As a marine-electronics editor and new-boat reviewer, I’m careful to remain vigilantly brand agnostic. However, when it comes to classic plastics, I have an unapologetic favorite, namely Southern Cross, my dad’s modified J/44, which was built in 1990 and which my family has owned since 2001. Sure, she’s not thrilling on sub-6-knot days, but given breeze, she’s a pure joy to sail. While I’ll admit that part of my enchantment stems from the thousands of miles I’ve logged aboard her capable hull, the bulk of my infatuation is due to the fact that her designer, Rod Johnstone, nailed so many small but critical details (we’ll kindly overlook her less-than-ideal traveler placement), including great sight lines, comfortable cockpit ergonomics and easy access to instrument screens, buttons, engine controls and critical winches from her destroyer-style wheel.
While some of Southern Cross’ electronics may no longer be state of the art, they have served our family well, and for me, a boating writer, she’s always been a solid baseline for evaluating cockpit and nav-station electronics installations aboard new boats.
Boat design and marine electronics have obviously evolved significantly since 1990, but the same design, installation and ergonomics challenges that Johnstone mastered are still relevant for contemporary designers, and in some cases, have been exacerbated by today’s dual helms and beamier transoms. With that in mind, I strolled the docks of the 2017 U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, to see