Before I ever saw Sailing World’s 2007 Boat of the Year (BOTY) judges anywhere near a boat, I had the chance to see them deliberate in a place a little less nautical-the grocery store. During the ten days the judges spend testing boats in Annapolis, Md., they stay together at a rented house, sharing bathrooms, household chores, and cooking duties. When it comes to groceries, each judge has his assignment. On Sunday, Chuck Allen was on meat, Meade Gougeon, vegetables, and Alan Andrews, soft drinks. For Andrews, president of Alan Andrews Yacht Design, the crowded docks of the U.S. Sailboat Show may have been easier to navigate than the aisles of the Giant Eagle supermarket. “Normally I just push the cart for my wife,” said Andrews as he carried out a bewildered search for Diet Coke and Gatorade. Back at the house, however, the judges’ marine expertise amazingly transformed itself into culinary mastery. Gougeon, whose founding role in Gougeon Brothers Inc. makes him the godfather of epoxy, prepared a Mediterranean-style salad with romaine hearts, feta cheese, and Spanish olives. “Cooking is chemistry,” he declared. Allen is northeast sales director for North Sails One Design, and self-appointed BOTY grillmaster. He bathed a six-pack of steaks in a special Montreal marinade, scrubbed the grill surface until it shined, and used his “double-flip” grilling method to cook each steak to a perfect pink. What does this have to do with sailboats? Not much. But rest assured that the same care the BOTY judges put into their cooking also goes into their boat-testing. On Monday morning, while inspecting the Pixel, a 13-foot doublehanded dinghy nominated for the contest, the judges grilled the Pixel/Nearwater representative, Wes Oliver, like they did the steaks the night before. Gougeon quizzed him about the hull laminate; Allen asked him about the boat’s self-bailing capability; Andrews surveyed the rigging and sail controls; all three got on their hands and knees to examine the rudder’s leading edge. When on-the-water testing begins Tuesday, the judges will put each of the 19 nominated boats through extensive sea trials on Chesapeake Bay. Last year, 30-knot winds didn’t stop these guys from pushing the limits of each boat’s sail plan. They hoisted spinnakers, pounded to windward, and kept at it until the manufacturer’s representatives onboard turned green in the face. Over the next week, judges Gougeon, Andrews, and Allen will be sailing hard and cooking judiciously. If it’s true you can tell a lot about a person by the way they cook their steak, then the 2007 BOTY judges are a group of highly capable connoisseurs.