It is not easy to cover the yachting industry in Italy. Even after the first financial crisis cut a swath through the country and thinned out the players, it is clear there is still plenty to see.
The Italian yards nevertheless remain market leaders for the production of yachts greater than 90 feet. Four days of solid driving and visiting shipyards on both coasts only lifted a corner of the veil. It helps that a few towns have a high concentration of builders. That’s certainly the case with Viareggio. A small town, with narrow streets and a charming waterfront, it is the Italian capital of yachting. You can visit quite a few builders there in a matter of hours, if you are lucky enough to find a parking spot. Here are a few of the shipyards we visited. We also had rewarding visits with the Perini Navi Group, where we saw the newest Picchiotti Vitruvius 55m and at Mondo Marine, where we saw Zaliv III, both featured in this issue. The visits showed that resilience, determination and innovation go a long way in staying ahead of the curve, something the Italian yachting industry seems determined to accomplish.
We stopped at Azimut’s facility in Viareggio, where we had the opportunity to preview the first Azimut Grande 120SL (an impressive yacht, since presented at the Cannes boat show) and a new Azimut 82 Flybridge yacht, presented in Miami earlier this year.
They are just a couple of examples of the range the impressive Azimut-Benetti group offers. Considering new-boat construction only, the group has an enormous reach, offering everything from styling 35-foot cruisers in composite to custom yachts in steel. Two charismatic leaders, reporting to founder and chairman Paolo Vitelli, are at the helm of Benetti Yachts and Azimut Yachts. Vincenzo Poerio, Benetti Yachts’ long-time CEO, oversees all custom and semi-custom yachts (or Benetti Class) built by Benetti and the Azimut Grande line. Paolo Casani, who came to Azimut-Benetti from the luxury and fashion industries, was previously in charge of the Yachtique division and became Azimut’s CEO early this year. He now oversees production of boats up to 100 feet, including the Azimut and Atlantis brands. The Azimut-Benetti Group is an increasingly international organization. But in Italy alone, Benetti is in three locations (Fano, Livorno and Viareggio) and Azimut in four (Avigliana, Savona, Varazze and Viareggio). For all of its scope, the boatbuilding behemoth (Azimut-Benetti is considered the world leader in the production of yachts 80 feet and up) gets points for staying innovative. Design-wise, that is certainly the case. Azimut, to single it out, has shown itself to be an innovator. Its sporty S collection, with the 103S and the recently released 72S, is a case in point. The Azimut 103S was the first boat we remember to feature that well-integrated sport bridge atop what remains a stylish open yacht, which now seems ubiquitous. The new 72S has that attractive feature, plus a convenient and smart joystick system, developed by Azimut and Xenta Systems. Even as the market faltered worldwide, Azimut-Benetti moved ahead with an ambitious plan of new-model launch, including a brave move into a new direction for Azimut. With its Magellano collection, Azimut reaches out to a whole new set of yacht owners, ones who enjoy spending more time at sea and will gladly forego speed to gain range. We saw the new Magellano 50, featuring the same lines, open plan and huge windows that made the first model (Magellano 74) so attractive. It debuts at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this year after a stop in Newport, RI.
But our visit to Viareggio served as a good reminder that the company reaches out in many other directions, and in a very logical way. Azimut-Benetti does refit through its Lusben division and charter and brokerage through Fraser Yachts. The group owns, develops and operates marinas with currently 800 berths in Varazze, 45 in Viareggio and 190 berths in Moscow. A major expansion and 700-slip marina development is ongoing in Livorno, which is home to the Benetti Yachts custom steel division since 2003. It is a great location, on a historic site with a lighthouse and cobblestoned streets, which has been home to a shipyard since 1866. It offers ready access to the wonders of Tuscany.
Yachtique, a division created three years ago, ties all these services together. It is far more than a showroom for owners to choose the color of leather or the kind of wood they’d like to see in their salon, says Luca Cristino, Yachtique’s vice general manager. With this division, Azimut-Benetti is catering to the one person who truly matters—the boat owner. In addition to sales, service, design, charter and crew services, the division is providing financing services and looking beyond. The Yachtique card aims to provide yacht owners with 24-hour support to assist with everything from booking a berth to shoreside services.
Also in Viareggio, a microcosm of the Italian yachting industry, is Overmarine, better known by the name of its ubiquitous flagship brand, Mangusta (Italian for mongoose). Why the name? It may help to know that another shipyard in town built boats under the brand Cobra. The mongoose is one of the rare animals on this planet that can tackle even the super-fast and deadly cobra. Since Giuseppe Balducci founded the company in 1985, the Mangusta has indeed shown itself to be a fierce contender. Today, there are now 300 Mangustas in the water. For years, the exclusive sales and marketing partner was the Rodriguez Group, headquartered on the French Riviera, and the chic open style became a staple in marinas all along the Med, especially along the southern French coast. It was, for years, a very successful partnership with the unexpected result that the ubiquitous Mangusta became associated more with Rodriguez than its actual builder and naval architect—Overmarine. In August 2010, Overmarine decided to head in a new direction in terms of sales and marketing and set up its own sales organization. Sales Director Francesco Frediani, who came to Overmarine from Riva, announced at the Miami Yacht & Brokerage Show in February a newly inked agreement with MarineMax for representation in the United States. The company also opened a service center near Fort Lauderdale.
In Viareggio, the company, now in the hands of Giuseppe’s son, Maurizio Balducci, grew around the busy town. A surprisingly low-key home office is located in the heart of town close to the marina, within walking distance of some of the construction halls. Access to other facilities requires a car. Another shipyard in La Spezia, with a 720-ton travel lift, increasingly does refit in addition to hull construction. Overmarine also just announced the construction of a new 240,000 squre-foot facility near Pisa for aluminum construction.
In terms of length, the range now goes from 72 feet to 165 feet. Overmarine’s current flagship is the largest open-style yacht in the world built in composite (the Palmer Johnson 170, also an open-style yacht, is built in aluminum). Hull No. 5 (of the eight Mangusta 165 sold) was in Viareggio when we visited. Italian designer Giorgio Vafiadis designed the interior of this one. The model is semi-custom, but until now very little was done to tinker with the looks on the outside. The Stefano Righini-designed yachts have a strong family resemblance, even when it comes to the much larger 165. A few styling tweaks are slowly being introduced starting with the Mangusta 72 and the 92. On the inside, however, each Mangusta is quite different from the next. Giuliano Ceragioli, who is head of the in-house design studio, has been with the company for 20 years. He is a rare breed, sketching everything by hand with amazing speed and accuracy. The in-house design department can do all renderings and plans for the clients, and help them select from a wide array of woods, marbles, materials and colors. A common bond is the quality of the material and the high level of finish. Another hallmark of these sporty yachts has been their speed. Even the massive 165, with her triple MTU engines and waterjets can reach top speeds of 40 knots.
A new flagship has been designed and drawn. She will be 205 feet long, but this time will be made in aluminum with an estimated top speed of 30 knots. Construction may start as early as next year in the new Pisa shipyard. Overmarine also began building the first Oceano, a 148-foot tri-deck semi-displacement yacht with a bulbous bow. Her top speed will be 15 knots and cruising speed 12 knots.
While driving around Viareggio, we caught site of the Sanlorenzo facility, but our appointment was a few miles away, in Ameglia. When Massimo Perotti took over a reputable shipyard (from Giovanni Jannetti) that was a bit under the radar, catering as it was to a smaller group of long-time fans, he had ambitious plans. Perotti, who goes by the nickname Max in the United States, had many years of experience in the industry already, as a top executive at Azimut from 1982 to 2004. He quickly implemented an ambitious plan to take the well-known but not fully exploited Sanlorenzo brand to the next level. From about 10 boats a year, Sanlorenzo went to 25 to 28 units a year, on average. In addition to the traditional line of composite yachts, Sanlorenzo launched an edgy line of aluminum yachts, with a styling that, quite literally, threw away the mold. The Sanlorenzo 40 Alloy, with design by Francesco Paszkowski, made quite a few waves when it first appeared in Monaco in 2007. Seven of them have been sold. In 2007, Sanlorenzo reopened a facility in Viareggio, essentially for metal production, and in 2008, set up a sales office in the United States and opened Sanlorenzo of the Americas. The company at that point had reached annual revenues of 198 million euros and had its eyes peeled on the megayacht segment. The first Sanlorenzo 46 Steel, a full-displacement yacht, was presented last year in Monaco. Mid-stride, Sanlorenzo felt the same tremors that traversed the entire yachting world. Yet, as we saw in May, it did not stop the company from progressing with ambitious expansion plans. In 1995, Sanlorenzo had moved from its original location in Viareggio to a shipyard located inside a natural park in Ameglia. It’s a marvelous shaded site, overlooking the river Magra and mountain strewn with what appears to be snow—in reality, white marble. The older facility was well maintained but in need of upgrading, with a cramped launch site. Sanlorenzo had to progress cautiously due to strict regulations, but was very close to finishing its new launch area when we visited. In June, Sanlorenzo inaugurated the new marina, equipped with a travel lift. It’s a beautiful site for owners to come and watch their yacht get its first taste of water. With revenues now back to nearly the same level as before the financial crisis—reported revenues for 2010 and sanctioned by the company’s board of directors in June were 196 million euros—the company is marching ahead with plans to develop and launch new product. The new SL94 was introduced at the Genoa Yacht Show. From the navetta line, which includes the lovely Sanlorenzo SD92, will come a new 108; and by 2014, the shipyard plans to introduce its new flagship, a 196-foot yacht in steel with design by Paszkowski.
Just as Azimut-Benetti does, the Ferretti Group has shipyards all over Italy, at least one for each brand (often more). CRN, the superyacht brand within the Ferretti Group, is located in Ancona, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. It’s an impressive shipyard with dedicated halls for metal construction and two others for composite. The shipyard builds both. Its composite lines include the CRN 43 and the CRN 128. We jumped on a couple of golf carts and zipped to the water’s edge. Already in the water was Hull No. 7 of the CRN 43 semi-custom series. We also walked through the new 196-foot (60-meter) Darlings Danama before her Monaco Yacht Show debut. Her modern interior is in stark contrast with the New England nautical theme of the latest CRN 43, with white panels and dark wood soles. They are perfectly telling of the Italian builder’s range, diversity and ability to customize each yacht. CRN also builds purely custom yachts, which has led the yard to build increasingly larger vessels. Among the 200 million euros of new business the company had signed as of May 2011, one of the contracts was for a 242-foot (74-meter) yacht (with a design by Francesco Paszkowski), larger than our July-edition cover girl, the impressive 236-foot (72-meter) Azteca, but smaller than the steel yachts currently under construction in Ancona. The next big one for CRN will be hull C129, an impressive 262-foot (80-meter) yacht. She features an owners’ private deck, a large beach club aft and a helipad. Her elegant exterior design is by Zuccon International Project, a design studio that shows incredible range throughout the Ferretti brands. Symmetry and balance are evident throughout the five-deck yacht (tank deck excluded), which is topped by an original radar arch that also serves as the anchor for one of two Jacuzzis. With an interior by Laura Sessa Romboli, the CRN flagship is scheduled to launch in February 2012. Another launch to look forward to is an alluring 190-foot (58-meter) yacht, also by Zuccon. It features slightly angular styling and a tender bay that fills in with water so the driver can just motor into the garage. In July, CRN also introduced a new concept that mixes two genres, appropriately named Dislopen (please see our design section page).
Next door to CRN is International Shipyards Ancona, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. This makes it a relatively young yard, especially within Italy’s well-established yachting industry. Even so, it has been an eventful decade, with 27 boats built and delivered to an international clientele. In 2001, two shipyard managers, Marcello Maggi and Gianluca Fenucci, set up a private fund with the goal to build stylish and innovative custom yachts. The timing was not ideal, yet the shipyard, which started with just five employees, thrived. One of the first large yachts built was a 157-foot displacement yacht in steel and aluminum (ex April Fool now 360°), designed by the late Walter Franchini. With its stylish sweep of staircases aft, it was a bold statement of style that attracted quite a bit of attention. One of the seven ISA 470 yachts built to date, Ellix Too, is expected at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this year. In 2003, the shipyard adapted its trademark design to a stylish 120-foot yacht, penned by Andrea Vallicelli, an innovative designer who works closely with ISA today. The first ISA 120, a speedy planing yacht, was delivered in 2005. Ten more were sold in just five years, which encouraged the shipyard to add the similarly styled ISA 140 to its offering.
Meanwhile, changes took place in the background. With ambitious goals of expansion, the management sought new investors. A London-based private investment group became the majority shareholder in 2006, with the shipyard management retaining a 20-percent stake. The builder retained OceanStyle as a sales agent for the American market. Another important event happened a year later. In 2007, ISA received an order for an impressive 206-foot yacht, its largest yacht to date. A second yacht, based on the same platform, but with a completely different look, Mary Jean II, received well-deserved attention at the 2010 Monaco Yacht Show and had a very successful charter season in 2011. When we visited in May, the shipyard, which currently employs 160 full-time craftsmen plus subcontractors, was working on three 164-foot steel and aluminum yachts (ISA 500) based on the same naval platform but with very different interior and exterior layouts. The design of the second of these tri-decks is a good synthesis of the ISA design. Lean and sporty looking, the yacht reprises a feature that made the ISA 470 and 480 series so recognizable—the sweeping staircases. Interpreted in a slightly different fashion, they now frame a beach club accessible through glass doors. Named Papi du Papi, she features an interior by Francesco Paszkowski.
ISA, which has its own engineering and naval architecture department and an enviable location on the Adriatic, also developed a thriving refit business. In 2009, ISA acquired a 400-ton travel lift and expanded its marina and launch area. This division has been quite healthy, providing the shipyard with steady work.
Recent new-build inquiries have been for larger yachts built in steel and aluminum. During a brief decade, this startup yard has carved a corner of the megayacht market.
Another of the Ferretti yards we had an opportunity to visit was Pershing. The timing of our visit coincided with a new launch. The company went through an important transition last year with the departure of founder Tilli Antonelli, and the management set up a formal press conference at the shipyard in Cattolica to present the newest born in the Pershing family, the Pershing 108. We walked through the modern facility, set up for maximum efficiency with dedicated halls for outfitting, painting and interior furnishings. The stylish Pershing office building overlooks fields strewn with colorful flowers. Fields? Indeed, the shipyard is several miles away from the Adriatic. That has not stopped the yard from building yachts up to 115 feet in length, which are tested in a pool on site—a tight fit for the Pershing 115, but it works. The first Pershing 108 had already left the yard and waited for us at a marina in Fano, but Hull No. 2 has started construction. For fans of the Pershing style, this model pushes all the right buttons: fabulous lines by designer Fulvio de Simoni, speed (with triple MTU engines—the latest and more compact 16V 2000 M94—coupled to three six-blade propellers, pushing the yacht to 42 knots) and elegant and comfortable living spaces. The hull color was the new Ferretti pearl white, iridescent and perfectly elegant. The sun deck is particularly fun with built-in chaise lounges, which would feel right at home in a beach-side resort, instead of the traditional banquette seating arrangements found almost everywhere. And it features a proper helm station, which replicates all functions available on the main helm station. This model was in development since 2009. Ferretti’s engineering department, AYT, banked on an aerodynamic hull and the new-generation MTU engines to make the yacht truly efficient. When considering distance, at 42 knots the yacht is more fuel efficient than at 20 knots, according to Andrea Frabetti, Ferretti Yachts’ VP of engineering, who uses the term “ecological speed.” At 10 knots, fuel consumption is such that the yacht gets a 1,100-nautical-mile range. The compact engines are also more efficient in terms of space. The big winner is the owner, who has a large suite with a loft or office space, located just forward of the well-insulated engine compartment. The crew quarters aft also have access to a full galley. Strong squalls from a wind locally known as the Bora shelved plans for a sea trial, but we hope to have another opportunity soon.