2023 Boat of the Year: Judges’ Special Recognition

As deliberations wrapped up Cruising World’s team of expert judges handed out two more prizes to boats that stood apart from the fleet.

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Each year, the Boat of the Year judging panel is empowered to cite nominees that merit special accolades for exemplary actions or performance. Often, the choices recognize boats that did not win their respective class, but that were nonetheless worthy of praise. This year, the judges concurred that, in light of its standout sailing ­performance, the Beneteau First 36 deserved a nod for its merits as a stand-alone sportboat. And one country’s attention to innovation in sustainable building practices also caught their collective eyes.

First 36
Light and strong, the Beneteau First 36 delivers special sailing thrills. Jon Whittle

Special Award: Groupe Beneteau for Best Sportboat, the Beneteau First 36

For 2023, the judges honor the Beneteau First 36, one of the top sailing boats in the contest, as the Best Sportboat. Judge Mark Pillsbury describes the reasons why: “The First 36 was a truly fun boat to sail. The big cockpit made it easy to move around when trimming sails, and down below, there were just enough creature comforts to consider this boat to be a viable coastal cruiser. Judging by the 36, Beneteau is really onto something with the First range.” 

“The First 36 was truly a fun boat to sail. Beneteau is really onto something with the First range.”

—Mark Pillsbury

The First line was incorporated into the Groupe Beneteau family when the French conglomerate acquired the Slovenian-built Seascape brand of fun, fast racers and performance cruisers. The 36-footer is a highly versatile boat, with modular cockpit seats and lockers that can be installed for cruising or left on the dock when racing. Light and strong—the displacement is a mere 10,580 pounds—the boat delivers special sailing thrills, and its twin rudders provided perhaps the most delightful, responsive helm of the contest. 

Beneteau First 36
The big cockpit on the First 36 made it easy to move around when trimming sails. Jon Whittle

Special Award: French Boatbuilders (Groupe Beneteau and Fountaine Pajot) for Clean and Innovative Building Practices

In this evolving era of a changing climate, every manufacturer, in every sector, should be on the march for more environmentally friendly building practices and materials. Two French boatbuilders with multiple brands in the sail and power categories—Groupe Beneteau and Fountaine Pajot—are doing exactly that. 

Groupe Beneteau’s Let’s Go Beyond! initiative is a companywide strategy meant to address efficiencies in operations and production. As one example, the company’s E’Lab has launched a prototype of the Excess 15 model with a Torqeedo Deep Blue hybrid propulsion system. The aim is to make electric propulsion a viable alternative to auxiliary engines dependent on fossil fuels. 

Fountaine Pajot Aura 51
The sustainability features of the Fountaine Pajot Aura 51 is just one example of the commitment that French boatbuilders have made to cleaner building practices. Jon Whittle

Fountaine Pajot has invested heavily in its own strategic plan called Odysséa with the aim of “becoming the leader in environmental transformation in the nautical industry” by 2030. This company is also working on vessels with hybrid electric propulsion in conjunction with pioneering hydrogen company EODev, with a target date of 2024 for the launch of electric Fountaine Pajots.

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

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