During and in the four days immediately following the US Sailboat show in Annapolis, Maryland, the Cruising World judges inspected and sailed on 27 boats vying for recognition. Learn more about the boats in our 2022 Boat of the Year »
OK, confession time. When the roster of nominees for the 2022 Boat of the Year awards was released, the contest’s team and judging panel couldn’t help themselves, and quietly put three check marks, little symbols of anticipation, alongside a trio of boats: the untamed cats that would vie for the title of best performer in their class. After all, both Balance and Seawind had entered the winner’s circle in previous BOTY competitions, and it was clear they’d have a serious contender for the throne in yet another player from cat-crazy South Africa, the Kinetic KC54. How’d it go? Let’s just say, nobody was disappointed. The conditions on Chesapeake Bay were ideal for putting the three nominees through their paces, and the trio of scalded cats all acquitted themselves superbly.
For 2022, if anything, the trend for flybridge catamarans is on a major upswing. New cats for 2022 from both Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot continued down that design path, putting an emphasis on living accommodations, not performance. But not aboard the latest Seawind 1600, a brand originally built in Australia that is now produced in Vietnam. And that suits judge Tim Murphy just fine. “This boat was very dialed in,” he said, “and one place Seawind has always been innovative is with their helms. This one was really great; it was -outboard and aft with great visibility, sort of half-protected where you could step in and out. There was also good access to the boom and mainsail, which you don’t always see on cats. The deck layout was excellent, particularly the forward trampolines. Some cats have lacings with large openings where you can twist an ankle, but these were nice and tight.”
“Compared to other Seawinds that I’ve seen, I was just blown away with it in terms of what it could do and how it performed,” said Ed Sherman. “It’s a fairly conservative boat in terms of technology compared to some of the other boats in the same category, which depending on a potential buyer’s state of mind, could be either a good thing or a bad one. I loved the centralized winch aft which is where all the sail-handling takes place. It’s pretty brilliant for a short-handed crew, and it’s all in a very safe and easy-to-access location that a cruising couple can deal with without scaring the heck out of themselves.”
The Kinetic KC54 is a fresh entry in the cat universe, and we’ll let Tim Murphy get right to the point: “This is a fairly new company that was started within the past couple of years. My breath was absolutely taken away by this boat; it was spectacular. I think it was the best-built boat in the entire fleet. It’s an all-carbon boat, with a foam core, epoxy resin, all infused–fantastic. The whole boat felt integrated. You didn’t feel like there was a conflict between the forces in terms of accommodation versus performance.” With a price tag approaching $3 million, it perhaps should not be astonishing. That was a major factor in evaluating the boat, and while it did not win its class, the experts panel did present it with a Judges’ Special Recognition prize to honor the boat’s overall excellence.
“It was my personal favorite in this year’s contest,” said Sherman. The materials that were used are absolutely the highest quality available in our industry at this point, and it’s a very high-tech boat in terms of systems.” Gerry Douglas was also duly impressed: “This was the Tesla of sailboats. I think that that was their model. In terms of design and execution and technology, it hit all three of those marks. This boat is built without compromise, and what it cost was not an issue, they just wanted to do the best they could in every aspect of the boat. The construction was impeccable, the fit and finish was amazing. There are some very clever design things in the boat, but it all really worked seamlessly.”
With that level of competition, the Balance 482 had a tall order to overcome to win its class. And it did. “The sailing performance was excellent,” said Douglas. “The boat felt really good. The steering was terrific. The structure of the boat throughout was exemplary. Storage is really good. Visibility was good. Ventilation was great. There was even a rain collection system on the cabin top, which is the only one of the boats we looked at had that. It was very well concealed because the gutters formed a handhold going forward. The solar panel installation was also well done. The panels were encapsulated into a fiberglass tray that elevated the deck so the panels wouldn’t overheat. Very clever.”
The driving force behind Balance cats is Phil Berman, a world champ at racing beach cats who brought that passion to developing and marketing fully found cruisers. Judge Murphy knows him well: “Phil comes from a very strong view of wanting to see boats that have solid sailing performance. He’s also a strong proponent of daggerboard boats, which tends to be quick shorthand for the dividing line between cats that are more about payload versus cats that are about performance, but not so much where you’re going to fly a hull or break a rudder. There’s a balance within a boat that really performs that you can still live aboard.” A winning balance, it turns out, with the Balance 482 securing its position as the Best Performance Cruiser for 2022.