Some years ago, the book Aak to Zumbra catalogued—and celebrated—the incredible diversity of watercraft that has evolved over the centuries, a diversity that remains evident to this day in the 11 winners comprising the “Class of 2019” in SAIL’s Best Boats contest. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a greater variety of sailing craft. On the one hand, for example, you have a fairly “conventional” (albeit spectacularly executed) cruiser-racer in the X-Yachts Xp 55. On the other, you have a large, yet still wonderfully nimble trimaran in the Neel 51. Then there’s the Lagoon 50, another “conventional” cruising boat that manages to find yet more ways to make its crews comfortable afloat; the Figaro Beneteau 3, the world’s first production foiling keelboat; the Beneteau First 14, a micro speedster with not one but two daggerboard slots to accommodate multiple crews and rigs; and yet another tri from the drawing board of the late Ian Farrier.
Finally, there’s the Zephyr, a wonderfully un-conventional new take on sailing that envisions a whole new way of managing a wing by employing a mast and linkage that sweeps the entire program back and forth overhead. It would be hard to imagine a more groundbreaking way of moving a boat through the water—or possibly over the water if the wind ever pipes up sufficiently.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the way SAIL sets about determining the winners in its Best Boats contest: by having its editors fan out across the country sailing, studying, evaluating and discussing the latest the boatbuilding industry has to offer—an industry that even all these centuries later never, ever seems to run out of fresh ideas. Enjoy, and congrats to this year’s winners!
Best Large Monohull 50ft and Above
X-Yachts Xp 55
True dual-purpose cruiser-racers are ever harder to find in today’s increasingly segmented sailboat market—which is one reason why our judges were so impressed with the Xp 55 from Denmark’s X-Yachts. This sleek attractive sloop, only recently arrived in the States, offers truly luxurious living accommodations in a performance design that will also make you look good on the racecourse. With a finely honed mix of useful cruising features, like a fold-down transom, dinghy garage and a large fold-away teak cockpit table, plus go-fast features like a finely sculpted high-aspect rudder, optional carbon rig and deep lead-ballasted T-bulb keel, this is one boat that will also not send racing crews sprinting for hotel rooms after the trophies are handed out.
Build quality is top notch. The boat’s foam-cored glass laminate is reinforced with carbon fiber in critical areas and is all set in vacuum-infused epoxy resin and post-cured in an oven. X-Yachts’ trademark super-strong keel grid (which is constructed of carbon fiber in its Xp boats) ensures that the boat’s high-performance keel with cast-iron fin and a lead bulb will stay firmly attached to the hull in a hard grounding. Meanwhile, belowdecks the quality of the joinerywork is superb and immediately sets this elegant craft apart from most other modern production boats. With a wide choice of quality hardwoods, from oak to teak to walnut, and a broad array of fabric options, each owner can dial in a distinctive look.
Best of all, the boat is a joy to sail. With its well-thought-out cockpit and line controls, the boat can be managed by a full-on race crew or by a couple or family on an extended bluewater cruise. With a choice between an aluminum or carbon rig, cruising or racing keels and even four-different bowsprit treatments offering a mix of sailhandling and ground-tackle options, the boat’s nature can be oriented most anywhere you like on a very broad cruising-racing spectrum. x-yachts.com
Best Large Multihull 50ft and Above
Six years after winning SAIL’s Best Boat cruising multihull category with the breakthrough Neel 45, veteran racer/boatbuilder Eric Bruneel has returned to America with another stunner, the Neel 51. Despite the obvious similarities—not the least of which is its three hulls—the 51 is a very different animal, a big trimaran with vast interior space that can carry six people across an ocean rapidly in real comfort. Most of that space looks out through a set of large windows in all directions, and the entire vessel is neatly built and nicely finished, featuring a decor and design with a contemporary French flair. Like the 45, the galley, navigation, social spaces and master accommodations are all up on the main bridgedeck. However, in contrast to the 45, the amas of this boat are large enough to hold two more owner-size cabins, comparable to those of a catamaran. Aft, large sliding doors let the saloon blend seemlessly with the afterdeck, while belowdecks, mechanics, rejoice: the interior of the central hull includes a big standup “basement” devoted to all the mechanical and propulsion systems, including a walk-around engine room and easy access to the generator, batteries, air conditioning, tanks, watermaker and whatever else an owner might want to include. (As an added benefit, this placement also keeps the heaviest parts of the boat low and centrally located.)
The rig is simple and efficient, the decks are easy to traverse, and the raised helm station provides excellent visibility and is a central gathering point for the control lines. In bad weather, the skipper can also sit inside near the smoothest-riding part of the boat at a nav desk resembling a drone control station and steer with the autopilot. Oh, and there’s a panoramic view of the outside world from there, too. Bottom line: the Neel 51 is a fast, seaworthy voyaging yacht with an interior larger than catamarans 10 feet longer, making it the judges’ easy choice as the Best Flagship Multihull for 2019. neel-trimarans.com
Best Monohull Cruising Boat 40 to 50ft
Wauquiez Pilot Saloon 42
The fourth and smallest in the Wauquiez line, the new Pilot Saloon 42 is a nicely finished bluewater cruiser that you may also soon be able to find in charter. The Berret-Racoupeau-designed sloop has a moderate displacement and a choice of keel and rudder depth. (Draft ranges from 5ft 5in to 7ft, and there are twin rudders.) Two or three staterooms are available with the master cabin forward, or aft if you so choose—both aft cabins are that well appointed and offer ensuite heads with separate stall showers. Stowage is significant with drawers below the bed and lockers outboard.
Because this is a pilothouse design, long windows are installed all around allowing everyone to enjoy lovely views, even when seated. The straight-line galley is opposite the U-shaped raised dinette to starboard, and a double seat on the centerline is an option. Not only does this expand the seating, but it also provides a great handhold when underway. A traditional, forward-facing nav station is located to port and near the companionway for good communications with those in the cockpit.
The joinery and finish are exceptional, and the companionway steps are more of a staircase than a ladder. There is a choice of teak or clear oak cabinetry and several fabric options for the U-shaped settee. The cockpit is large and has a centerline drop-leaf table and twin wheels.
Overall, the 42 is an exceptionally handsome yacht, as well it should be given the builder has launched over 300 such hulls since 1991. Best of all, you may soon be able to sail trial one of these fine boats for yourself as they become available for hire at Dream Yacht Charter. wauquiez.com
Best Cruising Monohull Under 40ft
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 319
Good things come in small packages. Jeanneau’s new entry-level design is the Sun Odyssey 319, and she’s small but mighty. The French builder wanted to re-enter the small boat market, and the 319 joins two other models in the 30ft Sun Odyssey range. This way, Jeanneau has a boat for new sailors with families as well as old salts wanting to downsize.
It’s easy to build a large boat, but real thought must be put into a compact model. Available with two enclosed cabins and a full head, the 319 offers amenities similar to those of her larger sisters. Light pours in via the coachroof and hull portlights, and the ample headroom increases the sense of space. There’s a two-burner stove, refrigeration and a fold-out table that will seat six for dinner. The master stateroom is a V-berth forward with divided double doors. With these doors open, there’s a perception of length and openness you don’t often find on vessels of this size.
The cockpit is large with more outside stowage options than most of the boat’s competitors. A single wheel, a rigid vang and an open transom that provides easy access to the water are standard. The side decks are nice and wide with toerails outboard, and there are study handrails atop the cabintrunk to make going forward a snap.
Outfitted with a fractional rig, a 21hp Yanmar with saildrive, twin rudders and a choice of standard or swing (lifting) keels, the 319 is a very capable cruiser. An optional sprit adds a place to attach a downwind sail on a top-down furler. Length-overall is actually 32ft, and she displaces just over 11,000lb, making her light and agile. With a ballast-to-displacement ratio of 32 percent and a Category A rating, she’ll be comfortable in a wide range of conditions. jeanneauamerica.com. Read SAIL's boat review here.
Best Multihull Cruising Boat 40 to 50ft
With the launch of the new Lagoon 50, the French catamaran builder introduced a whole host of innovations that truly set the boat apart in a world of evolutionary look-alikes. Oh, the places you can go when you start with a clean sheet of paper.
With 1,700ft of upwind sail area between the standard full-batten mainsail and an 87 percent self-tacking jib, she is not under-canvased. The mast, which was moved aft to minimize hobby-horsing, is also 87ft high, giving this cat a higher aspect ratio to catch the wind further aloft. An optional Code 0 provides added umph sailing downwind.
The hydraulic swim platform carries the tender, but in a whole new way, as the ends flip up to reveal a set of chocks. Otherwise, the platform is smooth and a great playground. Two squared-off transoms steps leading to the cockpit are nice and low. Not only does this result in a sleeker look, it also creates an easier transition from the water or dock to the main deck. To satisfy industry regulations, the engine room hatches open up facing forward and are hinged aft so checking the diesels underway will keep you in the cockpit and not out on the steps. Also aft, a grill been built into the transom swivels out and over the steps to keep the smoke out of the cockpit. Inside, a nearly full-beam settee wraps around a table and center island holding a popup TV. This table has “magical” legs that mysteriously articulate to lower and simultaneously move the table away from the settee to provide leg room.
Available configurations include three to six cabins, and the master suite boasts a desk with a built-in bookcase and a small settee with a walk-in closet equipped with three rows of three drawers and a skylight overhead to let in plenty of light. There are also lockers hidden behind these closets for stashing things like duffels and even an integrated magazine rack to ensure you want for nothing when under sail and enjoying the best cruising experience possible. cata-lagoon.com
Best Small Cruiser
This pocket-sized folding trimaran was the swan song design for renowned multihull pioneer Ian Farrier, who worked at refining its details right up until his untimely death at age 70 in December 2017. Farrier played a leading role in popularizing and perfecting the concept of trailerable cruiser-racer trimarans starting in the 1970s and was always working to improve his boats. Built by Farrier Marine, the company Farrier formed after splitting with his first breakthrough firm, Corsair (and which was recently acquired by U.S.-based Daedalus Composites), the Farrier-22 is available in both standard and racing versions and packs a lot of features into a small package. Interior space is maximized by a slightly offset centerboard trunk that is neatly incorporated into the interior furniture (a slightly more intrusive daggerboard is optional) and a further refinement of Farrier’s patented ama folding system, which allows the boat to retain maximum ama beam strength without bringing any of the beam’s structural support into the interior. The amas and their folding struts are also carried higher than before when deployed, which reduces flying spray and increases performance under sail. The boat can be ordered with an aluminum or carbon mast (both versions are rotating), and Farrier’s unique boomless mainsail furling rig simplifies sailhandling while sacrificing nothing in terms of sailing efficiency. Beyond that, what most impressed our judges was the boat’s very cruisable interior. Galley modules to either side of the companionway include a small sink and a two-burner Origo stove and stow neatly away for sailing, while a pop-top over the companionway provides standing headroom. Better still, the boat’s small chemical toilet can be used away from prying eyes, thanks to a very clever folding bulkhead and roll-up screen. Bottom line: with a total of four berths, this boat, which can be rigged and launched singlehanded in about half an hour, can serve as a very versatile cruising platform for couples with or without young children, even as the boat’s screecher set on an optional bowsprit sends you blasting across the bay. f-boat.com; daedalusyachts.com
Best Performance Boat over 30ft
Figaro Beneteau 3
There has long been a trend toward race boats requiring fewer or no crew, in part to accommodate the difficulty of finding reliable, skilled sailors given the pace of life these days. As evidence, look no farther than events like the Bermuda 1-2, the Pacific Cup and an increasing number of doublehanded sections in races like the Chicago-Mac. Enter the Figaro Beneteau 3, the perfect boat for skippers in search of a solo or doublehanded adventure, not to mention a serious adrenaline rush. Most obvious, of course, are the boat’s radically curved twin lateral daggerboards, which deploy and retract manually via a pair of sturdy housings. Although the blades are not intended to provide full-foiling performance à la the America’s Cup, they do provide resistance to leeway and a powerful righting force as the boat accelerates, thereby allowing designers to minimize weight in the keel bulb without having to incorporate water ballast. Beyond that, when the wind and seas are up the boards also provide stability and lift forward, smoothing out the ride and preventing the bow from submarining. As for those sceptics who think the whole blade thing is just a gimmick, the “Figaro” in the boat’s name refers to the fact it is now the official one-design for France’s annual solo offshore La Solitaire Figaro, long a proving for such sailing legends as Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier. Suffice it to say, these are sailors who demand nothing but the best. As for SAIL’s Best Boats judges, the boat struck them as one of the most exciting designs they’ve come across in years, promising a truly exciting new kind of sailing. beneteau.com/us
Best Performance Boat under 30ft
The quest for affordable, competitive racing coupled with a user-friendly rig and deck layout has resulted in some of the most beloved one-designs in the world—think the Lightning, the Opti, the Flying Scot or the Ensign. Now from the UK’s RS Sailing comes the RS21, a low-cost sport boat that checks all these boxes and more. Designed to appeal to yacht clubs, sailing centers and even professional sailing leagues, the boat is both sturdy and easy to maintain, with a rock-solid infused hull, a lifting keel that can be raised with in internal crane and a carbon mast that is a piece of cake to step thanks to its pivoting heel. The boat is also easy on its crew, thanks to a voluminous cockpit that provides plenty of room for four sailors but is still easy to manage doublehanded. There’s even a nifty structure that encases a hidden retractable mount for a Torqeedo electric outboard. Best of all, the boat is an absolute blast to sail, thanks to its easily driven hull, powerful Mylar-laminate main, powerful rudder, an A-sail on a retractable sprit and chines coupled with a 50 percent ballast ratio. (The latter, in particular, serves admirably to help keep the boat on its feet, even while the crew is keeping its feet inboard.) Blasting around Narragansett Bay in 15-plus knots of wind, the boat left a hissing wake that would have made a Volvo racer proud, but never once felt in danger of spinning out of control. Make no mistake: despite the sober, well-thought-out business model behind this design, it’s all sailboat, in the finest sense of the word. rssailing.com
Beneteau First 14
With its recent acquisition of the dynamic Slovenian builder Seascape, Beneteau has, in one fell swoop, greatly expanded its First line of smaller entry-level performance boats. The smallest and newest of these, the Seascape 14, now rebranded as the First 14, is an extremely versatile boat that can lead novice sailors through a full spectrum of sailplans as they gain experience and confidence. The key features are the twin daggerboard slots on the hull’s centerline, set one behind the other. With the board pushed down into the aft slot, the boat sails well under mainsail alone and makes a great training platform, as performance is reasonably lively and the sail, with an easy-to-work mainsheet cam cleat on the boom instead of the deck, is very manageable. When you’re ready to take things up a notch, all you need do is shift the centerboard to the forward slot and unroll the furling jib. Now you have a handy sloop-rigged dinghy with livelier performance, but still with easy sailhandling, thanks to the well-designed track for the self-tacking jib. Last but not least, when you’re ready for sailing on steroids, you can start playing with the boat’s insanely long bowsprit and enormous asymmetric spinnaker. These are very easy to deploy and recover—pull one line to launch both sail and pole, pull another to bring them both in again—and make the boat truly thrilling to sail. The boat’s versatility is further enhanced by its easy-to-rig carbon-fiber mast and boom and by the very clever wheel struts that can be quickly fixed to the side of the boat for easy beach or ramp launching. beneteau.com/us
Running a boat with cruising systems is not unlike managing a small town. As the boat owner you are managing the water system, the sewage system, the electrical grids (AC and DC) and the transportation system. At the same time, you have to keep the whole village moving through the water in all kinds of weather and sailing conditions.
After looking at the new boats at the 2018 Annapolis Sailboat Show, the state of the art of today’s boat systems is becoming clear, with many builders now using a distributed electrical system, whereby the control panel can be quite small and innocuous. (So innocuous, in fact, that in one boat we had to ask the sales rep where it was located, and he could not find it without help from the builder!) Beyond that, though, if you look under the floorboards, into the engine spaces or behind the electrical panels on all too many modern boats you still often see a veritable maze of wires, pipes, hoses, valves, pumps and other things you might not even recognize. More responsible boatbuilders provide labeling and comprehensive owner’s manuals to help bring some semblance of order to the chaos. But not all.
With that in mind, one production boat stood out this year as exceptionally well organized: the Hylas 48, whose builder has done an excellent job with all of its components and systems. The first system we noted was the traditional electrical distribution panel. One quick look at the panel above the nav station lets you see at a glance how systems are energized. The wiring is also very neat and orderly, beautifully done and completely labeled as to system and function.
Similarly, below the floorboards, every valve, hose, pump and wire is clearly identified, and the diesel fuel system manifolds are easy to understand and manage, as is the overall systems layout. No tangles of wire or twisted hose runs here, which in turn, makes it is that much easier to trace each system through the bilge or any other part of the boat when troubleshooting.
Finally, Hylas provides excellent systems documentation, a crucial resource in the event something goes wrong. Hylas’s effort in these areas provides a great benchmark for the industry. Other builders take note! hylasyachts.com
Zephyr Wing-sail Tri
By far the most intriguing craft our judges came across this past year was the new Zephyr trimaran, with a unique sailing rig that makes it look something like a floating hang-glider. This is the brainchild of Tony Smith, well known in the industry as the creator of both the Gemini catamaran and the Telstar trimaran. Smith built this prototype in his garage and is seeking an investor interested in putting this unique vessel into production. The boat’s ingenious rig works on the same basic principle as a simple windsurfer or, more notably, the Vestas Sailrocket, which in 2012 shattered (and still holds) the world speed-sailing record. The boat’s sail, instead of being set on a vertical mast, is canted to windward at an angle to offset the heeling force it generates, with its driving force perfectly opposed to a daggerboard foil underneath the trimaran’s opposite ama. What makes the vessel unique is that unlike the super-fast Sailrocket, which was designed for straight-line speed runs over short distances and could sail only on one tack, the sail on the Zephyr can be tacked back and forth. This is accomplished via a pair of clever manually driven interconnected hydraulic pistons that hold the sail aloft. When the ram in the windward piston is pulled down, the ram in the leeward piston is automatically extended, which allows the boat’s skipper to easily cant the sail from side to side. One great advantage to the rig is that the sail, as it moves through the wind when tacking, loses none of its driving force. The boat’s controls are also simple and intuitive. You steer with your feet, which leaves your hands free to manage one line that controls the sail’s attack angle and another that cants it back and forth over the hull. Though obviously, this project is not yet ready for prime time, our judges were so impressed with the creative thinking behind it they felt compelled to recognize it with this special award.