Every year, Cruising World’s promote a annual Boat of the Year contest. and every year it appears to develop its own unique personality, and for the 2016 competition, the trend continued with a distinct accent all its own. Call it what you will — a mariner’s melting pot, the United Nations of new yachts — but the fleet of nominees that gathered last October at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, had a decidedly international flavor. Actually, it was much more than that, as no fewer than 19 of the 20 BOTY entrants were fashioned in faraway lands. So we’ll begin with a shout-out to the Floridians from Marlow-Hunter, who arrived on Chesapeake Bay with a truly nifty 31-footer. Without the Stars and Stripes fluttering off the transom of their innovative cruiser, Uncle Sam would have been left out of the competition entirely.
Part of it, surely, was timing. Hinckley Yachts debuted its new Bill Tripp-designed Bermuda 50 last summer — the company’s first new sailing model in many years — but last-minute scheduling issues prevented the boat from participating in BOTY. And several other American builders have major projects in the works in various stages of completion, including Island Packet’s eagerly awaited 520 and a new 42-footer from Catalina, among others. If you’re in the market for a new model with a “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp, there are choices looming on the horizon.
However, the BOTY finalists for model year 2016 were nothing less than a foreign legion, with a fleet represented by boats built in 10 different countries: China, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom. On multiple levels, it was an unprecedented showing.
As always, the independent panel of judges reviewed the boats in two stages over a 10-day period, conducting both dockside inspections and sea trials.
This year, the overall winner was a made in china boat: Passport 545.
The Boat of the Year judges named the Passport 545 not only the Best Full-Size Cruiser Over 50 feet, but the contest’s overall Boat of the Year. “Every part, every piece, every detail of the Passport is special,” gushed Simon. “It’s art you can leave out in the rain.”
“The boat is dead silent when you’re down below sailing, even in a big breeze,” added Sherman. “You expect to hear a little creaking now and then, but not here. This is an heirloom-quality boat. It’s going to be sailing 50 or even 75 years from now. And a lot of the equipment will be original, and it will still be working great.”
“It was conceived for voyaging,” said judge Tim Murphy, “and yet, of these three boats, this is the one I’d also want to take for daysails. It’s a boat that gives you access and control to all your sailhandling hardware. You can really shape the sails.”
From the custom welding to the excellent layout to the incredible stainless-steel fabrications to the nonskid, there was nothing about the 545 the judging panel didn’t marvel over. “Kudos to the others. They were good boats from high-production yards. But builder and designer Thom Wagner sailed in on a yacht that nothing can compete with in this class,” concluded Simon. “He calls it a bluewater, ocean-busting cruiser for a couple, and that’s exactly what it is, and exactly what it will do. Considering the degree of workmanship, it’s even a good value. Sailing this boat was just like playing basketball when Michael Jordan’s on the court. You have no doubt who’s the best player.”