Bring on the monohulls! In a world increasingly given over to multihull sailing, SAIL magazine’s “Best Boats” class of 2020 brings with it a strong new group of keelboats, including everything from luxury cruisers nipping at the heels of their mega-yacht brethren to a number of great-looking new performance boats. There’s even a fun little inflatable from French-based Tiwal, a company that takes a back seat to no one where innovation is concern. Which is not to say multihulls are completely absent—far from it. The Best Boats class of 2020 has a number of strong cats and tris, not the least of which is the latest tri from award-winning Neel, that and a 53ft full-foiling “weekender.” Strange days, indeed! What follows is a list of all the boats SAIL’s judges will be examining over the coming months as part of its annual Best Boats contest. Be sure to check out our January issue to find out which ones they decide are the winners.
A truly striking design, the Beneteau First Yacht 53 offers much of what has helped push Beneteau to the forefront of modern boatbuilding in terms of both luxury and performance. Designed by America’s Cup veteran Roberto Biscontini, the First Yacht 53 combines an almost predatory-looking plumb bow and fixed sprit with maximum beam carried well aft, just a hint of reverse sheer and a high-aspect bulb keel and twin rudders: all in the interest of promoting performance. A carbon mast is available for those in search of even more giddyap-and-go, and both the hull and deck are vacuum-infused. Aft, the boat includes a dinghy garage below the cockpit sole and enclosed by a large drop-down swim platform. Belowdecks, the saloon, in particular, promises to be absolutely awash in ambient light, thanks to the boat’s many hatches and hull windows. Beneteau, beneteau.com
Described by Beneteau as being “easy to sail but lively to helm,” the Finot-Conq-designed Oceanis 30.1 offers an intriguing mix of features intended to accommodate a wide range of sailing styles. Chines, a fixed sprit, twin rudders, a plumb bow with a fine entry and a backstay-free rig to accommodate a square-top main all speak to a desire to create a boat that will do well on all points of sail. Belowdecks the boat offers not one, but two full-sized cabins, saloon benches that will double as fine sea berths and 6ft 6in of headroom. To keep things fun, owners will have the choice of a tiller or a wheel. Swing keel versions of the boat for “sailing along canals and rivers,” as Beneteau puts it, are also available. Beneteau, beneteau.com
Following up on the J/121, which won a SAIL Best Boat’s award in 2018, the new J/99 is similar in concept, with a deck layout and rig optimized for smaller crews in the interest of addressing the increasing interest in shorthanded racing both in the United States and abroad. Beyond that, the 33ft J/99 is vintage modern “J,” with its plumb ends, slippery “SCRIMP” infused hull, deep high-aspect rudder and similarly deep fin keel lead “shoe,” the latter designed to get the boat’s center of gravity as low as possible. As is the case the with the rest of the J/Boats fleet, the cockpit is a functional work of art, with plenty of room for trimming sail. J/Boats Inc., jboats.com
Group Beneteau, which already includes multihull giant Lagoon in its portfolio, is now looking to make a play to snatch up yet more market share with its Excess line of cruising cats—of which the Excess 12 and Excess 15 are the first two to be launched, and the Excess 12 will be the first to debut in North America. Designed by VPLP, the boats not unexpectedly bear some resemblance to their Lagoon brethren. However, they are also still very much their own boats, thanks to such features as twin outboard helm stations set well aft (in many ways the mark of a true performance cat), just a hint of reverse sheer to complement the boats’ plumb bows, and a high-aspect rig and square-top main. The company also equips each boat with a clever retractable roof in the cabintrunk aft to further open things up in nice weather. A turbocharged “pulse” version of each boat with yet more sail area is available for those in search of additional horsepower. It will be interesting to see how things play out for this new line of cats. Excess Catamaran, excess-catamarans.com
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