Skip to main content

Best Boats Nominees 2009

With foreclosures, credit woes, and skyrocketing oil prices painting a gloomy economic picture recently, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many new boats being introduced this year. And it makes perfect sense that boatbuilders should compete that much harder for our business. As they say on TV, “when [builders] compete, you win”—in this case you get better, more innovative, more

With foreclosures, credit woes, and skyrocketing oil prices painting a gloomy economic picture recently, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many new boats being introduced this year. And it makes perfect sense that boatbuilders should compete that much harder for our business. As they say on TV, “when [builders] compete, you win”—in this case you get better, more innovative, more comfortable boats that stand out from the crowd because they might not sell if they don’t. Builders across the board have stepped up to the plate, and their offerings range from the waterbug-like Weta trimaran to new models from storied builders—like Pacific Seacraft, Moody, and Prout—that are back on the scene.

With all these new designs for everything from offshore passagemakers and cruising multihulls to daysailers and coastal cruisers, we at SAIL will be looking for the cream of the crop in this year’s fleet. Best Boats 2009 judges Nigel Calder, Charlie Doane, and I will be at the Newport International Boat Show in September and the Annapolis Sailboat Show in October for the U.S. debuts. We’ll be poking, prodding, and poring over all these boats to pick the winners of SAIL’s Best Boats awards for the most innovative, best designed and executed boats of the year. Interested in a new boat? Just interested? Come on down.

Alliaura Marine

The Feeling 55 is a beamy offshore-cruising monohull that stands out for several reasons. First, it’s equipped with twin 55-horsepower diesels with saildrives. The extra weight in the stern won’t increase speed under sail, but two screws provide superior control when maneuvering under power in tight quarters as well as redundancy that makes it easier to cruise to a schedule. The boat’s wide aft section provides enough room for a large cockpit and a full tender “garage.” The accommodation plan also benefits from the generous interior volume created by well over 15 feet of beam.


Bavaria Yachts, like all European builders, has been affected by the weak dollar, but that hasn’t stopped this German manufacturer from launching three new models in the U.S. this year. The Bavaria 38 is the largest of the group, and like previous Bavarias its hull was drawn by J&J Designs and should be quick and comfortable under sail. The accommodation plan appears to be spacious and seakindly without being flashy. The new Bavaria 31 and 34, meanwhile, are entry-level friendly, though quite similar to the 38 in both design and construction. All three are outfitted with light stained-mahogany interiors, Harken and Lewmar deck hardware, and factory-supplied sails.


This large builder, with factories in both Europe and the States, continues to launch new and progressive designs like the Beneteau First 45, which builds on the success of Beneteau’s acclaimed racer/cruiser First series. The company is also launching another strong player in the racer/cruiser market, the slightly smaller Beneteau First 40, and is targeting the cruising market with the new Beneteau 31 and 34. These fresh-looking coastal cruisers should accomplish the difficult task of being even more comfortable than their predecessors. What’s more, the company’s new flagship, the Beneteau 54, is designed to provide all the comfort and style of a high-end yacht with a price tag that benefits from Beneteau’s substantial buying and production power.

Broadblue Catamarans

The Broadblue 500 is a cruising catamaran that makes the most of its 50-foot length and 28-foot beam. The accommodation plan centers on a large bridgedeck saloon with room for a U-shaped settee, a separate sitting nook, a forward-facing nav station with a 360-degree view, and a good-sized galley. This leaves the hulls free to accommodate three or four large sleeping cabins and three or four heads.

Bruckmann Yachts

Instead of simply being a sailboat with a big engine and lots of fuel capacity, the Bruckmann 50 is a sailboat that’s optimized for cruising under power. A wide stern helps the boat pass efficiently through the water under power, and its easy-to-handle sails are always ready to hoist to help reduce fuel consumption. The wide hull has plenty of room for a spacious accommodation plan.

Finngulf Yachts

Finnish-built Finngulf Yachts are big in Northern Europe, no doubt because they represent all that is good when it comes to sturdy, stylish, high-performance cruiser/racers. They are seen less frequently here in the U.S., which has been our loss. Look for changes in this regard, as Finngulf has a new, young managing director at the helm and is launching the new Finngulf 43, designed by Farr Yacht Designs, both here and in Europe. The company sold six of these boats before the first one was finished. This looks like a design that has some legs.

Hanse Yachts

The new Hanse 540e, designed by Judel/Vrolijk, is built with epoxy resin with Core-cell foam coring in both the hull and deck. With 47 feet of waterline length and over 1,600 square feet of sail area, this boat should manage some pretty quick passage times. Hanse offers several different interior layouts, and with the 540e anything the buyer wants, from the number of cabins to the style of the furniture, can be created in either mahogany or cherry.

Hunter Marine

Hunter’s doing it again with an inventive 27-foot trailerable, water-ballasted motorsailer dubbed “theEDGE.” The hull is designed to carry a 75-horsepower outboard reportedly capable of pushing the boat to 20 MPH (not knots, which seems rather curious). The boat also carries 330 square feet of sail and has a retractable centerboard and rudder (draft is less than a foot with the centerboard up) that allows the boat to move under sail power alone in most conditions.This is a small sailboat with enough oomph to pull a water skier under power. If you are looking for something more conventional, the Hunter 50, a center-cockpit cruiser, is the company’s new flagship.

Island Packet

The new Island Packet 460, which features a full keel, solid construction, and ivory gelcoat, is very much in line with previous models. What’s telling is that the boat’s traditional transom, large aft deck, and gasketed, drained propane lockers feature prominently in the advance billing. This shows that the company’s designs are evolving rather than changing dramatically. Can you blame them? Island Packets have always appealed to people looking for stable offshore-cruising boats. And since Island Packet’s founder and chief designer, Bob Johnson, doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, he was free to refine details on the 460, like the gaskets in the propane lockers.


Jeanneau continues to build out its line of stylish deck-saloon cruisers with the launch of the Jeanneau 50DS. As was true of Jeanneau’s previous and highly successful deck-saloon cruisers, the lines of the 50DS allow for a spacious and comfortable accommodation plan. Visibility through the big, curved coachroof windows is excellent, and headroom is well over 6 feet throughout. On deck the dual helms open up to a walk-through transom, and the long comfy seats in the cockpit could be a significant deterrent to going below.


Vanguard Sailboats and the UK’s Performance Sailcraft have teamed up to form LaserPerformance. And, no surprise here, the company has launched a sportboat. The SB 3 (it stands for “sportboat for three people”) seems to have hit the elusive target so many one-design classes shoot for—a fun, durable, fast, and reasonably affordable raceboat. Don’t be fooled by its somewhat conservative look; it’s got a deep torpedo bulb keel, plenty of sail area, and a hull that can jump up and plane. In addition to the SB3, the new Bug is an aptly named one-person junior trainer that’s like an Opti on steroids with a faster (and fun) hull shape.

Moody Yachts

Big, solid Moody boats have a long history of shouldering the worst that the English Channel (and all the world’s oceans) can dish out. But the new Moody 45DSe is not your father’s Moody. German boatbuilder Hanse Yachts bought the English company last year and has completely revamped the line. The “DS” obviously refers to the deck-saloon layout, and the “e” stands for the epoxy resin used to lay up the hull. The new-generation Moodys are solid offshore cruising boats, and they are more stylized than their predecessors. The individual changes are subtle, but in combination they are quite striking.

Morris Yachts

Morris hit the ball out of the park with its highly successful Sparkman & Stephens–designed M36 daysailer/weekender, so it makes perfect sense that the company is launching larger models with a similar coastal-cruising ethos. The new M52 that makes its debut this year is, like its smaller sisters, easy on the eyes and easy enough to daysail. Its longer waterline translates to more speed on the water and a more spacious accommodation plan below. Two private sleeping cabins, a comfortable saloon, and well over 6 feet of headroom provide enough living space for overnight cruises.

Northshore Yachts

Northshore Yacht's new launches -- the Southerly 42RST and the S38 -- are (like all Southerlys) equipped with internal ballast and heavy swing keels. These features combine to provide two characteristics that are usually mutually exclusive -- ultra-shoal draft and upwind stability. Both models have attractive lines, plenty of sail area, and spacious accomodation plans. What else do you really need?

Outbound Yachts

The Outbound 52, a center-cockpit offshore cruiser of moderate displacement, is designed to take care of you offshore. It’s an easy boat for a cruising couple to handle, quick enough to stay in front of some weather systems, and sturdy enough to stand up to a blow if you get caught out. The saloon offers a nice view from the settee, and every ergonomic detail has been maximized for comfort.

Prout Catamarans

Prouts feature prominently in the short history of modern cruising catamarans. Prout was there when cats first caught on in the 1970s and 80’s and has continued to build ocean-crossing cats ever since. Over 4,000 Prouts have been built, and new-generation Prout cruising cats, like the Prout 50 SW and 70, reflect all the company has learned in the past 40 years. With production recently moved from the UK to China, plus an established U.S. presence, chances are we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

RS Racing

UK-built RS Racing boats are well established in Europe, but have had only limited exposure in the States until this year. With Thomas Fogh’s North National Marine Group signing on to distribute the extensive RS line in North America, chances are that RS boats will soon be turning up in U.S. waters in greater numbers. In addition to the two-person RS Feva, which has developed a loyal following in Europe, three new models will be introduced to provide new alternatives for North American sailors of all ages and sizes. The RS Tera is designed to be the first boat for young sailors. The RS Q’ba is a stable starter boat for sailors of any age. And the RS Vision is equally suitable for use as a family daysailer and as a two-person fleet racer.

Sensei Yachts

The Sensei 9m is so new that the only advance materials I could lay my hands on are CAD drawings. These tell a tale of a modern design that should be at home racing around the cans or showing off around the harbor. But it’s not too modern. It has a traditional transom and a moderate daysailer-type deck layout. A hint about performance: This 30-footer is designed to carry nearly 1,000 square feet of downwind sail area, and the lines come from Felci Yacht Design.

Salona Yachts

Built by AD Boats in Croatia, the Salona 34 is a steady coastal cruiser—not a radical design, not a racer, not a head-turner with ultramodern looks. It’s simply a pure and purposeful cruising boat that should be fun to sail and comfortable to spend time aboard. It has a big cockpit, clean deck areas, and many features (traditional layout, commonsense cruising comforts, decent sailing characteristics) that do just what the designer intended.

Shannon Yachts

The Shannon 53 HPS (Hybrid-Power Sailer) is billed as a motorsailer designed to maximize living space and sailing and powering efficiency. It can reportedly motorsail at over 12 knots and has a range under power alone of over 1,500 miles, all while burning less fuel than a similar-sized trawler. It’s designed to be handled easily by a cruising couple and can be built with as many as four sleeping cabins.

Summit Yachts

Summit Yachts has invented two different flavors of performance. The King 40 is designed to be a true dual-purpose cruiser/racer that can race offshore or around the cans and still be comfortable enough for family cruising. The lead bulb/narrow-chord keel and high-aspect rudder should provide excellent upwind performance with a very balanced helm. And the accommodation plan features comfortable bunks, a serious nav station, and a spacious and functional settee. Meanwhile, the MD35 jumps into the big-daysailer/weekender field, but distinguishes itself in that it’s all about going fast and looking fast while still being easy to sail.

Santa Cruz Yachts

The Santa Cruz 37 is the first new model from this Northern California builder in years. The hull form is specifically designed for blast-reaching conditions. The foils are based on grand-prix and ACC designs. The keel fin is cast iron. The bulb is torpedo shaped, and an electric/hydraulic keel-lifting mechanism is optional. The rig is sized to provide serious offwind sail power and also incorporates a 105 percent jib for efficient upwind work. Accommodations are spacious, modern, and functional but not unnecessarily frilly. No weight is wasted on this boat, which tips the scales at just over 8,000 pounds and has a ballast-displacement ratio of a whopping 46 percent.

Tartan Yachts

Ohio-based Tartan Yachts was one of the first production builders to offer epoxy-resin hulls and carbon-fiber rigs as standard equipment on all their boats, and the Tartan 5300 makes excellent use of the technology. The hull is light and stiff, and the rig increases stability (by keeping weight aloft to a minimum) while also supporting a powerful, yet manageable sailplan. And if it’s anything like its smaller sisterships, the interior joinery should be top notch.

Tayana Yachts

Bill Dixon drew the new Tayana 54 with a center cockpit and a raised saloon. The hull form was designed to maximize performance while maintaining stability and seakindliness offshore. The result is a cutter-rigged passagemaker with top-notch joinery, large staterooms, a bright and airy saloon, a spacious galley, and enough stowage space to accommodate all the stuff that wants to go along on an extended cruise.

Walker Bay

Walker Bay has put inexpensive, injection-molded dinghies in almost every harbor in the country. And the same innovative thinking that led Walker Bay to try to build a better, more durable, more affordable dinghy has gone into the new Breeze. It’s got all the features Walker Bays are known for, plus a clever sailing rig.


On the water, the Weta trimaran looks like a waterbug. The outer hulls appear to provide excellent stability, and the lightweight carbon mast (two sections) can be easily stepped by one person. On a trailer, the carbon beams that support the outer amas simply slide out of the main hull and each ama rests easily next to it. The supports slide into housings on deck and are held in place by trampoline tension. The tramp increases area for crew and allows for up to three adults to have a blast out on the water.


Danish builder X-Yachts has built its reputation on sharp, sturdy racer/cruisers, and the new X-34 demonstrates that all the action isn’t in the over-40-foot crowd. If this smallest X-boat is anything like its bigger sisters, it should be quick and fun to sail. It should also be able to withstand a hard grounding, thanks to a super-strong keel-root grid reinforced with a stainless-steel I-beam.



Charter: Lake Tahoe

A sail on Lake Tahoe has been on my bucket list since the day I first laid eyes on it, and come hell or high water, I decided I was going to someday charter a boat there. North America’s largest and deepest alpine lake, Tahoe sits at 6,225ft above sea level and straddles the more


Escape from New York Part 1

I was never supposed to take my boat through New York City. After getting sucked backward through the Cape Cod Canal on my way south from Maine, when the speed of the current exceeded the maximum speed of my little electric auxiliary, I wanted nothing to do with Hell Gate and more


A Watermaker Upgrade

As a classic-boat sailor, I’ve long held that simpler is the better. I still think this is true: a simpler boat is cheaper, she has less gadgets to break down and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re able to handle a bit of discomfort. Thus, for a long time, I sailed more


Sailing Speed Records

Although the 1903 defender of the America’s Cup, Reliance, was deemed a “racing freak”—the boat pushed design rules to their limit and couldn’t be beaten, at least in very specific conditions—designer Nat Herreshoff was nonetheless onto something. A century later, purpose-built more


Chartering with Non-sailors

Three tips on managing the madness First-time charterers and first-time sailors aren’t at all the same thing. One group may struggle with beginner chartering issues, like sailing a multihull, catching a mooring or dealing with base personnel. For the other group, though, more


A Gulf Stream Crossing at Night

Even the dome of light glowing above the city behind us had disappeared as if swallowed in a gulp by Noah’s whale. The moon was absent. Not a star twinkled overhead. The night was so dark we could have been floating in a pot of black ink. The only artificial lights to be seen more


Summer Sailing Programs

Every year, countless parents find themselves navigating the do’s and don’ts of enrolling their children in a summer learn-to-sail program for the first time. While the prospect of getting your kid on the water is exciting, as a sailing camp program director, there are a lot of more


Notice to Mariners: U.S.A! U.S.A! (Well, sorta…)

Some thoughts on a couple of recent developments on the U.S. racing scene that are more than a little at odds. To start with, congratulations to the US Sailing Team (USST) and its outstanding showing at the 53rd French Olympic Week regatta in Hyeres, France, with not one but more