Why EYOTY matters ?

Interview with Jochen Rieker, the veteran journalist that started it all.

How did the event come to be? How did EYOTY form?

It was actually a thing that was almost forced upon us, in some ways, from the readers abroad in the late 90s. The audience firstly did the voting with a special voting card, which was printed in the magazine, to ensure only legitimate Yacht buyers had a chance to vote. But soon, we discovered it was not fool proof since there was always someone who thinks of a way to go around the system. Second, it's best if you can step away from Reader's awards since it is essentially a popularity contest. So, if there is a boat which more people can afford, it is more likely to win.

We wanted to go the other direction and have a more thorough study of the new boats. And this is when I came up with the idea for an international contest and expert jury, and I was lucky enough to gain my colleagues’ support quickly. Still, it was an uphill struggle – it took me, I think, close to a year of constant hammering on doors and getting on people's nerves to, first of all, find the most relevant voices in each of the countries. Even if you know who to ask in some countries, in Netherlands and Finland, I didn't know who to call.

So, how, in the end, did you choose the jury?

Well, it was me who did the choosing since it was Yacht who initially started this program. Then I talked to several boat builders of the respective countries to find out who they would recommend, who did the best, most up-to-date job in testing boats.

But the idea is always to have either the biggest, most widely read magazine or, ideally the most influential one. 

How do you go about the nominations, then?

I would love to show you the manifesto of the European Yacht of the Year contest since it contains all the rules and regulations, and every jury member gets this and sort of must sign in blood that this is how we do the job. But it's a long read, so I am happy to answer your question too.

On Düsseldorf Boot, we have the end and the beginning of every cycle. On Saturday evening, on Boot, we have the prize giving, which is always beautiful and terrible at the same time because we are bound to break hearts there. Then, the next day, Sunday morning, the next cycle begins with an editors' meeting. This is where we discuss all that we have learned from the previous years in terms of which changes we have made, which experiences are essential in the marketplace, and which trends we have spotted. And if do we have to alter our course or modify the whole setup of the EYOTY.

This is setting the ground for the next cycle. The goal is to open our scope to get a greater view of what's going to happen next and ensure we represent all the trends, but also that our focus is good enough to notice what is changing.

Following this, we take a quiet period, when everyone collapses for two months, goes about their jobs, and takes a break.

Then comes the most open part of the cycle. We set up a new database, put in all the newcomers and described how we feel about them, what makes them unique, what our expectations for this product are, and why we think we should consider them for a nomination. We look at everything that might be interesting.

There are about 45 to 72 new sailboats on the market every year, so we consider them and all the boats that are either completely new or modified so significantly that they can be considered again.

When do you decide on who is nominated?

In June we have an editor's meeting to decide. It takes roughly three to four hours at least because this is where we have to drill deeper.

And then, when we arrive at a decision, there are some things where we are flexible. So, for instance, we can go with just three boats as nominations for one category if there is not enough ground-breaking new stuff on the market.

But ideally, we would go for five. But the public never gets to see that even if we only allowed three new boats in the category, we still nominated replacement candidates because you always run into surprises when trying to get the boats together for each. 

How do you compare different boats in the same category?

That is one of the most important things for me – to let people understand that we are not directly comparing boats.

For instance, when we looked at the First 36, we asked ourselves, what is the design brief for this boat? Why is it on the market? What is it supposed to deliver?

So first, we look at the boat's design brief and how well it fulfils that brief. Only then do we look at the product perspective on the market. Then, finally, we ask ourselves, who else is there? And it doesn't mean who else is there this year, but who else is there on the market for First 36

How much time does this decision process take?

There is a final debrief, the last decision time. And it can take all evening and the night. So, we sat together until in previous years when we started at eight, we finished it at two o'clock. Because it was so difficult. And you know, we also have a rating scheme if we cannot figure out which boat is the best. 

We can also go back to numbers; we have six criteria, and the boats can earn from one to ten points. They range from cruising comfort to value for money, to innovation, to, of course, performance. And you will find this in the rules and regulations. But in our experience, our universal experience, numbers do not help.

Because in the end, you have two or three boats with the same average score.

And then you're back to normal, back to zero. And it's only by decision, by discussion, that we can reach meaningful conclusions.

It's a year-long process; what are the best and the worst parts?

Yeah, I think the best part is to announce the winner. And the worst part is not fulfilling the dreams of all those who are not winning.

Therefore, we keep saying that the nomination is half of it. It's worth half a win because you gained so much popularity with your boats when you can present them as the nominees.

But I guess the most important thing is that nothing gets unnoticed if 12 pairs of eyes are looking at the boat for such a long time in such different conditions. We found out from the builders and jury members how valuable it is to get feedback from our racing-orientated editors to more cruising-orientated ones. So I think the most valuable thing is the amount of feedback we gather in such a short time, which boatbuilders can then use to optimise and learn about their boats.

Published on 03.11.2022