With Sailing World‘s 2024 Boat of the Year Awards performance tests are about to get under in Annapolis in October we look back on the previous winners of the past six editions. Safe to say the independent judges have chosen proven winners and these boats continuing to thrive on racecourses around thew world.
“Like a runaway, the Beneteau First 36 careens across a westerly-whipped Chesapeake Bay. The boat’s big-shouldered spinnaker and mainsail are silhouetted in the early October morning light. It’s making trees on the Eastern Shore as we peg the throttle down to keep chase in a 19-foot RIB. The four crewmembers on board are having a casual conversation—like no big deal—when a cold and meaty gust fills the spinnaker. The leech flickers, and the boat surges forward onto plane. Twin rudders zipper the slick streaming out from the transom as the helmsman, hands at 10 and 2 on the carbon steering wheel, effortlessly weaves the boat across waves tops. The boat is, as the saying goes, on rails.
“Wicked,” is how senior Boat of the Year judge Chuck Allen summarizes his experience when he steps off. “That boat is going to be hard to beat.”
Three days and 10 boats later, nothing comes close to usurping the Beneteau First 36 as the obvious and unanimous Boat of the Year, a boat that has been a long time coming and overdue. It’s a boat that will serve many masters.”
Out yonder in the vast cornfields of Wisconsin, boatbuilders in Tyvek suits are infusing polyester glass hulls as fast as they can, buffing out one gleaming white dinghy nearly every 66 hours in a full-tilt routine to place the latest American-made dinghy into the hands of sailors clamoring to get a piece of the new great thing in small-craft sailing: the remarkably versatile Melges 15, our 2022 Boat of the Year. No longer shall youth and adult sailors be cast to their individual dinghy classes, and our judges agree. This one allows all ages to play together in one remarkable 15-footer.
“It’s stable, forgiving and accessible to a wide swath of physiques, a platform where you can learn to sail it and then transition quickly to racing,” says Eddie Cox, the youngster of Melges Performance Sailboats who’s been involved with the Melges 15’s development from inception to launch. “The boat fits a wide variety of sailors, and that’s what our goal was. It’s family-orientated sailing, which is important to us because that’s how Melges boats are.”
“Beneath the red, white and blue vinyl wrap, the Sun Fast 3300 is a remarkable hull form, drafted by Jeanneau’s Daniel Andrieu and Guillaume Verdier, designer of the wicked 100-footer Comanche and a long list of fast boats. The hull shape can best be described as powerful, and most definitely designed for the big-deal races in Europe.
Jeanneau’s Mike Coe says the boat targets the shorthanded scene and might someday be considered a candidate for the 2024 Olympic offshore discipline, but in the meantime, the big event for new owners is the doublehanded Transquadra Race, from France to Martinique. In Europe, Coe says, it’s all about windy, downwind races, but for North America, the right boat has to get upwind, in light air too.”
“There is no such thing as the right boat for everyone, but there is the right boat for the right time. For today’s fervent offshore racing soloists and doublehanded teammates, that boat — right here, right now — is the Figaro Beneteau 3.
This pint-sized ocean racer isn’t just another cruisy crossover from Beneteau, the powerhouse of production boatbuilding. There is zero intent of comfort below its low-slung deck, unless your idea of luxury is a white, wet and noisy fiberglass cavern. It’s not just a beastly Class 40 type, either.
For righting moment and power, it doesn’t rely on hundreds of pounds of seawater sloshing ballast tanks. For Figaro Beneteau 3, there are two unmistakable arcing carbon side foils projecting from slots in its topsides. The foils are no gimmick. Beneteau, nor Figaro face fanatics, don’t do gimmicks.”
“It’s easy to become enamored with the luxury-level construction and cabinetry, but all the bells and whistles that will allow an owner to play off-grid are equally impressive. “This is the first boat we’ve seen in a long time where it was as good-looking at the dock as it sails,” says Tom Rich, a custom race-boat builder himself who can spot a shortcut or shoddy workmanship with one eye closed. “With the construction of this boat, I couldn’t find a single thing to complain about,” he says. “It’s really impressive what they’ve done with so many man-hours.”
The judges agree that a boat of this size and complexity demands a full-time boat captain, ideally one that’s involved in the build, the sailing and the upkeep. To race it will also require a few paid hands to get it around the track, and eight to 10 experienced hands, especially for races involving overnight action.
“We’ve made sure this design is race-ready,” says Morrelli. “The 66 is for an owner who wants to race and cruise, but it’s a big boat, and unless an owner has significant experience, they will need a pro or two to help.”
“The hulls of the Diam 24 One Design may be white, but the boat is a black sheep in the sportboat flock. As an alternative to 20-something keelboat lookalikes, our 2017 Boat of the Year and Best Multihull is an overdue addition to the one-design menu.
The judges’ choice for overall winner was unanimous. “This is the first time in many years where a boat that looked really sexy at the dock actually outperformed everything on the water too,” says judge Tom Rich, a veteran boatbuilder. The sensation of wind and water rushing beneath the Diam’s trampoline is an experience that will leave first-timers wondering what took them so long to try a multihull.
“It’s designed to be technically accessible and not too complicated to sail,” says Duncan Ross, who represents the Diam 24 One Design’s French builder, ADH Inotec. “The systems are simple. It’s built for racers looking for something a little more exciting but [who] want strict one-design racing.”