If there’s one word that sums up the Best Boats Class of 2018, it would have to be “performance.” This is most obvious in the simple fact that our panel of judges exercised its editorial prerogative to create an additional third performance category, to accommodate three great new speedsters. However, as any old salt can tell you, there’s a lot more to good performance afloat than pure boatspeed. Equally important is the way a boat treats its crew, whether it’s resting on the hook in a quiet anchorage or off soundings battling a gale.
A perfect example of this alternative kind of performance can be found aboard the winner in our smaller cruising monohull category, which features a host of innovations aimed at increasing comfort and usability afloat. Similarly, the winners in our two cruising multihull categories combine outstanding handling under sail with outstanding accommodations—no mean feat aboard a boat type in which light weight is critical to performance. Then, of course, there is the winner in our “systems” category, in which performance means being able to store and easily sail the boat even if you happen to live in, say, a postage-stamp-sized loft in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.
Finally, a special shout-out to the smallest of our performance-category winners. Every now and then a boat comes along that moves the world of sailing forward—think the Hobie 14 or the Laser. Could the Foiling UFO follow in these boats’ footsteps? Time will tell. In the meantime, it sure is fun to see this kind of innovation is still alive and well at the cutting edge of naval architecture.
Best Large Monohull 50ft and above
A good thing becomes even better aboard the Hanse 588. An evolution of the successful 545, the Hanse 588 deck and interior incorporate a number of new ideas that serve to take the boat to a whole new level, whether it’s underway or on the hook. The result is an outstanding blend of form and function—a kind of a mini-megayacht measuring in at less than 60ft.
There are dozens of different layout variations belowdecks, including an optional crew cabin and up to five guest cabins and five heads, various galley arrangements and a utility room. Larger hull windows and no fewer than 20 deck hatches and skylights let in an abundance of light and fresh air. The master suite forward is not only palatial in appearance, but soundproofed with the help of a rubber door gasket, so that with the door closed a hushed comfort envelopes the owners.
On deck, the twin helm stations are well within reach of the boat’s electric winches, with controls for the furling headsail systems and bow and stern thrusters (optional) located on the two superyacht-style pedestals. The sailplan includes a self-tacking jib and a large genoa on separate forestays, making the rig easy to fine tune, no matter what the sailing conditions. Multiple keel and sail options, including the possibility of in-boom furling or Elvstrom FCL 5-Layer laminate sails, complete the picture. The overall look of the flush deck is sleekly elegant, with clear sightlines forward. Practical touches include large secure bulwarks outboard of the side decks and refreshingly tall lifelines.
The cockpit has two tables with a central walkway. Overhead, an optional composite T-top with an integrated, retractable fabric sunroof offers cover when needed, or sun and a clear view of the rig when it’s not. There’s even an optional outdoor galley with a grill and sink for entertaining in nice weather, and a wide sun pad forward. The redesigned tender garage is integrated with the massive bathing platform to make launching and retrieval a snap. The list of amenities goes on and on aboard this boat, which is as well-conceived as it is gorgeous. See the video here
Best Large Multihull 50ft and above
Flying a hull on a 66ft, all-carbon-fiber catamaran may sound futuristic, if not impossible. But stand back, because the HH66 is already delivering precisely these kinds of thrills in the here and now. This past fall, HH Catamarans brought hull #4 of its current flagship to the East Coast, where it made a statement at the Annapolis boat show that went something like: “I’m bold and beautiful, and I’m likely to decimate the competition while providing the utmost luxury for my owners.”
Designed by the multihull experts at Morrelli & Melvin, the HH66 sports C-shaped daggerboards that were optimized with the help of data from the last two America’s Cups, along with T-shaped foiling rudders and a Southern Spars carbon mast, boom and longeron. The sailplan is fairly versatile, with a 125 percent Solent, a square-top mainsail and the option of a self-tacking jib controlled by a captive, belowdeck winch.
Despite its many go-fast features, the HH66 is anything but a Spartan racer belowdecks. Layouts are semi-custom with lovely touches like gloss finishes, exceptional joinery and any number of name-brand accessories, including electronics, galley appliances and systems. (The boat at the show even had a built-in piano!) The interior arrangement is somewhat influenced by where the helm is positioned: traditional dual helm stations may be mounted at either side of the aft cockpit bulkheads; or you can go with a single centerline helm forward inside the saloon (with optional tillers on the quarters). However, once the helm is set, the galley, settees and sleeping accommodations can all be easily tailored to an owner’s individual needs.
Beyond that, custom topsides paint mixes are available and the toilets are carbon, because, well, it’s cool. Despite its intimidating proportions, the HH66 is also a breeze to sail thanks to the hydraulic rams controlling the mainsheet and sails that are trimmed by buttons at your fingertips. In 20-25 knots of wind, this boat will fly a hull if sailed aggressively, so consider yourself warned: excitement ahead. Read SAIL's boat review here. See the video here
Best Multihull Cruising Boat 40 to 50ft
Fountaine Pajot Saona 47
The Fountaine Pajot Saona 47 catamaran is a space machine in the truest sense of the word. Like all sailboats, it can carry you through the water and across space and time using nothing but the power of the wind—thereby making it supremely quiet and smooth. Unlike most other sailboats, though, it manages to do this while providing a vast amount of living space as well—not to mention the fact it does so in a package that remains supremely pleasing to the eye.
Approaching the Saona 47 from a distance, this emphasis on space is immediately apparent in the top deck, which measures nearly 100ft and is well equipped with sun lounges, not to mention a great view. Down a few steps is a large helm station with seating for two, and then down a few steps more you’ll find an immense afterdeck that flows into a wide cabin, a space that can entertain a dozen without any sense of crowding. Down again and you enter the boat’s private cabins, which are wider than those of many monohulls. In the three-cabin owner’s version, the entire port hull is given over to a master suite more than worthy of that name.
In case you’ve lost track, that’s three major levels and one minor, all made possible through the process of multi-decking, an approach that Fountaine Pajot carries to its logical conclusion on the Saona 47.
In typical Fountaine Pajot fashion, everything is bright, open and contemporary, with neutral colors and clean-lined joinery that gives the boat the air of a fine urban apartment. The hulls are also fine below the waterline, but then flare rapidly to chines, which minimizes wetted surface for performance while maximizing interior space. Similarly, the long waterline translates into good average speed, while a high sail-area-to-displacement ratio means there’s plenty of power to drive the boat through the water. In other words, like the other models from this builder, the Fountaine Pajot Saona 47 is not only comfortable, but knows how to make tracks. See the video here
Best Monohull Cruising Boat 40 to 50ft
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440
There was a bit of drama at the unveiling of the new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440 at the recent Annapolis Boat Show. While Jeanneau America president Nick Harvey stood by, yards of nylon sailcloth covering the cockpit were magically sucked down into the companionway at his command, revealing a completely rethought concept of outdoor living on a sailboat. Corny? Maybe. But in this particular case, entirely appropriate.
Most noticeable as you first step aboard is the way designer Philippe Briand turned cockpit design on its ear by having the side decks slope gently down from the bow to where they wrap smoothly around the twin helm stations. Leaving either wheel, you can therefore simply walk up the ascending slope of either side deck without ever having to step up onto a settee and then out over the coaming. Once you’ve seen the Sun Odyssey 440 you’ll never look at a monohull cockpit quite the same way again.
Another head-smackingly brilliant feature aboard the Sun Odyssey 440 can be found in the backrests of the settee benches, which can be extended outward to form a large sunbed that covers nearly half the width of the boat, creating a massive sun pad. Similarly, the designers have placed the boat’s large winged table off center, thereby creating a straight-line passageway between the companionway and the swim platform, making it that much easier to move about.
Forward, there’s a fixed GRP sprit that has an attachment point for a Code 0 to keep the anchor away from the plumb bow, while twin rudders and an L-shaped keel make the 440 both maneuverable and a good performer upwind. The side decks are also refreshingly clear, thanks to the fact that the lower shrouds are inboard and the cap shrouds outboard, leaving them free of obstructions.
Belowdecks, the galley is amidships, which creates room for a large head in the master cabin and a classic, forward-facing nav station aft. The nav desk also has numerous stowage cubbies and a large desktop for plenty of workspace; stowage areas have been moved inboard toward the centerline to help keep weight inboard as well; and many of the lockers include a soft inner liner to keep things quiet underway. Finally, all the beds, including the master berth in the forward stateroom, are rectangular, just like at home, so off-the-shelf linens fit, which means more affordable bedding in the long run. The cumulative result of all these details and this kind of forward thinking is a boat that truly sets a new standard in terms of livability afloat. See the video here
Best Performance Boat 30 to 40fT
The people at J/Boats are obviously good designers and boatbuilders. Their record in this area stands for itself. However, ever since the advent of Rod Johnstone’s iconic J/24, they have also shown an uncanny ability to discern what exactly it is sailors are looking for in their next boat: think the J/105 and its then cutting-edge retracting bowsprit, or the phenomenon that is the J/70 sport boat. The latest in this long line of outside-the-box designs is the new 40ft J/121, a boat specifically tailored to appeal to skippers who are 1) tired of having to round up eight to 10 people to go racing and 2) are looking for something other the usual windward-leeward “sausage” courses that now dominate inshore racing.
To this end the boat carries a “five-sail” rig that includes a main, jib and removable staysail, a la the IMOCA 60 class, to make shifting gears with a crew of as little as five a snap, whether sailing inshore or off soundings. (A Code 0 or A-sail—sails #4 and 5—can be flown off the boat’s retractable sprit.) To keep the boat on its feet, designer Al Johnstone has also included an easy-to-use water ballast system that can shift 104gal from side to side—the equivalent of four bodies worth of rail meat that’ll never call in sick or have scheduling conflicts.
With respect to courses, J/Boats is promoting something called “Open Course” racing, middle distance events that offer the best of both inshore and distance events (think the Famous Three-Bridge Fiasco regatta on San Francisco Bay). The boat would also be perfect for shorthanded offshore racing, whether it be a shorter event like the Ida Lewis distance race or the Marblehead-Halifax. Oh, and did we mention the boat sails like a witch and is a stunner to boot? A winner in every sense of the word. See the video here
Best Performance Boat over 40ft
Building on the success of its three previous one-design racing models—the Swan 45, the Club Swan 42, and the Gazprom Swan 60—Nautor’s Swan has introduced yet another one-design performance boat that ups the ante in terms of both performance and style. The new ClubSwan 50 is the result of an impressive development program that saw three different prototype boats built and sailed extensively before the final production design was set in stone. The goal was a strict one-design, owner-driver racing class that would promote and sustain high-end international Corinthian sailing competition.
Designed by the renowned Juan Kouyoumdjian, the ClubSwan 50 boasts pre-preg carbon construction, a sexy low-freeboard hull with a dramatic reverse destroyer bow, an integral bowsprit, reverse sheer, distinctive chines and concave aft sections with lots of topside flare. Our judges were also impressed with the boat’s interior, which is surprisingly open and inviting, thanks to the fact the carbon mast is deck-stepped and supported underneath by a massive carbon beam. The highly attractive modern furniture is not only all carbon-skinned foam finished with teak and leather, but modular to allow for easy conversions from cruising to racing mode. The owner’s stateroom forward, for example, becomes a commodious sail locker, while the stylish settees become over-and-under racing berths.
Not surprisingly, the deck layout is equally well considered, with the efficiencies of performance sailing neatly balanced against the needs of short-handed convenience. The end result is a genuine go-fast race boat that combines stunning looks with luxurious appointments.
Best Multihull Cruising boat Under 40ft
Maine Cat 38
Time was that the reason for sailing a multihull was to go fast—end of story. Over the years, however, catamarans, in particular, have also proved themselves to be a great means of providing expansive accommodations and lounging space afloat, to the point where in all too many cases their go-fast ancestry has long since become little more than a distant memory. Enter the Maine Cat 38, a cruising multihull that manages to strike a nearly ideal balance between boathandling and comfort afloat. Central to this ability is the boat’s rock-solid construction, which employs a thermo-formed Core-Cell PH core, around which the rest of the hull and deck layups are infused using 100 percent vinylester resin. The result is reduced weight—a critical factor in multihulls—as well as a tighter, more integral laminate as a whole.
Maine-based designer and builder Dick Vermeulen has also drawn a pair of narrow, slippery hulls, each with a waterline beam of just 3ft 2in, that then flare out to create 6ft of beam above the waterline, thereby creating plenty of volume for accommodations without impacting sailing ability. Topsides, the boat also features an open-bridgedeck cockpit and saloon arrangement that provides plenty of space to either lounge about or run the boat from the single, superbly sheltered helm station forward (from which you can also easily both see and control the rig overhead).
Three bunks, a narrow but workable galley and a small lounging area are distributed between the two hulls, while the boat’s reverse sheer provides a surprising amount of headroom. Best of all, the boat is fast. Vermeulen says he created the Maine Cat 38 expressly for sailors who love to sail, and he’s succeeded admirably, at the same time managing to pen a design that also takes great care of its crew. See the video here. Read SAIL's Boat Review here.
Best Performance Boat under 30ft
The siren song of full-foiling performance is undoubtedly a compelling one. However, the jump from displacement mode to flight aboard monohulls, in particular, has faced two major obstacles in the form of price and difficulty—until now, with the advent of the wonderfully forward-thinking Foiling UFO from Rhode Island’s Fulcrum Speedworks. First the matter of difficulty: for anyone taking a stab at foiling aboard, say, a Moth or Waszp, the learning curve hits you like a brick wall the moment you cast off as you find yourself literally balancing on a knife edge atop the boat’s slender, vestigial hull.
By contrast, getting the Foiling UFO out to where you can hit the throttle is easy as pie, thanks to the stability provided by its two hulls. In fact, the boat—which employs a Moth-style wand connected via a linkage to a T-foil daggerboard for the purpose of controlling altitude—is equally happy sailing in conventional displacement mode, whether just knocking around or taking a break between flights. As for price, $7,600 covers the complete package—less than a third of the cost of a Moth and almost $4,000 less than the Moth’s production one-design offshoot, the Waszp.
Beyond that, the boat’s simple two-piece, carbon reinforced hulls and deck are made to be pretty much indestructible, with an eye toward beach launching and hard dockings. There’s also a small rig available and the wand can be adjusted to create a lower, slower ride for smaller sailors, making it perfect for kids. (And if Mom, Dad or the grandparents want to get in on the fun, well, the kids are just gonna have to wait their turn!) There’s something about the UFO that seems to evoke the same vibe as the legendary Sunfish in terms of potential popularity. We look forward to seeing how things go for this great little boat. See the video here. See more here
In a sport like sailing, entry-level equipment is especially important and can spell the difference between prompt disillusionment and lifelong participation—which is why our judges were especially impressed with the new Zest training dinghy from RS Sailing. From its user-friendly ergonomics to its easily handled rig to its standard bright yellow sail (making it easier to spot an errant fledgling sailor from a distance), this is a boat that makes learning to sail both fun and safe.
The cockpit is especially well-thought-out. A bright yellow sculpted thwart seat provides inboard seating for small crew not yet comfortable with hiking and doubles as a rowing seat when the optional oarlocks and oars are in use. Forward there’s an open deck for avid bow-riders. Intermediate side-seats and comfortable side-decks in the main cockpit allow both newbies and experienced sailors to stay comfortable while driving the boat. The boom is nice and high to help prevent head-on-alloy encounters, and the boat can be sloop-rigged with a jib to keep a crew of two (or even three) busy and entertained, or una-rigged with just a mainsail for a solo skipper.
Other telling details include a centerboard rather than a daggerboard, making shoal-water groundings less fraught, and a well-designed kick-up rudder with a simple lift-and-lock system that makes it easy to get the rudder both up and down. Likewise, a new proprietary mast step and gate design make it easy for novices to raise and lower the mast without accidentally dropping it. And when things inevitably turn turtle, an integral aluminum handrail on the bottom of the boat (it doubles as a skid rail when the boat is dragged up a beach) allows a soggy crew to quickly re-right their craft.
Construction, as with other RS boats, is in rugged roto-molded polyethylene, with carefully engineered hardware attachment points, which ensures low maintenance and a long life as successive waves of students are initiated into the sport.
From a technical perspective, key features of this year’s Annapolis sailboat show were the increasingly widespread adoption of a couple of technologies that are changing the traditional relationships between boat owners and their engines and electrical systems.
First, we have high-pressure common-rail injection systems, seen on numerous Yanmar engines below 100hp and on the engines from all manufacturers above 100hp. These engines operate at astonishingly high injection pressures—typically around 30,000 psi. The technology brings with it a number of advantages in terms of emissions reduction, efficiency and smooth engine operation; although it also requires fanatical attention to fuel cleanliness on the part of crews and places a sophisticated electronic control unit, which is totally off limits to the boat’s owner, at the heart of the system.
Second, we have the increasingly widespread adoption of distributed power systems for electrical distribution, primarily from CZone. We are definitely at a tipping point in terms of the acceptance of these systems, which have tremendous display and diagnostic capabilities while imposing a radical shift in the relationship between sailors and their electrical systems.
Beyond that, it was encouraging to see the generally high standards of installations. In order to survive during the recession, many boatbuilders were forced to lay off skilled workers. Following the recession, some builders clearly took on poorly trained technicians, and there was a noticeable slippage in standards. Taken as a whole, the 2017 boats exhibited the highest level of installation standards seen for some time.
So, what’s our systems winner? Well, none of the above. Instead, the award goes to the Reverso AIR nesting dinghy, with its unique mechanical arrangement for disassembly into a stack of components small enough to fit into the back of a compact SUV. Once on-site, the French-built Reverso (distributed in the United States by Red Beard Sailing) can be easily assembled in just a few minutes—no need for a trailer or launch ramp—the build quality is outstanding and the fully assembled hull is rock-solid under sail, thanks to a clever tensioning system that keeps things from falling apart. (During a boisterous test sail, the hull proved as rigid and reliable as any structure made from solid glass.) Best of all, the Reverso is a hell of a lot of fun to sail, with speed to burn, thanks to its powerful square-top rig. Be warned though, that sexy tumblehome bow also makes for a fairly wet boat—although with this kind of sailing, that’s typically all just part of the fun.