By Jochen Rieker, YACHT magazine.

Editor's Note: After the windy episodes of Southampton last September, the jury of the European Yacht of the Year reconvened for the second round of the competition in the Italian sea port of La Spezia to inspect and sail a total of 14 yachts. Not all of the announced candidates showed up, and not all were duly prepared for the event, writes Jochen Rieker, editor of the German sailing magazine YACHT, who heads the contest. The winners will be announced at the opening of the Dusseldorf boat show.

Dufour 36

The Dufour 36 is one of the contestants in the Performance Cruiser category.

La Spezia, on the Ligurian coast of northwestern Italy, served up perfect conditions. In Porto Mirabello, a modern marina in the protected bay of La Spezia, a dedicated dock was set aside for the four testing days. The naval base furnished a committee boat and a RIB for the photographers and the film crew. There was sun, an almost cloudless sky, but wind was scarce.

While it gusted to more than 40 knots in southern England, 20 knots were the maximum in Italy, and that was rare. A storm front that had passed through previously left the Mediterranean very calm. A light sea breeze developed around lunch time, so the jury hoisted every square inch of canvas, including gennakers, spinnakers, or Code-0's  to coax the most out of the boats.

The program was packed as 16 candidates had announced their participation. To finish first in one of the five categories (cruisers, performance cruisers, luxury yachts, multihulls, and special designs), you first had to finish. But as it turned out, two candidates canceled on short notice, the Vismara 50 Hybrid for technical issues and the French daysailer Code 0, because it was damaged during haulout. And the Archambault yard, beset by financial problems, withdrew their A 27, because the firm was unable to bring a boat to La Spezia. In their place, the J/70 was invited; it was a strong substitute as the tests were going to show.

So there were a total of 14 yachts:

  • Cruisers: Bavaria Vision 46, Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 469 and RM 1260

  • Luxury Yachts: Amel Italia 55 and 13.98

  • Performance Cruisers: Dufour 36 Performance and Sly 38

  • Special Boats: B/One, J/70 and Seascape 27

  • Multihulls: Catana 59, Nautitech 542, Outremer 5X and TNT 34

Each category featured some exciting matches. The B/One and the J/70 were locked in a tight battle, with the Farr-designed Bavaria being mostly on the winning end in light air under 8 knots. But on tight reaches when the breeze was up, the J/70 pulled even or ahead.

The big cats also were in a dogfight (pun intended). And the winner in terms of sailing performance was pretty obvious: The French Outremer 5 X, designed by multihull specialists VPLP and styled by car designer Patrick Le Quément, emerged as the liveliest boat. The rotating carbon rig -- an expensive option -- further enhances the advantages of this lightweight construction.


The J/70 distinguished itself as a substitute entry in the European awards. Photo: Nico Krauss.

Hardly any of the 14 candidates showed weaknesses, and only one disappointed: the TNT 34 trimaran, which was designed and built in Poland. The representatives of the yard, which intended the boat to compete against the Dragonfly 32 and 35, never really let the boat off the leash. At 15 knots of wind, the crew tied in the second reef in the main. At 10 knots they put in the first reef, even though the bay was flat and there were no treacherous puffs in sight. The first runs did not inspire a lot of trust: not enough speed and a strong weather helm. When the outboard bracket developed cracks on the second day, the crew tried to assuage the concerns, asserting, “it’s OK.” On the third day, the entire part broke off while motoring under full power. This sent the engine spinning in the wake, attached only by the steering cables and damaging one of the rudders with the prop.

The incident occurred in the passage between the breakwater and the shore with an incoming freighter aiming the bow at them. Instead of hoisting the sails to extricate themselves from the danger zone, the crew simply ignored the commercial ship, trying instead to secure their two-stroke engine. Finally, a photo boat had to come to their rescue and prevent the collision.

The TNT 34 did not show well in a previous test for YACHT, but the troubles of La Spezia most likely ruined any chance (in the EYOTY contest) the boat might have had.

It was the only disappointment. The other candidates proved that in the past months and years designers and builders have managed to develop boats with a high degree of refinement. Whether in terms of design, systems, or sailing characteristics, compared to the class of 2003, the first year of the EYOTY contest, the current crop of boats is superior all around.

Now the winners in the five classes have been selected and will be announced at Flagship Night, hosted by Delius Klasing at the Dusseldorf boat show on the opening night.

This story appears with permission of YACHT, Europe’s largest sailing magazine.


Translated by Dieter Loibner,