Each of these boats deserves to be recognized for a specific feature, design, or construction technique that was particularly innovative and/or well executed.
Island Packet 486's nav station
Any offshore navigator would love to call this nerve-center nav station home. There's room to mount every imaginable electronic gadget, the varnished teak chart table is big enough to unfold a full-size chart, and there’s more than ample stowage. The decadently comfortable high-backed captain’s chair swivels, has arm rests, and is upholstered with UltraLeather. There's a full-size wet locker adjacent to the nav center. This was the best equipped nav station we saw this year.
Etap's vertical steering (EVS)
The ETAP 32's whipstaff was by far the most interesting steering system we tested, and it was refreshing to see a different (and effective) approach to something we all take for granted. It provides the instant response and feel of a tiller, frees up space in the cockpit, and offers the helmsman a variety of seating positions while steering. We liked being able to steer with the whipstaff just as you would with a tiller (sort of) or to sit on the seat in the center of the stern and steer as you would with a wheel. ETAP may be on to something.
PDQ's electrical system
The PDQ 42 Antares's electrical system is exemplary. Batteries are well secured and stored in a vented battery box, bus bars are oversized, wiring and cables are well-marked and meet ABYC standards, and overall installation is impeccable.
Hunter's 9-foot, 11-inch Xcite represents the leading edge of boatbuilding technology, which is radically changing the way some small boats are built. Gone are the countless hours necessary to build a hand-laid fiberglass boat. Instead, tough plastic hulls can be popped off a male mold using Hunter's Advanced Composite Technology in a matter of minutes for a fraction of the cost of a similar-size fiberglass boat. The result is a moderately priced, extremely durable hull that's perfectly suited for entry-level boats and maybe a whole lot more. Stay tuned.
Catalina's accommodations plan
Kudos to the design team responsible for the Catalina 350's well-executed accommodations plan. It appears they have unlocked the riddle of how to fit all the space and amenities of a 40-foot boat into a 35-foot hull. All components–the galley, saloon settee, stowage, and size and shape of the cabins–fit together beautifully. It was one of the roomiest interiors we saw on a mid-size boat.
With its large-diameter wheel, open transom, teak decking, and room to accommodate a racing crew, the Swan 45 garnered high marks for its efficient and elegant deck plan. Lines are led under the deck to keep work areas free of clutter, a double-ended mainsheet and traveler lead to winches close to the helm station, and visibility from the helm is superb. Judges also agreed that the feel and responsiveness of the helm and the boat's acceleration in light winds were extraordinary.