The first Azimut 80 off the line hits her marks.
Photos Matteo Borzone
It pains me to admit it, but it was 25 years ago that I first got up close to an Azimut. Like the glittering motoryacht you see on these pages, it was an 80-something-footer, beautifully engineered and sleek of profile. Unlike the new Azimut 80, however, it packed four 18-cylinder, 1,850-horsepower CRM diesels coupled to two huge waterjets and had a fuel capacity of 80 tons. This was Azimut Atlantic Challenger, built to wrest the transatlantic record away from Richard Branson. The grinning British entrepreneur had claimed it two years before, on his second attempt, in Virgin Atlantic Challenger II.
But while Branson mounted the stunt to stir up media interest in his new airline, Azimut’s owner, Paolo Vitelli, adopted a much riskier strategy: using the record attempt to publicize his acquisition of Fratelli Benetti, the Challenger’s venerable builders. Branson laughed off the failure of his first effort, while his sunken boat’s manufacturers were able to hide behind a barricade of Virgin publicity. If the Italian attempt went wrong, Benetti would not enjoy that luxury. The troubled Viareggio shipyard had dropped into Vitelli’s hands after bankrupting itself building Nabila, which at 282 feet (86 meters), was then the largest private superyacht in the world. Failure would be more bad news.
Failure duly ensued. Bad weather and engine trouble scuppered the Italian transatlantic challenge, and it was indeed no laughing matter. A second attempt was no more successful. Vitelli later admitted that 1988 was the worst year ever for his Azimut-Benetti group, which nearly went to the wall. Henceforth, he determined, there would be no more stunts, no more distractions—just hard work and a sharp focus on the job at hand.
I was reminded of the story this summer aboard the new Azimut 80. We were enjoying a pleasant, leisurely sea trial cruising between Savona and Varazze on Italy’s Ligurian coast, and one reason things were so relaxed was that the boat was performing faultlessly. Large, powerful and complex, this was the first 80 off the production line at Azimut’s plant in Fano, and therefore, arguably, something of a prototype. You would expect a few foibles or teething problems, and you wouldn’t need to be feeling especially charitable to forgive them.
But there weren’t any. They got it right the first time. If this was a result of Vitelli’s stern resolve all those years ago, I reflected, then maybe the whole transatlantic episode wasn’t a waste of time.
Of course, Azimut is now one of the most experienced and successful boatbuilders in Europe, and has been a dominant producer of this size motoryacht for decades. The new 80 is the latest in a very long line, and pretty much everything about it speaks of the shipyard’s expertise in balancing the realities of production-line economics with customers’ expectations of a bespoke finish. So things like the hardtop and hot tub are optional extras, along with the stabilizer system—you can have CMC fins or Seakeepers—and as for the engines, there’s a choice of just two. When it comes to the layout, what you see is pretty much what you get: a four-cabin boat with a midships master suite, the VIP in the bows, another double en suite and a twin cabin with an extra fold-down Pullman berth.
The one radical alternative on offer is the option of an open-plan galley rather than our boat’s discreet, closed affair, as preferred by owners who like their crews to work unobserved. But in production terms, the only real difference between open and closed is the bulkheads, while the tricky stuff—plumbing and wiring—stays put.
There are no fewer than four different interior decoration schemes available on the 80 from the design studio of Achille Salvagni, who also did the Azimut 84 last year. Divided into “classic” and “contemporary,” they mix and match fabrics and finishes with furniture and fixtures like lamps and taps, and have names like “Firenze” and “Dolce Vita.” Our yacht’s interior was the contemporary “Riviera” option, and while to me it looked like it would be restful and relaxing after a hard day’s play on the water, I wouldn’t personally choose the leather-topped dining table—not unless I wanted to drive my crew to distraction getting the red wine out of it. And those to whom the Riviera look might seem a little on the beige side, three alternatives are available for consideration.
Perhaps the biggest thing about this extraordinarily comfortable 80-foot motoryacht is, well, how big it is. What you might be tempted to call the flybridge, but which Azimut with justification prefers to call the sundeck, has an area of more than 440 square feet (40.9 square meters). The hydraulic aft platform can take a 12-foot-8-inch (3.8-meter) RIB. You could play table tennis in the salon, and if the master suite was in Manhattan, you could get $2,000 a month for it. Nowhere is short of headroom—about 6 feet 6 inches is as low as it gets—and the beds are full-size with very useful volumes of stowage under all three doubles, which lift bodily on gas struts. The impression you get of wide-open spaces is not a piece of clever sleight of hand by the designers, but actual length and breadth, accentuated by some truly enormous windows, including a floor-to-ceiling expanse of glass in the salon, complemented by a cutaway bulwark to maximize the view.
Inevitably, displacing more than 60 tons fully laden, the Azimut 80 needs some serious horsepower. Our example had 1,800-horsepower MAN V12s, the larger of the two engine options. With its 17-degree deadrise and straight shafts, the hull and machinery felt like an excellent match on the water. Fin stabilizers suppressed any tendency to heel, but otherwise, the yacht felt remarkably agile, with a tight turning circle and an excellent range of planing speeds thanks to the motors’ stupendous torque. We found it would plane quite comfortably at about 16 knots and 1600 rpm, and from there up to around 26 knots, you can choose pretty much any cruising speed to suit the sea conditions, although be sure not to hover around the 1750 rpm mark or you will confuse the second turbocharger.
Pushing the throttle levers flat, we recorded a two-way average maximum speed of 30.3 knots, with full water tanks and some 1,260 gallons of diesel on board—a liquid load of more than six tons. It was a genuinely impressive showing. Azimut’s own pre-launch publicity only claimed 29 knots, and it underlined yet again how the company has managed to get this yacht right the first time.
And while no one helming a motoryacht like this has any right to expect ski-boat handling, with its light and sensitive steering and poky throttle response, the Azimut 80 provides a sure-footed and rewarding driving experience. The day of our sea trial was gloomy, but flat. The only waves we could find were our own, but the hull ironed them out with barely a murmur.
Roaming around inside during the trials with a sound meter, meanwhile, suggested that the perception of quality in the 80’s fit-out is more than skin deep. The bald figure of 65 dB(A), which we measured at the helm at 21 knots, isn’t particularly informative, but what it means is that you can talk in a normal voice. Long trips will be relaxing.
Ours was not a long trip, unfortunately, but it was certainly relaxing. The yacht had the solid, long-legged feel of a boat built for going places, and if it had been up to me we’d have carried on and gone somewhere. From Savona, for example, it would have been a cruise of just a couple of hours across the Gulf of Genoa to Viareggio and the Benetti shipyard, where Azimut Atlantic Challenger was launched way back when. I’ve still got the sailing jacket they gave me that April afternoon in 1988. It’s a quality English garment sewn in a rather startling shade of green. Back then, I remember, it was about four sizes too big. Now it seems to fit perfectly.
So maybe they don’t get absolutely everything right first time.
For more information: +39 011 93 161; azimutyachts.com
LOA: 82ft. 8in. (25.2m)
LWL: 67ft. 6in. (20.58m)
Beam: 20ft. 5in. (6.23m)
Draft (full load): 5ft. 6in. (1.67m)
Displacement (full load): 641 tons
Engines: 2 x 1,550-hp MAN CR V12; 2 x 1,800-hp MAN CR V12
Propellers: 2 x 5 fixed-blade in nickel-aluminum-bronze by Teignbridge
Fuel: 1,585 gal. (6,000L)
Speed (max.): 29 knots (Azimut); 30.3 knots (YI test data)
Speed (cruising): 16-25 knots\
Range: 316nm @ 16 knots; 246nm @ 25 knots (allowing 10% reserve)
Generators: 2 x 20kW Kohler (standard; 2 x 28kW installed)
Freshwater: 290 gal. (1,100L)
Stabilizers: 2 x CMC Marine “Stabilis Electra” (at anchor/underway electric fin stabilizers)
Classification: EC RCD category A
Naval architecture: Azimut
Exterior styling: Stefano Righini
Interior design: Salivagni Architetti
Guest cabins: 4 (8 people)
Crew cabins: 2 (2 people)