It’s not every year that the Boat of the Year judging panel has the opportunity to review cool little boats that totally accentuate the pure joy of sailing, and that get a bonus point if they offer simple but functional camper-cruising accommodations. For manufacturers, the all-too-frequent dearth of these boats is a result of Economics 101: Building boats is a tough business, it’s not always easy to make a buck, and the greater profits to be had make a strong case for building larger vessels.
But at their very core, the BOTY judges are, first and foremost, sailors. So, when not one but a pair of nifty mulithulls received nominations for the 2024 awards, it was a happy occasion indeed. Better yet, once under sail on the Chesapeake, these crafty pocket entries proved to be as much fun to drive as they appeared on the dock.
Winner: Xquisite 30 Sportcat
The South African brand Xquisite Yachts was familiar to the BOTY panelists; the builder’s fully found X5 range of highly sophisticated cruising cats have earned a pair of awards in the past: Most Innovative in 2017 and Best Cruising Catamaran in 2022. But Xquisite’s latest entry in the contest caught the judges by surprise. It’s a trailerable 30-footer with the most basic of accommodations that bears little resemblance to the other models in the Xquisite quiver.
Tim Murphy summarized the thinking behind the design: “The Xquisite 30 Sportcat is a vinylester, foam-core-infused structure designed for training, racing and cruising with occasional overnights. The prototype we sailed was built in Poland; the actual production run will be in Portugal. The design was a senior project from noted multihull designer François Perus when he was finishing his mechanical engineering degree in Brest, France. The purpose for this boat is to have two or three available at the Xquisite Yachts base in Freeport, Bahamas. Builder and owner Tamas Hamor recognized that many buyers of the Xquisite X5 or X5 Plus [sophisticated 50-foot cruising cats] might not come with much prior sailing experience. The SportCat would give them direct, sporty feedback of pure sailing in Bahamian waters while they learn to operate their larger cruising cats.”
Judge Mark Pillsbury added: “This was a really fun boat to sail once you got the hang of handling its long tiller extension and crossing back and forth across the nearly 16 feet of beam, hull to hull. The boat is intended, in part, to be a training vessel for Xquisite’s big-boat owners. One thing’s for sure: They’ll get a taste of the pure joy of simply sailing.”
Judge Herb McCormick had his own take: “It’s a niche boat, for sure, and at $250,000, I think that the broader market for it is pretty limited. That said, I’d love to own one. It would be a perfect boat for gunkholing around Narragansett Bay and New England waters. The accommodations are pretty spartan, but there are berths in the hulls, and you could rig a boom tent on the trampolines and have plenty of room to camp. And the joyful experience under sail would make up for the rustic one under the stars.”
Runner-up: Astus 20.5 Sport
The BOTY judging team had a unanimous verdict for this unusual little trimaran: For a compact boat, it has grand ambitions, most of which it meets or exceeds.
Tim Murphy provided the overview: “This is a 20-foot trimaran sportboat built in Brittany, France, by a company that’s been in business since 2004. Astus builds four trimaran models (14.5, 16.5, 20.5, 22.5); its sole US importer is Red Beard Sailing, a Chesapeake Bay dealer. This boat is designed by VPLP Design, named for founders Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prévost, which now has a staff of some 30 designers who specialize in everything from Lagoon cats to America’s Cup winners to foiling Open 60 IMOCAs. Astus’ goal is to offer multihull sailors a boat in a size range smaller than Corsair offers.”
Judge Herb McCormick said: “That VPLP connection is huge. They’re a big-name player, and the fact that they’ve put their reputation and blessing on this design is a major positive. The hardware and Selden spar they use is first-rate. They’re not cutting any corners. Under sail, it felt like a good, stable platform. I think it’s a great entry-level boat for someone who wants to get into multihull sailing.”
Judge Mark Pillsbury also gave the Astus his thumbs-up: “The Astus tri is a simple little boat with a high fun factor. We sailed the boat in about 10 knots of breeze, and with four of us aboard, we were probably a bit overloaded. But with the screecher set, we saw lots of speeds over 7 knots, and flirted with 8s in the puffs. And sitting on the tramps watching the waves right under us was a real hoot. The amas are mounted on tubes and can be pulled in and out for docking and sailing. I was aboard as they were being deployed, and the process was pretty simple: Sit on the center hull and push out on each ama with your legs (or step in on the tramp to pull it in) until a set pin can be dropped into place. Engage the pins fore and aft for each ama, and you’re off to the races, simple as that.”
To summarize: easy, fast and fun. Hard to beat that trifecta.