Toby Hodges takes a look at all the nominees and the winner of the performance yachts 2022 category in the European Yacht of the Year Awards
The European Yacht of the Year awards is the most thorough and impartial awards programme – the winners here are widely considered the best yachts of the year. As such the boats nominated by the jury in the performance yachts category can be considered the best of the best.
This year’s shortlist had the full range. From the more conventional definitive style of performance cruiser to the contemporary French interpretation of a lightweight planing cruiser – and even a new brand of sports catamarans for the thrill seekers.
Three Italian pure performance yachts and two very different yachts built in Slovenia made for a varied and exciting Performance Yachts category.
Best performance yachts
Winner best performance yachts 2023 – Beneteau First 36
Where once we could assume a cruiser-racer was a fairly standard format design, over the last decade it’s been much more the sexy, perormance yachts the Italian yards specialise in. But as French yards like Pogo and JPK have proven, there’s growing enthusiasm for lightweight planing yachts – and the First 36 is the first real production yacht in that spirit.
Here’s a yacht that puts the focus firmly back into sailing. The First 36 has been kept inviting and approachable – unlike many yachts that can plane, the look is modest, not aggressive. It’s uncomplicated, unfussy and the result is a pleasure for all to sail. It’s more about what you can’t see, the design and engineering, which should ensure longterm demand.
The small, fiddly heads compartment and lack of tiller options are perhaps the only real detraction from an otherwise brilliant collaboration by Seascape and Beneteau, from concept to build quality.
It was their goal to keep this area of the market relevant and prove a mainstream brand can do it, rather than only niche specialist yards. To create a mass produced yacht at this weight and to this foam-cored quality and one that can bring so much fun is a feather in the cap of the First brand.
The Grand Soleil 40 is an archetypal Med cruiser-racer, and an absolute delight to sail – a feature I’ve learned that Matteo Polli designs tend to share (he also drew the Ecoracer). We sailed the race set up with ORC keel (an IRC version is available too) and six winches, an extended bowsprit and a taller mast. It was one of my most memorable trials of the season in 10-12 knots, with the deep and forward positioned rudder giving plenty of control and lovely direct steering.
The three cabin interior can have one or two heads and different galley options, the cabins are a good size with modest stowage, and it’s all tastefully styled by masters Nauta.
Italia yachts 12.98
At 5ft longer and from the board of Cossutti (who Polli once worked under), the Italia Yachts 12.98 is another cruiser-racer in the same grain as the GS40, but with a markedly different looking white interior. We sailed the ‘Bellissima’ cruising version, which 80% of customers have opted for.
Italia’s yard is now in Fano and its one-shot infused vinylester build looks impressive. However, the deck lacks some refinement and practical stowage, while the three cabin interior isn’t voluminous by today’s standards.
This is a slippery yacht that has a lovely, light feel on the single rudder – the interior styling will be the deal breaker for most.
Solaris Yachts on the other hand has perfected its recipe, tripling its yard size to cater to demand for its sexy Acebal-designed performance yachts.
The Solaris 50 we tested in 2015 and which won this award was arguably the turning point that propelled the brand’s popularity. The owner of the new 50 we tested previously had the original 50 and a 58 and confirms this replacement has nearly the same space as the 58, yet is faster, more powerful and stable than its predecessor (we easily matched 7-8 knot winds under gennaker).
It heels onto its chine and accelerates well, while twin rudders provide ample control. The design prioritises helming experience but the yard needs to come up with a better helm seat option. The interior is well executed, especially the spacious forward owner’s cabin.
The Elan E6 is a big 47-footer, high and beamy and one that leans more towards spirited cruising with generous accommodation over racing. That said, extensive options allow you to tailor it either way, including foam cored furniture and a taller carbon mast for those looking for extra oomph.
It’s a fine collaboration between Humphreys Yacht Design, Gurit, Pininfarina and Elan, while an impressive standard spec includes a carbon sprit and six winches.
The E6 is fun to sail at various angles and gives a nice, sporty feel on the helm – it likes to heel but has plenty of grip and tracks well.
The cockpit is deep and comfortable, with good optional protection and there’s ample deck stowage. A really smart three (or four) cabin interior shows a high standard of construction, finish and styling. It is bulky and you pay for the size in weight, but it looks good and Elan knows how to build a great boat for the price.
Best performance yachts 2022
Winner best performance yachts 2022 – JPK 39FC
Along with fellow Brittany yard Pogo, JPK has redefined the modern performance cruiser: stiff, stable and efficient to the max. For the keen sailor who wants to get the utmost enjoyment out of hands-on cruising, the JPK 39 is a superb design (and to my eye, an appealing one too), while the yard has done a nice job with the vacuum-infused construction and interior fit-out. The two-cabin version we sailed had plenty of stowage too.
It looks different, behaves beautifully and stands up to its canvas, is designed to sail efficiently with a loaded displacement, and has a deck set-up to encourage you to trim it to your heart’s content. My only slight negative is the unnerving mess the cockpit can become as there are so many control lines.
This lightweight blast will best suit experienced sailors and those comfortable with short-handed sailing. And it guarantees smiles.
One such sports catamaran is the IC36, an exciting first offering from a new Czech brand that’s packed with fresh thinking. The first turbo version of this cruising catamaran (Independence) is built using a carbon fibre crossbeam, bowsprit, boards and rudders, epoxy hulls, plus a custom Pauger rotating mast, which all serve to keep weight below three tonnes.
It provided some spirited sailing, particularly when fetching at a measured pace of 10-13.5 knots with the code 0. The direct feel of tiller steering while seated in the low rotating bucket seats was a highlight.
The finish quality in the hulls is first class and there is somehow space for up to eight berths. The coachroof features a retractable bimini and removable vinyl side panels and solar panels, while the cockpit table, which includes an exterior galley, is also removable.
In fact the IC36 can be dismantled to 2.55m beam to make it legally trailable. It has so many options and ideas – too many perhaps – all reflected in the price.
Monohull enthusiasts will share our congratulations to J-Boats for its elegant new flagship. The J/45 won the hearts of the jury and made for a long drawn out decision against the JPK. In the end the two yachts will appeal to different sailors and tastes.
J has stayed true to its roots, yet still managed to bring a current, classy new offering. The unmistakable Alan Johnstone lines have been paired with a contemporary, warm European interior designed by Isabelle Racopeau, while much focus has been paid to the joinerwork and the invisible quality. We saw the two cabin version, which has an excellent technical cabin in place of the second aft cabin.
The J/45 is designed to still perform when loaded with cruising gear. True to J’s reputation, it was a witch upwind and could outpoint anything else during our trials. The compromise is that it won’t plane easily like a JPK or Pogo.
The Solaris 40 is another looker from Soto Acebal and the blue steel metallic hull colour of the test boat made the powerful hull shape really stand out.
We liked the recessed traveller, direct steering to the twin rudders, neat folding helm seats, clutches integrated into the coamings and the easy access to the side decks. However, the jury found the cockpit with its short benches and deck design a little too flat and minimalist.
The interior is smart and contemporary, again offered with two or three cabins with two heads it makes good use of the space.
One of the yachts I was looking forward to sailing most was the Pogo 44, and the only one shortlisted that I didn’t manage to! A collision with the photographer’s RIB shortly before my scheduled trial put it out of action.
However, my colleague Rupert Holmes did a full Pogo 44 test and report on it for Yachting World and describes the 44 as designed to thrill and unlike any other pure cruising yacht of its size. The stability from the beamy hull and deep lifting keel combines brilliantly with the ability to sail fast easily and in comfort. However some jury members didn’t like having to rely on an autopilot to use winches.
The interior is like a loft apartment, with so much natural light – it’s minimalist yet comfortable, spacious and practical for cruising.
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