Toby Hodges takes a look at all the nominees and the winner of the specialist yachts category in the European Yacht of the Year Awards

What do you do when you have yachts that are as diverse as innovative daysailers, a lake sportsboat, a recyclable one-design and an elite high-end carbon weapon? Well at the European Yacht of the Year Awards, we define them as specialist yachts. And this year’s eclectic bunch of nominess for the best special yacht really were full of interesting new ideas.

Where other categories in the awards such as the best family cruisers, best bluewater yachts, or best luxury yachts are made up of boats that are similar in terms of their usage the best specialist yachts category has a plethora of options, all of which have found a new, interesting or otherwise noteworthy design direction.

Best specialist yacht 2024 – Saffier SE 24 Lite

Surely the hardest task is to exemplify the very best of what you do within the smallest model you can? Yet that is what today’s king of daysailers Saffier has achieved with its Se 24 Lite. And it’s enough to secure a fifth EYOTY award for this Dutch yard.

Modern hull shape, with flat underwater sections (particularly aft) combines with high form stability for a fast ride. A reverse bow brings more volume (and waterline length), while chines provide the rigidity for less weight. The result is easy speeds and addictive sailing, whether harnessing the lightest puffs or in full double digit planing mode in the stronger stuff. The distinctly low freeboard may mean there’s little in terms of ‘what’s below’, but it’s worth it for the dinghy-like sailing experience.

A simple boat to manage, whether rigging, sailing, or maintaining, the Se 24 is also very smart – including being an electrically driven boat which uses a single 24V system, charged via solar integrated into the deck. The instruments are all wireless, while a single point lift makes launching easy.

Like the very best yachts, the Saffier Se 24 Lite looks good, is a joy to sail and puts a grin on your face.

Cape Cod 767

The Cape Cod 767 is just the kind of delightful niche French daysailer the EYOTY programme helps uncover. It’s a 25ft modern trailable dayboat packed with fresh thinking, yet from a traditional Bordeaux yard which builds classic style craft.

Innovative features include the kick up rudder, a retractable mechanism for the electric drive, a pop up cockpit table, and folding backrests – it’s like something from a Transformers movie. And there are neat details such as removable Seasmart deck fittings for attaching fenders etc, even a cup holder in the tiller. It can also beach easily thanks to a 350kg hydraulic lift keel, which raises up from 1.8m in 20 seconds.

Beneath the sun bed on the flush foredeck is a V-berth for two, which helps explain the full sections forward. But the reverse bow also helps provide enjoyable sailing, whether short-tacking or gennaker reaching. Reactive and sporty, it lacks some security under sail and on deck, but the Cape Cod is a fun dayboat which offers space and comfort at anchor.

Pointer 30

The Pointer 30 is a more authentic-style daysailer from a specialist Dutch yard which has built over 2,000 open dayboats in its 70 years. It wanted a high quality, attractive yacht with a large cockpit and good sailing capabilities. This is achieved in a shape which goes well to weather, while there’s also space below decks for a proper toilet, a V-berth and quarter berths for overnighting. This interior, with its wonderful revolving chairs, fridge and chart table, helps give it a small yacht feel.

The Pointer sails as it looks – modest and handsome – and is easily managed from the deep, sheltered, long cockpit. The standard boat comes with tiller, an L-shape keel and double rudder for shoal draught. Two large 48V lithium batteries can give four hours motoring at 4.5 knots with an optional Torqeedo, or a Yanmar diesel can be chosen.

Flaar 24

Two interesting new specialist small race boats, aimed at totally different markets and waters, include the Sun Fast and the Flaar 24. The Flaar 24 is a lightweight carbon composite one-design sportsboat (750kg), with a bulb-less lift keel for lake sailing and racing. There are four berths within a bright interior with seated headroom and a chemical toilet.

Easy to launch and trailable, it’s a high-powered, slippery design with plenty of sail area. A carbon mast rigged with diamond shrouds, a large genoa and long extendable bowsprit all help boost performance.

Quick to plane, it’ll be a blast on flat water. That said, we found it quite tender and easy to overpower at sea, with a slightly cramped cockpit. Reasonable value for its carbon build, it includes a smart electric actuator which raises the keel at the push of a button, while the transom-hung rudders can be raised and locked at the height of the lifted keel.

Sun Fast 30

Much has already been said about the Sun Fast 30 (YW December), an ambitious project which aims to make offshore sailing more fun, accessible and sustainable. Of those key targets it’s the latter I found most interesting.

The Beneteau Group did impressive research into the use of Arkema’s thermoplastic resin (which has similar properties to polyester) as a more sustainable material because it can be separated from the fibre after use and reused. The result is the first production yacht built from recyclable composite materials. The hull is monolithic, the deck infused sandwich using PET foam.

The group’s strong knowledge of Figaro one-design builds and weight management, together with that of builder Multiplast, is telling. On the water this is a super playful, reactive lightweight racer, which goes surprisingly well upwind (for its scow shape) and is, naturally, very well set up for short-handing. The mainsheet and traveller are to hand of the tiller, you can clutch off the runners, cleat off the sheets and cross-sheet most lines.

The offset companionway creates space for a pit winch (note singular winch though) and there’s plenty of grip in the cockpit and on the foredeck. The minimalist interior simply includes pipe cots, a head, small sink and large chart table. It’s also spacious with 1.9m headroom.

A strict one design rule helps cap spending, banning the likes of laminate/3Di sails. However, typically this will cost €200,000 ready to sail – and while not what we might consider affordable, it’s an enticing offshore-ready one-design package (that’s around €100,000 less than the SF3300 for example).

Shogun 43

Conversely, affordability is not what the Shogun 43 is about, but what a fascinating and cool project this is nonetheless! The young Oscar Södergren’s design is a fast cruiser created for short-handed sailing but that can race fully crewed. Built by Linjett, the long established family yard which won an EYOTY award last year for its own cruising yacht, it is ‘free of rules and budget constraints’ – which translates to high-end spicy fun.

It is deliberately sleek, narrow and lightweight for short-handing, and feels it below decks, despite the three-cabin layout. But the open plan design is inviting and clever, made possible by a very stiff hull structure, with deck join at the coachroof line. This results in a rigid shell, with less dependency on bulkheads, and no unnecessary weight.

The timber clad flax fibre interior has a Divinycell core, with carbon used for structural parts (the interior only weighs around 350kg of the yacht’s 6.5 tonnes). The hull, deck, rudders and even keel blade are also all carbon – the latter you could lift by hand, even though it’s 2.7m and carries a 3-tonne bulb!

The mast is stepped far aft, behind the keel, allowing for a large self tacking jib and staysails. The test boat had the full hydraulic package, including mast deflector. On the water it proved really sporty. I like the deck layout, in particular the Karver winches for grinding in sheets and backstays, while a 2-speed high powered Seldén prototype winch on the coachroof manages the halyards. Definitely one to view… look out for more on the Shogun soon.

Best specialist yachts 2023

Best specialist yacht 2023 – Ecoracer 25

Behold a reusable, recyclable competitive sportsboat. If a ‘garage project’ such as this can successfully prove the use of more sustainable materials, such as thermoplastic resins, linen fibre, basalt and recyclable carbon are a viable solution for boatbuilding, there’s no excuse why mainstream production yards shouldn’t already be employing them! 

While most fibre-reinforced boats are destined for landfill, here the composites can be separated from the resin after immersion in a solvent, to make reusable composite products. Even the 4T Forte OneSails are recyclable. 

It’s the product of a group of friends who trialled the techniques and materials by first building an Optimist. Matteo Polli drew these sportsboat lines for them and a year later they were exhibiting at the Genoa Boat Show. 

This is an on-trend one-off racer, which at 1.1 tonnes and 2.7m beam can be towed when tilted and takes one hour from crane to sailing. It’s so much fun to sail, even in the lightest puffs, and won the ORC sportsboat class on Lake Garda on its debut season. A shame it’s only a prototype, but the future looks bigger and brighter for this startup brand Northern Light Composites, with a 30ft version going into production.

Ace 30 plywood IRC racer

The Ace 30 may look a little uneasy on the eye to many, however others (including Fireball sailors perhaps) will be drawn to its purposeful lines, stiff construction and innovation. This is the first scow for IRC racing and short-handed events. It’s also a blast to sail, a 2.7 tonne lightweight flyer, which boasts rapid acceleration. 

Curves and contours are worked into the scow bow to help reduce slamming and provide rigidity to the bow sections. It has a very stable hull shape powered by a raked carbon rig, which, when in 15+ knots wind (cue full planing), is faster than its competitors, says designer and La Rochelle builder Antoine Mainfray. We found the trick is not to pinch upwind and sacrifice a bit of angle, where it maintains high average speeds. 

The Ace has a low IRC rating and is really well set up for trimming. A neat feature is the canting chart plotter screen, mounted on a long arm so it can be swung to comfortable angled seats either side. We also appreciate the eco-focussed construction, which involves a plywood epoxy shell, foam core from recycled PET and laminations in bio-sourced resin. It’s all wonderfully French but not cheap (see our January issue for more). 

Astus 22.5 trailerable trimaran

For those after easy sailing and easy speeds, a trailable trimaran can be a cost effective solution for daysailing and weekend cruising. VPLP has given the Astus 22.5 a modern look with go-faster wave-piercing floats. An infusion hull and lightweight manual centreboard makes for a light boat at 800kg including engine, while two people can rig and launch it in two hours. 

The Astus is sporty yet simple, offering easy planing. It has a double berth, camping stove and chemical toilet, but it’s a little cramped and basic with no real comfort for the price.

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