Atlantis 55By Alan Harper
It’s been two years since Paolo Vitelli, head of Azimut-Benetti, absorbed the family-run Gobbi into his empire. The yard was a successful producer of midpriced sports cruisers, known for its advanced production facilities, but not a force to be reckoned with outside Italy. Vitelli installed Carla Demaria, one of his most senior managers, at its head and gave her a mission to recreate, rebrand, and revitalize it. Any doubts about whether he picked the right person for the job were quickly dispelled when, within months, she unveiled the Atlantis brand, with a new 47 and a revamped 42, at 2002’s winter shows.
It was an auspicious debut. Those boats clearly still were products of the Gobbi yard, but their interiors were up to date, and a huge amount of effort had gone into the detailing—the helm console of the 42 made it onto more than one magazine cover. The next boat out, which would be the first all-new project on Demaria’s watch and so the first true Atlantis, became one of the most eagerly awaited boats of the decade. And here it is.
If you want to be noticed, this is one way to do it. The external styling alone, particularly that fighter-style glass canopy, would be enough to grab anyone’s attention, but this boat is packed with a lot more innovations and ideas, inside and out. Some are real crowd pleasers. Cockpit tables are often in the way when you don’t want them and inaccessibly stowed when you do. On the 55, the teak cockpit table lives in the floor: Lift a hinged access panel in the deck, press a button, and it rises on a telescopic, hydraulic pillar. Two small triangular sections can then be unfolded, like simple origami, to make one large triangle. The teak deck panel can be folded down again, leaving no sign that it is not a permanent fixture.
The designers have also had fun with the saloon tables below decks. They are sculptural artifacts of steel and glass that can be turned, raised, and lowered (but only with the aid of a key, so don’t lose it), and when properly (and exactly) aligned, they can accommodate a rhomboid wooden infill section whose grooves slide neatly over the tables’ inner edges to make one long table for four. There are catches to prevent this infill from sliding off, but it might take practice before you trust them.
In the more fundamental and important areas, the designers have shown a real understanding of life aboard. The main deck layout is an object lesson in how things should be done, with a long, curving sofa and table on the bridge deck opposite the helm, port and starboard seating down aft, and a sunpad over the tender garage. The result is plenty of comfortable space to sit, lounge, or lie down, and with glass all around and overhead, the views from the upper dinette are unsurpassed. It really feels like sitting outside—especially with the big roof panel slid back. The helmsman, unfortunately, doesn’t share these views: The thick mullion that conceals the opening mechanism for the side window pretty much blocks his view to starboard.
Venturing down below you’re faced with a feast of textures and finishes, from stainless steel fittings to matte oak paneling, coconut matting on the floor, and leather and rope weave upholstery. But the overall effect is low-key: Calming and vaguely Asian, it offers plenty of rewarding detail to the design-savvy eye without ever pretending to be anything other than a practical interior in a boat built for cruising. So while the starboard-side galley features a dramatic black laminate worktop, it also offers plenty of practical stowage space both at eye level and below the worktop, including a thoughtfully provided slot for the worktop infill panels that cover the cooktop and sink.
Practicality remains the theme throughout. Atlantis describes the 55 as a “two-master,” not a reference to an optional schooner rig but an admission that it will be hard to choose between the amidships and forward cabins. The amidships stateroom will be adopted by most owners, with its big, offset double berth under the cockpit sole and standing headroom on the port side, but the forward cabin runs a close second. Both have roomy en suite heads and as much practical stowage space as possible, both in the cabins and the heads.
The third cabin, a twin on the starboard side between the midships master and the galley, is under the helm and so somewhat challenged for headroom over the berths. It has the least stowage, with just long, thin lockers by the door and two drawers, but it would make an ideal kids’ cabin. And besides, the day head opposite has spare lockers. On an American boat this head will be used as a laundry room instead.
For all her style and panache, the Atlantis 55 is primarily as a family cruiser. You can see this even in the engine room, where V-drives keep the six-cylinder Caterpillars low and level to maximize cockpit space and forward enough to allow for a decent-size tender garage, which can swallow a nine-foot inflatable.
Those Cats certainly make their presence felt, however, with significantly high sound levels under all that domed glass. Extra soundproofing will help, and, apart from that vision-impairing mullion, there is certainly nothing wrong with the other aspects of the 55’s driving experience, with its precise electronic controls, light hydraulic steering, and respectable 32-knot top speed.
In a way, the Atlantis 55 is like an exercise in nautical Darwinism. To survive in the high-pressure world of Italian boatbuilding, a yard cannot produce a craft that looks like a floating rocket ship but falls down when faced with the realities of life afloat. But it’s also not enough merely to turn out practical family cruising boats. They have to look like a million bucks as well. The fittest species now is the one that most successfully manages to combine style with substance. Those disparate strands of Italian boating philosophy are increasingly intertwining, and perhaps never more so than on the 55.
Allied Richard Bertram
This article originally appeared in the December 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.