It’s hard to imagine a single word could describe the aura of an entire industry, but if you had to pick one that summarized the collective disposition of the international community of sailboat builders in 2014, “resilient” would certainly fit. Five years after the global financial crisis that hit the marine sector of the economy especially hard, it’s still too early to say we’re out of the woods and the recovery is complete. But things are definitely trending in an upward direction. What else could account for the 28 strong nominees for the 2014 Boat of the Year (BOTY) contest, up from a couple dozen the last few years and composed of the largest, most interesting fleet in eons? Please take a bow, builders — the resiliency you’ve displayed this year with regard to industriousness and innovation is nothing less that inspiring.
For the model year 2014, new-boat buyers have an incredible array of vessels — in size, price and intended purpose — from which to choose. At one end of the spectrum is a host of “pocket rockets” under 100 grand, including the simple but nifty Fareast 26 and the zippy and versatile Catalina 275 Sport. These are vessels for racing, daysailing and weekend adventures that highlight the pure fun and simplicity of sailing. At the other are several seven-figure no-holds-barred beauties like the Hylas 63, the Lagoon 52 and Fountaine-Pajot’s Victoria 67, yachts equipped for long-distance, globe-girdling voyages. And when we speak of an “international” collection, we’re not joking: This year’s BOTY field hails from Chile, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Taiwan, the United States and even Vietnam.
Click here to see all the 2014 Boat of the Year nominees.
Read on to see this year’s winners!
Best Pocket Cruiser: Catalina 275 Sport
When Catalina’s in-house designer, Gerry Douglas, sat down to create his company’s latest offering, considering potential owners, he knew precisely who he was aiming for and what he hoped to deliver them.
“This is a weekender, daysailer and club racer designed to be a fun and affordable first boat for a ‘Gen X’ sailor or a young family, or a comfortable, stylish and easy-to-sail boat for experienced sailors retiring from a bigger boat,” he wrote.
In the opinion of our judging panel, Douglas took aim at that rather broad target and then struck the bull’s-eye. And they rewarded him by naming the Catalina 275 Sport the Best Pocket Cruiser for 2014.
“This is a builder that has a lot of experience, listens to its customers very carefully, does a great job analyzing their perceived needs, and then goes the extra mile to address those requirements,” said Ed Sherman.
“We sailed this boat in light air, but had zero trouble getting it to track perfectly,” he added. “It’s a fine weekender. The cockpit is uncluttered. The model we sailed had an enclosed head, an inboard diesel and a nice little galley. There were bags for luggage that doubled as seat backs inside the cabin, which were very clever. And it had a beautiful set of sails. It’s a complete package.”
“The interior design is sort of like the Honda Element,” said Mark Schrader. “It was designed so you could put any amount of stuff you wanted to in there, like surfboards and paddleboards, and when you were all done you could just hose it out if you wanted to. I thought that was just terrific.
“I think targeting the downsizing demographic is smart,” he added. “I could see an older sailor moving down and being very comfortable. But I can also see younger sailors really getting into this boat. If you had young kids and wanted to take them out for a weekend, they’ve got room to play but on a nice, safe platform.”
“Unlike some of the other boats, Gerry based his design on how people actually behave,” concluded Tim Murphy, “instead of creating a product that demands people to behave differently.”
View more photos of the Catalina 275 Sport here.
Best Cruising Sailboat Under 38 Feet: Dehler 38
It perhaps goes without saying, but good sailboats should sail well. The German-built Dehler 38 definitely does that. It was a big reason our judging panel named it 2014’s Best Cruising Sailboat Under 38 Feet. Ed Sherman, for one, was impressed.
“I really enjoyed this boat’s open cockpit layout; it’s very easy to maneuver around,” he said. “Everything’s close at hand for efficient sail trimming. It’s a fine dual-purpose racer/cruiser. You could do the Wednesday night series, or a weekend regatta, and really have a heck of a good time. People who really like to sail will certainly enjoy what the Dehler 38 has to offer.”
“The brand is now part of the Hanse group, which includes Dehler, Hanse and Moody,” explained Tim Murphy. “This boat is part of a new trend within the company, as Dehler is now coming in as the performance boat in the group, and Hanse is moving slightly away from the performance branding that they had before.”
Murphy believes the company is making good on that premise. “This boat really delivered on the performance part of it,” he said. “The mainsheet is on the aft end of the boom with the traveler down in the cockpit sole. It’s a good setup. The helms were beautiful.”
To that point, Mark Schrader also agreed. “The twin wheels I thought were a bit on the small side, but after sailing the boat, I actually believe that works to their favor. The helms are extremely light and very well balanced. In the cockpit and around the wheels, the ergonomics really worked.
“We set the spinnaker and it was an easy operation,” he added. “Jibing the chute was simple. When you’re back there steering, you have very good sight lines and good control. It’s a responsive boat too, just as it should be.”
View more photos of the Dehler 38
Best Full-Size Production Cruiser: Dufour 500 Grand Large
To determine the top boats in each category, the BOTY judging panel pays close attention to the design brief submitted by each builder for their respective nominee. When determining winners, the panel decides how well the entry meets its specified goals. The summary for the new Dufour 500 reads as follows:
“The Dufour 500 was designed for customers who primarily cruise in coastal regions, but take an occasional extended offshore passage. While the primary design and construction considerations provide the stability, strength and capacities required for an offshore environment, many comfort amenities were conceived for the convenience of coastal cruising and onboard entertaining.”
It’s an honest evaluation, perhaps best underscored by an interesting and innovative central saloon, with a uniquely positioned galley forward that promotes a useful and comfortable space for lounging and entertaining. The judges felt it was definitely in keeping with the stated design brief, which is just one of the reasons they named the Dufour 500 Grand Large the Best Full-Size Production Cruiser for 2014.
“It’s definitely a performance cruiser, and while we didn’t have a lot of wind for our test sail, it sailed well and felt good,” said Ed Sherman. “It also performed well under power, and the sound levels were good. In our slow-speed test we were able to make 7.5 knots and in the high-speed mode we registered 8.6 knots, and the sound levels below were in the low- to mid-80s decibel-level range.”
Tim Murphy said the boat’s “performance chops” also extended to the yacht when under sail. “We’ve seen a lot of double-ended mainsheets in this year’s fleet, but several of them offer no real control of the shape of the mainsail,” he said. “But this one really does. It’s got a very good, long mid-boom traveler that extends the full width of the cabintop. Combine that with a very good suit of Elvstrom sails, including a full-batten main with lazy jacks, and you have a powerful sail plan that you can really trim and tweak. This is going to be a really fun boat to sail.”
Murphy noted that not all the interesting features, like the galley arrangement, were situated belowdecks.
“There are a lot of nice touches on this boat,” he continued. “In the cockpit they have a settee that can be expanded to what amounts to a double berth for lounging, but which also folds up so you have a lee board when you’re heeling. That’s a neat little trick.”
“The deck layout was very clean and the fold-down transom entry is just spectacular,” added Mark Schrader. “There’s an enormous hinging cockpit locker. You could almost drive a car in there. And the lazarette access is also tremendous.
“They pegged their mark as a comfortable cruiser with a performance edge,” he concluded, “and I think they hit it.”
Best Full-Size Semi-Custom Cruiser: Hylas 63
Details, details, details: when it comes to a 63-foot sailboat built to roam the Seven Seas, the sheer number of them can seem endless. In the case of a boat as intricate as the lastest offering from Hylas, for example, the ultimate success of the design is often measured not by the yacht’s many grand features, but by the attention paid to the countless fine points in the rig, on deck and below. Yes, the Hylas 63 is a mighty sailboat in every dimension, but it was the many, many thoughtful smaller touches that made it the Best Full-Size Semi-Custom Cruiser for 2014.
“There are lots of details that really are well sorted out,” said Tim Murphy. “Coming out of the cockpit, making the transition to the deck, not only are the lifelines 34 inches high, you’ve got a stainless-steel rail that goes all the way around the stern of the boat. It’s very smart and secure.
“When you work your way up to the bow,” he continued, “the anchoring system is again very well reasoned. It’s got steel plating over that whole section so you’re not dinging up the gelcoat while you’re getting the anchor up and down. These are just a couple of things, but they’re indicative of the approach to systems and safety features throughout the entire boat.”
“It’s a very complex yacht,” added Ed Sherman, “but Hylas does a great job of considering things like maintenance. Take the engine-room serviceability. It’s a walk-in engine room, but you also have access from the front and the side. There’s plenty of room to dive in there and work on things if you need to. Anything you need to service on a regular basis you can get to quickly and easily.
“They do a nice job with the systems and wiring,” he continued. “Everything is labeled and neatly tucked away.”
“A lot of boat,” added Mark Schrader. “Robust. Comfortable. Best in class.”
View more photos of the Hylas 63.
Best Midsize Multihull Under 50 Feet: Catana 42 Carbon
Every year, it seems, sailors have an ever-increasing number of cruising catamarans from which to choose. The model year 2014 is no different. Our judging panel deliberated long and hard over this category, but when the votes were tallied, the Catana 42 Carbon earned their nod as the year’s Best Midsize Multihull Under 50 Feet
“I was very pleased with the way this boat sailed,” said Ed Sherman. “It’s got a different helm situation than virtually all of the other multihulls that we tested, in that they’re located well aft and outboard. I found it to be a comfortable location. And it’s allowed them to do some interesting things with the way the canopy over the cockpit area is set up. It’s elevated and has an opening with a view forward. Add that to the panoramic view from either wheel, to port or starboard, and you have very good visibility.
“The helms are kind of a controversial feature,” said Tim Murphy. “Some sailors love them. They address an issue many cats have; historically, the helm was often on the bulkhead with a bimini over it and you couldn’t see the sail plan. Catana has solved this by getting you outboard. You’re in the elements, but you can really see how your sails are set. It’s a sailor’s choice there, but I like it
“The company has also evolved with their construction techniques, and are building boats using the SCRIMP process,” Murphy added. “They’re putting carbon into the structural components of the hull, which is also relatively new. And they’re using foam-cored furniture. So they’re really paying attention to weight throughout this boat.
“Long term, I think that the SCRIMP hull construction technique is going to enhance the value of the boat,” concluded Sherman. “And that’s important.
View more photos of the Catana 42 Carbon.
Best Full-Size Multihull Over 50 Feet: Outremer 5X
A true high-performance cat with the ability, on passage, to knock off one 300-plus nautical-mile day after another, for 2014 our panelists named the 59-foot Outremer 5X the Best Full-Size Multihull Over 50 Feet.
“This is a company that’s been building boats for 30 years, and they’ve traditionally staked out the territory more toward the performance end of the spectrum than many of their competitors,” said Tim Murphy.
“For the design team, they’ve commissioned VPLP, a French consortium who’ve done a lot of very, very fast race boats,” Murphy added. “Over the years, slowly but surely, the multihull category has evolved toward true sailboats that you can also live comfortably aboard. The Outremer 5X is an example of that.
“Yes,” he continued, “you could call this a complicated boat. It’s definitely aimed at experienced sailors. But the reason it’s so technical is that they’ve given you a lot of tools to really shape and control the sails. The jib leads are almost three-dimensional, in that there’s a series of barber-haulers in three different directions so you can put that lead exactly where you want it to be.”
“Relatively speaking, this is a light-displacement vessel,” said Ed Sherman. “Yet, under power, it was also one of the quietest boats we’ve tested. That speaks to solid construction, because lighter boats are generally noisier. I look at that as a really positive attribute.”
“The builders were very upfront with this boat’s goals,” said Mark Schrader. “They want it to be the best-performing cruising catamaran on the market. The design challenge was to make it fast but also comfortable. To execute that design parameter, they made things infinitely adjustable. No question, this boat had the best sheet leads and trimming tools. Simple it’s not. Balanced it is.”
View more photos of the Outremer 5X.
Import Boat of the Year & Best Midsize Cruiser, 41-45 Feet: Contest 42CS
An aggressively contemporary boat in terms of both aesthetics and construction, the design writ for the Contest 42CS is simple and straightforward: “Fast, modern, aft-cockpit cruising boat with a very high build quality.”
Sometimes simple statements say it all. Our judging panel felt that was the case with this straightforward but elegant 42-footer from the Netherlands, naming it the Best Midsize Cruiser, 41-45 Feet, as well as 2014’s Import Boat of the Year.
Said systems guru Ed Sherman, “The things that are good about this boat are so great, I just can’t get over it. The boat sails magnificently. I love the deck layout.”
However, it was the attention to so many small points, particularly with those systems, that truly bowled Sherman over.
“For example, they really thought outside the box with the design of the electrical system,” he said. “The quality of the installations, the workmanship, the routing of the cabling, it’s all just beautiful. Everything is integrated through a Mastervolt digital-switching system with a touch-screen panel. It’s a forward-thinking boat in every way.”
Under way, Mark Schrader also discovered that the Contest 42CS delivered exceptional sailing performance. “It has a very clean deck layout; it’s completely uncluttered,” he said. “The carbon rig was beautiful and the sails were terrific. The boat just feels comfortable. It’s large enough to feel very safe and secure. I think all those things are very important when you actually get offshore in a seaway. I have a feeling this boat will perform very well at sea.”
View more images of the Contest 42CS.
Domestic Boat of the Year & Best Midsize Cruiser, 39-41 Feet: Blue Jacket 40
When news broke over a year ago that Bob Johnson, the CEO and chief designer at Florida’s Island Packet Yachts, and Tim Jackett, formerly the head naval architect at C&C and Tartan, had decided to join forces on a new boat, it sounded like an interesting collaboration — on paper at least. It seemed everyone in the marine industry was extremely curious to see what they would come up with.
Like Lennon and McCartney, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, in figurative terms the Jackett and Johnson pairing also produced some beautiful music. The pair’s first project definitely resonated with our judges, and notched not one but two winning hits of its own: Their Blue Jacket 40 is both this year’s Best Midsize Cruiser, 39-41 Feet, as well as 2014’s Domestic Boat of the Year.
“Tim Jackett drew the original lines for the boat but Bob Johnson also had a hand in the design,” explained Tim Murphy. “Then the boat was built by Island Packet and it’s terrific. It’s a core laminate and they’re doing it very carefully and making sure they get the process right. Structurally, IP has built great boats forever, and while this is their first infused hull, it’s really wonderful.”
According to its design brief, the Blue Jacket 40 is a moderate-displacement performance cruiser, and the judging team believed it strongly addressed those parameters.
“The self-tacking inner jib, on the Hoyt boom, had a nice shape all the way out into a deep reach,” said Murphy, describing the test sail on Chesapeake Bay. “When you come on the wind and tack back and forth, it’s a breeze to sail. Later, when we were reaching with the screacher, it was a real pleasure. On many boats that’s a tiresome point of sail, but it was a whole lot of fun on the Blue Jacket.
“The displacement is modest and it felt nice,” Murphy added. “There was a bit of chop but the boat tracked beautifully, with no up-and-down pitching. The bow is relatively plumb so you don’t have much overhang there, so there’s buoyancy forward. I loved this boat.”
Mark Schrader agreed: “The workmanship is top-notch. The cockpit works well. The rounded house top is great for moving around on deck under way.”
So, now that the Blue Jacket has been unveiled, what’s the verdict on Johnson’s and Jackett’s first creation?
“This,” concluded Murphy, “is an example of a great marriage.”
View more photos of the Blue Jacket 40.
Judge’s Special Recognition: Alerion 41
After all the voting is over and the judges have determined each winner in the respective categories, sometimes there’s just one last piece of business to address. It often happens when one particular nominee that doesn’t neatly fit into any given class still captures the panelists’ attention — and admiration — to a degree unlike any other boat in the competition. When that happens, the judges have the ability to present an extra award. For 2014, they took that opportunity to single out, for the Judge’s Special Recognition prize, the Alerion 41.
The Alerion 41 is what one might call a “tweener,” a boat that falls between set parameters. At 41 feet, it’s too big to be a Pocket Cruiser, yet it’s not a true all-around, offshore cruising boat, either. With its spacious cockpit and straightforward sail-handiling systems, including a self-tacking jib on a Hoyt boom, it will make an excellent daysailer. But with exquisite, well-rendered accommodations, it’s also capable of vacation cruising or near-shore adventures.
So, yes, the judges had a dilemma. They also felt the Alerion 41 was worthy of a reward.
“It has a classical layout,” said Mark Schrader. “It felt really good just stepping aboard. The workmanship is excellent, with an attention to detail that really put it pretty much above everything else we looked at. Obviously somebody took a lot of pride in the craftsmanship, and I thought it was also a pretty boat.
“The design brief said it was a boat for somebody who wanted to do some shorthanded or even solo sailing, and perhaps a bit of racing, ” he continued. “By their own definition, it isn’t suited to passagemaking. They’re targeting daysailing, weekend trips and vacation sailing, and for all those purposes, it will work well.”
Schrader noted that the builders had canvassed Alerion owners of smaller models to see what they’d want in a 41-footer.
“It had to be sailed easily and well by a small or solo crew,” he said. “It had to have headroom, two staterooms, a galley and some storage space. So that was a good design brief for a design team. They didn’t need a boat to go across the Atlantic or even to Bermuda. So they had a pretty specific idea of what they were after, and I think they achieved all those things in a very good package.”
Tim Murphy also found himself smitten by the Alerion 41, for different reasons. “One of the things I look for in the stateroom berths is whether one or two people can sit up and read in bed. It’s a small thing but it speaks to an attention to detail. And even though, by today’s standards, this is a ‘low-volume’ boat, it’s designed so the V-berth has sort of an opening space and your back rests really nicely against it. So that kind of ergonomic luxury is built in.”
When sailing the boat, Murphy discovered another surprise. “I’ve not been a fan of the Hoyt boom,” he said. “I’d so much rather have a clear foredeck. But under way on the 41, I could see the logic of having a foresail that’s just always out there. You don’t have to swap it for something bigger as you start reaching; it keeps a nice foil shape. And when you’re at anchor or alongside a dock, you can tie it off to the side and out of the way. I think I may be coming around on that one a little bit.”
“My immediate reaction stepping aboard was the quality of the finish and the systems installations,” said Ed Sherman. “And once I started digging in, I was even more pleased. The interior cabinetry, the fiberglass work, the way the wiring was laid out … they just did a great job building this boat. It was special, and it deserved our recognition.”
View more photos of the Alerion 41.