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Megayachts

Something Wild

Wally Yachts’ Wallypower 118 —  February 2004

It looks like psycho origami and does nearly 60 knots. Welcome to the weird, wild world of the Wally 118.

If the Gotham City branch of Ikea ever gets into designing flat-pack boats, this is what they’ll look like. But this first foray into motoryachts by Luca Bassani’s Wally Yachts is not just an exercise in styling. Far from being a marketing exercise, it is in fact driven by some of the most demanding technical challenges ever taken on by a boatbuilder.

Genuinely new and high-tech, from her engine room to her folding radar mast, the Wallypower 118 has carbon, glass, and honeycomb construction, a superbly minimalist Euro interior by Lazzarini & Pickering, and a nearly 60-knot top speed. Scale models were tank tested at SSPA in Sweden and in Ferrari’s wind tunnel at Marinello, Italy. Intermarine, the renowned warship builder, built her. As a conscious re-evaluation of what express motoryachts should be like, she’s entitled to look a little out of the ordinary.

The 118 made her debut late last summer. Even with some of the most beautiful sailboats in the world to admire, competitors at the Voiles de St. Tropez classic yacht rally couldn’t take their eyes off the Wallypower. At the maxi-racers’ Rolex Cup in Porto Cervo, the 118 drew spectator boats like a carbon-fiber pied piper. And at the Monaco Yacht Show in September, where she officially debuted, visitors couldn’t get enough of her stealth-bomber chic.

The 118 is an express motoryacht with berths for six guests in three en suite staterooms and six crew, and her accommodations are arranged symmetrically on each side of a straight, central corridor in that unique angular hull. The tender garage—in the bow—is revealed when a triangular section of the foredeck lifts, dead level, on three hydraulic rams. Just forward of the superstructure is an inset seating area, which can be shaded by a bimini top. That mysterious glass-sided deckhouse shelters a capacious saloon aft, with white upholstery, plain wood surfaces, and a seductive, beach-house ambience. The dining table sits amidships, just aft of the helm, made of carbon fiber.

But the bald facts of this yacht’s appointments don’t even begin to tell her story. Perhaps the most ambitious motoryacht of her size ever built, at least since Vosper’s Mercury of 1960, the 118 has a CODOG (combined diesel or gas) propulsion system—jet engines for speed, diesels for everything else—common on small warships, but rare on yachts.

While gas turbines offer tremendous power-to-weight benefits (3.6 hp per pound in the TF50s), they do have a downside, as one British Harrier pilot discovered not long ago in 100-plus-degree conditions in the Persian Gulf, when his breathless aircraft landed in the sea beside the carrier. Although the Wallypower is unlikely to suffer such drastic consequences, jet-engine output typically declines by about 0.5 percent for every 1ºF increase in air temperature. The Wallypower uses three DDC TF50s (maritime cousins of the Chinook helicopter engine) driving three KaMeWa waterjets. Their 5,600 hp is calibrated at a lab temperature of 59°F—a little different from an August afternoon in Florida. However hot it gets, though, the 118 should always be able to cruise at 40 knots without effort. Not many 100-footers can make that claim. (Also aboard are two 370-hp Cummins diesels, used for slower-speed maneuvering, that drive two of the three waterjets through common gearboxes.)

There is a more conventional engine option as well: twin 3,650-hp MTU 4000 V16 diesels, which Bassani claims will give the boat a 45-knot top speed and around a 40-knot cruise speed. Go for these, and you’ll also save about $8 million on the asking price (which is $16.55 million when the yacht is equipped with twin diesels, $24.83 million as tested, with triple gas turbines).

With such complexity down below, you might imagine that the Wallypower is an intimidating technological challenge for the helmsman. Admittedly Bassani did not let journalists take the wheel during the demonstration at the Monaco Yacht Show (“It’s a bit tricky,” he said with a charming smile), but he made it look easy. Both turbines and diesels are electronically controlled, and simple “clutch in” and “clutch out” buttons take care of gearbox transfer from one to the other. The same control units also operate the waterjets. In fact the helm station looks almost conventional—until you notice the separate engineer’s console on the port side dedicated to the turbines.

There is a two-minute, computer-controlled startup procedure, and at the Monaco Yacht Show Wally’s technical team had trouble with an air lock in the fuel supply to the center engine. While they worked below trying to persuade the third turbine to light, the yacht sat patiently in the middle of a gray, rain-lashed Monaco harbor. While journalists kicked their heels and poked around, Bassani exhibited the kind of charm and candor that has made him one of the most popular and respected entrepreneurs on the European yachting scene.

Bassani is well known as an exceptional helmsman and passionate sailor. With skilled marketing, ineffably stylish looks, and good sailing qualities, Wally sailboats have carved a niche at the top end of the market. But certain questions needed answers. Why a motoryacht? And why such a complex one?

Bassani met them all with a smile. “I liked the challenge of this project,” he said. Yes, it would have been more practical to build the simpler twin-diesel version first, but that would have been “too easy.” It is not just the look of the Wallypower that is unique. With her fully enclosed wheelhouse and deck saloon, Bassani is aiming her at a wholly different style of life onboard. “This is an open,” he said firmly, “the new type of open. They started it ten years ago,” pointing out the window at a Mangusta 108—also drifting, perhaps also having trouble with its gas turbines. The Mangusta style of hardtop “open” sport cruisers, contends Bassani, while hugely influential during the 1990’s, has had its day.

Even on a day when too much sun would have been a nice problem to have, it was as clear as the sides of the superstructure what he meant: The main deck of the Wallypower is a wonderful living space, protected from sun and wind (and rain) yet affording spectacular views of the sea and sky for guests, owners, and helmsmen alike. This style of enclosed, open-air living could catch on. Bassani is confident that it will.

The engineers reappeared, and a thin whistle announced the startup of the third turbine as we headed out to sea for a speed trial. “With each ton of fuel we use, we gain a knot,” said Bassani, adding that we had full tanks that day. The slight chop in the bay also made it unlikely that she’d set a personal best: Waterjets prefer solid water, and with the hull lifting, they cannot be at their most efficient. Still, when the acceleration came, it was impressive. Below the waterline the hull is a conventional deep V, 22 degrees at the transom, and the 118 sliced through the chop with great panache, slamming only when the waves slapped the huge chine flats—which are deliberately outsized to keep spray out of the giant engine intakes.

Being insulated from the wind, I found the speed readings on the GPS unreal: 54.4 knots on our best run, an extraordinary figure for a boat of this size, and she is capable of more: “Between St. Tropez and Porto Cervo, we averaged 57 knots,” said Bassani with some pride. “That’s 220 miles.” But there was still work to do: Tweaks to the impeller pitch of the waterjets, he said confidently, would produce a little more. She’ll never do the 65 and even 70 knots that were claimed before launch, but 60 looks realistic.

The man who once declared, “I don’t like to follow the market, I like to drive the market,” is also confident that the biggest risk of his career will pay off in the end. The gestation between drawing the plans and drawing the crowds has been long and, at times, arduous. But the Wallypower 118 is more than a weird-looking motoryacht, she’s Luca Bassani’s vision of the future. And it works.

Wally Yachts Phone: (37) 7 93100090. www.wally.com.

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