Jim D'Agostino emigrated from Calabria, Italy, when he was just five years old. He grew up to become a bridge-building specialist in the U.S. Army and then an aircraft technician who tested jet engines for Pan Am. When the airline went belly-up in the late 1970's, D'Agostino tried his hand at real estate. His first investment was an undervalued gas station. He ended up owning several, along with high-end home developments and commercial complexes, enough to fund his favorite hobby: boating.
The first boat he bought was a 44-foot Tollycraft, and his biggest was a 68-foot Chris-Craft. In between were many sizes and brands, including Sea Ray, Carver, Hatteras, and Bertram. When D'Agostino decided to move up to his first crewed yacht, he ventured to his native Italy, to Viareggio, to see how the sleek Italian models were built. He says he toured factories at Azimut, Ferretti, Benetti—pretty much any boatbuilder that would let him in the shed. "I went in as a buyer, and I saw what they were doing, how they were doing it," he recalls, twisting and turning his hands as if fitting imaginary puzzle pieces together. "Not to say they're doing it wrong, but I thought I could improve it."
That was nearly ten years ago, when D'Agostino got the idea of building not just a custom yacht, but also a company to go with it. He wanted to take what he'd learned in building real-estate companies and apply it to his favorite hobby.
He realized his dream this past October, when the San Marino 88 Wide Body premiered at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. She's the second boat he's built and the first in what he hopes will be a line of yachts that buyers recognize as well-crafted both inside and out.
"I not only wanted to accomplish a pretty boat," he explains. "I wanted to accomplish a well-built boat." And he means it, as best as I can tell as we chat over breakfast in Fort Lauderdale. During a conversation in which a lot of boatbuilders would have tried to force-feed me marketing lines about their newest model, D'Agostino talked about air intake valves, removable helm dashboards, and PVC piping. They are literally the stuff of this former mechanic's dreams.
And because of that, the yacht herself may just be the stuff of some boat buyers' dreams. I toured Hull No. 2 with broker Craig Timm of Fort Lauderdale-based 4Yacht, the exclusive dealer for San Marino, and while I pointed out a few imperfect finishes and one minor structural change I'd like to see, I found the Taiwanese-built boat overall to be a good value at her base price of $3,695,000 (with the 88 I was on including about $700,000 in upgrades). The marble work is simple, and the wood grains aren't as elegant as what you find in some similar-size models, but the brand names from the galley to the engine room are first-class, and D'Agostino's personal boating and building experience shows from the pilothouse to the master stateroom.
Take the aforementioned PVC piping. D'Agostino knows what a pain in the neck (and back) it can be to run new wires into existing construction. To alleviate this problem for owners who want to, for example, add new aft-deck lighting, he's installed empty PVC piping with leads from there to the bridge, so you can run the new wires without tearing out the aft deck's overhead. He's done the same for future upgrades to the air conditioning and hydraulic supply lines, too. "You shouldn't have to spend $50,000 to replace a single wire," he reasons.
The same sort of thinking is evident on the bridge, where the 88 has a removable dashboard for servicing electronics components. Instead of drilling new holes through the dash to get to the wiring, you simply unscrew the entire dashboard and access whatever connections you need.
This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.