.

A year ago, we repeated this effort, which we call the Cruising World Sailboat Show, and now we've done it again. In the process, we've not only created January issues that are keepers for many readers, we've also begun building a remarkable online library. Among 300-plus boat reviews on our website (, you can find more than 150 with photo galleries attached. Over time, this expanding volume of articles and photos has begun working in tandem with our Classic Plastic reviews to create an equally valuable resource to readers researching used boats.

You may ask, with the economy heading south, why we're still spending time and money to help readers consider boat purchases. One answer, of course, is that if we don't, what other sailing magazine would invest nearly as many dollars or pages (in print and online) in the effort? Another is that you never can tell when the dark clouds over our economy will part. Plus, the timing of an acquisition remains your decision; we won't try to predict when you'll be ready. Many of you are on a multi-year plan that includes buying a new boat; if that's now and you're in a position to buy, we can say with confidence that there are exciting new models for sale-and you can probably strike a very good deal.

If you're like me, a time of financial uncertainty has you rethinking your priorities. Do you own things that are cluttering up your life and taking time and energy you'd rather devote elsewhere? Could trading them in for the right sailboat lead to more time with your family, give you more chances to connect with and help your neighbors down the dock, and carry you a step closer to your sailing dreams? It's an idea to keep in mind as you enjoy this issue's CW Sailboat Show and, whether reefed down or under full sail, carry on toward your chosen destination in the new year.

John Burnham