Taking a long view on the Boat of the Year contests from the past two decades, it’s clear that the midsize segment of the market has often gotten the short shrift. Boatbuilding is a business, and the profit margins on larger boats are bigger. Hence, we get fewer offerings in the smaller size ranges. That’s why it was terrific not only to see a trio of boats in the mid-30-foot division (at one time, the sweet spot in cruising sailboats), but also to discover that all three yachts in the class were exemplary sailboats. Our conclusion? Any coastal-cruising sailor who obtains a nominee from the 2023 Midsize Cruiser category is going to be quite satisfied with the choice.
Winner: Tartan Yachts, Tartan 365
Longtime Tartan Yachts designer and mainstay Tim Jackett joined our judges for the sea trial of his latest creation, the Tartan 365. Remarkably, it was Jackett’s first spin on the yacht, as well as ours. It was a terrific, windy sail.
“On a breezy day, with probably a little too much sail up, we had a thrilling test sail,” judge Mark Pillsbury says. “Thanks to a self-tacking jib mounted on an inner forestay, the boat was well-mannered close reaching to windward. And cracked off with the reaching sail set, let’s just say that the ride home was a thrill.”
Of the double-headsail setup, which Tartan calls its CCR (cruise control rig), judge Herb McCormick agrees: “It just really works. You know, it really is great to have that option to really be able to switch gear when you’re hard on the wind. Then you crack off at 20 degrees, and you roll up the little jib, and you unroll the code zero, and it’s a whole different sailing experience. You’re hauling the mail.”
The [Tartan 365] was well-mannered close reaching to windward. And cracked off with the reaching sail set, let’s just say that the ride home was a thrill.”—Mark Pillsbury
Judge Ed Sherman has a different take: “According to Jackett, COVID forced the plant to move and acquire new staff. In my view, this ended up as a change for the best because I saw significant improvements in the behind-the-scenes quality and detail work than on Tartans a few years back. First class all the way here.”
Jackett was smiling at the conclusion of our test sail. Though he did not yet know the BOTY results, whatever transpired, he already realized he had a winner.
Finalist: Beneteau Oceanis 34.1
The Beneteau Oceanis 34.1 is the latest in the French builder’s Oceanis line of cruisers, following the Oceanis 30.1, an earlier BOTY award winner.
“There is a lot to like about the Oceanis 34.1, starting with the way the boat handles,” Pillsbury says of the twin-wheel 34-foot yacht. “We had a fair amount of breeze for our test sail, and the boat felt very comfortable, even without reefing.”
McCormick also finds much to like with the vessel: “Beneteau is building this boat in its facility in Poland, and I thought that the overall build quality was very impressive. And of all the boats in this category, I found the Oceanis to be the best sailing platform, with a terrific cockpit layout. The spacing and sailhandling controls are fantastic; it’s a super-fun and easy boat to operate.”
Sherman notes a new feature the company has introduced in all its offerings: “This boat was equipped with Beneteau’s Seanapps system, which is quite impressive. The app, linked to your cellphone, will provide GPS position, important engine data, battery-charge level, bilge-water level, fuel and water levels, and a maintenance logbook, to name some of its features. The app can connect you directly to your Beneteau dealer to set up maintenance services as needed. The app is a subscription-based service, but I think it’s worth its weight in gold.”
Finalist: Dufour Yachts, Dufour 37
Now under the auspices of French building consortium Fountaine Pajot, Dufour has made a concerted effort in the past several years to overhaul the look and presentation of the brand. Our panel agrees that the approach is moving in the right direction.
Pillsbury is impressed with the use of space aboard: “You can cruise comfortably with only so many people on a 37-foot boat, and I thought that the two-cabin, one-head layout of the Dufour 37 that we sailed worked well. With a large storage locker and more-spacious shower in lieu of a third cabin, there was plenty of space for a couple to spend considerable time aboard, and room for guests, should they pop in from time to time.”
Our systems expert, Sherman, goes deep in his praise, saying: “Small details on this boat impressed me. This boat was one of the few in our group that took the effort to seal the end grain on the plywood veneers that make up the cockpit table. The screws that hold this table together all have neat threaded caps on them where the screw extends beyond the nut holding things together. Nice, small touches that make a difference. While motoring, the boat was among the quietest in our group this year, rivaling some of its competitors costing significantly more money.”