This year Best Boats competition surprised even more than last editions, especially multihulls that have figured more prominently than ever before.

Whether it was by dramatically reformulated the way space is defined both above and below decks or literally taking flight through the use of lifting foils (aboard not one but two of our winners) the multihulls in this year’s class illustrate a willingness to push the envelope that is nothing less than courageous in terms of commitment.

Not that their monohull counterparts are any less exciting. Whether it’s developing what may well become a new market niche—the mini-superyacht—or creating a platform that puts true grand prix sport boat performance within the grasp of mere mortals, today’s monohull builders are also discovering innovative ways to make sailing more exciting and enjoyable.

Flagship

Jeanneau 64

The French builder’s new flagship is much more than just a scaled-up version of its smaller boats. Jeanneau’s production maestro Erik Stromberg spent years plotting the creation of this boat with yacht designer Philippe Briand and interior-design maven Andrew Winch, and they have succeeded in marrying a super-yacht sense of style and luxury with a mass-production building ethic. The result, our judges agreed, is a top-flight luxury cruiser delivered at an extremely competitive price point.

This “mini superyacht” features an extremely flexible accommodation plan, with options for twin cabins and master staterooms aft or forward, separate crew quarters, a dedicated passage cabin or navigation office, and three different portside saloon configurations. The core of the interior is a well-laid-out galley and a proper “big-yacht” engine room and systems space. Artful styling touches include elegant wooden sinks in the heads and leather-wrapped handles on all the cabinetry. On deck, the working cockpit aft is segregated from an immense lounging area amidships that features collapsible twin cockpit tables. You’ll also find an enormous dinghy garage in the transom, complete with an electric rail system that makes it easy to launch and recover hefty tenders and water toys.

Despite the boat’s size, it remains easy to sail. Over half of the buyers so far are enjoying the Jeanneau 64 without having to employ professional crew. The boat has also been configured to accommodate the revolutionary new Assisted Sail Trim automatic-sailing system being developed by Harken in cooperation with Jeanneau, and so promises to become even easier to sail in the future. jeanneau.com

Cruising Monohull 41-50ft

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Italia 13.98

According to Italia Yachts, the goal with the 13.98 was to create a “luxury cruiser” in which performance is a part of the “luxury equation,” and the company has lived up to that ambition and then some. Above decks, the Italia 13.98 boasts such go-fast features as rod rigging, a belowdecks headsail furler, hydraulic backstay control and a cleverly recessed main traveler to ensure maximum sail efficiency. Below the waterline, there’s a powerful, high-aspect semi-balanced rudder and an aggressive T-keel with a lead bulb. Internally, the E-glass and vinylester hull not only includes a series of carbon frames and stringers, but the deck is laminated from stem to stern onto an inward-turning flange to ensure a leak-proof and extremely stiff structure. Seen bow-on, with the traditional transom hidden from view, the way the boat slices through the water could easily lead you to mistake the Italia 13.98 for a racer.

Not that you have to give up comfort to enjoy this kind of performance. The accommodations, which feature an elegantly sleek and curvaceous joinery style, are top notch, and appear better and better the closer you look. Door frames, for example, all feature seals to prevent them from knocking or banging in a seaway, and the panels comprising the sole are installed with very small gaps between them so they won’t squeak or grind when you walk on them. Topside, that reverse transom includes an absolutely enormous drop-down swim platform, and the shrouds and sheet tracks are carefully arranged to keep the side decks almost entirely clear.

As a practical matter, the Italia 13.98 is equipped with multiple fire suppression systems in the engine compartment and behind the electrical panel. The teak cockpit sole and side decks are also vacuum-bonded to a thin fiberglass backing, which is in turn bonded to the fiberglass deck in the interest of ensuring the most robust installation possible. All in all, a truly magnificent yacht that is both well constructed and a joy to sail. italiayachts

Cruising Multihull 31-40ft

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Bavaria Open 40

Known for its monohulls, Bavaria recently acquired French catamaran builder Nautitech and enters the multihull market with the new Open 40, a boat that has been making some serious waves at the many boat shows where it appeared this year.

Naval architect Marc Lombard has created a high-freeboard design with narrow hulls and fixed keels. The reverse bows hint at good performance, and the hard chines running from bow to stern both help part the water to keep the decks dry and provide a bit of extra interior volume while permitting waterline beam to be kept narrow. At 17,000lb, the boat is fairly light, with solid glass below the waterline and a cored, infused laminate above.

With those narrow hulls, the Open 40 sails like a witch, more than holding her own upwind—not a favorite angle of sail for most cats. Bavaria has also changed up a few options recently and added engine controls at the helms on both sides, which makes docking on either port or starboard a breeze. The interior finish is somewhat dark, which contrasts well with the boat’s white paneling, and a small shelf was added between the galley and the settee to provide a dish and cup rack.

The real story behind this boat is suggested by her name: the “Open 40.” On most cats, the saloon and galley are spread over about two thirds of the available main deck space, leaving the cockpit with the remaining third. However, aboard the Bavaria Open, this ratio has been reversed, with the idea that the cockpit is the area where cruising crews spend most of their time, making this Bavaria indeed much more “open.” The flow is excellent from the interior, past the starboard-side dinette and all the way to the transoms. Protection from the sun and rain is provided by a hardtop that extends all the way aft and also serves as the anchor for the mainsheet traveler.

Visibility forward from the helms is excellent overall, and even reasonable to the opposing forward corner through the ports. Best of all, this boat is as fun to sail off the wind as it is on a beat, providing a good turn of speed even at lower wind speeds, and will not disappoint in either private ownership or on charter. bavariayachts.com

Cruising Multihull 41-50ft

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Bali 4.3

Not so long ago, cruising catamarans were unique simply by their existence, but no more. With such a selection of cats available, we now look for innovative features, efficient hulls, good use of space and easily handled rigs. The Bali 4.3, a production model from the La Rochelle factory of custom builder Catana, has them all.

With a mast set well aft at the 40 percent point, the jib is both sizable and self-tacking, and the mainsail is easy to handle. A big Code 0 sail can fly from the short bowsprit. The hull chines allow for plenty of interior space while at the same time keeping the underwater profile of the boat slim and efficient.

Space overall is remarkable. With a flybridge lounge, a main deck lounge and a solid foredeck lounge, it’s pretty clear that the function of this boat is the opposite of work. The interior living space rivals some modern homes, even boasting a full-size kitchen. The builder calls this its “Loft” concept, presumably with a loft apartment in mind.

When the weather turns sour, a huge garage-type powered door rolls down to enclose the saloon, and a large window forward rises on air lifts to close off the bow, so the area can go from an open porch to a comfy pilothouse in less than a minute. The two sleeping cabins in the hulls are also both exceptionally large.

Naturally, all these powered things require a sizable generator, and the Bali 4.3 at the Annapolis sailboat show came with a nice big one in its starboard engine room. Mechanical access is excellent.

Unlike the Catana line, the Bali has fixed keels instead of daggerboards and a hull of conventional hand-laid glass, without the extensive carbon fiber of the company’s more expensive cats. Nonetheless, for a boat aboard which the focus has clearly been put on comfort, the Bali 4.3 showed a surprisingly good turn of speed. We think it will find an enthusiastic reception in America.bali-catamarans.com

 

Performance Boat over 30ft

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Gunboat G4

When looking for a boat to take top honors in their Performance Boat over 30ft category, SAIL’s judges didn’t have to look very hard. Since she made her very public debut this year at the Les Voiles de St Barth regatta, Timbalero III, the first hull of the full-foiling, 40ft Gunboat G4, has been turning heads and sparking conversation from the Caribbean to New England.

Thanks to her light construction—pre-preg carbon with a Nomex honeycomb that is vacuum bagged and post cured—the G4 weighs in at just 2.7 tons, which means the resulting loads are relatively light. The boat employs powerful four-speed Pontos winches for the jib sheets and the foiling system, making getting the foils and the sails up and down quite easy. (There is talk that this is going to become even easier, as hydraulic systems may replace the lines on future hulls.) The mainsail is also controlled by a hydraulic foot-pedal system for sheeting and easing that is like nothing we’ve seen before and will surely make everyone want to drive.

This boat is designed so that two or three people can easily cruise her—yes, cruise her—allowing two couples to hop between islands at speeds previously reserved for powerboats. With this in mind, the G4 is no stripped-down, bare-bones racing machine, but has a saloon (albeit a small one), with a centerline dinette and settees to port and starboard easily seating four to six adults. Outboard of the settees, two queen berths also sit to port and starboard, with ample ventilation, a surprising amount of space and even a view of the outside world. (When you have guests or kids onboard, simply slide the curtains for privacy.) The cockpit has an island galley on centerline, with a two-burner stove, fridge and sink—everything you need to prepare victory snacks and cocktails while you wait for the rest of the fleet to finish.

The judges could recall few boats generating such a buzz as the G4, and when you sail the boat you realize the hype is more than justified. Breakneck speeds and sleek design make this boat a head-turner wherever she sails. Granted, with more and more builders getting into the foiling game, the Gunboat G4 may soon have lots of company speeding around places like the Caribbean and the Med. But for now, she makes a heck of a statement and remains a true industry standout. gunboat.com

Cruising monohull 31-40ft

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Marlow-Hunter 31

Marlow-Hunter has long been known as an innovator in the marine industry, and the new Marlow-Hunter 31 is keeping that tradition alive with a mix of interesting features, large and small.

Topsides, the most noticeable of these is a cockpit coaming that has been taken as far outboard as possible, creating a sailing and lounging space that wouldn’t look out of place aboard a 40-footer. To make sure the space works, Marlow-Hunter has also included a pair of hinged footrests in the sole and an (optional) adjustable Lewmar pedestal that swings well outboard to port and starboard, ensuring you have a clear view from the helm.

Belowdecks, Marlow-Hunter has cleverly specified an in-line galley to maximize the interior space and also pre-wires each boat so that a multifunction display can be easily installed alongside the breaker box over the settee, effectively allowing the dining table to double as a nav station. Aft, there’s a nifty dedicated power cable compartment to starboard of the drop-down swim platform and another nifty compartment large enough to house an inflatable kayak to port. Retractable cleats, Marlow-Hunter’s trademark backstay-free B&R rig, expansive side decks: the list goes on and on.

The basic construction of the boat has also been fine tuned through the implementation of a number of different techniques and materials, including Kevlar in the layup forward for collision protection; Kevlar encircling the hull and deck in the area of the chainplates to promote strength; craze-resistant gelcoat in the deck layup; a stainless steel L-bracket to reinforce the through-bolted hull-to-deck joint; and a moisture-resistant Nida Core honeycomb in the layup.

Last but not least, the Marlow-Hunter 31 is a heck of a fun little sailer, thanks to a variety of different performance features, including a fairly narrow entry forward and a powerful high-aspect rudder. During our test sail we hit 7.8 knots on a close reach with true wind speeds in the low teens. You can’t ask for a whole lot more from a cruiser than that! marlow-hunter.com

Small Cruiser

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Dragonfly 25

The newest and smallest member of this range of well-crafted folding trimarans from Denmark’s Quorning Boats impressed our judges with both its design and its build quality. With its standard rotating aluminum mast and carefully configured amas with enlarged asymmetric hull forms and modern wave-piercing bows, the diminutive Dragonfly 25 delivers stellar performance (which can get positively eye-popping if you opt for the “sport” version with its much taller carbon-fiber mast) and a very workable interior that provides more comfort than you’d expect in a tri this size.To maximize the amount of interior space, Quorning has offset the centerboard slightly and crafted special furniture modules that can be quickly removed for racing. A cockpit tent can also be pitched to effectively double the available sheltered living space, and the versatile saloon table can be quickly set up out in the cockpit.

To expand your cruising grounds, the boat is easily trailered, and an optional pivoting trailer even allows you to launch and retrieve the craft without wetting your wheels. (The rigging process can be accomplished singlehanded; an experienced couple can pull it off in about 30 minutes.) If you want to explore even farther afield—say on the other side of the world—the boat and trailer both fit together in a standard shipping container. Combine this with Quorning’s well-proven SwingWing folding amas system, and you have a truly versatile pocket cruiser that is also a blast to sail. dragonfly.dk

 

Daysailer

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Corsair Pulse 600

It was heartening to see a whole crop of new daysailers at this year’s fall shows, including boats with one, two or three hulls. But in the end the judges decided the real standout in the group was the Corsair Pulse 600.

The Pulse 600 is a 20ft folding trimaran from the company that pioneered the genre. This new model has the same well-engineered structure for folding the amas as the original Corsair, as well as a ginpole and tackle to raise the mast. In 20 minutes, one person can get the boat from folded on the trailer to sailing across the water. The boat is also stable enough to be left afloat folded up, which many owners do in between sailing sessions to make getting underway that much easier.

Then there’s the boat’s performance. In moderate winds, the Pulse 600 is slippery and a joy to knock around in. In strong winds, the boat will be a veritable adrenaline generator, with speed to burn. Both a standard jib and an asymmetric chute are rigged on roller furlers.

Aft, there’s a genuine cockpit, so you don’t have to sprawl out on the trampolines (unless you want to). There’s also a nice little cuddy where you can toss your cooler and other miscellaneous gear, or perhaps let one of the kids take a nap if they happen to run out of gas during a long day on the water.

The amas have rather full sections to prevent burying the bows when the boat is driven hard in a strong wind. While this may reduce the ultimate speed a bit from that of a pure racing design, daysailing crews will appreciate the reduction in drama.
Corsair is cranking out the boats from its factory in Vietnam at a good rate and has started promoting a one-design class for racing. The Pulse 600’s combination of performance, handling, simplicity and trailerability should appeal to those who want fast, fun sailing without a lot of effort. corsairmarine.com

Performance Monohull under 30ft

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Fareast 28R

Who hasn’t at some point dreamed of being a rock-star grand prix racer? Alas, the cost of this kind of sailing has meant that for most sailors it has remained just that, a dream—until now. With its new 28R, veteran Chinese builder Fareast Yachts has brought to market a true high-performance speedster, capable of mixing it up with the big boys at the modest price of just $60,000 for the boat, sails and even a trailer.

And this isn’t just some cheap foreign knock-off. Fareast cut its teeth starting in 2002 building ISAF-approved Optis and 420s, and its build quality is second to none. Similarly, designers Simonis & Voogd have a long history of creating fast, easy to handle performance yachts, and the Fareast 28R is no exception. Under sail, the boat (distributed in the United States by Sturgis Boat Works) is an absolute blast, even in moderate conditions, while its high-aspect T-keel and powerful, transom-hung carbon rudder give you the control you need to carry a massive A-sail off a retractable centerline carbon sprit. The hull is vacuum-infused in polyester with a foam core, and the rig sports stainless wire shrouds, and an aluminum Seldén mast and boom in the interest of holding down costs. However, the performance cost of these economical components is minimal thanks to Fareast’s quality construction and more than worth the trade-off in terms of affordability.

Cockpit ergonomics are absolutely fantastic for a crew of five, with dedicated spots for the trimmers and helmsperson to ensure each can do his job without getting in the other’s way. The helm station, in particular, is almost perfect. Bottom line: for any sailor, or group of sailors looking to take their racing to the next level without breaking the bank, this boat just might be the perfect platform for doing so. Fareast.com

Performance Multihull under 30ft

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Whisper Foiling Cat

At approximately 1445 on October 13, 2015, the day after the Annapolis sailboat show, history was made when the increasingly creaky and cranky 195lb, 51-year-old executive editor of this magazine experienced full-foiling sailing performance in all of about 10 knots of wind. Talk about foiling for the masses! The sailboat that accomplished this feat was the new 17ft 8in Whisper catamaran, built by the UK’s White Formula and distributed in the United States by Nor’Banks sailing. Even more incredible than the fact that the boat could get our great lunker beast of an editor airborne was how easy it all was, thanks to its clever foiling system. Unlike the various other cats out there employing those same twitchy J-foils developed for the 34th America’s Cup, the Whisper uses a pair of Moth-style T-foils with a control wand immediately aft of each blade to create a ride that is stable, predictable and precludes the need for helmets and body armor. It also means any decent sailor can get airborne and stay there within minutes of taking the helm.

On a practical note, the all-carbon Whisper features two-piece construction, in which the “deck” is bonded to the hulls to create a monocoque structure that is both stiff and durable. The rotating mast, boom and sprit are also all carbon and the jib is self-tacking. Twin trapezes get crew weight well outboard for keeping the boat steady and provide a great vantage point from which to watch the horizontal foils slicing through the waves. All-up weight is less than 200lb, and the rudders and daggerboards are retractable to facilitate beach launching and landing. Best of all, the entire package can be had for just $36,000, less than the cost of a mid-size sport boat. Wouldn’t it be great to see a robust one-design class develop around this boat? Talk about breathing new life into the sport of sailing! whiteformula.com