The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Some of it is timing. Some of it is just the way of the world. Either way, it can be fascinating to see the evolution of the boatbuilding industry over the years, as has been evident in SAIL magazine’s annual Best Boats contest. Recently, for example, it really looked at times as if it was becoming a “multihull world,” so to speak, with cats and tris occupying an ever-larger segment of each new Best Boats class. Same thing with the ever-increasing size of the boats coming down the way, as the world’s production builders began inching their way into megayacht territory. The class of 2023, though, has largely turned these trends on their head. This is not to say there aren’t some fine new multihulls out there, including the Balance 442 and a number of other comfy-looking cruisers from Bali, Lagoon and Fountaine-Pajot. However, the monohull contingent is more than holding its own this time around. It also feels like a whole lot of mid-sized boats are leading the charge these days as opposed to the big boys. Examples include the J/45, the Dehler 38SQ and a pair of Beneteau’s in the mid-30ft range. Then, of course, there’s the latest inflatable skiff from France’s Tiwal. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, indeed! One thing that hasn’t changed is the way SAIL’s Best Boats panel will once again be fanning out across the industry throughout this year’s boat show season in search of its favorite new designs. Look for our selection of winners in SAIL’s January issue.
MOODY DS 41
The latest in Moody’s DS, or “deck saloon” line, the Moody DS 41 makes possible what Moody calls “living on one level,” in which the saloon and cockpit can be easily combined into a single barrier-free living space. Forward, the boat’s high-freeboard and equally high bulwarks ensure maximum safety, whether it be while checking the anchor or catching rays on the expansive forward lounging area. Twin helms well outboard provide good sightlines, while the boat’s double-headsail rig will make things that much easier for the crew. A protected inside helm station is located to port in the saloon, facilitating yet more comfort and safety. The DS41 can be equipped with auxiliary heating or air conditioning, depending on where you expect your sailing to take you.
LOA 41ft 1in BEAM 13ft 11in DRAFT 7ft 6in DISPLACEMENT 25,574lb SAIL AREA 893ft2 Moody, hanseyachtsag.com/moody/us
BENETEAU OCEANIS 34.1
For all that today’s sailing hardware makes it possible for shorthanded crews to handle larger and larger boats, there’s still something special about a well-found monohull in the mid-30ft range. Case in point, the Marc Lombard-designed Beneteau Oceanis 34.1, what looks to be a fine performance-cruiser with twin rudders, twin helms and an easy-to-handle rig with a self-tacking headsail. Blunt ends maximize the boat’s sailing length, and a retractable fin is available in addition to a standard or shoal L-shaped keel. A backstay-less rig means the boat is able to carry a high-aspect, square-top main, which will make for great fun, especially on a reach with an A-sail flying from the combination anchor roller/bowsprit. Good things really do come in smaller packages.
LOA 35ft 4in BEAM 11ft 9in DRAFT 6ft 7in (std.); 4ft 11in (shoal); 4ft 1in (retractable keel up) DISPLACEMENT 12,046lb SAIL AREA 531ft2 Beneteau, beneteau.com
BENETEAU FIRST 36
For four decades Beneteau’s “First” line has striven to find that elusive “sweet spot,” as the French builder puts it, between comfort, performance, utility, high-tech construction and price point; and it looks like the company has come up with yet another “sweet” design, indeed, with its recently launched First 36. Designed by Samuel Manuard with structural work done by Pure Design & Engineering, the First 36 is intended to bridge the gap between the high-tech world of grand prix racing and mainstream racer-cruisers. To this end, the boat is said to be fully capable of planing in a moderate breeze, while still boasting sufficient accommodations to keep you and your crew plenty comfortable between races. Two distinct layouts are available: a cruising layout, with increased cockpit seating and a nice, big cockpit table; and a racing version, with a more open cockpit designed for shorthanded or fully-crewed sailing. Either version looks like a blast to sail, whether it be in ghosting conditions or when there’s a breeze on.
LOA 36ft 1in BEAM 12ft 6in DRAFT 7ft 5in (std.) DISPLACEMENT 10,580lb, SAIL AREA 860ft2 Beneteau, beneteau.com
A true “performance cruiser,” the Dehler 38SQ is one of those boats that lets sailors have their cake and eat it too by offering a combination of performance and comfort. An assertive-looking fixed bowsprit, plumb bow, slippery hull form with a refreshingly narrow beam and an optional square-top main all serve notice as to what this boat is capable of. Other performance-oriented details include flush-mounted, retractable footrests and extra high stanchions. Twin helms control a single spade rudder. Three rigs are available: standard, competition aluminum and competition carbon. Belowdecks, Hanse has exploited every opportunity to bring in as much natural light as possible to complement the many different finish and textile selections on offer. Interior options include two or three cabins and three different chart table configurations.
LOA 38ft 2in BEAM 12ft 4in DRAFT 6ft in (std), 7ft 5in (competition), 5ft 3in (short) DISPLACEMENT 16,534lb (std.), 15,432 (competition); 16,755 (shoal) SAIL AREA 846ft2 (std.); 900ft2 (aluminum competition); 911ft2 (carbon) Hanse Yachts, hanseyachtsag.com
Like the rest of its siblings in the Dufour range, the Dufour 32 is a sporty yet easy to handle boat complete with comfortable accommodations. The latter is achieved in part by creating a number of multi-use spaces both on deck and below. Case in point: the boat’s foldable tiller, which allows the skipper to enjoy smooth steerage and instant feedback under sail while also providing guests with plenty of cockpit space on the hook. Despite the focus on performance, the deck has many of the hallmarks of a large cruiser, including an aft sunbathing area and a removable, innovative inflatable aft cockpit “door,” which folds down into a water-level platform, adding square footage to the recreation space. The deck is available in either performance or standard versions, with options for things like mainsheet placement on the cockpit sole or out of the way on the coachroof.
LOA 33ft 10in BEAM 10ft 10in DRAFT 6ft 2in DISPLACEMENT 10,802lb, SAIL AREA 603ft2 Dufour, dufour-yachts.com
Elan Impression 50.1
The largest yacht in the Elan Impression family, the 50.1 offers spacious sailing for charter or cruising. Twin helms and twin rudders come standard. Ergonomically designed U-shaped cockpit seating will naturally keep the skipper in the conversation while still providing plenty of space for whoever is at the helm to do their thing. A modular split table serves to keep access to the companionway clear. This same table can also be repositioned to convert the cockpit bench into a sunbed. Harken and Seldén hardware are standard. The hull is built using what Elan calls its “VAIL” (vacuum infusion lamination) process, which in combination with a carefully engineered laminate plan and the use of 3D VAIL stringers ensures uniform resin distribution throughout. A vinylester outer skin helps prevents osmosis. Aft, there’s a large “garage” just forward of the drop-down swim platform for storing things like a liferaft, tender or other large items.
LOA 49ft 10in BEAM 15ft 4in DRAFT 7ft 4in (std.); 6ft 1in (shallow) DISPLACEMENT 28,367lb, SAIL AREA 1,170ft2 Elan, elan-yachts.com
The Hanse 460 combines easy sailing with easy living, making for an all-around simple, luxurious package. All the sailhandling can be done from the twin helms via a single set of winches, keeping the rest of the cockpit clear for entertaining or stretching out in. The option of a second set of winches is also available, as is electric furling. The comparatively large sail area and Berret-Racoupeau designed hull work together to optimize stability and performance. Swapping out the self-tacking jib for a 105 percent Genoa will boost your speed even more, while going with the optional furling reacher on a second forestay will be great for improving upwind and reaching performance in lighter air. Belowdecks, the 460 is available with a wealth of layout options that can be easily mixed and matched in accordance with each owner’s sailing style.
LOA 47ft 11in BEAM 15ft 9in DRAFT 5ft 9in/7ft 4in DISPLACEMENT 27,778lb, SAIL AREA 1,140ft2 Hanse, hanseyachts.com
The Hallberg-Rassy 400 is exactly the kind of boat you’d want for some truly adventurous sailing—a real sailor’s boat. Twin helms and twin rudders provide a combination of great sightlines forward and rock-solid control at all angles of heel. The mainsheet block is attached directly ahead of the boat’s trademark Hallberg-Rassy windscreen. All control lines are led aft to electric winches. Line tails can be tucked away in designated rope bags. In the event the crew has to go forward, there are good grab points forward to the mast. The headsail can be either slightly overlapping or self-tacking. The combination bowsprit/anchor makes possible the option of flying a gennaker for better reaching speeds. Blunt ends and a nicely sculpted cabintrunk combined with just a touch of sheer create a look that is both purposeful and attractive.
LOA 40ft 4in BEAM 38ft 6in DRAFT 6ft 4in DISPLACEMENT 24,250lb, SAIL AREA 970ft2 Halberg-Rassy, hallberg-rassy.com
One of the cool things about Italia Yachts is its commitment to both speed and aesthetics in the tradition of yachting’s Golden Age. To this end the 11.98 is available in two distinct iterations depending on your sailing style: a sport version, optimized for racing; and a Bellissima version, providing a little more in the way of creature comforts afloat. Designed by Matteo Polli in cooperation with Italia’s in-house design team, the hull is the same in both versions and like the company’s very successful 9.98, optimized to do well under multiple handicapping protocols. That said, the 11.98 is also plenty comfortable belowdecks, with the Bellissima version, in particular, offering elegance to burn. Multiple keel types are available, as are either aluminum or carbon spars. Cruisers have the option of going with twin wheels. Hardcore racers can order a tiller.
LOA 39ft 4in BEAM 13ft DRAFT 6ft 9in (Bellissima version) DISPLACEMENT 13,668lb, SAIL AREA 1,000ft2 Italia Yachts, italiayachtsinternational.com
As is the case with the rest of the ltalia line, the Italia 14.98 is available in two distinct iterations: a Bellissima version, for those in search of maximum comfort afloat; and a Fuoriserie version, for those with racing in mind. Don’t be fooled, though, by the cruising version’s more benign sounding designation. With its blunt ends (and resulting long waterline); towering triple-spreader rig; combination sprit/anchor roller; and sleek hull lines, the boat promises to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing on the racecourse. As for the racing version, look out! A wide-open cockpit design, open transom, aggressive fixed bowsprit, rod rigging and high-efficiency mast profile all suggest the boat will be a true weapon, whether offshore or around the buoys.
LOA 47ft BEAM 14ft DRAFT 6ft 2in (shoal); 9ft 10in (deep) DISPLACEMENT 22,597lb, SAIL AREA 1,442ft2 (Bellisima) Italia Yachts, italiayachtsinternational.com
A true offshore yacht in the fullest sense of the word, the J/45 is configured to be sailed or cruised by two or three couples or a large family. Being a J/Boat, the J/45 also offers plenty of performance for those interested in racing, all the while providing a seakindly motion in the rough stuff. The hull is constructed of a combination of biaxial and unidirectional E-glass with a foam core and a vinylester outer layer to help stave off osmotic blisters. J/Boat’s proven SCRIMP resin infusion process ensures a combination of laminate strength and weight savings that helps keep the boat’s center of gravity as low as possible. A tapered, fractional carbon fiber mast with double swept-back spreaders makes it clear the boat means business; however, the rig has also been configured in such a way that it can be easily depowered as the wind picks up to minimize the need for sail changes, making things easier on the crew.
LOA 45ft 6in BEAM 13ft 11in DRAFT 7ft 7in DISPLACEMENT 10,400lb, SAIL AREA 1,303ft2 J/Boats, jboats.com
There are plenty of new boats that go down the ways each year, but precious few of them are in a class with the LM46. Designed by Kiwi naval architect Kevin Dibley and built by the Lyman-Morse yard up in Thomaston, Maine, this spectacular new racer-cruiser features a cold-molded hull of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, with heartbreakingly elegant lines and a powerful rig, complete with square-top main. Although it’s intended to hit 10-knot-plus speeds with little difficulty, the boat is also designed to be as easy to sail as possible in the interest of making a great little daysailer and cruiser as well. Twin helms provide clear sightlines forward, while the boat’s drop-down transom affords no-step access to and from a dinghy. All sail-handling can be done from the cockpit, thanks to the boat’s roller-furling jib, detachable staysail and mainsail furling system. Belowdecks, the boat’s “Herreshoff” style white bulkheads and varnished trim make it real looker to relax in during dirty wearther as well as an outstanding sailer.
LOA 45ft 8in BEAM 13ft 5in DRAFT 6ft (shoal); 7ft 7in (std.); 10ft (deep) DISPLACEMENT 24,750lb (std.), SAIL AREA 1,183ft2 Lyman-Morse, lymanmorse.com
It’s always fun seeing the latest from Denmark’s X-Yachts, a company long associated with excellence. Granted, in the case of the X43, we’re talking about an upgrade of an existing design. But not surprisingly given we’re talking X-Yachts here, the 2.0 version of this already fine yacht incorporates far more than just a facelift. Changes include a redesigned hull shape incorporating wider stern sections above the waterline, a point of max beam brought a little farther aft and soft chines. The result is a boat with better downwind performance and some additional cockpit space for either trimming sail or just stretching out in. Other changes include a taller mast, longer sprit and an all new deck and cabintrunk. One thing that hasn’t changed is what looks to be a great performance under sail, especially when the wind picks up.
LOA 43ft 5in BEAM 13ft 1in DRAFT 6ft 1in (shoal); 7ft 3in (std.); 8ft 2in (deep) DISPLACEMENT 20,723lb, SAIL AREA NA X-Yachts, x-yachts.com
Though the smallest of Neel’s trimarans, the Neel 43 is no less impressive. As with the rest of the Neel line, for example, the boat doesn’t lack for either accommodation or storage space, with eight berths (three doubles and two singles forward in each ama) and a large “garage” set low in the central hull for holding things like the engine, tanks and tools. Also like its predecessors, the 43 features what Neel calls its “cockloon,” a versatile living space that allows for free movement between the indoor and outdoor areas, all protected by an expansive hardtop. The hulls and deck are constructed of a vacuum-infused composite sandwich with carbon-fiber reinforcements. A narrow central hull, svelte amas and a powerful rig promise the same sparkling performance Neel has long been known for.
LOA 43ft BEAM 24ft 6in DRAFT 4ft 11in DISPLACEMENT 18,000lb, SAIL AREA 1,096ft2 Neel Trimarans, neel-trimarans.com
The Bali Catspace is most definitely not a racing boat. However, if you want comfort afloat and plenty of room for your sailing friends, this aptly named Bali is the vessel for you. “Rarely,” Bali claims, “has a catamaran of this size offered so much habitable volume,” and they’re not kidding. Aft, a large “tilt-and-turn” door allows you to combine the cockpit, saloon and galley into a single vast living space. Topsides, there’s also an oh-so-comfortable flybridge lounge just aft of the boat’s single wheel, while forward is yet another lounging area between the two bows. Belowdecks, you have the option of an owner’s version, in which the entire port hull is given over to the master cabin, or a “Family” version with four separate cabins, each with a double berth and separate heads. As advertised, aboard the Bali Catspace there’s room for a crowd and then some.
LOA 40ft 5in BEAM 21ft 7in DRAFT 3ft 7in DISPLACEMENT 20,600lb, SAIL AREA NA Bali/Catana Group, bali-catamarans.com
Bali is known for building comfortable boats that are simple to sail, making them ideal vacation boats, and the 4.2 looks to be another successful example of the type. The mast is set relatively far back, making for a smaller main and larger headsail. This in turn means you can expect the loads on the main to be more manageable, an especially nice feature when sailing shorthanded, as is often the case while chartering. Stanchions and lifelines not only run all the way to the bows, they also wrap around the furling headsail to create a wonderfully guarded space forward in conjunction with a pair of bow seats for watching the waves go by. Additional lounging areas include a forward cockpit, an aft cockpit and a fully equipped lounging space on the flybridge for maximum comfort. The single helm station is raised to starboard.
LOA 42ft BEAM 23ft 2in DRAFT 4ft DISPLACEMENT 28,219lb, SAIL AREA 968ft2 Company Bali Catamarans, bali-catamarans.com
Bali cruising catamarans have long been all about living space, and the Bali 4.4 is no exception. Most obvious are the boat’s elevated and forward lounging stations. The latter, in particular, has in many ways become a Bali trademark. Not so apparent is the way the walk-through orientation of the saloon combined with a plethora of large cabintrunk windows causes the barriers between the indoor and outdoor spaces to nearly disappear in such a way you can still enjoy the great outdoors while getting in out of the weather. Topsides, a pair a narrow, tumblehome bows serve to maximize the boat’s sailing length and help the Bali 4.4 slice its way through the chop. A high-aspect square-top main similarly maximizes the boat’s sail area, while the boat’s self-taking jib makes life that much easier on the crew. An A-sail can also be flown off a sprit in the light stuff.
LOA 43ft 11in BEAM 24ft 4in DRAFT 4ft 2in DISPLACEMENT 30,465lb, SAIL AREA 1,270ft2 Bali Catamarans, bali-catamarans.com
With its wave-piercing tumblehome bows, no-nonsense, angled cabintrunk and towering square-top main, the recently launched Balance 442 is a “Balance” through and through. The boat’s narrow hulls include a vinylester outer skin for osmosis protection with a high-performance E-Glass laminate foam core and carbon structural elements in high-load areas. The result is a boat offering exceptional stiffness and lightweight at a still fairly reasonable price point. Daggerboards serve to maximize performance, no matter what your angle of sail, and the bows include a crash box aft of each stem in the interest of safety. The boat also sports a trademark Balance Versahelm, which can be raised or lowered, providing the person at the wheel a means of keeping clear of the wind and spray. All in all, a great design for anything and everything from daysailing to passagemaking.
LOA 44ft 4in BEAM 24ft 11in DRAFT 3ft 10in (boards up); 7ft 1in (boards down) DISPLACEMENT 23,704lb, SAIL AREA 1,205ft2 Balance Catamarans, balancecatamarans.com
Fountaine-Pajot has hit on a very distinct and satisfying aesthetic in recent years, with the Aura 51 serving as the latest example. A pair of elegantly sculpted tumblehome bows combined with chines, a dramatic reverse sheer and reverse transoms create a look that is as purposeful as it is sophisticated. Amidships is an angular-looking cabintrunk with an extended hardtop aft that not only integrates nicely with the boat’s hulls but serves as an anchor for the boat’s main traveler and the foundation for an elevated lounging area aft of the helm station. Forward is another comfy-looking lounging area, with the saloon and aft cockpit creating a truly massive combined living space for those looking to get in out of the sun. As part of the company’s ongoing push for sustainable sailing, there’s also a wealth of space for mounting solar panels. A powerful rig provides plenty of get up go no matter what the sailing conditions.
LOA 51ft BEAM 26ft 6in DRAFT 4ft 4in DISPLACEMENT 40,000lb, SAIL AREA 1,657ft2 Fountaine-Pajot, catamarans-fountaine-pajot.com
A product of the veteran VPLP design office, the Lagoon 55 is a cruising cat that offers a wealth of space to stretch out in. Where other cruising cats have raised lounging areas aft of the helm, the Lagoon 55 has an elevated lounging station complete with hardtop. Where other cats have a small forward lounge, the Lagoon 55 has a full-on forward cockpit-like space complete with a retractable fabric awning and small drinks table. As many as six separate cabins can be had, each with its own individual head and shower arrangements. In the words of the manufacturer, “With plenty of room for gathering, dining, sunbathing, sleeping or even dancing, the Lagoon 55 has space for it all,” and they’re not exaggerating. It would hard to think of a better board aboard which to relax and enjoy the watery part of the world!
LOA 54ft 4in BEAM 29ft 6in DRAFT 5ft 1in DISPLACEMENT 58,433lb, SAIL AREA 1,948ft2 Lagoon, cata-lagoon.com
Nautitech 44 Open
Designed with the help of input from a selection of owners and skippers already sailing the Nautitech 40 and Nautitech 46, the Nautitech 44 is configured, in the words of its builder, to be a “perfect owner’s boat.” Perhaps the biggest addition is what Nautitech calls its “SmartRoom”—a multi-functional space in the forward starboard cabin area meant to fill the needs of distance cruisers who might want a washing machine, workshop, storage space or all of the above. Belowdecks, the Nautitech 44 offers an attractively sophisticated yet homey aesthetic, with particular attention given to creating a feeling of light and space via what Nautitech calls its “cinemascope” window design. On deck, Nautitech has kept its signature double helm stations aft, with all lines easily accessible for convenient checking and replacement. Narrow wave-piercing bows, a powerful rig and an aggressive sprit for flying A-sails all work together to provide what looks to be some truly outstanding performance, long a Nautitech trademark. Four configurations are available, offering two to four cabins with or without the SmartRoom.
LOA 43ft 8in BEAM 23ft DRAFT 4ft 9in DISPLACEMENT 22,046lb, SAIL AREA 1,130ft2 Nautitech, nautitechcatamarans.com
The just-released Tiwal 3R has some big shoes to fill, following in the wake of the Tiwal 2, which won a SAIL Magazine Best Boats award in 2019. Not to be confused with the Tiwal 3, which was released almost a decade ago, the Tiwal 3R is a completely new boat, with an “R” designation for racing and a more powerful rig that in turn prompted designer Marion Excoffon to also rethink the boat’s blades and hull structure making the boat faster still. Like the rest of the Tiwal range, the 3R’s hull is not only fully inflatable, but the entire boat packs down to fit into a pair of large duffel bags plus a sail bag. From start to finish, it takes less than a half-hour to assemble the 3R. This, combined with the fact the boat weighs a mere 120lb, makes it easy to transport and store, whether at home or aboard a larger “mother ship” when out cruising. The boat also promises to be a blast to sail!
LOA 10ft 6in BEAM 5ft 4in DRAFT N/A DISPLACEMENT 120lb, SAIL AREA 67 or 77ft2 Tiwal, tiwal.com
MINICAT 310 SPORT
The latest offering from Europe’s Minicat, the Minicat 310 Sport inflatable beach cat represents an all-new iteration of the company’s popular 310. Weighing in at just 77lb, the boat packs away into a single bag and can inflated and assembled on-site in less than a half-hour, opening up a wealth of otherwise inaccessible sailing grounds. No mere beach toy, the boat includes a host of impressive features, including a continuous-line roller-furling jib; fully-battened square-top mainsail; hiking straps; and a pair of low-aspect keels to help the boat track that much better sailing hard on the wind. The boat can even be fitted with a small outboard for use when things go light. Easy to singlehand, the boat has an overall carrying capacity of over 500lb, so feel free to take a friend. It would be downright selfish to keep so much fun all to yourself!