One of the 12-strong jury panel for the European Yacht of the Year 2019, Toby Hodges runs the rule over the best family cruisers on the market
It was really positive to see a mix of mid-sized entries shortlisted for the family cruiser category, from the innovative new 25ft Swallow from Wales to the Beneteau Oceanis 46.1, a design tasked with replacing Beneteau’s most popular model to date.
Finalist: Hallberg-Rassy 340
The Hallberg-Rassy 340 is a very special small yacht, which brings a real air of luxury. It shows how a relatively small cruising yacht can still take you places in true comfort, offer a rich sailing experience and provide the longevity and resale value of premium build quality. We found the helm area a bit too compact, a compromise of squeezing in twin wheels, but it is otherwise a very well designed and finished cruising yacht.
Finalist: Dufour 390
The Dufour 390 combines modern styling with tried and tested design. In contrast to most of its competitors, which now shoehorn the winches in by the helms to maximise cockpit space, the Dufour cockpit is easy to work in and the aft quarter seats are particularly comfortable to helm from.
The interior is annoyingly noisy at sea, though, with some poor finish quality evident, but is well laid out and comes with an impressive digital or analogue switch panel as standard.
Finalist: Swallow Coast 250
And then there is the very different Coast 250 from Swallow Yachts, which combines so many well thought out concepts into one compact design. It is demonstrably trailable – all the way from Wales to Barcelona – rigged easily, and can plane out to sailing areas under motor at 15 knots with the larger outboard option fitted (centrally in the cockpit).
Plus there’s room to cook a meal and sleep the family below. All this makes for quite a squat shape, yet this didn’t seem to have an overly large impact on Swallow’s renowned performance.
Winner: Beneteau Oceanis 46.1
But the Oceanis 46.1 has raised the bar significantly in the highly competitive melting pot of midsize family cruisers, in terms of both looks and performance. If this is not the best Oceanis ever, I’m quite sure it will still become the most popular to date.
Beneteau, Finot Conq and Nauta took all the best bits of the 45 and the new Berret Racoupeau-designed 51.1 and somehow made them better.
The key to the design is in the full-length chine, which creates a narrow wetted surface area, yet at the same time increases the amount of internal volume for the beam, particularly in the sumptuous forward cabin.
Keeping the beam narrow below the waterline means the boat is much more slippery than the large volume would suggest. I sailed two different versions in both light to medium airs and in very strong winds and the 46.1 proved really engaging to helm in all conditions.
Verdict: This is one intelligent, voluminous modern family cruiser that sails as well as its bang-on-trend design suggests it will.
LOA: 14.60m (47ft 11in)
LWL: 13.24m (43ft 5in)
Beam (max): 4.50m (14ft 9in)
Draught: 2.35m (7ft 9in)
Displacement (lightship): 10,597kg (23,362lb)
Price: €225,300 (ex. VAT)
Design: Finot Conq and Nauta Design