2012 Boat of the Year Winners: A Classy Class of New Boats

There's plenty to consider when looking at the lineup of new sailboats visited by our Boat of the Year panel of expert judges. "Boat of the Year" from our January 2012 issue.

December 28, 2011

Hunter e33

Above: the Hunter e33. “This 33-footer is spacious, comfortable, and fun, all at a very enticing price point.” -Beth Leonard Billy Black

There’s no doubt about it, these are challenging economic times, and of course the boatbuilding and marine industries are in no way immune to roller-coaster international markets and politicos who can’t seem to agree on where to go for lunch, never mind how to steer us out of this mess. So when we sent out our call for entries for our annual Boat of the Year competition last summer, we did so with no small sense of both trepidation and curiosity. Exactly who, we wondered, would show up? And how many boats would they be bringing?

As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. Not even a little bit.

At the risk of tooting our collective horn, we sailors, of course, are a resilient lot, and so too are the men and women—not surprisingly, sailors all—who produce the vessels to which we invest our waterborne dreams, goals, and aspirations, not to mention our hard-earned dollars. And for 2012, despite the realities of financial uncertainties, there’s no other way of saying it: the builders and designers not only met our hopeful expectations for a good turnout of interesting new models, they far exceeded them.


How so? Well, let’s begin with the sheer numbers. All things considered, we would’ve been delighted with a fleet of 19 boats, our total tally for 2011. So it’s no exaggeration to say that we were more than a bit excited when our final list of nominees for 2012—the Class of ’12—registered a surprising 22 yachts. But as our judging panel convened in Annapolis, Maryland, last October, to start inspecting and testing the list of contenders—and we began, so to speak, to peel back the layers of the onions—it wasn’t the quantity of boats that was impressive, but the overall quality of the field.

Frankly, when times are tough, consumers expect (and deserve) more for their money, and partly for that reason, and partly because in recent years the larger production builders have ratcheted up their games in terms of assembly-line efficiencies; new tools and technologies; and their incorporation of top-of-the-line materials, systems, and hardware, we expected a lot from the major brands.

And across the board, they delivered.


With a fresh infusion of capital and entrepreneurial energy, Bavaria USA—the new stateside arm of the German builder—introduced not one but a quartet of new models from the distinguished office of Farr Yacht Design. Beneteau, with a cool and consistent look to their revamped Oceanis line, showcased a pair of new boats. Not to be outdone, Jeanneau—which resides under the same corporate umbrella as Beneteau—had a trio of new boats in the water.

Continuing on the stateside front (both the Beneteaus and Jeanneaus are now fabricated in South Carolina), a very complete roster of domestic boats from established and even beloved brands—Catalina, Island Packet, and Tartan—were all proudly stamped with “Made in the U.S.A.” (as was a flash newcomer, the PT-11 Sport Tri, built in Rhode Island). And on the overseas side, the fleet was represented by a veritable United Nations of imports from the following lands: China (Passport Vista 545 CC), France (Dufour Grand’ Large 445, J/108, Outremer 49), South Africa (Leopard 44, Nexus 600), Sweden (Hallberg-Rassy 372), and the United Kingdom (Mystery 35). Trend-wise, hard chines, stable hulls, voluminous interior layouts, and multiple shoal draft/deep keel options are all in. Boring? That’s out.

Included in this wrap-up of the 2012 Boat of the Year contest is a look at the judges and the judging process; consumer picks; profiles of the slate of winners (linked to the winners in each category below); and capsule summaries of other contenders. But first, here’s a breakdown of the five categories for this year’s fleet:


Compact Cruisers, 30 to 35 Feet
Sometimes, it’s a difficult task to fairly categorize the BOTY field, but 2012 was not one of those years. No, the monohull fleet broke down neatly into four divisions of between four and six boats, designed along fairly similar lists of characteristics and objectives, at neat, five-foot intervals, the smallest of which was the Compact Cruiser class. For many of the boom years in the business, builders neglected smaller cruising boats because the profit margins of big yachts were too lucrative. Perhaps it took austerity for companies to again focus on good boats under 35 feet, but whatever the reason, it’s a positive development. You don’t need a 50-footer to take the family cruising.

All four boats are testaments to that fact. The Bavaria Cruiser 32, the smallest boat in the company’s Cruiser line, which extends to 55 feet, is a nifty pocket cruiser with, according to judge Beth Leonard, an inviting interior. She said, “I really liked the general aesthetics down below: the stainless rails, the blond wood, the dark countertops. It’s a little on the stark side but not so much that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s handsome and fairly warm.”

Alvah Simon, whose first circumnavigation was aboard a simple plywood boat, still felt a natural affinity with the robustly built Mystery 35. “It has a classic style with one of those deep, long cockpits of yesteryear where you feel quite secure when you’re nestled down in it,” he said. “You can lean up against the enormously high cockpit coamings with a grip on the tiller and feel pretty safe.”


As the deliberations continued, however, it became clear that in this division, it was a two-boat race. A strong contender was the versatile J/108. “I personally really like the shoal-draft centerboard concept, and I think it was very well done,” said Ed Sherman. “They’ve set up the system so it’s a pretty bulletproof application. And it’s very easy and a lot of fun to sail.”

When the final votes were cast, however, in terms of overall value and bang for the buck, the panel chose the Hunter e33 as the Best Compact Cruiser, 30 to 35 Feet.

Midsize Cruisers, 36 to 40 Feet

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379

For 2012, there were two classes of midsize cruisers, the smaller of which consisted of five boats ranging from 36 to 40 feet, including another Bavaria, the Cruiser 36, a spacious 36-footer with a standard layout that features two generous double cabins in the ends of the boat, a roomy central saloon, and solid sailing performance with a 7/8ths fractional Seldén rig.

Aboard the Catalina 385, Simon notched several plusses in the safety checklist he compiles for each entry. “The deck flow was very good; it was clear and safe,” he said. “The nonskid and (jackline) pad eyes, high lifelines, pumps, big cleats, dedicated life-raft locker, and solid stanchions were also positives. I really like what Catalina has done because they’re open to change, they’ve diversified their product line, and anyone who purchases one of their boats is buying into a corporation that is going to stick with them.”

Yet another company with high brand loyalty is Hallberg-Rassy, and Sherman was impressed with their new 372 on several levels. “I certainly like the sails and it sailed well,” he said. “The quality of the build and the materials is unquestionable. It’s magnificent. And I’ve never seen battery boxes as well ventilated as the ones on this boat, with fresh-air intakes built in. It’s just an example of things you don’t see on most boats these days.”

The “satisfied customer” theme continued during the inspection of the Island Packet 360. Over the course of her two voyages around the globe, Leonard has encountered IP owners in many a far-flung port. “They just absolutely love their boats,” she said. And Simon emphasized several features they’ll find very appealing on the new 36-footer: “The pulpit; the coated 26-inch lifelines with gates port, starboard, and aft; the dorade vents…they’re all to be applauded.”
But the loudest applause, as it turned out, was reserved for the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379, a boat that met its design brief so well that the judges awarded it with a “double-double”: Not only did this Marc Lombard design earn the prize for Best Midsize Cruiser, 36 to 40 Feet, it’s also CW‘s Domestic Boat of the Year for 2012.

Midsize Cruisers, 40 to 45 Feet

Tartan 4000

The largest single class of boats in 2012 was the six-boat division for boats between 40 and 45 feet. Bavaria continued to cover the bases with its twin-wheeled Cruiser 40, a sweet sailing 40-footer with the drop-down swim platform/boarding ladder that serves as one of the unifying characteristics of the entire Cruiser series.

Like the Bavaria, the Dufour Grand’ Large 445 employs dual helms, and it’s safe to say they had Sherman at hello. “I really enjoyed sailing this boat,” he said. “It has the perfect balance of sportiness and ‘cruisability.’ I’ve sailed several Dufours over the last few years, and I really enjoy them. This one was no different. It’s like driving a big dinghy. It’s really a lot of fun.”

Jeanneau pulled off a neat trick with its two entries in this class. While their respective deck layouts, coach-roof profiles, cockpit arrangements, and accommodations plans could hardly be more different, both the Sun Odyssey 439 and the Sun Odyssey 44 DS (for deck salon) share the identical Philippe Briand-designed hull. The former struck a chord with Leonard, who said, “I thought the interior was well executed. On the dock, I stepped aboard and thought, this is a boat I could imagine living on.”

For Simon, the “ah-ha” moment came once the sails were set aboard the 439’s sistership, the 44 DS. “Once we got it figured out and dialed in, the boat really started moving well,” he said. “I think people who are drawn to this kind of (deck salon) boat and its commodious living spaces will be pleasantly surprised to get to places so quickly.”

As with several other classes, the judges ultimately felt it came down to a pair of finalists. One of them was the Beneteau Oceanis 41. “This is a boat aboard which I’d feel comfortable offshore,” said Leonard. “For this boat, I have to repeat what I’ve been saying about a lot of this year’s high-volume production boats,” added Sherman. “They’re using gear that has proven to be reliable, with good warranties, and they’re doing it for a very logical reason; it enhances customer satisfaction levels and reduces their ultimate cost and warranty claims. It’s good business.” Simon was a little less specific, but equally magnanimous: “Beneteau is on to something here, in terms of quality and price. They can be very proud of this boat.”

Obviously, it would take quite a vessel to top that praise, but in winning the award for Best Midsize Cruiser, 40 to 45 Feet, the Tartan 4000 accomplished the feat.

Best Full-Size Cruiser, 45 Feet and Above

Passport Vista 545 CC

Ironically, for 2012, the “big boat” class was the smallest in the competition, with three boats. The fourth and final entry from Bavaria, the Cruiser 45, was one of them. A substantial 45-footer that, thanks to its long, hard chine, carries its beam well forward, the yacht employs dual rudders in tandem with a pair of wheels, and Simon, who conducts the motoring tests on each boat, was effusive in his praise of the boat’s maneuverability and control while under power and under sail.

In terms of style and layout, the second boat in this trio, the Beneteau Oceanis 45, is a scaled-up version of the Oceanis 41. “Gosh, it has so much room,” said Sherman. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If anybody has learned how to please their client base, it’s Beneteau. In terms of improving quality, they have probably the largest database in the whole sailboat market of customers and warranty claims to do just that. Do they apply what they learn? Yes.”

When all was said and done, however, the judges couldn’t resist the Passport Vista 545 CC, which they honored as the Best Full-Size Cruiser, 45 Feet and Above.

Cruising Multihulls

Leopard 44

Last but far from least, this year’s Cruising Multihulls class was comprised of four very different and unique boats, the smallest of which was a slick 36-foot trimaran—a rarity in BOTY circles—called the PT-11 Sport Tri. Fast and, yes, sporty, the boat certainly lived up to its name. But it wasn’t performance alone that caught the judges’ eyes. “The glasswork, the hull layup, was absolutely some of the best I’ve seen on any boat, racing or otherwise,” said Sherman. “Wonderful. Faultless.”

On the other end of the scale, the 60-foot Nexus 600 was conceived by a South African surfer looking for the ultimate ride for his mates in search of adventure sailing and chasing waves all over the world. Simon liked the space where you’d conjure up the next surfing safari. “It had an actual navigation station,” he said. “It had the nice big chair and lots of storage. It’s not only a place to plan your voyages and have all your reference materials; it’s where you get a lot of good thinking and important things done. It’s a haven.”

Simon could also picture himself aboard the Outremer 49. “I love the concept and mission of this boat,” he said. “They’re really building true bluewater passagemakers that will behave well at sea.” Sherman was also sold with the cat. “Aesthetically, it worked for me,” he said. “It was a good sailing boat and the quality of gear and equipment they’ve used is the best out there.”

Using a baseball analogy, you might say that the PT-11, Nexus, and Outremer—three cutting-edge boats—hit the corners of the strike zone. It was the fourth boat in the fleet, another South African-built cat, that was right over the middle of the plate. That’s why, as underscored by the review on page 64, the Leopard 44 is 2012’s Best Cruising Multihull and Cruising World‘s Import Boat of the Year.

Herb McCormick is CW’s senior editor and director of the Boat of the Year contest.


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