Dave’s Weta 368
I’m a firm believer in the old saying that if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t saying anything at all. But this once, I have a barb I need to throw: when it comes to the business of distinguishing the “best” new production boats each year, our competitors in the sailing media come up short, way short. Simply inspecting a boat at the dock and never actually taking it for a sail isn’t sufficient due process to hand out an award with any sort of meat on it. It’s just a bone. Our Boat of the Year award, on the other hand, is something you can really sink your teeth into-when we select our top boats, we’ve actually sailed them. It’s the way we’ve been doing Boat of the Year for more than 20 years.
To ensure our winners are worthy of a Boat of the Year title, we invest heaps of time and money into our testing program, and as a result, it’s the most respected award in the boatbuilding industry. Pulling it off every year is a monumental logistical task that starts long before our team assembles the new-boat fleet in Annapolis, Md., following the U.S. Sailboat Show in October. We bring in expert independent judges to ensure the end results have zero editorial influence, and then task them with picking apart each new design as if they were considering buying it themselves. And they take this seriously. Sometimes they break boats. Sometimes the boats break them. But what matters most, be it in light air or heavy, is that the judges do bend on the sails, trim them in, and give every single boat a thorough shakedown-whether it’s ready for prime time or not.
The act of judging an object as unique as a sailboat is a challenge. Based on their individual experiences and backgrounds, each of our judges ultimately has their opinions of what makes a boat ideal for, say, daysailing, or handicap racing. My job, as the Boat of the Year director, in addition to managing the testing schedule and keeping the deliberations on track, is to ensure any such predispositions get eliminated through hours of intense debates. At the end of the week, the judges’ decisions-remember, I’m not a voting member of the panel-are based purely on the merits of each new boat: is it a good value, is it built well, does it sail to its numbers, and does it do what it is designed to do? The judges say with conviction that this year’s individual winners-the J/95, Summit 35, Beneteau First 40, J/97, and Weta Trimaran-are boats that you and I would love to race.
Since I didn’t have a say, I’ll take this opportunity to reveal my personal favorite. I don’t get to sail all the boats, but if the time and opportunity strikes, I will weasel my way onto a boat that really intrigues me. This year, it was the Weta Trimaran.
With the sun setting, and the judges and dealers looking on, I climbed into the yellow trimaran’s cockpit, sat out on the trampoline, tucked my feet under the hiking strap, put the tiller in my right hand, and pulled on the mainsheet with my left. The bows bounced over the chop, and then suddenly, as a 15-knot puff hit, the boat levitated and took me for a ride I’ll never forget. I’d never sailed anything with three hulls, but man, oh man, did this 40-minute experience give me a rush I hadn’t felt in years. If it weren’t for the falling darkness, I would’ve kept on sailing for hours.
I found my own Boat of the Year that day, and, using this issue as a guide, I encourage you to do the same. Call a dealer, go for a spin, and you’ll agree the only way to fully appreciate a boat is to put the wind in its sails.