Reviews that don’t miss the boat
With each monthly issue, Zeilen _ a Dutch publication that covers sailing yachts like the dew _ does something unique and useful. It thoroughly reviews a yacht based on 24 fixed criteria such as design, sailing qualities, ventilation, cabin ergonomics, keel construction, value for money etc. Zeilen’s checklist has become a helpful tool for readers to judge sailboats of any length and type and compare them to rival brands. Does your favorite magazine do that, too? Really? Why not?
Cees van Dijk, Zeilen editor-in-chief: “We have developed this checklist over the years. It takes us, on average, a week to review a boat, including a day’s sailing. We use 3 people for that.” Usefully, a Zeilen review also includes a “sail away’’ price for each yacht that puts the cost of a yacht in useful perspective. The sail away price is the dealer’s list price, plus “extras” buyers are bound to opt for and that can add €20,000 or more. Stuff like lazy jacks, cabin reading lights, basic navigation gear, fenders etc.
In Europe, Zeilen’s reviews are shiny gems in a gray mass of anodyne on and offline reviews that miss the boat because you learn nothing. A recent Yachting World review waxed lyrical over the Discovery-57. “She is ocean-ready.” “The galley is a pleasure to work in,” YW assured us without a word on how that is different from rival ocean cruisers. Joining that YW weekend test ride, were 2 Discovery Yachts executives. Is that really kosher? Yacht and Coast decided to ask YW but _ unaccountably _ was ignored. And Sailing Today, a rival UK publication, similarly kept details of its boat test policy a secret. In the Netherlands, the Waterkampioen _ a popular monthly devoted to power and sail boats _ calls editorial independence the “rationale for our existence.” Editor-in-Chief Jan Briek: “It is guaranteed by the fact our newsroom and ad department operate independently from one another. We devote a full day to each boat test.” The magazine always takes a rep from the boat yard or importer along, says Briek.
Van Dijk says his readers demand editorial independence from Zeilen. “We always make that very clear to boat yards. After a test, we ask the yard, builder or importer for input in response to our findings. Our independence makes boat builders value our tests. It’s no problem for us if the manufacturer or importer joins us on a test ride, but we reach our own conclusions.”
In the US, some boating media proudly eschew advertising to illustrate their arm’s length distance from boat makers they write about. Practical Sailor, for instance. Editor in Chief Darrell Nicholson says his no-advertising rule means “we are the only publication in a position to provide the type of honest reporting you can trust.” Other US outfits carry legally mandated cautions.
The American Boating Association site warns boating enthusiasts that “very often boat manufacturers hire writers to review their boats.” BoatTEST.com says its content is “accurate and factual.” But federal law forces it to tell you its content “may have been produced for compensation or the prospect of future compensation” from boat brands. Is that relevant? Should European boating media become more transparent? Or can we believe them at their word?