I knew this would be an amusing show when I quickly deduced that this unlikely looking vessel, the new Exquisite X5 catamaran from South Africa, would likely prove one of the more interesting vessels on site. Yes, yes. I know what you’re thinking. I have sometimes complained, in a condescending tone, of how many modern powerboats are designed to look like running shoes, and here we have a sailboat that clearly falls into that same category. But really, I swear, this is a very cool boat.
For one thing, the X5 has a very long standard-equipment list that includes such pricey kit as a genset, air conditioning, a watermaker, a washer/drier, electric winches, and so forth, yet itself has a very reasonable price of just $1.2M. Which isn’t chump change to be sure, but it does compare favorably to prices for other deluxe cruising cats of this size and type. Even better, if you found the boat at the show (it was hard to miss), you got to meet Tamas and Sara, the young Hungarian couple who are promoting this new brand. Tamas, I swear, has the best how-I-became-a-boatbuilder story I have ever heard, which starts, improbably, with him borrowing five euros off Sara when they first met.
That’s Sara beside a show-goer who is unwittingly standing beneath the outdoor shower head that is built into the X5’s swoopy targa arch
That bimini over the helm station just in front of the targa arch is, believe it or not, the best-designed helm bimini I’ve ever seen on a cat. It’s got a hard windshield, a bulletproof frame, and the fully battened canvas top can be pushed quickly out of the way when you want to commune with the sky above
Up on the coachroof you’ll find this massive 900-watt solar array (comes standard, of course) with the hard glass panels neatly installed in recessed mounts. They also can be canted toward the sun when necessary
The coachroof also features integral rain gutters that feed into water fills on either side
Along the sidedecks there are full-length solid railings and easy-to-grab handholds all along the roof edge
Down below you’ll find oodles of storage space, as seen in this massive telescoping drawer-within-a-drawer assembly found in the galley
Finish quality is to a reasonably high standard, as you can see here in the master stateroom (it took up the whole starboard hull in the boat at the show and includes a large dressing area and a huge head and shower). Those portlights that seem a bit goofy on the outside seem fabulous on the inside, as they let in scads of light. And though this looks like heavy furniture, it actually isn’t, as everything is foam-cored to reduce weight
The boat also comes standard with this cool iPad brain. It controls and monitors most systems and also the distributed power network, which Nigel Calder in my presence described as the best such installation he’d ever seen. The iPad also gathers maintenance and operating data for all onboard systems and shares this with the builder every time it is connected to the Internet
Of course, there were lots of other boats at the show, with many interesting features. Lots of characters and random madness as well.
Fossil fuels begone! Mount a solar array to feed the electric outboard on your folding rigid-bottom inflatable and you’ll never have to recharge batteries or carry gasoline again
Scott Alexander of Selden Mast shows off the new perpetual Selden Cup trophy (a beer-dispensing carbon-fiber mast section) to be awarded each year to the show exhibitor that throws the best party. He described to me in some detail how he intends to keep this strictly in-house
I always enjoy having Gerry Douglas of Catalina Yachts give me a nickel tour of a new boat he’s designed. Here he is showing off the super-accessible steering system on his new Catalina 425
And this is the clever fold-out settee he designed for the 425’s cockpit. Just the thing for folks who like to sleep outside!
Night of the Living Electric Flare (courtesy of Weems & Plath)
I really liked the articulated wheel pedestal on the new Balance 526 performance cruising cat. When flipped down like this you enjoy some shelter from the elements but still have a great view in all directions through the expansive saloon windows. Flip it up and you can drive heads up above the coachroof with the wind in your hair
My own private prize for Best Boat Presentation goes to Sally Bailey of Annapolis ReStyle, who dressed up the new Nautitech 46 Fly. Starting with the cockpit table she made every area of the boat a distinct aesthetic adventure
Even the heads got over-the-top treatment!
The new Beneteau Oceanus Yacht 62 looked like an imposing beast, but I had trouble getting aboard for a good look. Twice I was shooed away by its minders because the boat was crowded with gawkers. When I showed up a third time before the show opened in the morning I was chased away by a TV news team
The new Gemini Freestyle 37 catamaran, seen “decked” out here with a nice collection of patio furniture and an Oriental carpet, may be the closest thing we’ll ever see to a sailing pontoon boat
Some nice clear-coat carbon countertops on the sexy Solaris 50
Plus the Solaris boasted this superb tandem single berth layout in one of its aft cabins. Both berths have lots of vertical clearance and are easy to crawl in and out of
An exhibitor’s worst nightmare: the federal government appears and seizes the boat you are showing, in this case a Wauquiez Pilot Saloon 48
Details available in this legal paperwork taped artfully to the wheel
My favorite boat of the show was this super-clever new car-toppable X-Cat (or Cross Cat) beach cat from Austria. All up weight is just 120 pounds. It is exquisitely engineered and can be assembled in a few minutes without any tools. Best of all it has a dedicated rowing station with a sliding seat and stirrups for when the wind betrays you
The folding oars have this incredible double-joint that allows you to sit facing forward while rowing. There’s no energy loss, and you can even feather the oars as you finish each stroke
Right now I’m just finishing up test-sailing boats after the show. I’ll share a few highlights as soon as I can.
Well, at the risk of sounding like a Neanderthal, these boats do nothing for me. I haven’t been to the Annapolis Boat Show in years for just this reason. There is no inspiration in these boats z . . . no calling out to the passer by to seek the freedom of the sea. There is no timeless quality about them. I don’t see how sailing one of these would allow one to rub elbows with the great sailors that inspired generation of sailor to seek the far horizon. They look like a gross example of over indulgence jammed into a plastic box. And what a nightmare of maintenance. I certainly respect anyone’s right to buy what appeals to them, but even if I had a pot of money to spend, I’d gladly pass.