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2022 Boat of the Year: Best Performance Cruisers

The stylish and quick Grand Soleil 44 caught the judges’ eyes at first glance. Then they went sailing, and the racer/cruiser from Italy was named a winner.

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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 »

It’s not every year that the Boat of the Year contest has a dedicated category for Performance Cruisers, but when we do, it’s often the group of boats that put the biggest smiles on the judges’ mugs. After all, they’re all sailors as well as industry experts—and what sailor doesn’t love to take the helm of a boat that’s designed with performance top-of-mind and then fit out with the sails and gear to make it get up and go? 

For 2022, there was a trio of turbocharged yachts in the 45- to 50-foot range that promised to offer exhilarating action under sail. And it was an international class as well, with offerings from France (Dufour), Italy (Grand Soleil) and Slovenia (Elan). Maximized waterlines, twin helms, dedicated bowsprits for flying gennakers and code zeros—these are but a few of the similarities these ocean greyhounds share. And it was nothing but pure joy putting these powerful yachts through their paces.

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So, let’s proceed alphabetically. Underscoring the 470’s versatility as well as its performance bona fides, this latest model from Dufour is offered in three different versions. The Easy designation is straightforward, with a simple layout perfect for charter service and casual sailing that includes a self-tacking jib and single-line mainsheet, both of which are led to a pair of winches on the cabin top. The Ocean setup, which was the boat we sailed, is ideal for shorthanded voyaging, with either a self-tacking jib or slightly overlapping headsail. In this configuration, there is a double-ended, German-style mainsheet and a traveler mounted forward of the dodger. Sheets are all led back to winches located at either of the twin helm stations; other sail control lines are led to winches on the cabin top. Lastly, the Performance package is the thoroughbred option. Here, the winch and hardware package has been upgraded for quick maneuvers, and the end-boom doubled-ended mainsheet is anchored to a block on the cockpit sole, on the centerline between the benches and just forward of the helms. Winches and other gear have been located with a racing crew in mind seeking fast tacks and jibes, with elbow room for the trimmers. 

Dufour 470
Multiple ports in the hull, cabin top, and a large glass area over the galley below let light pour into the interior of the Dufour 470. Jon Whittle
Dufour 470
The cockpit layout of the 470 is where the action will be. Forward, cushioned seats pamper guests or off-watch crew; and note the simple step forward of the helm that saves climbing over the cockpit coaming to go forward. Brilliant! Jon Whittle
Dufour 470
For several years now on multiple models, Dufour has put the galley forward and athwartships against the bulkhead, where there is less motion underway. This leaves the widest part of the boat for the saloon. Jon Whittle

Down below, there are four interior layouts from which to choose, giving owners plenty of choices: three to five cabins, two or three heads and an in-line galley opposite the dining table; or three cabins and two heads, with the galley forward in the saloon, a layout that Dufour has made popular over the past few years.

Set up with a self-tacking jib and traditional main, the judges found that the boat we sailed was easily handled. During deliberations, Judge Gerry Douglas recalled, “the boat seemed to perform adequately well. It felt pretty lively and it did accelerate when we had a puff.”

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Next up: The flagship of Elan’s GT (Grand Tourer) line of noteworthy cruiser/racers. With its black performance sails and long, purposeful waterline, the GT6 looks like, well, a wolf in wolf’s clothing. It’s immediately apparent that this boat is ready and willing to sail hard and go fast. 

Elan GT6
Elan turned to the designers at Porsche for styling and it shows in the curves and lines of the GT6’s cabin top and deck. Jon Whittle
Elan GT6
Exterior styling is carried below, where designers adopted a galley-forward approach to the layout of the GT6. Jon Whittle
Elan GT6
The port aft cabin of the GT6 can be furnished with a double or two single berths, with a filler that can be added in between. This offers a lot of flexibility when it’s time to assign bunks for family, friends and racing mates. Jon Whittle

The hull and sail plan, from Humphreys Yacht Design, features twin rudders that offer superb control. The overall contemporary design and visual effects topsides and below from Studio F.A. Porsche, inspired by the aerodynamics of high-end sports cars, are unique and striking. Down below, the forward galley provides space for a sumptuous, full-beam saloon. Light pours through the generous hull windows and deck-saloon-style ports around the cabin top, and the large forward owner’s suite caps it all off.

The GT6 is available in a couple of different layouts, two cabins and two heads, with a large storage area aft, or three cabin two heads. The boat we sailed had a nifty double-single berth set in one of the aft cabins that would be great for kids or race crew.

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There was a good breeze the day we were aboard, and when the gusts came on, off we went. It was a heck of a ride.

But an even better ride was enjoyed on the last boat in the category. It’s safe to say that the Grand Soleil 44 had the judging team from hello. “As we were approaching the boat from the inflatable for our sea trials, the way it looked was just striking,” judge Gerry Douglas said. “I think they got the aesthetics right. Once aboard, it was so easy to get around. And everywhere I looked after that, it seemed to be really well put together. There was some real high-quality detail.” 

Grand Soleil 44
In cruise mode, the Grand Soleil 44 can fly a self-tacking jib, making sailhandling a breeze for a couple or short-handed crew headed to windward. Off the wind sails are set on a fixed bowsprit. Jon Whittle
Grand Soleil 44
The saloon layout aboard the Grand Soleil is traditional, simple and comfortable. A winning combination when it comes to keeping the crew well rested. Jon Whittle
Grand Soleil 44
The 44’s cockpit is spacious. Guest can relax and the crew has room to work. A traveler that spans the width of the cockpit sole gives the skipper loads of control over the powerful mainsail. Jon Whittle

The GS 44, designed by Matteo Polli, has a racing pedigree; a sistership optimized for competition won a major European championship regatta this past summer. But the Italian builder also has a solid foothold in the cruising world, with a long line of performance cruisers launched from its yard in Italy. With the 44, they didn’t forget those roots.

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The 44 is available in a couple versions, Performance Cruising and Race. We sailed the former in Annapolis. Features included an aluminum mast and standard keel. With the Race version, an owner can opt for a taller carbon-fiber mast, and three keels optimized for various handicapping systems. In either version there’s ample room in the cockpit for crew to lend a hand or kick back and enjoy the ride.

Accommodations below feature two aft cabins, with a shared head in the saloon, and an en suite owner’s cabin forward. The layout out of furniture is simple—dinette to port, settee to starboard, galley at the foot of the companionway—but at the same time elegant. It’s a place to relax on passage and enjoy at anchor.

Bottom line: Even in cruising mode, this is a boat that will get you there quickly, with all the amenities for gracious living once the hook is down. In other words: It’s a winner.

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