Our second dedicated category for 2021 was the Full-Size Cruiser class, with a quartet of dedicated, long-range cruising boats capable of extended voyaging and living aboard, including three very substantial nominees: the Southerly 480 (which, at a cost of over a million dollars, was also considered in our Luxury Cruising class deliberations), Dufour 530 and the Beneteau Oceanis Yacht 54. As with the Performance Cruiser division, however, for the winner we chose the boat we felt best served its stated purpose: a capable cruiser with robust displacement for an experienced couple of retirement age. That yacht also happened to be the lone entry for 2021 built in the United States: the Island Packet 439.
Under previous ownership, Murphy said, “the company built 25 boats on this same hull, the IP 440. And then there was a model called a 460 that was also on the same hull, with minor modifications. There were 12 of those built. So as we talk about themes within this year’s Boat of the Year contest, there are companies that brought us full-on innovations, either in hull form or with features such as deck layouts and interior plans and things like that. And there are others that are very much evolutionary. This 439 goes squarely in the evolutionary category.
“The original Island Packet brand was very much built on the image of its founder, Bob Johnson, who had very, very strong opinions about many features in the boats, and there wasn’t a lot of variation,” Murphy added. “So I was curious when talking with Darrell Allen (a former dealer who now owns the company with his wife, Leslie) about his visions for the future, to what degree he felt like he was constrained by the legacy of the brand that he bought. You know, it’s a legacy with strong customer loyalty in a lot of ways. And basically, I thought he had a very refreshing attitude toward the whole idea of not fundamentally changing the things that were really working, but also being willing to change things that were within that Island Packet framework they could change.”
Lead ballast in the full keel is one of those major changes. Subtler ones include the option of swapping the self-tacking Hoyt jib boom on the foredeck for a traditional staysail (our collective judging panel, unanimously, are not fans of the sweeping boom forward) or opting for a different hull color than the traditional ivory. And we all loved the Solent rig with the Code Zero-type reaching headsail, which turned our sea trials into a delightfully unexpected outing—a sail so fine that it definitely influenced our decisions—on Tampa Bay.
“I really liked the layout of our test boat,” Pillsbury added. “It was a two-cabin, two-head boat, and there was this unbelievable workspace on the starboard side aft (you could also get a third cabin in that space). There was a washer and vented dryer with standing headroom for doing laundry, a workbench and all sorts of storage. Inboard, there’s a 6 kW Northern Lights genset with a little stool. It was sort of like the ultimate MacGyver man cave. The saloon was kind of a mini living room with a pair swiveling captain’s chairs. Topside, the furling main was handled by the new Selden SMF synchronized main furling system, which was very nifty and made sailhandling very manageable. Of the boats in this class, if I were picking a boat for the missus and me to go off on for an extended cruise, it would be the Island Packet, without a doubt.”
Allen left us with a lasting impression, about the constant input he seeks from previous owners. Murphy said: “He gathers them together regularly, he listens to them, and then he actually incorporates what they say into his next line of boats. The other thing he said that was interesting was, ‘Every one of our new boats is better than the last one.’”
After visiting the yard and then sailing the 439, we believe that to be true. Which, if you’re contemplating a new Island Packet, is exactly what you wish to hear.