Azimut 86SBy Capt. Ken Kreisler
I like stories about individuals who through determination and fortitude not only pursue a vision but also achieve it. Take Paolo Vitelli, the president of Azimut-Benetti. In 1969, with little more than a vision, the young university student started a yacht-chartering business that eventually evolved into the Azimut brand of yachts. Thirty-six years later, after acquiring the Fratelli Benetti yacht yard and Gobbi boatbuilding company, Azimut-Benetti is a world leader in boatbuilding and the Azimut name is synonymous with style, luxury, and performance.
The Azimut 86S is the latest endeavor from Vitelli, who along with designer Carlo Galeazzi and long-time stylist Stefano Righini, has produced a big, bold, and beautiful flagship for their Open Series which already includes 43-, 62-, and 68-footers. With optional power packages that include V-drives, water-jet drives and, as on my test boat, Arneson surface drives tied to a pair of 2,000-hp MTU diesels, the 86S is in many ways the embodiment of the Italian zest for life and Vitelli's drive for success.
One look at my test boat at the Allied Richard Bertram (ARB) facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and it was easy to see what Vitelli and his cohorts had in mind for the 86. A low, beautifully proportioned express profile encompasses a slightly dipped bow ringed by a formidable rail that diminishes at her rakish amidships area, a sextet of distinctive rectangular midship windows in each side of her dashing red hull, and a tapered aft section where her Arneson drives are hidden under an artfully conceived teak swim platform. Right away, you know this is not a boat that belongs at the dock.
And that's just what ARB's senior corporate captain Stefan Czuplak and I had in mind as he maneuvered her out of her shed and into the narrow, boat-lined fairway with help from the standard bow and stern thrusters. At idle speed the big props, set at a neutral trim angle for maneuvering and motoring at idle speed, pushed us along as we slowly made our way in the no-wake zone. The 86 felt like a thoroughbred racehorse eyeing the track in front. I could almost sense her desire to get up and go.
I didn't have long to wait. As we were clearing the Port Everglades jetties, Czuplak asked me to go aft to the spacious deck, which includes a large sunpad, where I'd spread out most of my gear on and secure it inside. "Once we get going, things have a tendency to get blown away out there," he warned. Within moments I knew what he meant. After getting her up to about 15 mph, he began to slide the MTU electronic throttles forward; I heard the 2,000-hp engines spool up and their sequential turbos kicked in. As the 86 quickly picked up speed, he asked me to call out the rapidly rising rpms while he trimmed the drives. With the once frothy, whipped cream-like wake now rising higher and higher into the signature rooster tail, our speed increased until we hit 53 mph at WOT. And what do you do with a 52-ton, 86-footer at that speed? "Anything you want," Czuplak said, as he put her though several aggressive turns on the flat-calm sea. Backing off to 2000 rpm, where we registered nearly 39 mph, the 86 was rock solid and always under control, whether we were banking to port and then to starboard, circling around and jumping her own wake, or going flat out across the Gulf Stream. Exciting doesn't come close to describing her performance, but it's a good start.
The thrill of driving this boat is yet another fulfillment of Vitelli's vision for his company in general and the Open Series in particular. Like all Azimuts, the 86 has a true high-performance hull form. Galeazzi has combined a sharp entry and a moderate 12-degree deadrise at the transom designed to get the 86 up on plane and keep her there. The running bottom is not only comparatively flat, but it has large, wide chines to add lift. Working with the Arnesons, the result is maximum lift aft and impressive thrust. "Once the drives are trimmed properly, almost all the power is utilized. That's how an 86-foot boat can go 52 mph," Czuplak tells me.
But Vitelli's vision is a line of yachts that is as stimulating inside as it is out on the water, and again, the 86 is typical. She has a four-stateroom, four-head layout that includes a forepeak VIP with an island queen mattress and a pair of double-berth quarters just aft. The sumptuous master suite is amidships to take full advantage of the boat's 20'2" beam and offers not only spacious accommodations but, as with all the living quarters aboard, plenty of stowage space for extended cruising.
As roomy as she is belowdecks, what sets this boat's interior apart is her Italian style. On my 86S, the decor was highlighted by dark wood trim, light fabrics and treatments, wooden blinds, and enough chrome and stainless steel to make things interesting. Even the heads were eye-catching, with wood soles, designer basins, and those high-tech, multiposition shower heads that make cleaning up something to really look forward to—and that goes double for the master shower that can easily hold two.
More luxury is available topside, at the helm area, where there are three electrically adjustable leather seats; the centerline one is for the skipper and affords excellent views of the seaway through large forward windows. A formidable electronics array features a touch-screen monitor that instantly provides information on all systems, engine functions, Arneson Drive position, and a host of other data.
Aft of the helm is a large, comfortable saloon with seating and an entertainment area that feature an L-shape couch to port with a table that leafs open and can easily seat eight for dinner. Opposite the seating area is the entertainment center housing a 42-inch plasma TV hidden in its own electrically operated cabinet. Reflecting how this boat is likely to be used, the galley is down a companionway to starboard, out of sight and easily accessible by crew. It's finished in gleaming stainless steel and wood trim, and even the crew quarters nearby are quite spacious and luxurious. Logically enough, the main entrance to the engine room is here; secondary access is from the transom garage, which can hold a tender and a PWC. Although it lacks stand up headroom, the engine room still affords plenty of space to perform maintenance checks.
All this is enjoyable and impressive to be sure, but for a real adrenalin-pumping experience, try sitting on the aft section of the 86S, on the seating area just behind the glass door leading to the saloon, while she's cruising across the water at close to 40 mph. You'll be out of the wind with an excellent viewing area of the rapidly passing scenery, including that remarkable rooster tail, and having the time of your life. I certainly did.
It's easy to look at the 86S as just another evolutionary step in Vitelli's grand and methodical scheme. But that doesn't fully account for the boat's excitement and beauty. Indeed, as I debarked with my test gear, I found myself wondering what this visionary builder with foresight, drive, and a penchant for luxury and performance would come up with to top this.
Allied Richard Bertram
This article originally appeared in the November 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.