Cars, Bikes & Boats

Taking things down a knot

A desire to return to ‘proper’ cruising has produced some utterly stylish, long-range cruisers that extend horizons beyond the Balearics, says Alan Harper.

July 19 2010
Alan Harper

It was in the 1980s that cruising, like so much else, began to change. The idea of escaping for weeks or months became an anachronism – after all, you couldn’t make money if you were anchored off Portofino or rowing placidly ashore at Tobermory in the glorious summer twilight. Time-poor yachtsmen began to demand faster boats. Design and technology responded, boats got better, and motor yachting boomed. Production boats now offer a level of performance and capability that was once unimaginable. A cruise that used to take a fortnight can now be done in a long weekend.

But is a long weekend’s cruise really a cruise? Or is it, actually, just a long weekend? According to Italian yacht-builder Azimut, customers are beginning to ask what happened to “proper” cruising. The company commissioned research from management consulting firm McKinsey during the flat, uncertain sales environment of 2009, and it apparently uncovered a new mood among boat owners – one that stands in marked contrast to the no-holds-barred, diesel-guzzling consumerism that sustained the company so profitably during most of the Noughties.

“We have discerned a trend away from ‘show-off’ boats,” announced Azimut chairman Paolo Vitelli at a press conference last autumn. “We are seeing an increase in the desirability of slower styles of yacht.” To say that this was a reality check for a shipyard that built its name and fortune on sleek, fast motor yachts is something of an understatement. You can’t just make “a slower style of boat” by easing off on the throttles – fast boats are happiest going fast and tend to wallow uncomfortably at low speeds, especially in any sort of chop. If you want a long-range, fuel-efficient passagemaker you have to start from scratch and design the boat for the job.

If a rethink were required, Azimut was not alone in realising it. This notion that, after a decade or so of high-octane madness, boat buyers might finally be ready for a philosophical and literal change of pace also seems to have surfaced down the coast in the Bay of Naples. Arcadia Yachts is a new company founded by former Sanlorenzo director Francesco Guida. With a background in just the sort of bespoke, high-quality, high-speed yachts that define the idea of Italian nautical style, Guida’s decision to build cruising yachts of a different kind was based more on gut feeling than careful market research.

But he too has acted with conviction. Faced with a need for a new line of long-range, seaworthy motor yachts, the safe course might have been to build one that looked the part – something with the old world elegance epitomised by Fleming Yachts, perhaps, or the rugged attitude of British yards such as Dale Nelson. But Italian yacht builders didn’t attain their current eminence by following the safe course. Besides, their customers didn’t say they were tired of luxury or elegance, and these are the heart and soul of Italian yachting. Owners might be calling for “a slower style”, but style is still key.

So for its Magellano 74, Azimut went to a designer with an unusually diverse portfolio, encompassing business jets, the ultra-modern 88m clipper yacht Maltese Falcon and even some customised Harley-Davidsons.

“The intention was not to emulate traditional semi-displacement yachts of yesteryear,” says designer Ken Freivokh at his Hampshire-based studio on the River Hamble, “but to think from first principles and come up with a solution in response to the brief – to end up with a purposeful, rugged yet also elegant little yacht.”

At Arcadia Yachts, too, the idea of playing it safe with a traditional-looking, boat-shaped boat doesn’t seem to have crossed anyone’s mind. The shipyard’s début model, the Arcadia 85, looks like something Walter Gropius might have sketched on a beer mat in the Bauhaus staff canteen.

But while the unusual, contemporary looks of both boats are clearly intended to get noticed and underline a commitment to the new cruising, stepping aboard is a return to the comfort zone of Italian yachting. The Arcadia 85’s huge, shaded cockpit leads you forward to a stunning interior styled by Poltrona Frau, with cabinets, chairs and tables from Cappellini and Cassina. Steel, glass and leather compete coolly with marble surfaces, high-tech, foam-insulated bulkheads with oak veneers and ebony furniture.

The superstructure is made almost entirely of glass, each panel containing a complicated laminate of UV filters and krypton gas and said to have the insulating qualities of 20cm-thick concrete. They are also laced with photovoltaic cells so, according to Arcadia Yachts, you can sit at anchor with fridges, fans and TVs going without turning on the generators.

For the Magellano, Ken Freivokh also turned to the decorative talents of the sea and sky, with an immense, 360º sweep of glass around the main deck to provide a superb outlook for everyone on board. The galley is an unobtrusive and low-profile design, while even the stairs to the upper deck are glass-sided.

“We had free rein to develop the interior,” explains Freivokh. “We were able to propose the fully glazed surround to the external stairs, to achieve maximum transparency and retain panoramic views all round the saloon.” Dark hardwoods, ivory lacquer and black Plexiglas underscore the Magellano’s design with an edgy modernity. Hard, masculine stainless steel reflects the colourful luxury of fabrics and accessories by Missoni. Yachts don’t get more Italian than this.

But if these boats are truly to represent a new wave of Italian motor-yacht design, they need serious salt-water capabilities. Long range and seaworthiness are the key attributes of a proper cruising boat, and for the Magellano’s underwater lines Freivokh turned to English naval architect Bill Dixon, who designed a hybrid style of hull that combines a rounded, organic belly with hard chines and long planing surfaces along the sides.

“It’s an efficient shape,” says Dixon. “The reality is that for long distances you are going to throttle back to 15 or 18 knots, and you want a hull that’s good at those speeds.” Although capable of higher performance, the 2,000hp, €3.4m Magellano is designed to function at these conservative speeds, slipping efficiently through the water and working comfortably with the waves, rather than pounding over them. The idea is that neither engines nor passengers are ever stressed. Its cruising range is more than 1,000 miles. Gyroscopic stabilisers deep in the hull will help keep your cocktails dead level.

Faced with the same challenges as Azimut, Francesco Guida adopted similar principles for the Arcadia, adopting a wide-beam, NPL hull. Tested by the press in three- to four-metre seas, the Arcadia 85 hull passed with flying colours. Guida also decided on a modest 1,400hp and, although the yacht can reputedly manage 19 knots in the right conditions, it is designed to cruise at 12 to 16 – and, unlike many pure planing boats of the same size, there will be no need to throttle back in the rough stuff. Meanwhile, computer-controlled fin stabilisers ensure that everything remains calm in that elegant Poltrona Frau interior.

After an extended and virtually unheard-of winter shakedown cruise in the Mediterranean of several thousand miles, Azimut has taken the prototype Magellano back to the shipyard for a well-deserved refit. A smaller 50-footer is under construction and due for launch this summer, with other models to follow.

Arcadia Yachts, equally confident after selling the first 85 on the first day of the Dusseldorf boat show, has unveiled ambitious plans for 115ft and 135ft versions of the concept, and the option of vast banks of lithium-ion batteries to make the yachts even less dependent on diesel. Guida calculates that a fully charged “hybrid” version of the 85 could provide four hours of battery-powered cruising at eight knots – at a cost of an extra half-million euros on top of the basic €4.5m price tag.

Neither of these new-wave motor yachts is being marketed as a “green” alternative to mainstream planing cruisers, of course, as environmentally friendly cruising is best done under sail. But with modest horsepower and seaworthy, fuel-efficient hull forms – and, in the case of the Arcadia, a little help from the sun – both boats can claim to be capable, long-range cruising machines.

They promise a new freedom and independence for owners who wish to extend their horizons beyond the Balearics or the Côte d’Azur. Far-flung harbours and idyllic, deserted anchorages could soon be playing host to this new generation of boats, which, in spite of their ultra-modern, unconventional looks, offer a return to proper, traditional cruising – without compromising that essential Italian style. But however glorious the summer twilight, those photovoltaic panels might not work at peak efficiency in Tobermory.

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