With each passing year, it seems that top-end, fully found cruising boats become more powerful and sophisticated. They have ever-advancing construction techniques; major developments in charging systems, energy efficiency and propulsion; and fresh approaches to layouts and interior accommodations. All three of this year’s Boat of the Year nominees for Best Full-Size Cruiser well represented the state-of-the-art approach of their respective naval architects and manufacturers, and the fascinating results are a collection of all-oceans bluewater sailboats that can take us anywhere in the world we wish to go.
Winner: Jeanneau Yachts 55
It’s not every year that the winner of the Full-Size Cruiser division wins the Overall Boat of the Year prize, and for 2024, the Jeanneau Yachts 55 had stiff competition from the likes of the superb Dragonfly 40, the versatile Italia 14.98, the long-legged Vision 444, and other category champions. But as the judges learned in our two visits to inspect and then sail this massive 55-footer, it’s a boat that grows on you. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, in this case; it instills respect. It takes a bit of time to appreciate exactly what transpires here, and it is certainly not a boat for everyone. But Jeanneau dared to do something different, and then doubled down with that conviction. And for that bold action, we rewarded the builder.
Runner-up: Hanse 510
After a brief hiatus from Boat of the Year, the major German production builder reentered the fray with a voluminous 51-footer whose layout signals a growing trend in larger cruising boats: the separation of topside space from working areas and social ones. Judge Mark Pillsbury viewed it from the context of his own sailing experience: “Being primarily a New England sailor, I liked the cockpit options that we saw on the Hanse 510. The boat is available with the usual low-profile coachroof and open cockpit, but our test boat in Annapolis had a fiberglass arch over the companionway and a windshield, with a clear acrylic panel in between. The boat also had a solid fiberglass Bimini top with a panel that slides open on Ronstan cars, so it was easy to open and close. Together, this set extends the sailing season for cooler-climate types from spring to late fall. Under sail upwind, the self-tacking jib made the 510 easy to handle, and when cracked off to a reach, the code zero gave us plenty of power to see speeds approaching 8 knots in maybe 12 knots of breeze.”
Runner-up: Hallberg-Rassy 57
When not serving as a Boat of the Year judge, Tim Murphy serves as the curriculum and education director for the American Boat and Yacht Council. He not only brings a critical eye to his inspections, but he also looks at how boats comply with ABYC standards. He liked what he saw with the Hallberg-Rassy 57: “It’s an exquisitely built boat, and exquisitely fitted out. The systems installations are the ones I’ll feature in future ABYC study guides about labeling and organizing, with the heading ‘How To Do It Right.’ It’s been designed to be used and maintained to the highest standards. The house system (chart plotter, VHF radio, thruster, etc.) is a 24-volt lithium-battery package; it compares favorably with the HH44 we tested for innovation. The custom Selden carbon mast is as exquisite as the rest of the boat. It’s this year’s most expensive boat, but it deserves flagship status.”
Judge Mark Pillsbury added: “Anyone in the market for an elegantly built, powerfully rigged, go-anywhere bluewater cruiser will want to have the Hallberg Rassy 57 on their must-see list. Of all the boats we looked at this year, none better met the description of luxury yacht than this Swedish beauty. It was the most expensive boat we saw, but in this case, ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true—in a good way.”