If you wanted to identify the best new yachts on the market how would you go about it? The obvious answer would be to set up a comparative on-water test, but with yards spread across the globe this presents a significant logistical hurdle.
Yachting World has been a jury member for the European Yacht of the Year awards since its inception in 2004, a programme that enables us to set up such comparative tests. The testing panel has grown to include 12 judges from across Europe, each leading voices on boat testing in their respective countries.
This time we were able to gather 14 shortlisted yachts at Port Ginesta in Barcelona for six days of testing. In terms of trends, 2019 saw the rise of the short-handed race boats. These are punchy pocket rockets of 30-35ft that can be tweaked and trimmed, plane easily and respond to the growing demand for racing fast with a smaller crew.
The 40-55ft monohull sector is dominated by fast cruisers, yachts that can be raced but are designed first and foremost for enjoyable, speedy cruising with minimal crew.
Cruising-orientated multihulls are also starting to edge further towards performance.
At the top end of the price bracket are some seriously impressive bluewater yachts that offer a perfected recipe in a ready to sail package.
In recent years performance cruisers have moved away from conventional cruiser-racers to fast and fun yachts with leisure-orientated decks and comfortable interiors. These boats can be handled easily, are a joy to sail at pace and may be optimized for occasional racing. And they always make for one of the tightest and most exciting categories.
The Italia 11.98 is perhaps the nominee slightly at odds with this description in that it is prioritizing the racing aspect – the second hull won the ORC Worlds soon after launch. Designer Matteo Polli explained that the company wanted to make this model competitive across the full wind range while still being straightforward to sail.
Unfortunately, this was the only trial for which I had no wind at all. However, with only white sails hoisted, the 11.98 never stopped ghosting along, while all other yachts were parked up or motoring. No surprise then that those judges who sailed it in the proper breeze were quickly smitten.
A deep rudder allows you to push it hard without having to reef early and the deck layout is impressive, in that any winch can handle most operations without chafing surfaces. Below decks is a light, stylish and very Italian looking interior, albeit compact, in three cabins and two heads.
Conversely, the new First 53 is not out of the First 40.7type cruiser-racer stable but aimed more at the luxury fast cruising end of the performance spectrum. Despite the aggressive, modern look there’s no traveler and the winches are designed to be in reach of the helmsman and used by short-handed crews rather than race teams.
You might expect this all-Italian design to come from a yard like Grand Soleil or Solaris, but it is designed and built to undercut such competition. Beneteau argues that the 5m/16ft 4in beam of the 53 provides the volume of a typical 55 but for the price of a 50.
Designers Roberto Biscontini and Lorenzo Argento both joined us for the trial and explained how the weight management was particularly impressive – the boat is designed to take a cruising payload plus add-ons such as teak decking yet still perform well.
Indeed, with anything over 4 knots of true wind we were able to match the breeze or surpass it with the aid of a Code 0. The steering is impressively direct, the helm lovely and light.
The interior is something new and different in both layout and finish. Argento insisted on curved furniture and fiddles, encouraging Beneteau to return to the more traditional method of using molded wood and this has paid off. Look out for our full test next month.
[Note: the RM 1180 was not able to make these trials.]
WINNER PERFORMANCE: X 4. 0
X-Yachts has taken its already brilliant X 4.6 and X 4.3 and refined them into what I consider to be the benchmark for today’s 40ft performance cruiser.
The X 4.0 is a superbly proportioned boat. It boasts an inviting saloon, with berths long enough to sleep on, a chart table, a proper galley you can cook in, and two (or three) double cabins, with headroom to gratify a lofty Dutchman.
It’s an equally well-rounded yacht to sail. Although the focus is on cruising, the cockpit set up can still suit racing. A delight on the helm, the X instantly instils a feeling of true quality. Sailing upwind in 15 knots, it felt supremely balanced – stiff, with plenty of rudder grip and feedback and a soft motion through the waves.
Reaching home under gennaker at 8-8.5 knots was as relaxing and enjoyable as fast cruising gets, and without anyone even tending a winch.
Verdict: The X40 provides an overriding feeling of reassurance. It’s a joy to sail from an ergonomic cockpit and looks good inside and out. This is a design that’s hard to fault. Priced from €257,500.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Skip Novak’s final adventure on pelagic Australis was a mission to save the Albatross
The J Way
This fast, but civilised, cruiser has a timeless appeal that will resonate with J/boats’ many long standing devotees
To the Edge
Taking a luxury cruiser to the margins of arctic ice, photographer Mike Jones experienced true wilderness sailing
The Wall of Sharks
Joshua Shankle explores French Polynesia’s ‘dangerous archipelago’ above and below the surface
5 Expert Tips
Shirley Robertson on offshore preparation
This year’s Atlantic Rally for Cruisers proved a reminder that no ocean crossing is ever straightforward. Rachael Sprot and Helen Fretter report
Remaking of a Classic
Crosbie Lorimer reports on a dramatic Rolex Sydney Hobart race
Special Report: Helen Fretter on Sailing With Young Children
Would you take your preschooler cruising? Or are toddlers and yachts a recipe for stress, sleep deprivation and restricted sailing?
Taken by the Wind
Memoirs of a 1970s Pacific voyage reveals a time when sailors had to rely on their own pilotage skills for safe passage
Taking on Big Weather
Heavy weather is not always avoidable. Andy Schell has expert advice on how to prepare for and handle the big stuff
The World of Superyachts
Multimillion-dollar yachts have never been more in demand. Here are some of the world’s most beautiful
The past, present and future of the oceans and yachting are of paramount importance at Yacht Club de Monaco
IWC launched the Portugieser Yacht Club 10 years ago into the sporty yet elegant world of sailing. For 2020, the nautical chronograph model has a classic look and a steel bracelet upgrade.
Surveying Boat Security
Important considerations to keep in mind when comparing security systems
Vagabonding under sail
While he is best remembered as the designer of a host of famous yachts including the Westsail, Pacific Seacraft, Cabo Rico, Dana 24 and Columbia, English-born W.I.B. Crealock (1920-2009) began his love affair with sailboats in 1948 when he and three friends sailed from England to British Guiana.
Inheriting The Sea
In some families, it's a watch. In others, a coin collection or a trove of old masters. But for a few, the most prized heirloom is the boat they've spent a lifetime of summers sailing.
Compulsive boat owner Clive Marsh explains why little luggers make perfect trailer-sailers
The Yacht Guide
The yacht space is getting bigger and better with time and with waterways being a safer way of commute amidst the pandemic, here’s a list of what is new for you or what has been updated or what a totally new segment has to offer.
The Most Impressive Yacht Releases We Can Expect To See On The High Seas Soon
A bounty of new yacht releases so far this year, both completed and currently being built, puts the spotlight on some of the biggest trends by leading boat builders – from eco-friendly attributes to rock star features. François Oosthuizen and Yanni Tan round up some of the most impressive vessels we can expect to see cruising the high seas soon.
Mike Simpson's Growing Passion For Yachting And The Sea
If one man could claim responsibility for affluent Asians’ growing passion for yachting and the sea, that might well be Mike Simpson. He tells his story to Jon Wall.