An Impressive Boat of the Year Ensemble Sets Sail

With sweet, early autumn sailing conditions on Chesapeake Bay, a strong fleet of 19 contenders competed for top honors in our annual Boat of the Year ­competition. Once the spray had settled and the votes were tallied, the judges awarded prizes in seven categories for monohulls and multihulls.
Italia 14
The high-flying Italia Yachts 14.98 was among the nineteen boats nominated for Cruising World’s 2024 Boat of the Year competition. Walter Cooper

We must be getting lucky. The denizens of Annapolis, Maryland, have dubbed their city “the sailing capital of the United States” for many reasons: the abundance of yachts; myriad nearby rivers, creeks and backwaters on which to explore and cruise; the abundance of marinas and shipyards; the frenetic local racing scene; and the annual in-water Annapolis Sailboat Show, the country’s biggest and best. While we largely agree with the moniker, after decades of testing sailboats for our annual Boat of the Year contest in the days following that Annapolis show, we also know that this is true: Chesapeake Bay can be a light-air crapshoot and a fickle test bed in early autumn.

Which is where our luck came in. For the third straight year, our on-the-water assessments—following our BOTY dockside inspections during the show—were blessed with several days of near-ideal sailing conditions. It wasn’t perfect, and we did have a couple of drifters, but for the most part, all 19 nominees in the competition got to strut their stuff in wind and weather that helped them shine.

The marine-industry is continuing to shake off the effects of the pandemic, when supply chains were mightily disrupted and builders put the usual R&D for new models on hold while scrambling to address suddenly overflowing order books for their existing models. But this year, longtime major production builders such as Jeanneau were back with a vengeance. Hallberg-Rassy, a major BOTY player seemingly every year, had not one but two intriguing nominees to judge. Newcomers such as the Rapido 40 tri added spice to the endeavor. Usual suspects such as Lagoon, Fountaine-Pajot, Hanse and Dufour were all back with strong entries. And, for perhaps the first time in the long history of the event, there was a trio of trimarans in the field, necessitating a brand-new BOTY category: Performance Trimarans. All three members of the fascinating triple-hulled crew were seriously strong contenders.  

In size, shape, price point and country of origin, it seemed like there was something for everyone. The nominees hailed from a somewhat startling 10 nations—China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and Vietnam—underscoring the strong influence of imported boats on the American market. The fleet ranged from compact and inexpensive (the nifty Astus 20.5 Sport, a pocket trimaran that cost $60,000) to the grand and elegant (the $2.9 million Hallberg-Rassy 57, the flagship of both the Swedish builder and, as the largest and priciest yacht in the contest, the BOTY fleet). Remarkably, in what is unfortunately a sad commentary on the state of American production sailboat manufacturing, there wasn’t a single nominee made in the USA.

That said, the boats that were on display exhibited a wide array of choices and features. As always, the nominees were grouped and judged in accordance with their size and purpose; the winners were those that best met the criteria of their stated design brief. The contest was conducted, as usual, in two parts, with a session on the docks during the show to assess overall build, systems and layout before heading out on the water for sea trials. An overall trend in options for 24- and 48-volt power installations, lithium batteries and advanced charging systems seems well underway. Across the board, boats are becoming more efficient while exploring the latest technological advancements.

In yet another BOTY first, thanks to the inclusion of a Sportboat class made up of a trimaran and catamaran—and certainly an indication of how the overall sailboat market is trending—the four multihull classes outnumbered the three monohull divisions. In addition to the seven individual class winners, the judging team also presented a Judge’s Special Recognition award to one of the most interesting and forward-thinking boats ever nominated for the BOTY competition: the fascinating HH44 catamaran that’s pushing the envelope in performance under sail and propulsion under power, on multiple levels.  

We’d like to thank each and every nominee and participant, who were unfailingly cooperative throughout the entire exercise, even when we closed down their boats for inspection at frantic times during the Annapolis show. This contest wouldn’t happen without a strong commitment from the marine industry, for which we are especially grateful.

The BOTY 2024 class wasn’t the biggest field in recent years, but for its sheer variety across the competition, it was one of the best. Read More…