At most yards the first step in building a yacht involves rolling out fiberglass mat or cutting huge sheets of metal. At Lazzara Yachts, however, it all starts with pasta.
Dick and Brad Lazzara, brothers who opened the yard in 1991 and still run it, sit down and break bread with their clients when they sign a contract. But this is no ordinary lunch at a local steakhouse or trattoria. This is a homemade Italian meal, with family-style platters and starring a lasagna or other pasta dish that Dick sometimes makes himself, all served in a dining room straight out of a Tuscan villa. In fact, it is a Tuscan villa, surrounded by gardens and statues, though it's located on the grounds of Lazzara's construction facility in Tampa. (That same villa is replicated at boat shows, serving as the welcome tent for clients.)
The meal, the room, and the villa are all meant to make clients relax and enjoy the experience they're embarking upon. More to the point, they're intended to welcome clients into the Lazzara family, literally and figuratively. The brothers take such pride in their family's Italian heritage and 50-year boatbuilding history that they enjoy sharing the traditions they grew up with. And in a business where multiple shipyards specialize in the same size range (Lazzara starts at 68 feet and exceeds 100), the Lazzaras want their clients to feel as if they're more than just a contract and hull number.
The Heatleys, a tight-knit, fun-loving family from the Chicago area who had purchased a Lazzara 80 on the brokerage market in 2005, turned out to be a good match for the Lazzaras' philosophy when they signed on for the yard's new flagship, a 116, in 2006. Like the brothers, the Heatleys' paint company is family-run. They cruise with multiple generations and solicit each other's opinion on the features their yachts should have. They also enjoy sharing their yachts' welcoming atmosphere with others through charter.
And, after spending a weekend with them aboard their 116-foot Serenity and attending the christening, I realized they were anything but a hull number, thanks to their own actions as well as those of the Lazzara team.
Chris Heatley, a key decision-maker and primary helmsman for the family boats (except for the 80, which had a captain), bought the 80, then named Finish Line, through Mark Crew, a Lazzara broker. According to Crew, Chris had expressed interest in eventually buying a larger yacht. Coincidentally, Dick and Brad began planning some styling changes for various models, including different window styling and, specific to the 110, an integrated hydraulic swim/toy platform that, Brad says, they estimated would increase the LOA about five feet. Crew brought these to Chris' attention, and Chris was intrigued; the extended-LOA yacht would certainly be big enough to accommodate him, his two preteen boys, his mother Nancy, and his two sisters, Kim and Pam. By the time he'd signed the dotted line at 2006's Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, he had convinced Dick and Brad to incorporate more changes into what would become the 116, arguably more of a custom yacht than the semicustom one they'd planned.
By the nature of its business, Lazzara is used to accommodating client requests—but why go to this degree? "We decided we can offer the client variations that the competitors cannot do—and if we're clever in the way we engineer them...we can satisfy the expectations," explains Brad. Considering how much money the client is spending, he adds, "We need to be as flexible as we can to...make him happy that he's getting what he wants versus be forced to accept what [he's given].
Above all when it came to Serenity, Chris, who collaborated with Kim and Nancy on every aspect of the evolution, wanted Pam, who uses a wheelchair, to be able to get onboard on her own and move about with ease. Even though she'd been out with Chris on some of the family's boats over the years, none had been built or designed with physical limitations in mind. So the things many of us take for granted, such as passing through a boarding gate, walking up a passerelle and heading below to a stateroom, presented challenges, some of which couldn't be overcome.
This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.