A New Contest For New Boats

This fall we immersed ourselves in boats, boats, boats. At the Newport and Annapolis boat shows, one panel of CW judges looked at a fleet of more than three dozen boats and, for the first time ever, nominated 22 to advance into the Boat of the Year contest. Then we set our team of experts loose for 10 straight days and in winds from 10 to 45 knots to peek behind bulkheads and sail their socks off. Here's what they found:


Boat-of-the-Year judges Bill Lee (left), Ralph Naranjo, Steve Callahan, and Nonnie Thompson Billy Black

“Racers want seconds per mile from their boats,” said Bill Lee, “but cruisers want miles per day.”

In any gathering of sailors, a comment like that is an invitation to pile on. This gathering, convened to decide Cruising World’s 2004 Boat of the Year (BOTY), was no different.

“The higher the performance profile of the boat, the more it not only accelerates but also decelerates-the more unforgiving it is,” said Steve Callahan. To which Nonnie Thompson added, “Miles per day is only important up to some point of comfort. A cruising couple would much prefer to back off than bash through it.”


Ralph Naranjo tallied up the hundreds of feet of chain, the outboard on the pushpit, the scuba tanks, and the supplies cruisers inevitably carry and said, “Cruising is about loading a lot of stuff aboard.” The boat that performs well and has a lot of accommodation space but no bilge, he said, begins to defeat the purpose of a cruising boat, because it forces you to stow gear, stores, and equipment up high. “It’s much easier, when loaded down, to keep performance in a 20,000-pound 40-footer than it is in a 15,000-pound 40-footer.”

Last fall, in the days after the U.S. Sailboat Show, conversations around themes like these filled a room in Annapolis, Maryland, as Boat of the Year judges Lee, Callahan, Thompson, and Naranjo debated the relative merits of 22 of the year’s new cruising-boat models they’d just inspected, at the dock and under way, with an eye toward choosing the best.

It’s an axiom of sailboat design that every boat is a compromise, and the judges’ conversations demonstrated once again that measuring a cruising boat’s performance isn’t a mere calculation of wetted surface and chord lengths and sail area-to-displacement ratios. The right calculus also needs to factor in that boat’s aptitude for keeping its shorthanded crew fed, rested, and safe as they click off the miles together, whether across the bay or down the trades. When you consider a boat this way, performance and comfort meet in a single continuum.


The judges recognized full well that any evaluation of a machine so complex and wonderful as a cruising boat must inevitably rest on the bias of the observer, and a regular part of their conversations aimed at clarifying just what their own biases were-no small task.

But one consensus was a notion that sailboats are meant to be sailed. The ways sailors use their boats are as diverse as the sailors themselves, but a vital function of any cruising boat is its role as a waterborne home-either as a vacation cottage or a primary residence-for its owners. This year’s fleet had quite a number of boats that would be ideal for this; but even more select were the boats that would also make the most comfortable homes while under way.

The judges asked of each boat how well it could be sailed and maintained by a couple. Could a person reach the mainsheet and genoa sheets from the helm? Did the boat offer clear, secure passage up the companionway, from the cockpit to the working deck, and forward to the mast and foredeck? Were the electric and mechanical systems well labeled and readily accessible for repair and replacement?


In all of this, the judges also weighed each boat’s value for the money. For the sake of comparison, they used a pricing formula throughout the fleet that included a basic sailaway package (Dacron working sails, safety gear, anchor and windlass, refrigeration, basic depth and speed electronics but no chart plotters or radar) for a commissioned boat delivered in the United States in October 2003. But these figures should be used for comparison only: Depending on options packages, foreign-exchange rates, and other factors, we sometimes saw variations of 30 percent or more between “base” and “as-tested” prices.

Finally, a word about the Boat of the Year categories. This year, for the first time, a special nominating panel composed of industry veteran Bill Seifert and Cruising World staff made an early round of inspections, narrowed the fleet of new boats for 2004 from three dozen to 22 dedicated nominees, and grouped the boats in the categories you’ll see in the pages that follow. The primary criterion behind these groupings was price, with the divisions reflecting increments of $200,000. The two exceptions were the performance classes, each of which stood out as its own distinct type.

For more on the Overall Cruising Boat of the Year, as well as the winners of the Best Value and Most Innovative awards, see page 61. Bio notes on our judges can be found below. And to learn how you might join our judging panel for 2005, also see page 61.


The four nominees in this category-the Beneteau 373, the Catalina 387, the Etap 37s, and the Hunter 41-range in price from $135,000 to $200,000 and in length from 37 feet to 41 feet. A common thread among these boats is that they each come from high-volume yards whose production efficiencies diminish the unit cost, adding value to each boat.

The Runners-up: The new Catalina 387 is a thoughtful evolution from that builder’s popular 380, which won CW’s 1997 prize for Best Midsize Cruiser. “The design concept,” said Gerry Douglas, Catalina’s lead designer, “is to reflect the ‘real world’ of most sailors while providing a luxurious environment for a couple with the flexibility to accommodate a second couple comfortably or a family of up to seven.” In detail after detail-the segregation of the boat’s structure from its furniture, the epoxy-sealed edges around the hatchboards’ end grain, the cedar-lined lockers and solid teak doors, the raised bosses around such leak-prone areas as genoa tracks, the copious tankage, the brilliant head and holding-tank design-you’ll find signs of the builder’s care. Of the complete access to all sides of the engine, filters, and running gear, one BOTY judge said, “Magnificent.”

The Hunter 41’s design brief says it’s for cruising, possibly shorthanded, and for living aboard. In fact, if our contest categories had been based less on price and more on usage, the H 41 could have been right at home among the liveaboard cruisers. “They put a little house in a sailboat,” one of the judges noted.

But the real surprise came when we sailed the boat. We’re told by the big-volume boatbuilders that 90 percent of their customers choose in-mast furling systems-one of Bill Lee’s three Go-Slow Factors. (The other two are shoal keels and fixed props, especially the three-bladed ones.) For our test sail of the Hunter 41, we were treated to the pleasure of sailing with the standard, albeit rare, full-roach main-for which Hunter’s three-point B&R rig is ideally suited. The standard rig for the 41 includes mast struts, affixed from the deck to a point on the mast just above the gooseneck. “I like the rig we sailed with today,” said Steve. “The struts provide added structural support to the stick, like another set of mast partners higher up in the rig. They also give the crew on deck something to lean against, like mast pulpits.” Hunter’s other signature design element, the stainless-steel arch over the cockpit, served well to give the best sheeting position-from the end of the boom-while keeping the sheet out of the cockpit’s living space. The judges lauded the work of Glenn Henderson, Hunter’s in-house designer for the last few years. For details on the Beneteau 373, see “Best Value” on page 61. The Winner: The Belgian-built Etap 37s took the honors for its layout above and below deck, its attention to safety, and its sprightliness under way. Dane Somers, Etap’s importer, describes the 37s thus: “She’s designed for people who want to spend their time on the water, not at the dock.”

All in all, the judges felt the boat met its goal. “Nice motion,” said Ralph, who added that the ease of getting around the deck and from the cockpit to the cabin evoked the simple pleasures in a boat. While some judges found the Etap smaller than other 37-footers, Nonnie praised the designer’s intelligent use of space: A removable traveler that mounts across the cockpit settees offered the twin advantages of end-boom sheeting while under way and an open cockpit when the boat’s at rest. “We put a lot of torque on that traveler,” she said, “but there was no creaking or shaking. It was stable. And with it taken out, you’ve got a lot of room.”

Ralph praised the dodger arrangement, which, he said, wasn’t just due to the contribution of the canvas maker. “This dodger was thought out by the boatbuilder.”

The Etap’s cabin layout provides two sea berths, two forward-facing heads, and a viable wet locker. The galley features an island double sink, directly on the centerline, with a removable countertop to bridge the space to the portside stove.

Steve particularly liked the ways the Etap addressed safety. “I love the nonskid on the waist decks, the harness hook-on points in the cockpit, and the unsinkability”-the latter trait being Etap’s biggest selling point. “Few builders have ever put this concerted effort into making their boats unsinkable,” he said.

To sum it all up, Steve said, “I’d get on this boat, and I’d take it anywhere.” The boats in this category-the Elan 40, the Grand Soleil 40, and the Wauquiez Centurion 40s-are all 40-footers aimed at sailors who like to sail fast. The boats ranged in price from $230,000 to $255,000. “As a group,” said Bill Lee, “I really like this style.”

The Runners-up: The Grand Soleil 40 is described by its builder as “a fast offshore cruiser.” A dedicated racing version of the same design is also available, with a SCRIMP hull, carbon rig, and 7-foot-10-inch keel. We sailed the cruising version with the middle (7-foot-1-inch) keel option, reaching speeds of just over 8 knots in 17 knots true.

Its Gallic name notwithstanding, the Grand Soleil is built in Italy by a company called Cantiere del Pardo, which recently bought Dufour Yachts. Hull construction is of solid hand-laid fiberglass with vinylester for blister protection; the deck is of foam-sandwich construction. Like many boats in its class, tie rods bring the chainplate loads to the grid structure, opening up the interior space.

The second member of the Performance 40 class is the Wauquiez Centurion 40s. A division of Groupe Beneteau since 1997, Wauquiez builds two distinct lines of sailboats: the Centurion line, composed of cruiser/racers, and the Pilot Saloon line, featuring cruising-optimized boats with windows forward and raised cabin soles. The Centurion 40s follows closely in the footsteps of her 45-foot sister, introduced two years ago. The hull is a resin-infused sandwich construction with a fine entry forward and a lead-bulb keel to keep her stiff.

In this class, the Centurion is the only boat that commits firmly to a two-stateroom layout; the payoff is a very nice separate shower in the head. The gearheads in our group loved such thoughtful construction details as the capped tails on the hose clamps. The Centurion has the best companionway in the category, with hatchboards well designed to keep the water out and a functional life-raft locker. When under power, the Wauquiez was also the quietest boat in her class, with sound readings 5 decibels lower than the other two.

The Winner: The Elan 40 is produced by the most popular boatbuilder you’ve probably never heard of. Based in Slovenia, in the last 40 years the company has built some 40,000 fiberglass boats (mainly dinghies and runabouts, but also sailboats for charter and racing) for the European market. Since the late 1990s, as order returned to this republic, formerly part of Yugoslavia, Elan has been ramping up the production of its present line of Rob Hum-phries-designed performance cruisers, which range from 31 to 45 feet. Last year, it built 300 boats; for the future, it aims to become one of the world’s most prolific builders.

“This boat was a real treat to sail,” said Bill Lee, noting that it had none of the three Go-Slow Factors (furling main, shoal keel, fixed prop). Nonnie liked the deck layout. “There was plenty of room around the wheel,” she said. “The passages into the cockpit from the transom, the cabin, and the side decks were really accessible.”

Steve noted nice treatments in some of the building details, “like the way the sole was all fastened down. They bothered to put down washers underneath every screw so that those sole elements aren’t going to work loose over time.” He found the boat attractive without being fancy. Bill Lee liked the L-shaped galley (which placed sinks near the centerline), the easy angle of companionway steps, and the aft berth, which, at 66 inches wide, is the most generous in the class. “On this boat, you go down below, and it all seems charming,” he said.

The quartet of nominees in this category range in price from $260,000 to $365,000. The judg-es came to group them in two pairs, with the Bavaria 49 and the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 49 on the one hand, and the Island Packet 370 and the Hallberg-Rassy 40 on the other. Any of the four would make good long-term homes-the 49-footers for the space they offer, the smaller boats for the extra ingenuity with which their available space is arranged.

The Runners-up: After stepping off the Island Packet 370 at the dock during the nomination round, Bill Seifert said, “This is the best boat under 40 feet we’ve seen. There’s no wasted space.” Indeed, over the last quarter century, Bob Johnson and the crew at Island Packet have truly refined their boats for the cruising niche they’ve come to dominate.

From outward appearances, the design modifications from such longstanding IP models as the 380 and the 350 are subtle, but they include a wider stern and a taller, higher-aspect rig. On deck, the company is offering the boat in either a sloop or a cutter rig, a departure from its former cutter-only approach. The cockpit comprises lots of creative nooks for stowing lines, loose gear, and sails as well as two LPG bottles.

The more mechanically inclined members of our troupe were wowed by the job IP has done with systems installations. Staterooms forward and aft still leave space for an ample saloon and head. The shower is one you could comfortably use under way.

“Island Packet does a lot of things really well,” said Nonnie. “I could live on this boat.”

Looking now at the 49-footers from Bavaria and Jeanneau: It’s a testament to the production efficiencies of these two yards that they can deliver boats in the same price-defined ballpark as boats 10 feet their junior. CW contributing editor and author Jimmy Cornell came to the Annapolis show for two days; while he was there, one of his personal priorities was to see the Bavaria 49 to figure out how the company does it.

The Bavaria factory, near W�rzburg, Germany, has to be the world’s most automated boatbuilding plant. An expansion, completed last year, reportedly brings its capacity to 4,000 boats per year. The 49 is the flagship of a six-model cruising-boat fleet that begins at 32 feet; all the boats come from the boards of J&J Design in Slovenia.

The boat handled well, both under power and under sail. In 8 knots of true wind, we saw 5.2 knots of boat speed.

The Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 49 was one of two big boats Jeanneau introduced this year; the other one was the 54-foot deck saloon. Of the two, Jeanneau’s 49 is the one more likely to straddle the fence between beer-can racing and wine-glass cruising. Designed by Philippe Briand, its hull form and cabin-house lines are sleek. It’s available in either a three- or four-cabin layout, but Jeanneau offers removable bulkheads so you can adapt as the crew comes and goes. It’s no wonder these boats are as beloved as they are in the charter trade.

The Winner: The Hallberg-Rassy 40, designed by Germ�n Frers and built in Sweden, is a vessel that has been exhaustively thought out for a couple who want to live under way comfortably. “A big part of the HR,” said Steve, “is that it’s maintained a lot of traditional types of quality, while updating the underbody to produce a boat that sails and handles well.” Built of hand-laid fiberglass over a Divinycell core, the HR preserves proven boatbuilding techniques, such as through-bolting deck fittings through solid laminate where core has been omitted.

The well-proportioned interior is done in light mahogany with a matte finish. The U-shaped galley is cozy but ample. Thoughtful details include a wet locker at the base of the companionway and holes for ventilation cut into the plywood beneath the berths.

For more details on the HR’s overall performance, see page 61. The three nominees that constitute this category, from 43 to 44 feet long, range in price from $325,000 to $410,000. Like those in the Performance 40 Class, the Dufour 44, the J/133, and the X-43 are designed to race your heart.

The Runners-up: The arrival this year of the Dufour 44 (as well as its little sisters, the 34 and 40) marked a transition in Dufour’s 40-year history. These new designs from Umberto Felci and Patrick Roseo are replacing the Classic series Dufour had been building of late. The design change is concurrent with an ownership change; while Dufours will still be built in La Rochelle, France, the company is now owned by the Italian Cantiere del Pardo yard that builds the Grand Soleil line.

So far, the change seems to have been good. Last year, the Dufour 40 won a French equivalent of our Boat of the Year contest.

The Dufour 44 mixes clean lines and sensible accommodations with strong value. “It’s a good-looking boat,” said Steve, “and it went quite well in light airs.”

The X-43 is a performance cruiser that had one of the most beautifully appointed interiors in this year’s entire fleet. Doors and drawers were gently curved along the linear galley to follow the lines of the interior; in the forward cabin, grain ran perfectly matched across the doors of half a dozen cabinets. Slats supported the aft berth, promoting ventilation and reducing weight. Structurally, a massive galvanized steel grid stiffens the boat, while Divinycell core through the hull keeps it light. The weight in the boat is in all the right places.

“The Jefa steering system was magnificent,” said Ralph.

Said Steve, “This is a boat that you want to do a Bermuda race in.”

The Winner: Is the J/133 a cruiser? Or a racer?

Jeff Johnstone, the president of J/Boats, describes the J/133 as “a 43-foot yacht with stability for shorthanded cruising, durability for offshore passages, and race-winning performance.”

On the scale that runs from cruiser to racer, the judges debated at some length about where the J/133 fits. The boat we sailed, hull number one, had no anchor roller, no toe-rail aft of the mast, no stall shower, and tankage for just 50 gallons of water. But, in fact, the Johnstones know they’re marketing this boat to both sides of that great divide; for starters, the toerail and the bow roller are available to those who want them.

What the boat does offer cruisers is good storage, space for three LPG bottles, good cleats, two heads, and some of the best countertop fiddles in the fleet.

The judges liked the J’s visual appeal-“clean,” “organized,” “efficient”-both above decks and below. “She’s a nice boat to look at,” said Ralph, noting especially the windows, the house, and the pleasing sheer line.

But for all the J’s construction traits, it was the sailing that pushed it to the top of its class. This is a retractable-sprit boat from the company that pioneered the use of asymmetric chutes for shorthanded crews who still want to sail fast off the wind. Her hull lines, blending a long waterline with a narrow beam, drew praise: “Good directional stability,” said Ralph.

At the end of the day, the J/133-as does every boat in the performance classes-raises a question about how cruisers want to sail. “I think this is a great boat for sport cruising and sabbatical cruising,” said Steve. “You can flash Down East or to Bermuda from Boston, or similar. People are going to enjoy sailing a boat like this.”

On that scale, the J rules. “As a sailing machine,” said Bill Lee, “it’s exceptional.”

This category’s nominees -the Beneteau 57, the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54 DS, the Saga 48, and the Tartan 4400-range in price from $450,000 to $600,000 and in size from 44 feet to 57 feet.

The Runners-up: Tim Jackett and the gang at Tartan are going high-tech. They’ve invested in an epoxy impregnator and built an oven to post-cure the resin. They’ve got the glass-to-resin ratio oriented squarely in favor of the glass. Top-of-the-line Core-Cell foam accounts for the filling in the sandwich. Not only that, but Tartan bought a carbon-mast builder and brought the shop to Ohio. Although the boat we sailed was rigged with an aluminum spar, carbon is offered for the same price.

When you add these things up, Bill Seifert reckons the Tartan 4400 has the best structure in the fleet.

The Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 54 Deck Saloon is a breakthrough boat for the French builder. Behind the sleek, flowing style of the coachroof you could almost miss the ingenuity of that forward cockpit space and the shelter it provides. The ideal of uninhibited passage from the companionway through the transom is realized in a way that looks effortless. Five interior layouts are available; the one we saw features a cabin that’s convertible from one to three separate spaces. “I had a great time sailing this boat,” said Nonnie.

Beneteau’s new flagship is a 57-foot center-cockpit sloop designed by Bruce Farr. As the builder has done with other center-cockpit boats, the Beneteau 57’s steering is hydraulic from a position at the cockpit bulkhead. Four layouts range from a five-cabin charter version to two layouts optimized for a couple looking for the lap of luxury.

“I loved the aft deck,” said Steve, thinking not just of the unbeatable dinghy storage but of the parties he could have there.

The Winner: The Saga 48 answers this simple design brief: “a fast offshore cruiser, easy for one couple to handle.” It’s not surprising the Saga answered it well, as she was designed by Bob Perry, whose pen has launched a thousand ships and more-most of them to precisely these criteria.

Indeed, the judges felt that the Saga offered many of the best voyaging features in the 22-boat fleet, including a dedicated life-raft locker, good ventilation while under way, lock-down latches on the sole, excellent fiddle rails, storage for two large LP tanks, lots of harness-attachment points, 31-inch lifelines, a deep secure cockpit, and plenty of storage. The steering system is thrice redundant: Twin wheels each have their own quadrant, and a separate tiller arm on the rudderstock accepts the autopilot ram.

Bill Lee counted 10 functions fulfilled by the Saga’s stainless-steel cockpit arch: bimini structure, dinghy davit, outboard bracket, antenna support (radar, GPS), barbecue mount, MOB-pole housing, and support for cockpit and navigation lights. The result is aesthetically busy but functionally concise.

The main saloon, done in handcrafted cherry with a satin finish, is divided into three spaces: a dinette, a nav station built for two with visibility forward through deckhouse windows, and an aft-facing office near the mast. The Saga’s hull design features a long waterline with a nearly plumb bow for optimum speed. Saga’s “variable-geometry” rig is essentially a solent setup, well-honed over the decades by shorthanded offshore racers, featuring twin forestays from which to fly a self-tacking blade, for strong winds upwind, or a genoa. It’s a sensible solution for shorthanded crews.

Nonnie said, “The Saga 48 was a boat that I’d go to sea in tomorrow.”

The boats in this category range in price from $1.13 million to $1.7 million and in length from 55 to 62 feet. From the stately elegance of the Discovery 55’s Ken Freivokh interior to the proven balance of the North Wind 58’s Sparkman & Stephens hull, and from the revolutionary three-tiered arrangement of the Moorings 6200 to the smoking speeds of the Gunboat 62, this gathering of yachts exhibits the many faces of luxury.

The Runners-up: The Sparkman & Stephens-designed North Wind 58 is the big sister of the NW 43 that won CW’s 2001 award for Best Deck-Saloon Cruiser. Although the boat we sailed is built from vinylester resin and fiberglass vacuum-bagged over Divinycell foam, the Barcelona-based North Wind yard has plans to offer post-cured epoxy hulls within the next year.

Getting into boats of this size, deck layouts become ever more important for sailhandling. “The winches are convenient, and everything runs to the cockpit,” said Nonnie, who sails as a couple with her husband. “I really felt like two people could sail this boat.”

The Moorings 6200 catamaran, built in South Africa by Robertson and Caine, takes the charter-cat platform to a whole new level. With the helm station situated above the cabin-not unlike the flying bridge on a sportfishing boat-all sailhandling controls are removed from the afterdeck, which can be kept free for lounging. With all the space, the boat offers heaps of luxury. Still, with its powerful, roachy main and an arsenal of foresails, she’s a true sailing machine.

For more on the Gunboat 62 catamaran, see page 61 under “Most Innovative.”

The Winner: The Discovery 55, designed by Ron Holland and built in Southampton, England, was conceived “specifically for world cruising,” said its builder, John Charnley. “It has also been designed for effortless handling by a couple; a self-tacking jib and electric winches are standard.”

Not mentioned in the builder’s pr�cis is safety, but perhaps it should be. “I love the fact that the designer and the builder have thought about safety to the degree of having watertight bulkheads,” said Steve. Several watertight compartments are complemented by a watertight door built into the main bulkhead, just forward of the mast. “The fact that the whole forward element of the boat is partitioned off means the boat would probably be quite safe, even if it were seriously damaged.”

As you might expect from a boat of this size, the decks feel secure: 30-inch lifelines surround them, ample space around the deck-saloon coachroof encourages walking forward, and the foredeck is clear for ease of movement athwarthships.

The self-tacking foresail (“another big plus in my book,” said Steve) sets on its own stay just aft of the headstay, on which the genoa is furled. The two forestays are affixed very near each other at the bow, and the two headsails are meant to be used in an either/or context-except for sailing dead downwind, when you might fly twin genoas, poled out wing and wing, each from its own stay. The inner sail is often called a solent jib.

The plush interior is based around a raised main saloon whose space is broken into discrete spaces that avoid the dance-hall feel of more open designs of this size. The raised saloon serves the twin purposes of providing eye-level visibility out the deck-saloon window and creating ideal machinery space. In the entire 22-boat fleet, Ralph said, the Discovery 55’s “was the best engine room we saw.” “You had access all around the engine as well as to the generator and pumps. The high-maintenance items were right up front. Plus, under power she was one of the quietest boats. This saloon area really worked.” A nav station with ample visibility for running the boat under power and a dedicated pilot berth round out the main saloon.

In a category of boats that pushes the limits of what a couple can reasonably handle in all conditions, the judges thought the Discovery did it best.

Best Value: The award for Best Value, drawn from the entire 22-boat fleet, goes to the boat that, in Bill Lee’s words, most delivered “a whole lot of bang for the buck.” That boat is the Beneteau 373.

A standout feature on both the 373 and its new little sister, the 323, is a patented wheel that rotates 90 degrees; it’s Beneteau’s answer to the industry-wide desire to open the passage straight through the cockpit from the transom, and it’s simpler than twin helm stations.

The 373’s interior, available in either a two- or three-cabin layout, has drawn some of its traits from larger boats in the Beneteau line, most notably the panoramic forward-facing windows, which bring plenty of light into the cabin without excessively raising the coachroof.

“I like seeing stall showers like this,” said Bill Lee.

The 373 features the same five-part construction that Beneteau uses in other boats of its line, all tied to a fiberglass grid bonded to the hull that takes all the sailing loads. “That grid system is superb,” said Ralph Naranjo. Beneteau offers a five-year warranty on its structure, which is what we’ve seen from some of the million-dollar-plus boats. A true v

alue, indeed.

Most Innovative: The Gunboat 62, a catamaran conceived by Peter Johnstone, designed by Pete Melvin, and built in Cape Town, South Africa, laid several claims to our innovation award.

For starters, they’ve built a 62-foot cat that displaces 28,000 pounds; other cats this size typically weigh 40,000 pounds. The structure-“aircraft quality,” Ralph said of it-is mostly S-glass over Core-Cell foam in post-cured epoxy. Finished gelcoat surfaces and all deck hardware visible inside the boat make art out of the structure. The G-62 has adopted many features from offshore racers, including synthetic-fiber standing rigging, molded chainplates integral to the hull, a self-tacking jib, and substantial wing-deck clearance.

Daggerboards and a carbon spar hint at her sailing performance. When we sailed the Gunboat in a steady 30 knots of breeze with gusts around 40, Peter Johnstone was almost apologetic about the mid-teens boat speed we saw. With a bit less breeze, he said, we would have seen mid-20s.

The deck layout, hinting at some of Chris White’s designs, is innovative in that it places the working cockpit forward of the cabin house, with the main steering station inside behind glass. Keeping the cockpit forward clears the after deck of sailhandling jobs.

Described by the builder as a “world cruiser,” this rocket also had the largest bathtub and pantry of any boat we saw. Retractable rudders and saildrives canted at 45 degrees promote beachability, and eight watertight bulkheads in each hull speak for the builder’s attention to safety.

“This is a superb example of what can be done in a big cruising cat,” said Steve.

Overall Cruising Boat of the Year: When the judges looked at the entire fleet, category by category, they recognized that each of the boats were optimized for different purposes -some for club racing, some for sailing coastwise, some for sailing shorthanded and others with plenty of crew; above all, they recognized that not every boat should be held to oceangoing, passagemaking standards. Within the categories, they evaluated each boat according to its own design brief.

When it came to choosing the overall Boat of the Year, though, they adopted a more focused set of criteria. The winner, they agreed, should be a boat that, without a lot of retrofitting, could reasonably be taken by a couple on a cruising rally/race like the Caribbean 1500 (from Hampton, Virginia, to the British Virgin Islands) or the Baja Ha-Ha (from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico). As it happened, they felt that any of the category winners could have met those criteria.

But of all of them, the one boat the judges most deemed “a sailor’s boat” was the Hallberg-Rassy 40. “Every sailboat is a compromise,” said Ralph, “and the Hallberg-Rassy is the most successful compromise. It could certainly go on the Caribbean 1500 or the Baja Ha-Ha or well beyond that.”

“More than being a compromise,” said Bill Lee, “it’s very well-done.”

Well-done, indeed. No boat offers better access to sailhandling lines from the helm. The HR’s center-cockpit layout provides ample space on the aft deck for an 8-foot hard dinghy or a 10-foot RIB; there’s also a locker dedicated for a valise-type life raft.

The boat’s size and design also offer a good balance between speedy comfort, easy handling, and offshore practicality for a couple.

Belowdecks, the woodwork was well-done because it was functional. “There were handrails galore sculpted into the joiner work,” said Ralph. “The HR met my desire for balance, comfort, and safety with class,” said Nonnie Thompson. “I’d be proud to row away from this yacht.”

Executive editor Tim Murphy directs Cruising World’s Boat of the Year program. A special thanks goes out to the folks at Ribcraft USA (www.ribcraft, the official RIB of the Boat of the Year, for providing on-the-water transportation for this year’s judges.