2012 Boat of the Year: A Panel of Judges Worth Their Salt

Meet the judges of Cruising World's 2012 Boat of the Year competition. From our January 2012 issue.

BOTY 2012 Judges

(left to right) Mark Pillsbury, Ed Sherman, Beth Leonard, Alvah Simon, and Herb McCormickBilly Black

Now in its 19th consecutive year, the heart of the annual Cruising World Boat of the Year contest lies in its rotating panel of independent judges, whose mission is not only to educate and inform sailors, readers, and consumers about the best new boats on the market, but also to reward the industry's top builders and designers, and perhaps even lend suggestions and advice to them, based on their own respective experiences. The integrity of the program is literally in their hands.

This year's panel consisted of: Alvah Simon (second from right), the author of North to the Night and a longtime contributing editor to Cruising World, whose 40 years of voyaging includes a 13-year circumnavigation covering 65,000 nautical miles. Beth Leonard (center) is the author of The Voyager's Handbook, and has sailed some 110,000 nautical miles, including two circumnavigations that have taken her from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn. Ed Sherman (second from left), is a technical author, lifelong sailor, and director of the American Boat and Yacht Council's education program, where he's helped develop the marine industry's most highly regarded certifications for marine surveyors, service technicians, and boatbuilders. CW editor Mark Pillsbury (left) and Herb McCormick, BOTY director and CW senior editor (right), conducted a preliminary assessment of the boats.

Each day during the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, the judges carried out thorough dockside inspections of this year’s fleet of 22 nominees, with each panelist focusing on specific aspects of the boats. Simon’s specialty was safety standards, deck layouts and rigging; Leonard was in charge of construction details and belowdecks configurations; Sherman focused on systems installations, ABYC compliance issues, electrical compartments, and what took place behind the electrical panels and beneath the floorboards.

“You really can’t judge these boats effectively with fewer than three people,” Leonard noted when considering the amount of ground they have to cover in such a short time. “If you think about it,” added Simon, “it would take a surveyor all day to do what we do, and they still wouldn’t come up with nearly as comprehensive results.”

In total, the judging process takes nearly two weeks: After five days of dockside inspections, the team takes to Chesapeake Bay for several days of sail tests, where they put the boats through a regimen of sea trials that consist of motoring, anchoring, and of course, sailing. Afterward, they sit down to deliberate and choose the winners. Simon stressed to me the importance of staying “objective and systematic until the end…until everyone gets a day in court.” And, indeed, when it comes to Boat of the Year, everyone does.

A junior at Northeastern University working on a dual English-Linguistics major, CW intern Sydney Rey is a member of the college’s club sailing squad and was an integral member of the 2012 BOTY logistics team.