Bill Lee had a point to make on the relative merits of bilge pumps for racing boats versus cruising boats, and it was a direct one. He’d been on his hands and knees testing the system on a midsized, German-built performance cruiser. It required him to lift up multiple floorboards with a suction cup, switch on the pump, then undergo a section-by-section recon mission–hose in hand–to suck out offending puddles.
“We used to do this all the time on our raceboats,” said Lee, the longtime builder of the Santa Cruz line of ultralight flyers and the senior member of CW’s four-person independent judging panel. “But a raceboat’s a jockstrap you yank on to go racing. On a cruising boat, you want a proper bilge sump.”
His colleagues–liveaboard cruising sailor Suzanne Giesemann, Ed Sherman of the American Boat & Yacht Council, and world-class multihull sailor Peter Hogg–nodded in agreement.
Lee’s observation was one of the countless opinions, rants, and reasoned explanations put forth off Annapolis, Maryland, last October in the 12th running of Cruising World’s annual Boat of the Year contest. This year, 42 boats entered the competition, and by the time the judges arrived to begin dockside inspections during a drenched edition of the U.S. Sailboat Show over the Columbus Day weekend, a three-person nominating committee consisting of CW editors Herb McCormick and Tim Murphy and globe-girdling cruising sailor Ralph Naranjo had whittled the fleet down to 26 entries in seven classes. (For a complete rundown of the nominees, see “The Boats and the Classes.” For more on the judges and their qualifications, see “The Judges.”)
A stationary mid-Atlantic low associated with the remnants of Hurricane Tammy pumped buckets of rain and staunch northerly winds the length of the Chesapeake, making for challenging conditions that would persist as the eight-day schedule of dock visits and sea trials unfolded. But there was a silver lining to the dark clouds, for we sailed every boat in proper breeze. Once the sails were set, some boats fared far better than others.
Overall, it was a truly diverse fleet, ranging in size and price from the entry-level Hunter 31, at $87,500, to the robust Kanter Bougainvillaea 65, which rang the bell at a no-nonsense $1,750,000. These prices, it should be noted, were based on a standard formula for a sailaway boat ordered in mid-October 2005, commissioned and delivered on the U.S. East Coast, and including refrigeration and all safety equipment as well as basic sails and electronics. Yet no matter what their size and cost, all the boats were judged on their merits when measured against their expressed purpose and market.
Tellingly, of the 26 nominees, a solid 20 were imports, with entries from Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, England, France, Germany, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden. This year also saw two new players in the United States: Delphia Yachts of Poland and Salona Yachts of Croatia.
When all was said and done, the judges awarded prizes to seven class winners, plus one boat they deemed the best value in the entire fleet. Finally, they also presented a pair of awards to the best Domestic and Import Cruising Boats of the Year (see “The Winners”).
Beginning in February and continuing in the months ahead, we’ll present detailed evaluations of the lion’s share of nominees in Cruising World’s Reviews section. What follows here are highlights of the day-to-day workings of the judging panel during the sea-trial portion of the testing, with extra emphasis on many recurring trends across the industry in 2006, including the increasing prevalence of twin-wheel steering stations, saildrives, and straight-line galleys. And, of course, bilge sumps right and wrong.
Day One: Let it Blow
On the blustery Chesapeake morning of October 11, the panel members boarded the Stevens Custom 53 (see “The Return of a Maverick,” July 2005) and were introduced to three generations of the sailing Stevens’ family: patriarch Bill; his son, Brian; and his 14-year-old grandson, Kristoffer, who ably demonstrated that he may someday be the saltiest of them all.
A routine was established that would play out 25 more times in the ensuing days. Bill Lee would take the helm for a series of motoring and maneuvering tests, including backing down to port and starboard into and across the breeze. Meanwhile, Ed Sherman, armed with a decibel meter and a handheld GPS, recorded the noise levels belowdecks and the corresponding motoring speeds under both cruising and flat-out rpm as advised by the builders or their representative (for the full results of Ed’s findings, see “The Sound Under Power”). Suzanne Giesemann and Peter Hogg tested the anchoring system–all anchors were dropped 10 feet or so and then retrieved–before inspecting the rig, accommodations, and overall layout. Once all that was completed, sails were hoisted and set, and the judges took the helm in turn.
Aboard the Stevens, there were some glitches with the trial: the windlass was temporarily inoperable for the anchor test, and the big code-zero reacher needed taming on its furler before it could be properly set. Bill Stevens was clearly having one of those days.
Aesthetically, the 53-footer wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But the boat still earned high marks from the judges across the board. “Form follows function,” said Lee. “The vertical transom isn’t necessarily pretty, but the stairs down it are very nice. And, yes, the freeboard is high, but it’s huge inside.”
“Stevens succinctly stated what the purpose was–a very luxurious, very comfortable liveaboard cruiser–and, quite frankly, he met that purpose,” Hogg said of the Chinese-built boat. “I think he’s demonstrated that by putting appropriate supervision in a low-cost labor market, you can produce a superior product.”
Ed Sherman agreed: “It’s one of the best Asian boats I’ve seen.”
Next on the docket was the Hunter 31. The judges concurred that the boat felt a bit tender under sail but that it otherwise filled the bill as a coastal cruiser with clever use of space for newcomers to the sport. Sherman said, “When I put my ABYC hat on, this boat warmed the cockles of my heart. As standard equipment they’re installing isolation transformers for AC shore-power inlets, and I’m totally impressed with what they’ve done in terms of plumbing and wiring installation. They have an engineering department that’s looking at this stuff and figuring out ways to comply with standards and assemble it at a price point, and I think they’ve done a good job with it.”
The 31 gave Bill Lee a soapbox from which to discuss several matters that he’d return to often as the week progressed. “Most of these boats can be provided with options in three areas: propeller, keel type, and mainsail type. If you get the deep keel, the full mainsail with battens, and the folding propeller, that boat is going to sail pretty good. If you go the other way, with a fixed, three-blade prop, a shoal-wing keel like this boat had, and a furling mainsail–all three of the go-slow factors together–the performance will be sluggish.” A big cause of that sluggishness, Lee contended, depends on the options an owner has chosen.
“Oftentimes, the mainsails will be the same price for either option. Shoal keels sometimes cost more; you have to make the boat heavier because the ballast is higher. Usually the folding props cost more: a grand or so. So it’s really not a lot of money to turn a sailboat, any sailboat, into one that feels good instead of one that feels slow.”
Ironically, the Hunter 31 suffered most when compared to the next boat on the judge’s list: the Hunter 41 DS. “I think the build quality is much higher in terms of fit and finish than the 31,” said Sherman. “I liked this boat a lot. It certainly represents a lot of bang for the buck. The systems upgrades over earlier Hunters I’ve looked at were just phenomenal. They’ve improved exponentially, in my opinion.”
“There are two things important to me on any boat,” said Suzanne Giesemann after an extensive review of the 41’s interior. “Brightness and ventilation. The ventilation was very good for a deck saloon. Hunter has always been good at appealing to women buyers with layouts and interiors, and they did it again with the walk-around bed in the aft cabin. With aft cockpit boats, that’s unusual.
“The couch in the saloon was a nice touch; it was an actual couch that was secured well and had a trundle drawer under it. It held a lot of stuff and was a good use of space. I give each boat my reading-comfort test, imagining myself curled up at night for hours reading and checking out the lights. This boat was outstanding in that department.”
Bill Lee noted that the boat was equipped with a conventional shaft-drive auxiliary, not a saildrive, which are becoming more popular each year with builders. “What [Hunter chief designer] Glenn Henderson told me was that he feels the American market wants shaft drives. I talked to a lot of builders about it, and only Peter Johnstone [of Gunboat] feels saildrives are good for the builder and bad for the consumer. For everyone else, it was pretty much a toss-up. Tom Morris [of Morris Yachts] puts some in his boats and says they’re just fine.” Indeed, nearly half the boats in this year’s fleet come with a saildrive (see “The Sound Under Power”).
By the time the judges made their way to the next boat, the performance-oriented X-46, the breeze was down a bit. But it mattered not a whit, for the X-Yacht was born to sail. “Upwind we were seeing 7.5 knots of boat speed in 8 to 10 knots of breeze,” said Sherman. “They wanted a pure sailboat that would really sail well, and they delivered,” said Lee. “Holy mackerel!” said Giesemann.
The boat had a ton of upside, as the sportswriters would say, including a steel grid that impressed Lee (“You can bulk up the keel bolts and really spread out the load”) and a pair of pipe berths above the quarter berths in the adjacent aft cabins that may be the last word in sea berths. “If we’d had those on our boat when we crossed the Atlantic, I might’ve slept,” said Giesemann.
The boat did, however, have issues. “The systems are generally nicely designed, but the service access I felt was very difficult,” said Sherman. “For instance, you had to lift the main DC panel board to get behind it. And the AC panel was below the nav station, where you’re going to bump into it with your knees.
“Oh, yeah,” he added. “It has a 10-liter holding tank. For me, that’s about one meal. I realize they’re trying to save weight and accentuate the performance aspect, but from a cruising perspective, that’s too small.”
The five-foot-six-inch destroyer-type steering wheel also generated some discussion. On the one hand, the big wheel and its Jefa draglink system contributed to what was arguably the most butter-smooth steering in the fleet. But Giesemann, particularly, felt it was obtrusive and difficult to move around quickly while helming–though Lee countered that it would be a simple matter to order a smaller one.
“For a 46-footer, they could’ve also used the double-wheel option that we saw on a lot of other boats,” said Hogg. “The double wheel works extremely well and achieves the same purpose of letting the helmsman sit well outboard.”
Moments later, the judges transferred to the twin-wheeled Swan 46. “Compared with the X-Yacht, I really, really preferred the steering setup,” said Sherman. “It was real comfortable back there, and the walk-through access to the transom and the swim-ladder setup, which was also very clever, was superb.”
Still, he continued, “In a lot of places, I thought the boat was over-engineered. The fuel-transfer system was fairly complex and not particularly well labeled. So you wouldn’t easily be able to intuitively figure out what to switch. Also, the fuel/water separators were installed in such a way that there was no clearance at the base of it to get the water out without it draining into the bilge. I found that kind of annoying.”
Lee especially liked the daggerboard, which accounts for a draft of either four feet four inches (up) or 11 feet two inches (down). “Good shoal-draft boats that are designed from the ground up to be that way are hard to find. We tried to sail her upwind with the board up, and yes, the board is very effective in preventing leeway.” He added that the daggerboard came up very easily while the boat was under way. “The twin rudders were another part of the shoal-draft package, and they controlled the boat very well.”
It was an afternoon to sail big boats, and the Beneteau 523 fit right in. “The purpose I have for the boat,” said Lee, “is ‘offshore capable,’ though that’s not its target market. It’s for a couple between 50 and 60 with grown kids, owner-operators, who use the boat three to four weeks at a time with occasional guests. Maneuverable and manageable shorthanded.”
The entire judging crew enjoyed a trick at the helm of the well-balanced sailboat in winds that were back up into the teens. “On our go-fast/go-slow options scale,” Lee said, “it had a good, real mainsail with real battens. It had the six-feet-two-inch medium draft, so those things were good. But it still had the three-blade prop, so I bet you could pick up another half knot with a folding option. It sailed just fine, and if you put the deep keel and folding prop on the boat, it could fit right into the performance-cruising class. It would sail that well.”
“Does anyone else agree with me that with a minimal amount of modification, it would not only improve the performance but make it a real ocean-crossing boat?” wondered Sherman.
“No question,” said Hogg.
Giesemann described the overall feel as one of “luxury and comfort.” Details she liked in the main saloon included the sole (“gorgeous, and adds to the total picture”) and the counter space in the galley (“best I’ve seen on any boat”). “The layout of the whole boat was great,” she said, “but I especially liked the aft cabin with the small desk. And the aft head had a shower that was nothing short of inviting. Even with all that luxury, the boat gave us a fun, fast ride with a nice feel.”
In the late-afternoon hours, as what little light the day had offered faded into darkness, the judges pulled up to a tidy yacht in perfect trim and cleaving purposefully through the chop. Tom Morris was at the helm of the Morris 42.
“A Chuck Paine design,” said Lee. “The design brief was a traditional appearance above the waterline, a modern underbody, and great sailing characteristics combined with more than the average volume for a traditional boat. You were supposed to be able to take it to opening day at the yacht club, and it’s supposed to look right. Then it’s supposed to sail right. And I think they got it right.
“The solid rail for the aft half of the lifelines is interesting,” he continued. “It’s more secure, and you get used to the look. There’s an excellent example of the offshore dorade vents: the guard, the box, the whole bit. Good sea berths in the middle of the boat. A nice big Edson bilge pump. Hardware bolted through with real backing plates. The right way to do it.”
“Based on ABYC standards, I found just one flaw on the boat, and it’s a classic mistake,” said Sherman. “It has to do with the propane storage locker, which should be designed in such a way that it won’t be prone to throwing extra gear in there with the tank. The drainage, valving–all that was great. But sure enough, I opened it up, and there was the shore-power cord and some other stuff. Obviously it’s an easy fix.”
And thus the hair was split.
“Absolutely awesome,” said Giesemann. “What sailing should be. I think it’s the best America has to offer with the quality craftsmanship. It takes you back to the art. These guys are artists.”
Day Two: Monos and Multi
The first day of sea trials had been cold, gray, and bleak. But compared with the staunch nor’easter that greeted the judges as they boarded the Ribcraft for Day Two, it’d been a day at the beach.
Luckily, the inaugural boat to be tested was born for bad weather. The rugged Kanter Bougainvillaea 65 was conceived to be a go-anywhere, all-oceans passsagemaker. And owners Martin Burzynski and Annie Lannigan were pleased to greet the judging team aboard their waterborne home. The couple was halfway along on a 3,000-mile delivery from Lake Erie to their home on Florida’s Gulf coast; they plan to start crossing oceans aboard this boat beginning in May 2007. “Some of these test sails are very well prepared, some poorly prepared,” Lee said later. “This was very well prepared.”
Martin and Annie worked closely with yacht designer Mark Fitzgerald of Chuck Paine’s design office and Canadian builder Kanter Yachts in developing the couple’s vision of a full-fledged world cruiser. “It’s one of the most advanced systems-driven boats I’ve seen,” said Sherman. “It’s an absolute technical marvel. What’s been done has been done very, very well, perhaps the best we’ve seen or will see in that regard.
“What’s troubling to me,” he continued, “is the lack of redundancy. In my opinion, the backup systems aren’t fully thought out. I wonder what’s going to happen if they end up in Tahiti with any sort of serious problem?”
From a layout perspective, Giesemann entertained no such worries. “The galley is very well designed, with an enormous pantry. There’s exceptional visibility in the pilothouse. This is a very livable boat.”
About the helm, Hogg said, “The hydraulic steering had absolutely no touch.”
Not to worry, countered Lee (who also made the point that the boat would be operated on autopilot for most of its underway miles). “I’m sure they’d be happy to sell you a cable steering system.” Indeed, to Lee, the more salient point was the construction quality of the aluminum hull. “I was very, very impressed,” he said.
The transfer to the next boat, the Swedish-built Hallberg-Rassy 37, was perhaps a bit sportier than it should’ve been. “I was a little disappointed that it didn’t have a gate in the lifelines as we tried to get aboard in four-foot seas,” said Sherman. “It would’ve been helpful.”
Once aboard, however, the criticisms of the boat were few.
“I really liked this boat,” said Lee. “The cockpit seats were long enough to sleep on. The main cabin had two sea berths. The forward berth is 58 inches wide, which is almost a queen. The after berth is split–48 inches and 30 inches–which may be better out in the ocean. There’s a permanent spare prop mounted in the engine room. I had a little trouble backing down, but it was pretty hard on all the boats today because the wind would blow the bow down. But I finally got it under control and it backed both ways.”
“It was the only mast furler [a Furlex system from Selden] we sailed on today that had vertical battens, and they worked fine,” noted Hogg. “With a reef in the sail, it set nicely, and I was impressed by that.”
Continuing the day’s import theme, the next boat on the list was the Jaguar 36. The nominating team, including the co-authors of this story, felt it was an interesting addition to the expanding market of cruising catamarans. But the judges couldn’t have disagreed more strongly.
“I looked at the price [$230,000] and thought we might have a Best Value from the multihull class,” said Lee. “But no matter what the relative cost, a value boat still has to be a good boat. Layout-wise, you had to walk through a head to get to a stateroom, and that’s faulty no matter how good the workmanship is. And it was the only cat we sailed that had underwing pounding.”
“I saw delaminated wood and thin fiberglass laminates,” said Sherman. “In my opinion, the build quality on this vessel was very low.”
The next boat up, the Gunboat 48, also hailed from South Africa, but the differences between it and the Jaguar were night and day. “As well it should be for a boat that costs a million dollars more,” said Hogg. “It’s a very high-tech, very high-quality composite construction,” said Sherman.
The sailing trials, with the wind speeds punching into the low 30s, was outrageous (for more on the Gunboat sea trial, see “Liftoff,” Editor’s Log, December 2005). “I’m thinking of it as a New Age cruiser,” said Sherman. “It’s a bit stark inside, but maybe that’s what New Age is, and there’s a market for that. The sailing performance was exhilarating: really good. The boat was stiff; the helm was light. I think the inside helm would benefit from an overhead window. I couldn’t see the sails and was sailing on instruments. I’m a telltale guy.”
Suzanne Giesemann, after her first experience flying a hull on a 48-foot catamaran–she wasn’t alone–agreed with Sherman on the sailing aspects, but with a caveat. “I had a blast under way,” she said. “It was thrilling. But a cruising boat? I don’t buy it. The Gunboat guys were bragging about doing 300 miles a day, but to me that’s not cruising. That’s getting there. The interior was stark. The galley was an afterthought. The boat failed my sitting-around-and-reading test. This is a man’s boat.”
Bill Lee had a different take on the Gunboat: “Yachting is an art form, and this is one aspect of it. If you want to land on a beach, you can do that, and if you want to go fast, you can do that. I don’t find fault with its objective at all; it’s an excellent execution of the objective. It not only fulfills the idea of going cruising, but going cruising in a hot rod.”
Continuing the day’s catamaran theme, the judges segued from the Gunboat to the flagship of the Lagoon line of French catamarans, the Lagoon 500. “It’s billed as an offshore cruiser with a lot of payload capacity, and comes with three interior options: three, four, or five staterooms,” said Lee.
The boat presented to the judges in Annapolis was an owner’s version, and Giesemann found a lot to like about it. “The owner’s cabin [to starboard] is great,” she said. “You could shut off the space from the rest of the boat and have some real privacy.
“Throughout the boat, there was excellent ventilation and tons of storage space. It had a four-burner stove, and you could put a turkey in the oven and do some real entertaining. I loved the loveseat forward on the foredeck, and I really like the flybridge concept. But I have to admit that when I was steering, I didn’t feel like I was on a boat at all. It was like looking down on a tennis court from up there.”
Next up was the day’s third South African-built catamaran, the St. Francis 50. Along for the trial were the boat’s owners, Michael and Jeri Innis (http://sailingcloud9.com), who’d moved up to the boat from an Island Packet 45, aboard which they’d enjoyed sailing from their former home outside San Francisco to the Bahamas. Once there, with occasional visits from their four grown daughters and an ever-expanding load of bikes and gear, they decided to look into a cruising cat for an Atlantic crossing and several years of Mediterranean sailing. Their search led them to the St. Francis 50. (Michael earned extra points when he stripped to his bathing suit and took a plunge into the cold Chesapeake after we snagged a crab pot.)
Interestingly, after a first inspection the Innises took a pass because Jeri didn’t like the galley-down layout. But when they couldn’t find a galley-up layout, they bought the boat anyway, and the plan has grown on them. “When we have guests, they can be up in the saloon, and the dishes and mess are down below and out of the way. We can relax and clean up later,” Jeri said.
Seeing it as a long-distance cruiser, Ed Sherman was enamored of every aspect of the boat, which recorded a top speed of 12.2 knots reaching during our sea trial. “We were in 30-knot winds,” he said, “and the sailing was thoroughly enjoyable. I felt I’d be comfortable on this boat in virtually any situation, that it could be adjusted to deal with it. It had a nice motion through the sea.
“The finish was good; the welds were all ground out, then acid-dipped and polished. The metal work was exquisite, better than any other boat we’ve inspected. The systems were really good, and the glasswork had no rough edges. Everything was faired nicely.”
When Bill Lee, poised at the helm to do the motoring test, asked for the cruising rpm speed, he got a surprise. “The owners picked right up on it,” he said. “Their trick was to just use one engine. It cut the noise and fuel consumption and still achieved 8.7 knots.”
By the time the team moved on to the day’s final boat, the Seguin 52 (see “Fairweather and Foul,” May 2005), it was really blowing the dogs off the chains. But the S&S design shouldered through the breeze and chop with aplomb. “We reefed her down and set up the runners, and it was exquisite to drive,” said Sherman. “The motion of the boat was just the way it ought to be in the grand yachting style. Here we were, in 35 knots of wind, playing around, and we were walking up on deck like we were on a ballfield. What a great upwind boat in a seaway.”
Bill Lee concurred. “If you were going to sail from San Francisco to Seattle, this is the boat you’d want.”
Lyman-Morse is one of the great contemporary builders, said the judges, and they raved about the details, from the floorboard fasteners to the remarkable custom woodworking to the pristine systems layouts. But they also had criticisms.
“I’m not sure that they didn’t try to do too much down below,” said Lee.
“And I was a little disappointed in the noise levels belowdecks,” said Sherman. “The engine sits in the center of the saloon with a gigantic cover over it that requires a big hydraulic ram to raise. You just don’t really expect noise like that at all on a yacht of this stature.”
Giesemann wasn’t enamored of the interior layout but admitted she’d love to see a second Seguin with a different owner’s take on the accommodations; Lyman-Morse, after all, would give you practically anything you wanted.
“Suzanne feels it’s too dark, that it’s a guy’s boat, but I’m a guy,” said Sherman. “I can picture myself down there with a brandy and a nice cigar having a hell of an afternoon.”
Finally back at the dock and out of the weather, Peter Hogg summed up the day’s activities. “We had a little diversity today, which was a very key issue. It comes down to sailing style, cruising style, whatever you want to call it. But it all comes back to style. The Kanter, to me, was boring. The other extreme was the Gunboat, which was a pleasure to sail. So the criteria become difficult. But then you have the little Hallberg-Rassy. It was a sweet sailer, pleasant. You were happy to steer it. She was a little tender, but somehow it felt good. And if the boat doesn’t feel good when you’re sailing it, if it doesn’t put a smile on your face, then **** it.”
Suzanne Giesemann was startled. “I was just sitting here thinking how literate you sounded–then that,” she said.
“What part didn’t you understand?”
Day Three: All Spun Out
The judges sailed the first two boats of the day, the Bavaria 39 and the Impression 384 by Elan, in 16 to 18 knots of steady breeze, with further gusts into the lower 20s.
About the Bavaria, Sherman felt the overall quality from the big German builder is good and getting better. Regarding the Impression, Giesemann gave high marks to the interior layout of the midsized production cruiser.
But when the judges compared notes later in the day, their main talking point when discussing the sea trials was the tendency for these vessels (and, later, for the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 42 DS) to stall and round up in higher winds.
It must be noted that all three boats spun out when flying full genoas while closehauled or close-reaching. And once their respective sail plans were shortened down, all three behaved very well and exhibited fine, if different, sailing characteristics. But the experiences generated a lot of discussion about why many contemporary cruising boats exhibit this trait.
Part of the reason is the trend for many modern designs to carry beam well aft to accommodate large aft cabins or twin staterooms.
Said Bill Lee: “I was talking to one designer who said so much weight ends up aft in these boats that even though they try to move the center of buoyancy back, they still need to put the keel forward to make the boat float where it’s supposed to. The other way you place the keel is you figure out where the sail plan is and you put the keel under it. But if you’re putting it farther forward to make the boat float right, the boat will have more weather helm.
“The other thing that happens when the keel is forward is to fashion the rudder so it generates more lift. But if the boat’s wide aft and heels over, part of that big rudder lifts out of the water, the air ventilates down from the surface, and the boat spins out.”
Lee had one other theory, this one regarding big propellers and the possibility that the turbulent flow they generate may accentuate the stalling potential on the rudder. “If you could just go a little faster, you might get a little more water flowing past the rudder, and you might be able to save yourself more,” he said.
And, as mentioned, there’s always the simple solution: Reef early. “In most cases, if you shorten down, you don’t even lose that much boat speed,” he concluded. “It gets more comfortable, and it’s easier to steer. You don’t heel as much, so it feels weird; but if you look at the speedo, you’re going almost as good as you were before. Plus, the boat’s a whole lot more comfortable, and it steers a whole lot better.”
After the morning’s first two monohulls, the judges stepped aboard the final cat of the competition, the British-built Broadblue 42. “I liked its cutter rig,” said Peter Hogg. “It makes it very easy to go downwind with the big genoa and not have to fool around with a partially reefed headsail on a roller furler. And having that second inner staysail works well. I thought the owner’s cabin was great. And it’s one of the few boats we sailed with dedicated office-type space, which is great for anyone who’s going to be voyaging and keeping track of records and paperwork or for anyone living aboard.”
“It sailed well,” said Sherman, “but I have some reservations about the serviceability of the electronics, helm, and engine room.”
“It’s a very nice, very pretty boat,” said Giesemann. “The heads were beautiful, it was beautifully decorated, and the lighting was excellent.”
The Salona 45, from Croatia, was another boat whose stock rose in conjunction with the wind. “The boat’s purpose is described as a fast cruiser that can be club raced,” said Lee. “When you cross that line, you start to see the traveler under the main boom, a more open cockpit layout, that sort of thing. We sailed the eight-feet-four-inch deep keel with a two-blade folding prop on a saildrive and a classic mainsail, so we really had all three of the go-fast factors. And it really showed. This was certainly one of the faster, more responsive boats we sailed today.”
“It’s a fast cruiser, all right,” said Giesemann. “But with that draft [eight feet three inches], you’re going to cruise real fast right around the Bahamas.” A six-foot-11-inch shoal-draft version is also available.
The Salona was one of many boats equipped with a straight-line galley–we can go so far as to call it a trend–as opposed to the more traditional U-shaped configuration. That feature also drew some interesting insights.
“I don’t care for the straight-line galley,” Lee said. “With a U-shaped galley aft, the cook can talk to the guests, and he or she is back by the main hatch where there’s more air. It’s harder to reach things in the straight-line version, especially when it’s nasty and you’re using a galley strap. And the sinks are bound to be well outboard; if you’re heeling hard, you may get water up through the sink drain.
“I think it comes down to what the builder is trying to accomplish,” Lee continued. “If you want three staterooms, you go with the straight-line galley amidships. If you only want two staterooms, you can put the galley aft.”
“I don’t like it, either,” said Giesemann. “For me, it feels like I’m always in the galley. I like a separate living room from my kitchen. And when they add a bench amidships to lean back against, it breaks up the flow of the space for anyone trying to move forward.”
“The straight galleys are done to maximize space,” said Sherman. “They’re fine at the dock. And being fundamentally antisocial, I don’t care if my back’s to the crowd. But from a practical user standpoint while under way, I can’t really get used to them.”
The panel had few reservations about their next charge, the powerful Hallberg-Rassy 62. “They told us the purpose was push-button sailing and bluewater cruising, where you can do everything from the helm,” said Giesemann. “They proved their point today. I’ve never seen so many buttons, all right there by the wheel. I was amazed. I’d need more time to get used to it, but it was so easy and comfortable to sail. It was blowing, there were choppy seas, and we were making 9 knots so effortlessly it didn’t feel like we were moving. It was more like gliding. I felt like this was a comfortable, older-couple’s boat. Or a boat for a comfortable older couple.”
“You can do lots of things on a big boat you can’t do on a little boat,” said Lee. “This is a great boat. The only negative to me is the engine room, and I only say that because of the efficiency of the Kanter’s. These guys should hire the Kanter’s designers to do their engine room.”
“It’s definitely busy,” said Sherman. “You’d better know what’s going on once you’re in there. Lots of systems and very advanced global-cruising features. Multiple voltage availability: 12-volt, 24-volt, 110, 220. And systems were backed up with a full-on isolation transformer, an inverter system that can deal with multiple systems, all real nicely done. It’s a real globetrotter, comfy, and rock solid. And I like the deck layout, because when all the push buttons crap out, you’re manually going to be able to get into some backup mode and get yourself back on track.”
The Hanse 461 was the German boat with the bilge-pump system referred to at the outset of this article. And while all the judges were perplexed a bit by the floorboard system and related bilge issues, including butt splices connecting the refrigeration unit to the electrical system that were ripe for trouble, they were unanimous in their praise of the boat as a fast, enjoyable sailboat. “I really enjoyed driving this boat,” said Hogg. “No doubt about it, it sailed well, was very well balanced, and the helm felt great,” said Sherman after his trick steering.
The interior layout is centered around a main cabin that the judges felt was a little gimmicky, with a pair of chairs to port that could be positioned a couple of different ways and pinned in place on opposing sides of a small table that effectively took the place of a traditional nav station. And while there were multiple choices for the cabins at the ends of the boat, the main-saloon configuration was the sole option.
Regarding the chairs, Lee said, “I didn’t buy them. When facing each other, they seemed too formal. When facing straight out, they didn’t feel right, either.”
The Hanse yard is making impressive strides into epoxy construction, as Tartan and C&C are doing in the United States. This is still rare among production boatbuilders, but it can lead to the best structures in contemporary boatbuilding.
Day Four-Seeking Closure
Finally, on the last day of the 2006 Boat of the Year competition, the rain stopped for good, and on brief occasions, there were patches of blue overhead and the odd ray of sunshine. Happily, the improving conditions were matched by fine wind for sailing.
The Dufour 365 opened up the action. “Once we figured the trim out, which didn’t take very long, it sailed very well and was extremely well balanced,” said Ed Sherman. “The deck layout was smart and efficient. A nice, reasonable little cruiser.”
The Dufour was followed by a first-time BOTY nominee, the Delphia 40 from Poland. “I like the way they did the walkthrough aft,” said Bill Lee. “There’s an offset ladder and a pretty chunky continuous bumper, like you see on the Amels. You can back that right up against a dock without a problem.
“This boat had two heads and no stall shower,” he continued. “I guess if you’re a couple, you use one head for the head and one for the shower and call it good. It’s a personal preference, but I think in a 40-foot boat, two heads is a bit much. They take more space than you think. I’d rather have a bigger chart table and a stall shower in one head.”
“The execution may have been just a little off,” said Peter Hogg. “But I get the sense this company is an up-and-comer. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see them back soon with a bloody good boat.”
The Moody 49 has been reintroduced into the States after a switch of builders. The boats have recently undergone a shift from Princess Yachts in Plymouth, England, a yard that’s concentrating on high-end powerboats. Today’s Moodys are built by Moody Yachts International in Southampton.
“The brief for this boat was ‘a high-quality center-cockpit boat,'” said Lee. “To me, this was a boat that looked good in the dockside inspection, but even got better once we got it out on the water. We sailed the version with the five-feet-three-inch draft, though there’s also a six-feet-seven-inch deep-keel option. It made a bit of leeway with the shoal keel, which is something you don’t notice unless you’re really paying attention. Plus, I couldn’t get it to back to starboard. Then again, it had a bow thruster, so I’m not sure that was such a big deal.”
“I really liked it, too,” said Ed Sherman. “I felt the equipment was sized and placed properly, which is something we haven’t always seen out there. It was blowing pretty well when we tested it, and the boat had a good turn of speed. We were making 8.7 knots under way, which was very decent.
“I was totally impressed with the build on the boat compared with earlier Moodys I’ve inspected in England,” he added. “The new regime at Moody definitely has it dialed in.”
Returning to a configuration that has long served the company well, like its classic 34-footer of an earlier era, the latest offering from Tartan also sports a centerboard. “The target market for the Tartan 3400 was the more traditional cruiser,” said Bill Lee. “But then they broadened that. It can be a couple’s boat or a small family’s boat. They also wanted a boat that was easy enough to stop at after work to go sailing for an hour, or even use it for a week’s vacation or a month’s vacation. So they were really reaching for a pretty broad spectrum of the market. Certainly it was one of the more higher-tech constructions we’ve seen.” Significantly, Tartan has made a commitment to epoxy boatbuilding for better laminates, and they have an in-house shop to build carbon spars for their boats.
Both Lee and Sherman felt the wide, main boom, with its nifty mainsail-stowage capacity, was clever and innovative. “It hasn’t been done that I know of, incorporating that mainsail cover,” said Lee. “And when I was walking forward to leeward tidying things up, I found it really handy to hold on to,” added Sherman.
New owner Jeff Watkins joined the judges for his first sail aboard his spanking new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 42 DS. Having moved up from his previous Southern Cross 31 and Alberg 30, he’s looking forward to expanding his cruising horizons in a southerly direction.
The judges agreed he’d have excellent accommodations belowdecks. “The aft stateroom was very generous, with a 72-inch-wide berth,” said Lee. “It’s an aft-cockpit boat with a big stateroom that really works. One thing we’re seeing more of, and this boat had it, is side engine access through the head. In the past, you couldn’t get in there, but now you see more watertight doors–this Jeanneau had one–that let you get in there.”
“Overall, Jeanneau is another company that’s really improved on systems installation, particularly electrics,” said Sherman.
The final boat in the BOTY field was the Island Packet 440, an aft-cockpit interpretation of the center-cockpit 44-footer the Florida builder debuted last year. “They do an awfully lot well,” said Peter Hogg. “Lots of good handholds on deck, excellent ventilation. I counted eight deck hatches and three big vents. The mainsheet and traveler were properly led through the dodger, and the winches were all the right size for the job. It’s an interesting layout down below, with the berths roughly 45 degrees off centerline, which creates two huge heads with loads of room and big showers.”
“The thing that struck me,” said Giesemann, “is that it’s the first boat I’ve seen down below that’s so good-looking they didn’t need to add fancy bedding or froufrou pillows. The plain mattresses and upholstery looked great.”
“I’m very familiar with Island Packet, and it’s a typical IP in every respect,” said Sherman. “Real high-grade systems, perfectly done. To be honest, I’ve never really loved their looks, but I’ve always respected their installations and build quality.”
“They have a niche,” said Lee. “Part of their tradition, and success, is that there are still a lot of stalwart cruising sailors who want really long keels, a well-protected prop, and a skeg that comes back and picks up the bottom of the rudder.” More and more, as this year’s fleet underscored, Island Packet is the one manufacturer of new boats addressing that segment of the market.
Later that evening, as the judges made their final deliberations, Bill Lee made one last cogent observation. “The two most important things in life are keeping track of yourself and knowing who to believe,” he said.
Put another way, the 26 contenders for Boat of the Year had been well tracked and studied. And everyone involved in the organization of the event believed they chose some outstanding winners.
CW editors Herb McCormick and Tim Murphy conducted the 2006 Boat of the Year competition.