When you walk around a boat show like Cannes, Southampton or Dusseldorf, the most exciting exhibits are always those that tap into your ambitions. Once upon a time, that would have been cruising, fishing, racing, diving, commuting, partying, skiing or sunbathing. But we live in an age of rapid gratification, of fads and trends and of endless options for recreational diversion – so those of us who can only afford one boat tend to want a platform that gives us a taste of everything. Now plainly, an uncompromising four-season 30 to 40-foot platform from the likes of Sargo, Targa or XO would do a great job; and a 200-foot expedition yacht, rammed to the gunwales with tenders, toys, submersibles and flying machines would be even better. But believe it or not, multipurpose usability doesn’t always have to mean spending a fortune…
Quicksilver Activ 875 Sundeck
When it was introduced to great fanfare in 2011, the whole point of Quicksilver’s Activ range was to offer better value by maximising recreational usability on a single, affordable platform - and the big 875 Sundeck (the largest of the five models in the Sundeck line) does a great job of championing that ethos. The cockpit comes with a galley built into the back of the helm seats, plus a dining area that converts into a sun lounge, with a fold-out backrest and easy water access.
The bow’s vast, flat expanse of sunbathing space also features convertible backrests; and not only are there very usable galleys and dining areas both up top and down below, but the accommodation even manages to encompass an enclosed heads compartment with shower, as well as a pair of double berths. It might of course lack the free and easy deck space of the market’s various walkaround models, but this is a 26-foot Med-style boat that accommodates 12, sleeps four and comes with a transom capable of handling a 500hp twin rig for those who enjoy proper watersports. It’s difficult to argue with that.
Axopar 28 C
The Axopar 28 Cabin is a sexy, modern, four-season multi-tool of a boat. It features a bright and comfy cabin with sliding doors and a large overhead canvas roof, plus a sofa that converts into a double bed.
The foredeck meanwhile incorporates a stowage space with optional toilet and sink ahead of the helm; and if you don’t need the optional two-man aft cabin (which is superb in its own right), you can opt for a bench with extra storage or a wet bar module. Even so, if you spec the remarkably spacious, comfortable and bright two-man aft cabin, there’s really nothing you can’t do with this boat. You can dine inside or outside, sleep in the cabin or at the stern, sunbathe forward or aft, leave the pilothouse open or closed and either pootle along on a gentle summer’s cruise or take advantage of its enviable dynamics and drive it like a maniac racer. It won three major international awards within a year of its launch and it’s easy to see why.
Beneteau Barracuda 7
The Barracuda 7 has developed a lot over the years but it remains an object lesson in the practical arrangement of a compact platform. It revolves around a bright, expansive wheelhouse with steep screens, a large roof hatch, two sliding side doors and an aft aperture, which enables you either to shelter from the elements or to make it feel like an open boat. It also provides a basic cabin with separate heads compartment, plus a fridge and sink beneath the pilothouse seats – and back in the aft cockpit, things are equally versatile. The primary adjustable bench is placed as far back as possible (which means it needs to be hinged forward to lift the engine out), but that helps generate enough space for additional hinged benches, creating a large dining station, without permanently obstructing the deck space for those who like to fish.
Even the compact bow gets in on the act with a pair of wide corner seats to help preserve a proper walk-through arrangement, plus an optional hammock-style canvas to replace the more conventional cushioned infils. With its blunt bow and comprehensive fit-out, the Barracuda can be a touch sluggish and damp, but as a do-it-all leisure boat this compact and easily customisable design is a great piece of work.
Flipper 880 ST
The aim of designer, Espen Thorup, with all of Flipper’s new designs has been to generate practical, high performing and safe boats that also happen to look fresh and feel good. Flipper’s flagship model is right on the money in that regard - but it’s also a fine example of how much can be achieved with an outboard rig on a family cruiser. After all, this 28-footer comes not just with a hard top and an aft cabin, but with seating for 10, sleeping for five and the capacity to cater for alfresco fun as well as closed-cockpit convenience - and it offers all of this in a package that looks tidy, drives well and is relatively affordable to buy.
It’s not the fastest boat in the world or the most spacious down below, but with its large retractable roof section, its ingenious guest double, exceptional light ingress, modern internal design and surprising value for money, its a very cohesive solution to the complex demands of the family boater.
Bella 700 RAID
The charmingly distinctive looking RAID is one of the most complete and capable multi-purpose 22-foot family leisure boats money can buy. With its offset pilothouse positioned a long way forward, the aft cockpit is a major strength and it takes full advantage of that with a folding bench to maximise fishing space, plus a work surface above the outboard that does a great job of minimising engine noise. It also employs twin sunroofs, alongside large roof racks that are great for carrying waterports gear, rods or kayaks and they also double as very handy grabbing points when you’re making your way fore and aft.
Despite the stubby bow, the forward space is a great place for a couple to enjoy a glass of wine in relative privacy and there’s still room for a convertible two-metre sleeping space down below. Remarkably, this boat is also very quick to plane, fun to drive, refined and quiet underway and stable at rest. It’s by no means the last word in overnighting luxury, but with its offset pilothouse, its versatile aft cockpit and its idiot-proof 40-knot performance, it’s a very easy boat to love.