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Just Launched: At the Dusseldorf Boat Show

If you were looking for the ideal boat show venue, your first choice probably wouldn’t be a German city 110 miles from the sea. Yet the nautical extravaganza in Dusseldorf, on the banks of the mighty Rhine, has grown to be the world’s biggest boat and watersport show.

If you were looking for the ideal boat show venue, your first choice probably wouldn’t be a German city 110 miles from the sea. Yet the nautical extravaganza in Dusseldorf, on the banks of the mighty Rhine, has grown to be the world’s biggest boat and watersport show—17 cavernous halls packed with everything from pool toys to superyachts. Sailing, powerboating, houseboating, fishing, paddling, scuba diving, kitesailing, wakeboarding, surfing; if it can be done on the water, you’ll find it here. 

Each year around 250,000 showgoers pass through the turnstiles and half of these cite their primary interest as sailboats, which is why Dusseldorf is a must for European boatbuilders. German builders invariably save their new-model introductions for this show, announcing them with great fanfare. 

One of the first invitations we received was from a resurgent Bavaria, which introduced yet another new Farr design. The Vision 46 has nothing in common appearance-wise with Bavaria’s Cruiser line, and indeed, it’s aimed at a different market. 

“Comfort, elegance and easy handling” are the selling points; the first is achieved by dint of a spacious two-cabin layout that has just one head/shower (a three-cabin, two-head layout is optional). Yes, there is an inarguable elegance to her lines, and as for easy handling, well, if you tick the right options you’ll have a seriously well-mannered boat. You can have not only a drop-down bow/stern thruster combo to shuttle you sideways into your slip, but also a push-button jib and main trim system (using reversing electric winches) that avoids all that tiresome grinding and line-handling.

The reason for the offset companionway becomes apparent when you press a button and the cockpit table lowers itself to form the base of a double bunk—talk about comfort under the stars. There are too many other clever features to enumerate here; suffice it to say that Bavaria expects big things from this boat. Others in the new line are in the works.

Just along the way, the new Hanse 415 stood shoulder to shoulder with its siblings. It replaces the popular 400, but is nearly two feet longer on the waterline and has more sail area, which should make it a lot quicker, especially in light air. It has a beamy hull, powered by the customary full-battened mainsail/self-tacking jib sailplan seen on these German boats for nearly two decades. Down below, the layout is effective, and the finish is bright and cheerful. This boat can be ordered with Hanse’s new Smart Mooring System (SMS), which couples bow and stern thrusters for joystick-controlled docking.

Beneteau’s new models included the Oceanis 48, an impressively roomy and good-looking cruiser. The boat’s drop-down transom gate runs the width of the stern, making for a spacious boarding/swimming/lounging area abaft the twin wheels—an excellent example of how design trends are making cockpits more user-friendly than ever, especially when the boat is at rest. 

Even more impressive was the Beneteau Sense 55, which carries the “monomaran” concept to a new level. As on the smaller Senses, the large cockpit and airy saloon are integrated as closely as possible, with the sleeping accommodations concentrated forward. It’s a concept that works extremely well for coastal and warm-water sailing, though I think most people would opt for one of the more conservative Beneteau designs if they wanted to go bluewater cruising. It’s certainly a boat I’d be happy to punt around the Caribbean for a year or three.

Jeanneau’s new Sun Odyssey509 is a more straightforward fast cruiser, nicely fitted out with a choice of three layouts. It’s a real looker, proving that the styling themes set by the 379, 409 and 439 also work well on a bigger canvas. I see it as a competitor to the Grand Soleil 50 in terms of looks, and a performance match-up would be interesting. This latest Grand Soleil is a handsome boat indeed—long, low and lean—with some interesting touches to the well-finished interior. The boat on show had its galley forward of the saloon seating area, though you can specify a more conventional layout. This company—now owned, like France’s Dufour, by Bavaria—has new representation in the United States and hopefully we’ll soon see more of these sporty steeds on this side of the Atlantic.

Dusseldorf is also a great place to spot new trends in sailboat design and equipment. Things I took away: Flush hatches are becoming almost mandatory. If your performance cruiser doesn’t have a torpedo keel and/or a hull chine, it’s in a minority. Extending bowsprits for A-sails, ditto. More boats are sporting big hull ports. LED lighting is now commonplace. Almost every major builder now offers some kind of sophisticated docking system. Big mains, small jibs are where it’s at.

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