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When all was said and done, some serious numbers had been crunched. For Cruising World’s 2015 Boat of the Year contest, an eclectic fleet of 19 new yachts ranging in size from 32- to 57-feet received nominations as entries at last fall’s U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland. And then the fun started.

BOAT OF THE YEAR 2015 GUNBOAT 55Over the next 10 days, an independent judging panel spent nearly 60 hours conducting dockside inspections and sea trials, in winds ranging from a mere zephyr to over 30-knots. At the close of each day’s sailing on Chesapeake Bay, the judges convened to deliberate on the merits of each boat, adding another 12 hours to the process. The transcripts of these sessions are the length of a good book: over 150 single-spaced typed pages and 80,000 words.

Yes, they had a lot to talk about, ultimately choosing a half-dozen winning boats in six classes determined by size and/or purpose. The judges also honored a pair of very different boats as 2015’s biggest winners. From a field of five nominees made in the U.S.A., they named the Gunboat 55 the Domestic Boat of the Year. From the 14 yachts built in China, Croatia, Denmark, Germany and France, respectively, they chose the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349 as the Import Boat of the Year. It was the first time in the contest’s history that the field’s most expensive – the Gunboat, at a cool $2.1 million – and least expensive – the Jeanneau, at $125 grand – entries were so honored.

All in all, the 2015 Boat of the Year contest was one of the more interesting and unusual ever, with an impressive roster of entrants and winners. Scroll down to discover why.




BOAT OF THE YEAR 2015 GUNBOAT 55Gunboat founder Peter Johnstone was at the helm of his latest creation, the Nigel Irens-designed Gunboat 55, when a 30-knot squall, with blinding sideways rain, raked Chesapeake Bay during our BOTY sea trials. It was, in a word, surreal. Outside, as the powerful catamaran ripped along under full main and screacher, topping off at over 20-knots of boat speed, the horizon was a blur. Yet in the enclosed main cabin – with its centered wheel, its adjacent suite of winches and sail controls just forward of the steering pedestal, and its full 360-degree visibility – not only was it dry and cozy, it was downright serene. You actually had to look twice, or a third time, at the B&G wind and speed instruments to fully grasp the forces in play. With regards to the space/time continuum, sailing this Gunboat put one in an altered state.


BOAT OF THE YEAR 2015 GUNBOAT 55For 2015, the three-boat Multihull division consisted of a trio of interesting catamarans, though in many ways they couldn’t have been more different from one another. In size and price, the Gunboat 55, the inaugural offering from the company’s new plant in Wanchese, North Carolina, was in a league of its own. At 50-feet, the Saba 50, from the popular French builder Fountaine-Pajot, was a boat that could appeal to private owners as well as charter fleets. And veteran catamaran sailor, builder and broker Phil Berman’s Balance 451, the first model from a new enterprise he’s launched in China, was a dedicated, live-aboard bluewater cruiser for a couple or family.

But for 2015, the Gunboat 55 would not be denied. And that’s saying something, given that the price tag, which is north of $2 million – “It’s for one percent of the one percent,” said judge Ed Sherman – would make it prohibitively expensive for most BOTY contests. However, the Gunboat was so innovative, so well executed, and so damn cool that the judging panelists were unanimous in their praise and selection. And hey, we can all dream, right?

BOAT OF THE YEAR 2015 GUNBOAT 55“The Gunboat 55 is the first of what looks poised to possibly be a long run of this design,” said Murphy.
“I was really stunned – I guess that’s the word – with how many things I felt they got right. The construction is infused carbon fiber and West System epoxy, it’s stiff and light, all top notch. The helm and workstation, all inside the main cabin, not outside as with previous Gunboats, is a marvel of design and engineering. It is the most expensive boat in the competition, but we’ve had previous Gunboats in BOTY that were also expensive but didn’t win their class because we saw real flaws with them. Not here. This one they’ve really gotten right.”

“I love the Gunboat,” concluded Sherman. “It’s a very high-tech product that’s assembled beautifully, with great attention to detail and with high-quality equipment. No, it’s not for everybody. But I feel it’s a good example of what American craftsmanship can be. I really believe that.”

by Herb McCormick and cruisingworld.com

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