Every year, thousands of people head for the International Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md. Among those thousands will be Sailing World’s Boat of the Year (BOTY) judges. They’ll attend the final two days of the show, where they’ll get their first impressions of the 15 boats entered in this year’s contest, and the following week, while all the boats are still conveniently located nearby, they’ll test sail each nominee. Come the afternoon of Friday, October 12th, the judges will have chosen this year’s BOTY winners. But before all this gets going, we thought we’d give you a peek inside the process. Our judges this year include two veterans, Alan Andrews, designer of rocket ships like Magnitude 80 and Alchemy, and Chuck Allen, head of North Sails One-Design New England. Joining the team for his first-ever judging stint is Barrett Holby, builder of the Quest 33 and other raceboats. The dockside visits during the boat show are where the judges first see the entries and get the chance to talk with the builders about what the boats are all about. At this time, the judges will examine deck layout, gear choices, fit and finish, quality of materials, and construction techniques. They’ll open hatches, peer into engine compartments and lazarettes, and see how easy (or hard) it is to get at the guts of the steering system. They’ll also spend some time below checking out the accommodations– sitting at the nav station, stretching out in berths, opening and closing hatches, portlights, and access panels. They’ll talk about standard and optional equipment and the pricing of the boat.Following these initial inspections comes the best part of being a BOTY judge, the sailing. Since they’re evaluating the boats for SW readers, who are interested in performance and racing abilities, they’ll spend most of their time on deck, taking turns steering and handling the boat. The judges will spend about an hour-and-a-half on each boat, beginning with a quick check of how well the boat operates under power and what the typical cruising speeds are. The final part of the engine test is a hard turn to determine the boat’s turning radius.Then, up go the sails. Chesapeake Bay in October can be tricky, weather-wise. In some years we’ve seen terrific wind, in others, not so much. We try not to schedule any boat tests in the early morning, as there’s usually not a breath of air to be found; the sailing usually begins around 10:30 a.m. While hoisting and trimming the sails our judges look at cockpit design and deck layout, assessing how each boat’s designer handled the ergonomics challenge.Once the sails are up, Chuck Allen takes the wheel, or tiller, and we simulate a race start. We’ll pick a couple of crab trap buoys, set a timer, and off we’ll go, tacking, jibing, killing speed, and accelerating. Once the “gun” goes off, we’ll pretend we’ve hit one of the starting marks and perform a penalty circle or two. Once the dust has settled, the judges take turns steering the boat upwind and trimming the sails. They’ll look at speed, sheeting angles, tacking angles, and how well the boat tracks and settles into a groove. While one judge steers, the others continue their assessment of cockpit ergonomics and deck layout.Once each judge has had the chance to steer upwind, it’s time for some downwind fun. We’ll rig and set a spinnaker, and again, each judge will take turns steering and crewing. There’ll be several jibes, some pole-on-the-headstay reaching, and a speed assessment. For all speed trials, we use the same handheld GPS.While the judges are putting each boat through its paces, photographer Walter Cooper is busy shooting the boat’s every angle from the deck of our chaseboat, which will be provided this year by Zodiac. Once everyone’s had a chance to drive, we call the chaseboat over, jump in, and start looking for the next boat in line.Every evening, the judges compare notes and start the winnowing process. By Friday, after we’ve sailed the last boat, the serious conversations begin and the judges select winners in three or four categories plus an overall winner. They’ll know before they head home which boat’s been crowned, but you’ll have to wait until the January/February 2008 issue comes out in mid-December.For previews of the 19 BOTY entries, click here.