2023 Boat of the Year: Best Performance Cruiser

This division truly lived up to its name, with a solid lineup of five nominees that lit up under sail.

One of two categories with a solid lineup of five nominees, the Performance Cruiser class provided the judges with tremendous sailing and difficult choices. Beneteau, J/Boats and X-Yachts had all delivered winning entries in previous years. This time, price and production—as well as performance—all factored into the final decisions. 

The Lyman-Morse LM46 is an heirloom-quality craft, but it is also a semicustom boat with a seven-figure sticker price, and it will have a limited production run compared with its rivals. Still, the panelists could not ignore its overall excellence. That left four powerful contestants, and the “sail-off” that followed couldn’t have been more pleasurable or rewarding. This division truly lived up to its name, with a roster of performers that lit up under sail. 

Winner: J/Boats, J/45

J/45 Jon Whittle

The Johnstone family business has certainly evolved in the 45 years since the company launched with the J/24, but the common denominator in the boats it has built since then is pretty straightforward: They’re all terrific sailing craft. Over time, J/Boats pivoted from one-design classes to ocean racers and full-fledged cruisers, and all that experience has culminated with this sleek, slick, dual-purpose 45-footer. 

“As expected, this boat sailed beautifully,” judge Ed Sherman says. “Its 75 hp Volvo Penta saildrive gave us ample speed when motoring, and was quiet too. I see this boat as an answer to the hardcore racer who wants to scale back a bit and enjoy cruising with the family in comfort while not sacrificing the performance they’re used to.” 

Fellow judge Mark Pillsbury explains what put the boat over the top in his mind: “During Boat of the Year sea trials, we’re usually accompanied by builders or dealers who tell us what a boat’s intended to do, and we’re left to determine how successfully they hit the mark. In the case of the new J/45, we got to hear directly from an owner himself, who wanted a boat that he could seriously race with his mates, and then take his family of four young daughters off cruising. After a summer of doing both, the verdict was in: He loved his new J/45. And after our sail, so did we. ‘Rides like it’s on rails,’ I jotted in my notes. ‘Very smooth.’”

Finalist: Beneteau, Beneteau First 36

Beneteau 36
Beneteau First 36 Jon Whittle

The French builder’s First line of boats has always been performance-oriented (as opposed to its Oceanis line of dedicated cruisers), and the company has upped the ante since obtaining the Seascape brand and incorporating it into Groupe Beneteau. 

“I reckon First 36 owners are going to be racing more than cruising,” says judge Herb McCormick, who led the charge to give the boat “special recognition”. “It will excel in both club races and doublehanded events, which are becoming more and more popular. But this boat can do both well. It gives you so many options.” 

Sherman concurs: “Another boat offering the racing enthusiast a genuinely viable cruising option. Simple but solid construction and finished to a high standard, this model represented to me what a modern racer/cruiser should be. Equipped with a 30 hp saildrive, it motored along nicely at 8 knots, and this was on a day when we had lots of wave action and over 20 knots of wind at times. This Slovenian-built Beneteau was also a joy to sail.”

Finalist: L30 Class, L30

L30 Class L30
L30 Jon Whittle

Our judges were highly impressed with this sweet little trailerable sailboat, which was developed by Ukraine’s most famous sailor, Olympic sailing medalist Rodion Luka, and which is still being produced in the country despite the ongoing conflict. 

Our sea trial, in a stiff 20-plus-knot southerly, was easily one of our week’s wildest. Here’s Pillsbury’s take: “The L30 is an interesting boat with just enough interior accommodations for short cruises or overnights en route to a regatta and back. The boat we sailed was set up for racing, meaning lot of lines to tug to adjust sails. But its retractable keel, cassette rudders and mast stepped on a tabernacle make trailer sailing a definite possibility.”

Finalist: Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Inc., Lyman-Morse LM46

Lyman-Morse LM46 Jon Whittle

Our Domestic Boat of the Year is a showstopper on multiple levels, a boat built by the midcoast Maine company that produced the beautiful Seguin line back in the day, of which the LM46 is a worthy successor. 

Sherman peels back the technical layers: “Mastervolt lithium battery power and a 120-amp, high-output, main-engine-driven alternator eliminate the need for an onboard air-conditioning generator. Further enhancing this concept, the engine is connected to a Centek muffler system so that when the engine is running to recharge the batteries, things stay quiet. Our engine motoring tests confirmed this with speeds at over 8 knots with noise decibel levels in the low 70- to 74-decibel range on a 20-knot windy day that generated a lot of ambient noise.”

Finalist: X-Yachts, X-Yachts X43

X-Yachts X43 Jon Whittle

It’s always a memorable year for the BOTY judges when a new X-Yacht is one of the nominees. The Danish builder has left a consistent mark on the proceedings, with multiple victories in its respective classes over the years. 

X-Yachts’ latest versatile offering, Pillsbury says, picks up where previous models left off: “Well, they’ve done it again. The team at X-Yachts has launched another stunning performance cruiser, this one a 43-footer that’s lively under sail and well-thought-through below. Counters have deep fiddles, handholds abound, the deck is uncluttered, and the single rudder delivers smooth-as-butter steering. The X43 replaces a popular model of the same size that sold more than 100 boats. I’m guessing that the newest model will give its predecessor a run for its money.” 

View all of the winners by category, meet the judges, and more…