Best in Class 2009

Sailing performance, quality of construction, and price determine the winner of CW's 2009 Boat of the Year contest

Malo 37 classic feature 368

The Malo 37 Classic took the award for Import Boat of the Year.Billy Black

The weather couldn't have been finer, in contrast to the stormy stock market, as Cruising World's 16th Boat of the Year awards program unfolded along the docks of the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis last October. Some say it was the sunny days and mild temperatures that drove crowds of people to the waterfront to look at new boats over the long Columbus Day weekend. Or perhaps, as some pundits conjectured, they came because when it looks like your portfolio's sinking faster than the Titanic, spending what you have left on a boat and gear to go sailing has more than a little logic to it.

I do know why the BOTY judges and yours truly were there: We were ready to dig deep into the bilges, plow through lockers, and peek behind the electrical panels of 21 new sailboats. And dig we did over the four days of America's biggest and best sailboat-only show. And when the show broke up and the crowds went home, we went sailing. For a week, we zipped across the bay in a 28-foot inflatable, courtesy of Zodiac, as we boarded boats, set sails, reefed, dropped anchors, and motored to test how new hull designs, gear, and sails worked where it really matters-on the water.

To set up contest categories, CW took an initial look at boats that were introduced to the American market since the last Annapolis show via dockside visits at the Newport International Boat Show and in the days before Annapolis opened to the public. We discovered a number of builders-Jeanneau, Beneteau, and Bavaria come to mind-offering new models to fill out their existing range of boats. Other builders, including Catalina, Malö, and Island Packet, brought new designs to replace older workhorses. New faces made the scene, too, such as South Africa-built Moxie Yachts, with the only new catamaran in the show. And then there were the crossovers.
As we studied the new designs, we found that models from several builders were hard to pigeonhole because they were designed with both creature comforts and regattas in mind. On deck, they were go-fast machines, but below, accommodations promised to pamper to varying degrees a crew that might spend considerable time aboard, either voyaging or long-distance racing. This year, it was in the Racer/Cruiser category that our
preliminary round judges, CW editor John Burnham; designer, sailor, and writer Steve Callahan; and I found the most hairs to split. Early on, we realized that a few of the crossovers were too bare bones to cruise seriously and, on the other hand, that some were simply offering zippier performance than in the past.

In the end, we selected the Santa Cruz 37, the Archambault A40RC, and a 34-footer from X-Yachts as examples of this vigorous breed of boat that may well strike a chord with American buyers. These boats have all the strings you'll need to get them moving, yet each would be comfortable for a cruising couple or family, though perhaps a challenge for some to sail at their best. As with all of the boats we looked at in Annapolis, you can expect to find short reviews and extra photos on the 2009 Sailboat Show page, and more in-depth reviews in future issues of Cruising World.

Our other categories this year were All-Purpose Cruisers, 30 to 40 Feet; Midsize Cruisers; Full-Size Cruisers; Long-Distance Cruisers; and Special-Purpose Cruisers. You can read about the winners of each in the pages of this special feature. I found it interesting that two of the categories, All-Purpose Cruisers and Long-Distance Cruisers, each produced multiple winners. In both cases, our panel of four independent judges worked hard to reach its conclusion.

Among the All-Purpose Cruisers, 30 to 40 Feet, the judges (see "Meet the BOTY Judges," right) faced a real dilemma. In 15 to 25 knots of wind, the Beneteau 34 was a delight to sail. Second to the smallest in a range of Beneteaus that now stretches from 31 to 54 feet, the 34's features are well-proportioned: Nothing's too spacious or cramped. Under way, the hull, rig, and sails balanced out to produce a sailboat that tracks straight and stands up to its canvas; below, the boat is stylish and livable, though the same basic interior is found throughout the line, which is one way the builder keeps costs low.

On the other hand, when the judges boarded the Catalina 375, the wind was extremely light, yet they found numerous well-thought-out ideas that designer Gerry Douglas brought to bear to create a roomy, bright, and versatile living space for a couple or family. Construction and systems were top-notch, but the judges had to utilize their experience to render a verdict about the 375's performance abilities in a breeze. After considered debate, they chose two winners, naming the Catalina 375 the Best All-Purpose Cruiser, 30 to 40 Feet, and the Beneteau 34 the Best Value in the whole 21-boat fleet.

In the Long-Distance Cruisers category, the judges had an equally difficult time deciding between the Malö 37 Classic and the Island Packet 460. As is typical of the Scandinavian boats, the Malö was rock solid, luxurious below, and a delight to sail. Yet for long-distance cruising, the 460 benefited from solid construction and served up the payload-carrying capacity many long-range voyagers look for, and it had an interior that was as purposeful as it was homey. These were two very different boats, each traditional in its own way, and in several instances the judges declared that they wouldn't hesitate to take either boat offshore. In due course, they designated the Malö as the 2009 Import Boat of the Year and the IP 460 as Domestic Boat of the Year. Then the panel concluded that the IP, because of its attributes and the fact that it stuck so closely to its design brief to be a boat for a cruising couple, it should also be named Best Long-Distance Cruiser.

Finally, a word about the Special-Purpose Cruisers, a category in which there were four boats all built to a very specific design brief that made each unique but made them as a group also hard to judge. Two were production boats from Beneteau and Jeanneau that had been tailored to charter for The Moorings and Sunsail, respectively. A third was the Moxie M37 Island Hopper, which was intended as a cruising beach cat. The boat, designed and built by Uwe Jaspersen in Cape Town, South Africa, was innovative in many ways, but the judges felt that it had too much the feel of a prototype to advance in the competition. And then there was The Edge from Hunter Marine. Targeted directly to the trailer-sailer market pioneered by the MacGregor 26, this sailing hybrid, with its 75-horsepower Evinrude engine, was as much at home in the powerboat show that took place the following week. In the end, the judges chose The Moorings' Beneteau for best execution within its intended niche.

This Year's Trends
Throughout dock visits, sea trials, and deliberations, noteworthy trends-some good, some in need of improvement-emerged. A number of builders came to Annapolis this year with mainsails that could be trimmed without leaving the helm. Hunter, for instance, leads one end of a split mainsheet down the cockpit arch to a winch near the wheel and the other to a winch on the cabin top. This arrangement was included on the company's 45 DS, though it would be functional only on one tack unless a second winch were added near the helm and dedicated to the mainsheet. Several others incorporated a German-style split mainsheet, in which both ends lead forward to the gooseneck, down to the deck, then aft to winches on either side of the cockpit near the helm. This sheeting arrangement was found on the Dufour 525, the Dufour 40 Performance+ (as an option), the X-34, the Santa Cruz 37, and the Archambault A40RC, to name a few.

Many builders are also turning to either self-tacking headsails or nonoverlapping jibs that can be handled even by small sailors. And increasingly there's hardware on the bow to deploy such off-the-wind sails as an asymmetric spinnaker or a code zero on a flexible furler. That said, there aren't always enough winches and hardware aboard to fly the A-sail with the jib still up.

On several of the boats, judges noted rounded edges in such high-traffic areas as the coamings and the cabin top were rendered in slick fiberglass. Beneteau, though, carried its nonskid across these areas, providing more solid footing.

Lastly, we noticed a trend toward replenishable or processed woods. From the bamboo in the Santa Cruz 37 to the Alpi in the Beneteaus and Fine Teak in the Jeanneaus, these surfaces look rich and elegant and help an intrinsically green community leave a little smaller footprint.

Mark Pillsbury, Cruising World's senior editor, has directed CW's BOTY awards program for three years.

To access CW's 2009 Sailboat Show page, with links to reviews and photo galleries for dozens of new boats, including Boat of the Year nominees, click here.