All roads lead to the world’s biggest boat show
When it’s January in Germany, all roads lead to Düsseldorf. At least they do if you’re a boat person or any other kind of person with an interest in watersports. Sailors, powerboaters, kayakers, scuba divers and anglers flock here by the hundreds of thousands to take in the delights of the world’s biggest boat and accessories show.
You can look over a hundred-foot motoryacht that’s been plucked from the nearby Rhine river, paddle a canoe on an intricately landscaped mock river, cast a fly on an alpine stream, get rescued from an overturned Opti on a manmade lake, outfit yourself in bargain-basement foulweather gear or put a deposit on a new sailboat—all without stepping outdoors and all before your lunchtime bowl of goulash.
This King Kong of boat shows is also where the world’s biggest production builders introduce not only their new models, but their plans for models yet to come. It’s where you go to see the latest trends in boatbuilding and design before they’ve even had a chance to become trends. One year it was torpedo-bulb keels on cruising boats; another it was hull ports carried to illogical extremes, thanks to advances in plastics technology. After that it was drop-down transoms, twin rudders and hull chines, and cockpit arches. In 2013 it seemed builders had all been overcome by a sudden urge to make their boats look like powerboats, concealing all running rigging in under-deck galleries led aft to the (invariably) twin helms.
Boot 2014 bucked the trend, as it were, in that there was not much to be seen in the way of “Aha!” innovation. Instead, we seem to be in a period of design consolidation. I did note an increasing prevalence of self-tacking headsails, a feature that for the last two decades has been standard on Germany’s Hanse line, and something of a return to the traditional nav station, which has been an endangered species in recent times. Also, the cockpit-convertible sunbed introduced on Bavaria’s Vision 46 a couple of years ago is now being emulated by other builders.
This year, the Hanse Group—which encompasses Hanse, Moody, Varianta and Dehler on the sailboat side—had its usual line-up of debutantes. The big news for Hanse was the 505, a muscular fast cruiser featuring Hanse’s signature blend of high topsides, low superstructure and sporty performance with a powerful but easily handled sailplan. Expect to see it at the fall boat shows on the East Coast.
Moody’s distinctive DS (Deck Saloon) line has sold well in Europe, but has failed to capture the imagination of the North American sailor, perhaps because they look like powerboats with masts. The good thing about that is that the accommodations are also powerboat-like in their spaciousness. The new DS54 brings a new twist to the theme— designer Bill Dixon has done a masterful job of softening the lines of the big deckhouse, and, like others in the DS range, this boat will sail much better than its appearance suggests. It is also the roomiest 54-footer I have seen.
Since Dehler came under the Hanse Group umbrella a few years ago the brand has enjoyed a resurgence, the latest example of which is the Dehler 46. It appeared at the show as a drawing, to be seen in the flesh next year. Quality-wise it’s a far cry from the Varianta 37, the second boat in Hanse Group’s bargain-basement line of entry-level cruisers. Although it is also designed by Judel/Vrolijk (based on the Hanse 375 molds) and therefore will sail well, the Varianta 37 is definitely built to a price—in this case 89,131 euros, or $132,915. For that, you get a sailaway platform equipped with—wait for it—bean bags instead of settee cushions, and an interior that will resonate with Ikea fans.
Apparently, some canny Germans buy these boats, gut them and employ shipwrights to fit out the interiors to suit their own tastes, which allows them to still save thousands over a comparable 37-footer.
The other European conglomerate—Groupe Beneteau—took something of a pause after a relentless few years of refreshing its extensive model range. For Beneteau, the notable new model was the boat-for-all-reasons Oceanis 38, which won SAIL’s Best Boats Award for 2014 in the 31-40ft monohull category. Going by the queues to get on board, and the European Yacht of the Year award it had just picked up, this boat is a winner for Beneteau in its home waters as well.
Round the corner at Jeanneau, the fanfare was all about the new Sun Odyssey 349, which also made its U.S. debut at the Miami Strictly Sail show in February. As Europe claws its way out of recession there’s been renewed interest in smaller boats, and this good-looking Marc Lombard design looks well positioned to take advantage of that trend. It’s a big little coastal cruiser, made even more spacious by the lack of cabinetry above the settees in the amazingly bright, airy saloon. This correlates to a shortage of enclosed stowage, but if you choose the two-cabin option you get a vast walk-in cockpit locker that will more than make up for it.
The second new boat from Jeanneau is the Sun Fast 3600, an out-and-out sportster optimized for the kind of sailing at which the French excel, namely long-distance shorthanded racing. You can count on this boat being light, easily driven, fast and well-mannered. There’s a choice of twin wheels or twin tillers, a sailhandling system that can be customized to sit your sailing style, and a basic but functional open-plan interior that would lend itself well to no-frills cruising. It looks like a great ride for Wednesday nights, but it would be more fun to channel your inner Gaul, load up with freeze-dried food and boxed wine, and blast across the Pond.
Meanwhile, Bavaria, like the other big-name builders, was having a comparatively quiet year. The transformation of its Farr-designed Cruiser line-up is now complete, with revamped 41 and 51-footers appearing here. All that remains from the previous Cruiser iterations are the hulls—these two boats have brand new interiors and deck layouts that give them a more mainstream (not to mention attractive) look and feel. My impressions were of two capable boats with very good cockpit ergonomics and well designed and executed interiors. In fact, the Cruiser 41 and Cruiser 51 are showcase examples of another recent trend, one that embraces installing many hatches and portlights to let in natural light and give interiors a more spacious feel. I also liked the 41S—for Sport—version, with its white-powdercoated Jefa steering system and cockpit-mounted mainsheet traveler; not so family-friendly, but eminently practical.
What of the other production builders? Dufour introduced its new 310, a sweet little family cruiser. Great styling, a big cockpit made larger by the drop-down swim platform, a cozy, bright saloon, and a large head compartment with hanging stowage for foul-weather gear—other builders please take note—what’s not to like? I doubt it would be an economical import for the U.S., though. Too bad.
Croatian yard Salona Yachts, which has just entered the U.S. market, showed off a brand new 60-footer designed by Briton Jason Ker. Aimed at high-end buyers who want a semi-custom luxury yacht, the Salona 60 offers multiple variations on any of five base layouts. Not quite as luxurious but a good deal more affordable is the Salona 33, the latest in the yard’s line of performance cruisers. The accent here is on low weight and good performance; the accommodations lack frills, but build quality is fine and this should be a rewarding boat to sail. This yard now has an American importer who plans to show several models at U.S. boat shows this year.
As always, there were also plenty of intriguing new models from smaller and newer builders. One such is the Azuree 46, a classy-looking Rob Humphreys design built by Sirena Marine in Turkey, which is becoming something of a boatbuilding powerhouse. This is a powerful cruiser optimized for sunny climes, with an expansive cockpit and a beautifully executed interior that ticks all the boxes for cruisers. I liked the way all sail controls were within easy reach of the helm; this boat is built for speed as well as comfort.
And then there was a new daysailer from Wauquiez, a yard better known for big high-quality performance cruisers. The Optio is a pretty little 30-footer with surprisingly welcoming accommodations—so long as you don’t mind crouching headrowom—and a particularly well-designed cockpit. Good ideas include an anchor and roller that swing into the anchor locker when not needed. The ballasted centerboard configuration means the boat can be easily trailered and kept in shallow anchorages.
There was more, of course. Hallberg-Rassy showed off its not-new-but-improved 48Mk II, and X-Yachts proudly displayed its new Xc35, a particularly impressive example of Scandinavian design and build quality. Towering majestically over all was the Oyster 88, the biggest sailboat by far in this impressive show.
But the charm of the Düsseldorf show is that you come across many boats and brands that you’ve never heard of before. For more on some of the unusual and just plain funky boats coming out of Europe, visit my blog on sailfeed.com.
Visit the photo slide show here