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Back in 2008, a commercial shipyard in Naples, Italy, decided to diversify into yachting. It set up the Columbus brand and delivered its first 177-foot (54-meter) superyacht three years later. Today, the Palumbo Group operates a string of shipyards throughout the Mediterranean and four yacht brands: ISA, Columbus, Mondomarine and Extra. Its latest and largest launch, the 262-foot (79.9-meter) Columbus Classic Dragon, is a 2,300-gross-ton reflection of how far the family-run business has come.

“This is a special day that marks an important milestone for the company,” Giuseppe Palumbo, third-generation shipbuilder and CEO of Palumbo Superyachts, announced on the day of the yacht’s launch. “Dragon is the materialization of the vision and strategy undertaken 10 years ago.”

Backlit agate adds sparkle inside the beach club.

Backlit agate adds sparkle inside the beach club.

Another sign of Palumbo’s confidence is that construction of Dragon started on speculation—a bold investment, although the original project was based on a shorter platform. The overall length grew when a client came forward and bought the yacht in 2016.

“The increase in size wasn’t an issue, as we had designed the hull so it could be lengthened in the middle,” says Sergio Cutolo of Hydro Tec, which was responsible for naval architecture and exterior styling. “The real challenge was delivering a completely integrated design in a very short time frame.”

While all this was happening, Palumbo acquired the ISA shipyard, a superyacht facility in Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast. In July 2017, Dragon’s steel hull with main machinery installed was taken by barge some 800 miles from Naples to Ancona, where it was united with its aluminum superstructure and moved into a new shed for completion. The yacht launched just 20 months later.

“With yachts of this size and volume, you’re basically building a ship,” says Gianpaolo Lapenna, Palumbo’s project and product manager. “Ships need to be built quickly and efficiently, which is where we were able to draw on our 50-plus years of experience in the commercial sector.”

Techniques that helped reduce the overall build time include the modular crew quarters on Dragon’s lower deck. Prefabricated and fitted before the hull left for Ancona, the quarters have plug-and-play heads that could be rapidly hooked up to the piping and electrical systems. The time and cost savings could then be redirected to the guest areas.

The layout of the two-tier engine room is also shiplike in function, with a dedicated pump room to keep high-maintenance hotel equipment such as boilers and watermakers separate from the propulsion machinery. Forward of the engine room on the tank deck is a full-size laundry, extra cold and dry storage, and a gym and media room for the crew.

Besides the fold-down transom door and side platforms in the beach club, Dragon has two more openings on her starboard side: one for launching and retrieving the two guest tenders (the 31-foot limo tender was also built by Palumbo); the other a water-level entrance for guests arriving by tender. Big holes in hulls can affect structural rigidity, and finite element analysis was used to calculate—and compensate for—the forces acting on the hull between the two hatches, which are barely 3 feet apart.

Similar consideration was given to the open-plan main salon and dining room, which has six panoramic panes of glass. The largest of these windows are over 100 square feet (10 square meters) in area and weigh close to a couple of tons each, but rely for support solely on the beams and stiffeners in the superstructure without the need for additional columns or pillars.

Dragon’s beach club provides a direct connection to the sun and sea.

Dragon’s beach club provides a direct connection to the sun and sea.

An unusual layout solution is the guest gym on the bridge deck aft. In the center of the space is a glass-walled box fitted with Persian blinds for privacy that houses a massage room and adjacent beauty parlor. This is a much more welcoming proposition than a gym in the bowels of the yacht on the lower deck and means the beach club with its bar, sauna, hammam and sofa seating can be used exclusively for more social gatherings.

The exterior highlight has to be a 20-foot-long pool and Jacuzzi on the sundeck. Flanked by a wet bar, the pool widens out into a hot tub separated by a waterfall feature that cascades from the overhanging mast roof. As the elevator serves all deck levels, guests can comfortably access the sundeck from anywhere on the yacht without having to negotiate any staircases.

One of six panoramic windows in the main salon.

One of six panoramic windows in the main salon.

The interior styling is by Francesco Guida, who also designed the Extra range of semi-displacement yachts by Palumbo. His initial interior concept was boldly contemporary, but the client chose a more muted proposal based on buttery, brushed oak and occasional walnut veneers combined with soft bronze or gold accents and creamy travertine marble. A more flamboyant touch is found in the beach club that features decorative backlit walls of brilliant blue agate.

The master stateroom and the owner’s deck. 

The master stateroom and the owner’s deck. 

The end result is soberly sophisticated but warmly welcoming. Custom-made furniture and fittings include the oak and travertine Giorgetti table dining table, and the Barrovier & Toso chandelier above it in the main salon. Owner-supplied extras, such as the occasional piece of vintage furniture and fine Persian rugs covering the parquet soles, add a personal touch.

Dragon represents the pinnacle of an intense period of investment and growth for Palumbo. In 2011, the yard had just one yacht on the water; today, it is building in fiberglass, steel and aluminum, and competing with international rivals across the size spectrum.

The 20-foot-long pool and Jacuzzi on the sundeck.

The 20-foot-long pool and Jacuzzi on the sundeck.

“For the moment, I want to focus on consolidating what we have and on the customer’s experience,” Giuseppe Palumbo says. “But within a couple of years, we’ll have another eight yachts on the water—and by that time, I want to see Palumbo at the top of every broker’s list of shipyards.” 


LOA: 262ft. 2in. (79.9m)

BEAM: 42ft. (12.8m)

DRAFT: 11ft. 11in. (3.65m)

DISPLACEMENT (full load): 1,690 tons

GROSS TONNAGE: 2,300 (approx.)

SPEED (max./cruise): 17/12 knots

RANGE: 6,200nm at 12 knots

CONSTRUCTION: Steel and aluminum



INTERIOR DESIGN: Francesco Guida

BUILDER: Palumbo Superyachts

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This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue.