The arrival of the cold front could not possibly have been more surreal. At precisely 5 p.m. this past October 17, coinciding exactly with the official pronouncement that the annual US Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, had concluded, a fierce thunderstorm rolled over Chesapeake Bay, generating sideways rain and powerful gusts. Chaos ensued. Exhibitors on land breaking down tents and packing up displays were left doused and scrambling. The crews on boats untying lines to depart the docks ducked for cover. It was a mess for everyone.
Except, that is, for our team of judges for the 2023 Boat of the Year contest, the sea trials for which were scheduled to begin early the next day. For us, hiding out from the fray, the timing couldn’t have been better.
We knew that the front was also bringing a fresh breeze—a couple of days of pumping northerlies before a welcome swing to solid southerlies. Game on.
Full disclosure: It’s not every year that every nominee in our yearly BOTY competition gets tested in superb conditions. Chesapeake Bay can be a fickle test bed in mid-October, particularly on flat-calm mornings, when it takes some time for the capricious sea breeze to fill in. Truthfully, sometimes it never does. But not this year. And while the winds did fluctuate somewhat over the next 72 hours, when our panel conducted sea trials for this year’s fleet of 17 entries, overall the conditions were almost ideal—some of the best, most consistent pressure in the 20-odd-year history of the event. Each entry got a fair opportunity to strut its stuff.
And it was a great year for that to happen, because while the fleet may not have been the largest ever, in terms of sailing prowess and performance, it was exemplary across the board. The sailing, quite simply, was outstanding.
But about those numbers: It’s safe to say that the effect of the pandemic on worldwide sailboat manufacturing is lingering. Last year in Annapolis, builders were inundated with orders, and for some companies, order books were full for the following two or three years, or more. Which meant that if you laid down a deposit for a new boat in 2021, it was by no means unusual for delivery to be scheduled for 2023, or later. That trend is slowing, but it has not ceased. What seems to have been shelved for many brands is the R&D that goes into new models. It makes sense. In the meantime, many marine-industry stalwarts from whom we’re accustomed to reviewing new boats on an almost yearly basis (Jeanneau and Leopard leap immediately to mind) were absent for 2023. Almost everyone is still playing catch-up.
All that said, even in years with two dozen entries or more, it’s rare to be presented with a fleet with such a resounding international presence. The 17 boats that comprise the BOTY ’23 field were produced in nine different nations: Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden, the United States…and even Ukraine, where the manufacturing of a sweet, trailerable pocket racer/cruiser, the L30, has continued despite the ongoing conflict. Whoa. Sailors by nature are known to be a resilient lot, but so too are those who create the craft we sail. We salute them.
The makeup of the entry list was also noteworthy. In recent years, we’ve seen a proliferation of large monohulls, in the 55- to 65-foot range, many with price tags in the hefty seven figures. But there was no Luxury Class for the high-end set in 2023 (though the cost of several entries did crest the million-dollar mark). In fact, unprecedentedly, the largest monohull we reviewed this year was the Elan Impression 50.1 (the Lagoon 55 catamaran was the biggest multihull among the competitors).
And there were a couple of exceptionally strong classes, which certainly reflects the current state of the market. Both the Performance Cruiser division of dual-purpose racer/cruiser and the Multihull class drew a quintet of entries (the latter with four cats and a trimaran). Neither was particularly surprising because versatile boats that serve multiple purposes are always in fashion, and the trend toward multihulls is one that has seemingly become stronger for more than a decade and shows no sign of reversal. But it did not make the judges’ tasks any easier; both classes were formidable from top to bottom.
Another happy occurrence was a pair of excellent homegrown entries from the USA—once a powerhouse in the boatbuilding world but more of a footnote in recent years. The fine entries from Maine builder Lyman-Morse and a new Tartan from the resilient Midwest crew were heartening additions.
There was one final, unique aspect to the Boat of the Year 2023 competition: the number of owners aboard the yachts that we tested for the sea trials. Manufacturers reps and designers are our usual presenters, but having the sailors who purchased and commissioned the vessels always adds a new and fascinating dimension. Hearing what they chose and why is valuable input.
In that vein, we’d like to recognize Erik Asgeirsson on the J/45, a lifelong sailor who’s the very definition of a racer and cruiser. He enjoys competing aboard the boat but also sailed it across the windswept English Channel after taking delivery, and he cruises with his wife and four girls all over New England. Jim Eisenhart, aboard his Moody DS41, was about to swap sailboats for a trawler until he took one look at the yacht’s sweet deck saloon and realized it would extend his years as a sailor. Chantal and Denis Rosa’s Impression 50.1 is the couple’s second boat from the Slovenian builder, and this year they’ll be sailing it to Grenada to visit their daughter and her new baby.
It was fascinating listening to Bob Frantz and learning about the choices he made with gear and charging systems on his Hallberg-Rassy 400; an avid ambassador for the brand, he circumnavigated on an earlier model from the Swedish builder. Of course, Drew Lyman loved his Lyman-Morse LM46; his company built it. He’ll be rolling down to the Bahamas aboard the awesome performance cruiser this winter with his clan. And a special tip of the cap to Ukrainian sailor and entrepreneur Alexander Ivanov, the importer and force behind the one-design L30, who took us on one of our best sails of the week on the windswept bay.
Spoiler alert: These boats largely did very well in the competition, and it probably was not a coincidence.
As always, the contest was conducted in two parts, with a series of dockside inspections of overall build, systems and layout preceding the sail trials. And, as always, we want to thank all the participants, who were gracious with their time and very accessible, even when we closed down their boats for viewing at busy periods during the Annapolis boat show.
Eventually, as they invariably do, the winds calmed and Chesapeake Bay was placid. Which meant it was time to convene, deliberate and choose some winners. This year, in particular, that was the hard part. What follows is a roll call of the winners, and a closer look at each and every nominee. For our team who puts it together, our Boat of the Year program is always some of the best sailing we ever get to do. And this year, breeze on, was special indeed.
2023 Boat of the Year: Best Overall Winner
Two for the Blue
When the spray had settled, at the top of the leader board was a pair of yachts destined for blue water and beyond: the Lyman-Morse LM46, the Domestic Boat of the Year, and the Hallberg-Rassy 400, the Import Boat of the Year.
Domestic Boat of the Year: Lyman-Morse LM46
It’s an understatement to say that Drew Lyman, president of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Company—the estimable midcoast Maine semicustom builder with facilities in Thomaston and Camden—knows a thing or two about cruising boats. After all, his father, Cabot, founded the firm in the late 1970s, and several years later, circumnavigated with his family on a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Sequin 49 produced in his yard called Chewink, with Drew aboard for significant legs of the journey. Many lessons were learned; many memories were lasting.
When Drew decided he required a boat for a similar rite of passage with his own family, at first he was drawn to the notion of a cruising catamaran, and for a while, he leaned heavily in that direction. But when push came to shove, he decided to move forward with a monohull; one in size and in spirit was a descendant of the Sequin 49 of his youth.
That yacht is the Lyman-Morse LM46, a striking performance cruiser from renowned New Zealand naval architect Kevin Dibley, who created a light, fast sailboat that’s both strong and sleek, and a testament to the skilled craftsmen who built it. Lyman then added his own personal touches, including many features he borrowed from legendary skipper Stan Honey, whose Cal 40 took overall honors in this past summer’s Newport Bermuda Race after a refit at—where else?—Lyman-Morse.
Our judging panel was thunderstruck by both the formidable sailing prowess and the exacting level of execution, and unanimously awarded it the title of Domestic Boat of the Year. Judge Mark Pillsbury sums up the collective opinion of the judges: “Cold-molded construction, top-notch systems, a powerful sail plan, and an interior that is both practical and lovely at the same time. Wow! The Lyman-Morse LM 46 is a heck of a boat. Purpose-built for an experienced owner, for sure, but in terms of a pure sailing machine, the 46 was the standout boat in this year’s lineup of new models.”
Import Boat of the Year: Hallberg-Rassy 400
As cruising sailors, we’ve long been enamored with Swedish builder Hallberg-Rassy, and that respect has been reflected in past editions of our Boat of the Year contest, where the company has enjoyed numerous successes. The latest offering continues a trend introduced since noted Argentine naval architect German Frers has become the line’s principal designer. It’s oftentimes not easy for a company with proven results to change what’s already a successful formula. But this latest 40-footer is a yacht that has certainly evolved, and in doing so, it’s the 2023 Import Boat of the Year.
The cockpit windshield is a feature that warms the heart of every Hallberg-Rassy owner, and it’s continued here. But the aft-cockpit configuration is certainly a departure from the brand’s earlier iterations (including the yacht the 400 succeeds in the line, the center-cockpit 40C), and so too are the twin wheels and corresponding twin rudders. Those matching helms provided the judges with one of the best sails of the contest, a jaunt that began in light airs, and just got better and better as the wind filled. It was a winning performance.
The versatile layout, with a variety of options, is also unusual in a 40 footer, and it sealed the deal. As judge Herb McCormick said during deliberations: “This ain’t your old man’s Hallberg-Rassy. It’s a lot better. It just is.”