Forget everyone else’s awards ceremonies, with their watered down, soft-touch democracies and their dreary, feel-good, ‘boating-is-the-winner’ platitudes. There are far too many excellent boats out there to waste time pinning winner’s rosettes to pedalos. So stand by for the official ‘Top Five Killer Boats of 2015’ as selected by me, the unashamedly autocratic one-man judging panel of the recently launched ‘Alex Smith Knows Best Awards' (or ASKBA for short). This delectable shortlist incorporates a broad spread of craft for a radically divergent set of applications, but all of them are outstanding examples of their type and anyone who tries to tell you different is either wilfully delusional or selling something.
(1) Steeler 46: Dutch delights
Holland’s diverse fleet of tough, steel-hulled, multi-theatre, distance makers are right at the top of their game at the moment. In addition to the Aquanaut Andante 438 OC, with its ingenious pop-up top deck and the lovely Jetten 50 MPC Fly, with its clever modular fit-out, 2015 also looks like the year when Steeler’s extraordinary Flatfloor range will get the credit it deserves.
The starkly modern Steeler 46 (pictured), which was apparently designed in collaboration with Vripack as a ‘sailing apartment’, uses a level main deck from bow to stern, plus vertical glass bulkheads for unbroken all-round views. The fact that the roof of this flybridge-equipped ‘trawler’ mirrors the dimensions of the yacht itself also means that, despite the openness, there is always somewhere to shelter from the elements - and not only does the upright, cuboid shape generate increased internal volume but it also helps with shore access. It’s a great boat, but if you don’t enjoy the idea of slow, long-distance displacement, then fear not. Steeler also does the Flatfloor in lightweight aluminium for genuine planing performance.
(2) Draco 22 RS: Scandinavian spectacle
Up in Sandinavia (home of some superb product lines from the likes of Targa, Sargo, Buster, XO, Goldfish, Marex, Finnmaster, Nidelv and Hydrolift), things continue to look good. Yamarin’s aluminium Cross range has now achieved great success, not least in the form of its new flagship 75 BR - and Windy’s ability to create sublime sea hulls is set to be powerfully affirmed in the form of the new Camira 39 (a nominee in Category 3 at the European Powerboat of the Year awards). However, given the freshness of the brand, it’s the reborn Draco yard that we really want to keep an eye on this year - particularly as it has now followed up its award-winning 27 RS with a smaller model based on the same design principles.
The new 22 RS lacks the centre-seating unit and wide-open aft deck of the 27, but its more formulaic cockpit actually provides more forward-facing seats than its larger sibling. There’s a small walkway to starboard of the bench to help access those long swim platforms – and as on the 27, the aesthetic simplicity is supremely attractive. With crimson upholstery and long dark hull sides allied to steel and teak trim, all set deep inside very modern and angular mouldings, it’s a delightful looking boat. When you factor in the pedigree hull, plus the high-end build of the factory where parent company, Windy, also builds its fleet, this 45-knot dayboat looks destined for big things.
(3) F-Rib 360: Russian revolt
Yes, I know it’s small and modestly powered – and I know it’s conceived more as a tender than a standalone boat. But the fact of the matter is that until the F-Rib 360, nobody has offered us – UK boaters – a serious hard-hulled alternative to the compact inflatable.
Yes, we’ve seen small aluminium models from the likes of Ribeye but in this case, the rigid fibreglass hull comes in three hinged parts, which enables it to be broken down and carried in a bag, exactly like a regular inflatable tender. However, not only is it stronger and more durable than an inflatable, but it’s also 30 per cent lighter, quicker to build and much more capable on the water. In fact, because it’s stiffer, faster and softer riding, it stands a genuine chance of satisfying your needs as a standalone craft in a way that a pack-down inflatable never could. True, it costs more than twice as much as its flexible cousins, but I am genuinely excited by this Russian import – and if you compare its credentials to those of your inflatable tender, I reckon you will be too.
(4) Bayliner Element XR7: American import
Set for launch in 2015, this third boat in Bayliner’s entry-level Element line looks like an absolute beauty. Known as the XR7, it aims to remedy the same problems that were so engagingly addressed by Interboat’s ingenious Neo 7 a couple of years back.
In short, it attempts to offer the inboard space and versatility of a pontoon boat but on a much more sporty, dynamic and attractive monohull. To achieve that, it uses an expanded version of the same trimaran-style cathedral hull seen elsewhere in the Element line but in this case it uses a length of 25 feet and a virtually taper-free beam of eight-and-a-half feet, generating plenty of deck space and comfortable seating for a remarkable 16 people. Spec it up with the 200hp Verado, ski pole, toilet, shore power, fridge, wet bar and forward ladder and you have a multi-purpose party platform out of all proportion to anything of the same length currently on the UK market – except of course the Interboat Neo 7. Happy times indeed.
(5) Sealine C330: Anglo-German alliance
While we’ve seen Flybridge and Sport models from the reinvigorated Sealine yard before now, this is the first dedicated cruiser to emerge from the company since its takeover by the Hanse Group in 2013.
Known as the Sealine C330, this two-cabin 33-footer is palpably the product of a very clear and focused mind – and that mind belongs to British designer, Bill Dixon. In addition to bright, spacious below deck accommodation and very practical ‘small ship’ attention to detail behind the scenes, the aft deck is especially clever. The patio door slides aside, a hinged starboard section swings up and you get an unbroken transit from the internal saloon to the external cockpit. You also get a fold-out bar to help take advantage of the space, plus a sliding overhead canvas framed in the extended roof mouldings. And because it’s all manually operated, there is no extra bulk, weight, battery drain or cost – and more to the point, nothing to fail. There’s great thinking elsewhere too, not least in the elevated saloon settee that gives enormous views through the long, unbroken windows, even in the seated position. British design ingenuity with German industrial focus. We’ll have more of that please.