Cruising World Boat of the Year Judges sail and test boats for 2021.
12 Sailboats Vie for Boat of the Year Honors
In the midst of a pandemic, and with the fall boat shows—including the “big one,” the US Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland—canceled up and down the coasts, the fate of our 2021 Boat of the Year contest was very much in doubt. But with a bit of creative thinking, some luck, and the assistance of a persistent group of builders, brokers and sailors, a fleet of 12 strong nominees emerged, and a series of terrific tests were conducted from New England to Florida. When the spray had settled, there were prizes to pass out…including one to an overall winner—a tidy, peppy French catamaran—that surprised even us.
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Excess 11: Boat of the Year for 2021
Out of a fleet of a dozen new models, no other sailboat did as many things well as the Excess 11, which earned it the title of 2020 Boat of the Year.
When you test the fleet of new boats that are introduced every year—year in and year out, as we at Cruising World have been doing with our annual Boat of the Year contest for over two decades now—you begin to identify the shifting trends in boat design and construction as they inevitably occur. (Remember the total proliferation of “deck/saloon” layouts?) For 2021, as we put the dozen yachts that cleared the COVID-19 hurdles to become BOTY nominees through their paces, we began to sense some themes shared by many of the entrants that were unmistakable. It was beyond coincidental.
Superior sailing performance should always be a common denominator in any collection of solid, well-conceived sailboats, but for 2021, it seemed to be a higher priority than in previous years. Which is very cool. With that a given, what struck our judges even more strongly was the way in which space was allocated aboard the nominees, and moreover, that the designers and builders of monohulls and multihulls alike were seeking similar solutions: This is new because catamaran and monohull sailors have often striven—it seemed to us—to underscore their differences, not their similarities.
By the very nature of their form and utility, working spaces and social spaces on sailing craft have always been somewhat segregated. As they need to be. But what if there were a concerted effort to assimilate the two, where the designer strives to incorporate the saloon and/or cockpit with the helm stations and/or sailhandling areas? And so that there isn’t a delineated definition between the “sailors” and “passengers,” but rather integrated areas that make the entire experience more fun and rewarding for all?
We saw it again and again this year, on the luxury, million-dollar semicustom marvels like the HH 50 cat and the Hylas 60 monohull, as well as the pure production cruisers like the Beneteau Oceanis Yacht 54 and the Dufour 530.
But nowhere did we see space used in such a thoughtful, pleasant, workable, innovative manner than in a pair of new French catamarans: the 37-foot Excess 11 and the 45-foot Excess 15.
Which made us dig a bit deeper. And we suddenly realized that no single nominee did so many things as well as the simple little Excess 11. Certainly no other boats used space so effectively. Sure, the features might be more compact, but there’s a real nav station, a good galley, an expansive owner’s cabin, tramps forward, an effective cockpit…all the boxes are well-checked. Then there was the fact that, other than the Corsair 880 sportboat, no boat was less expensive. And while plenty of boats sailed as well as the 11—as one would expect on larger boats with longer waterlines—relatively speaking, none sailed any better.
Which is when it dawned on us: The Excess 11 was 2021′s Overall Boat of the Year.
Wow. What a surprise.
We’ll confess that when the Excess brand was launched just this past year, we didn’t totally get the concept. After all, the brand’s parent company, Groupe Beneteau, already had a well-established catamaran fleet in its stable: Lagoon. You need more cats? Really? Was Excess meant to be a bargain brand?
The answer is an emphatic no. The growing Excess line is a smart, well-reasoned entity on its own. And now it is beginning to make its mark.