So here come the Big Boys: the four finalists in the BOTY Class of 2020 vying for the title of “Mightiest Monohull” of them all. It would not be a cut-and-dry choice, however, as all four contestants were so radically different from one another.
Unfortunately, due to the extreme and unusual weather during the sea-trials portion of the contest (see “A Little Bit of Everything,” page 67), the yacht with perhaps the greatest sailing potential—the Beneteau First Yacht 53—went untested on the water. The 53 is a departure for Beneteau, which is betting big on attracting the performance-cruising segment of the market. So the judges were left to ponder the boat’s fate based on their dockside inspections.
It received high marks. Judge Ed Sherman said: “This is a very interesting boat. It’s actually an outlier in terms of the electrical system in that it’s still using 12 volts, while almost everyone else seems to be evolving to 24 volts. There’s some real innovation happening here. They get kudos for the in-house digital-switching control system they’ve designed, which is pretty slick and enables the owner to control the system with their cellphone, or even remotely via the internet with the onboard Wi-Fi.”
Like the Beneteau, the year’s largest entry, the Hanse 675, comes with a price tag of over $1 million, a major topic of discussion in the final deliberations for the class. And while the judges did get aboard the boat for a test sail, the conditions were so calm that, again, decisions were based largely on the dockside visit. And it also generated positive reviews.
“Mechanically, the systems were very well-done,” judge Ralph Naranjo said. “The idea of using hydraulics for the anchor windlass was great, though I thought the capstan and chain size were quite small. Under sail, we didn’t have a fair evaluation because of lack of wind. But the sails, running rigging and so on were splendid. Under power she did very well, making better than 10 knots at the high end. And she backed down well either way.”
The second of two Bavarias to be introduced in the United States this year was the stout C57. “In terms of installations, the systems are very similar to the C50,” Sherman said. “I’d say Bavarias in general have achieved a point in their construction expertise where they’re on par with Groupe Beneteau boats—they’re all in the same league in terms of the craftsmanship it takes to install commonly requested marine systems.” Naranjo added, “They’ve done an interesting thing with the 57, as they have several different draft versions from which to choose, and the engineering is solid in that they change the ballast with the different draft options.”
That left the 56-plus-foot Catalina 545, which—spoiler alert—not only was named Best Full-Size Cruiser Over 55 Feet, it also was named the overall Boat of the Year.
“I liked it as soon as I got on it,” judge Dan Spurr said. “I like the looks of it. I like the cockpit layout. The designer and builder, Gerry Douglas, did an excellent job explaining how he put the boat together and the choices that he made. I was impressed by the overall layout abovedecks and below. We didn’t have a ton of wind when we sailed it, but it acquitted itself nicely. It seemed like a pretty straightforward rig that my wife and I could handle pretty comfortably. In other words, it wasn’t complicated. Pricewise, in this category, it was in the same range as the Bavaria but considerably less than the Beneteau or Hanse, which I think is important. It represents good value. It’s a simple boat but one that’s handsome and well-thought-out.”
“The little things did it for me,” Sherman said. “The rigid stainless-steel handrails and the great toe rail. Really chunky stuff. I love the drain down the side of the deck. It was slippery in pretty light air. I mean, we got it up to 5 or 6 knots without any effort at all. I really loved the interior layout too. That forward stateroom with the little daybed was great. And the furniture in the main saloon is solid wood, not laminated stuff. It’s seemingly a minor thing, but it’s actually pretty major in terms of maintaining the value of the boat down the line.”
Many decades ago, Catalina Yachts was launched with the name of the prominent island off the coast where the company was founded. Fittingly, the Catalina 545, the latest and perhaps greatest of all the models that came before it, is an island unto itself.
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