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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Azimut 68S

Okay, let’s talk about those windows first—the square ones in the topsides. They’re real, and they work: You can actually see out of them. They’re clever, too, because while the area of each panel is relatively small, arranging them in a tight three-by-three rectangle actually fools the eye into seeing them as one big picture window with a view. They make quite an impression. Looking out from the owner’s amidships stateroom, you feel you’re part of the seascape.

They also create an utterly distinctive external signature for the Azimut 68S, and for this builder that was almost more important than giving the owner a nice view. Azimut, after all, doesn’t want you to forget that it was the one to come up with the idea of topside windows in the first place, in its 68 Plus flying-bridge cruiser a few years ago. Far from being flattered that virtually every other boatbuilder in the world now has its own variation on this excellent theme, the Italian yard is actually rather miffed at being copied. So the square windows in the 68S are a challenge: Copy these, if you dare.

Of course, this may not be the most tactful moment to consider the design relationship between those flat, eye-shape wheelhouse side windows and the curved windshield (a stylistic theme pioneered by Pershing) or the 68S’s clever electro-hydraulic bathing platform, which slides down into the water (like the Sealine S48’s), or even the circular “beam me up” shower stalls, which are now used by nearly everyone but were originally thought up by Ferretti. Instead, let’s look at some of the other great ideas to be found in this boat. There are lots of them.

Take the sunroof, for example. The 68S may be technically a hardtop, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it, because an enormous area of roof slides away to open up some 65 square feet of sky—an effect that has been achieved by simply dividing the sliding section into folding panels that stack, accordion-style, and tuck in neatly behind that spaceship radar arch.

Then there are the high-tech flourishes that Azimut prides itself on, particularly the maneuvering and mooring technology. Computer-controlled joysticks that interface thrusters with main engines have been around for a few years now, but to find such a system in a boat this size, even as an option, is still a rarity. And that’s not all: There are two acoustic mooring sensors mounted on both the swim platform and the taffrail to cope with different heights of seawall, giving the helmsman an audible proximity warning when mooring stern-to. Then there are the automatic engine room vent flaps in the hull sides that pop open when the revs exceed 1200 rpm for more than 20 seconds. When it comes to gizmos, this boat is loaded.

And in a way, she has to be. This 68S is Azimut’s first new express in more than 20 years. Although a dominant force in flying-bridge motoryachts, the company nevertheless knew it would be regarded as a newcomer in the competitive sport-yacht sector and realized it had to produce something dramatic: a boat that would not only perform and function properly but also command attention.

So there are clever new ideas in the accommodation layout, too, one of which hits you as soon as you step aboard. The galley is down on the lower deck, on the starboard side, but separated from the main companionway and central corridor by a longitudinal bulkhead and open to the sky along much of its length. You could criticize it for size, but it definitely works.

It’s this kind of thinking that reminds you that there is one important advantage to having been out of the express yacht game for so long: Azimut’s designers were able to start the 68S with a clean sheet of paper. And they clearly enjoyed the challenge. Unlike rival boats from other European yards, there is no saloon on the lower deck. With the hardtop, optional four-piece glass doors across the cockpit, big retractable TV, and comfortable seating for six, the deck saloon serves perfectly well. The space saved by this decision has been put to excellent use not just in the owner’s stateroom, which occupies nearly half of the available lower-deck space—the raised dinette on the starboard side, right by the picture window, is a truly superb conception—but also in a usefully proportioned twin-berth guest suite on the port side and, of course, in the big, bright VIP suite in the bow. In the stern, meanwhile, there’s space for a 10’6” tender garage or optional crew cabin.

Then there’s the interior decor, which is also clearly intended to catch the eye. It has been carefully thought through, from the silk blinds to the naturally dark wenge wood used for the furniture and worktops as well as optionally on the floors. The overall effect, with so much emphasis on horizontal planes, stark right angles and a minimalist use of light, is fashionably cool and Asian and puts the 68S in the vanguard of current European boating style—up there with “signature” vessels like the Wallypower 118. But with cheerful upholstery and the funky use of glass in the head compartments, she’s not taking herself too seriously, either. It’s as if the designers wanted to remind their style-conscious customers that boating is meant to be fun. After all, this is a boat with a bright-red hull.

Performance is another area where Azimut had to go back to first principles and consider weight, power, and hull shape. The 68S’s hull is narrower than its 68-foot flying-bridge sistership as well as somewhat lighter. The hull sections are also noticeably deeper at the forefoot, even though the deadrise aft declines to just over 15 degrees. The basic power package of 2,300 total horsepower is good for speeds in the mid-30-knot range, but my test boat was the first to be fitted with the more powerful (2,600 total hp) MTU TE94s, which gave lively acceleration and a respectable top speed of more than 37 knots. V-drive gearboxes and hull tunnels keep the shafts at a reasonably shallow angle, and there seemed to be little of the penalty in turning circle that this arrangement often entails. The 68S handled as nimbly as you could expect of a boat displacing over 30 tons, and that fine forefoot sliced confidently through the wake of the 50-foot chase boat, which were the only waves of any size we managed to find. She may be Azimut’s first in 20 years, but she’s an express yacht all right, with poke and poise. It’s a fun drive.

From the dock to the open sea and back again, it is impossible not to be impressed by Azimut’s achievement with the 68S. In re-entering the express market, the company knew it was taking on a difficult task. Corporate pride as well as the realities of the marketplace inevitably decreed that the new boat would have to be an attention-grabbing, stylistically original tour de force. And she is. But those same commercial realities also demand handling and performance qualities of a higher order than those of a high-end million-dollar motoryacht, which is Azimut’s stock in trade. Here, too, the 68S delivers.

Just one question remains in my mind: Will anyone take up that challenge, and actually start fitting square topsides windows on their boats? Somehow I doubt it.

Azimut
(39) 011-93161

This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.