It was the calmest of times; it was the windiest of times. During the sea-trials portion of the competition on Chesapeake Bay, a couple of contestants got skunked for breeze; a handful were sailed in torrential downpours; and a pair of catamarans were tested in the sportiest of conditions, complete with gale-force gusts. Another nominee went hard aground—a Chesapeake ritual—when its skipper found himself on the wrong side of a channel marker. Finally, two boats weren’t tested at all, stuck in the mud in marinas and unable to make their appointments, the victims of historically low tides and huge northwesterlies funneling the water down the bay.
In other words, in over 20 years of conducting our annual Boat of the Year contest, there was never an edition quite like BOTY 2020.
Early on, it was crystal-clear that something odd and extraordinary was afoot. At the US Boat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, during the preliminary dockside inspections for the contest, the proceedings were canceled and the show shut down early one afternoon when, ironically, a rare “king tide” flooded the grounds, and sent exhibitors scurrying for their sea boots and the weekend’s record-setting crowds loping uptown to the city’s many watering holes. Something was definitely up.
Then the sea trials began, and matters became even more unruly.
On Tuesday, October 15—the inaugural day of sail testing—the week’s first boat, the Amel 50, put an immediate halt to the proceedings when the crew motored into a sandbank on their way to the trials. It was an inauspicious beginning. As the day proceeded, the light-air conditions got lighter still—the Hanse 675 was becalmed for the duration of their appointment—though that wasn’t necessarily a terrible thing because you can often tell a lot about a boat’s prowess and potential in how it performs in a zephyr. After all, everybody hauls the mail in a blow.
Which is precisely what greeted the team on the next morning, a Wednesday, and just in time for a rollicking great sail on the Hallberg-Rassy 44, in exactly the sort of conditions it was built for. Unfortunately, with the wind came a drenching, unrelenting rain, making the test sails in a variety of smaller entries—the J/99, the Beneteau Oceanis 30.1, the Italia 9.98—some rather grueling affairs. When the judges were finally able to board the Catalina 545, with its weather-resistant Bimini and dodger, and warm, inviting interior, it was in the nick of time.
Gale-force winds were forecast for the following day, Thursday, and those scheduled for tests were informed they could wait it out until Friday. Most everyone did. But the Groupe Beneteau reps for the Lagoon 46 and Excess 12 where having none of it, and braved the elements in25- to 40-knot winds. The boats more than held their own, and rightfully impressed the judging panel. In fact, the Excess 12 put on a winning performance.
Unfortunately, the final day of testing was marred by the fact that the Dufour 390 and the Beneteau First Yacht 53 were mired in serious muck and going nowhere. It somehow seemed fitting in this most unusual year.
But our independent judging panel still had seen more than enough to make the tough calls on all the entries.
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