Cut to the Quick
With raceboat heritage and modern comfort, the four-engine Otam 80 proves that speed is only part of its story.
Coming across Mr. Brown at the Cannes show was like parting some palm fronds in the botanical gardens and finding yourself eye to eye with a tyrannosaurus rex. I didn’t know anyone still made boats like this. It’s not even American. Otam has solid stateside connections, of course, having first come to international attention fitting out Magnums under license for the Mediterranean market. But apart from its German engines, the Otam 80 is as Italian as they come.
But let’s talk about those engines. There are four of them, V-10 MTUs staggered in an engine room that’s bursting with exhaust trunking, soundproof insulation, electronic control panels, ventilation fans, generators, and hydraulics. It’s actually pretty tidy considering the amount of horsepower on tap (nearly 6,500), which is directed aft via Trimax surface drives paired with a set of fearsome, five-blade Rolla props.
Clearly, this is a boat built for the kind of guy who loves his hardware. And it turns out that Mr. Brown’s owner is none other than the owner of the Otam shipyard, Giancarlo Rampezzotti himself, a former powerboat racer and record breaker, and longtime associate of fabled designer and engineer Fabio Buzzi.
Which explains everything. Buzzi, you will recall, was the engineering genius—and I don’t use the word lightly—who torched the old certainties of offshore racing in the ’80s with a series of diesel raceboats, including a winged monohull that looked so graceful as it flew past it made your heart soar, and a quad-engined catamaran that was so quick your heart just stopped. The only way the offshore establishment could get its sport back was by rewriting the rules, whereupon Buzzi turned to endurance racing and long-distance record-breaking, all the while making a pretty good living selling outrageously fast patrol craft to Italy’s bewildering number of government agencies.
The Otam 80 is a direct descendant of Buzzi’s 80-foot Record prototype, which although a successful record-breaker in its own right was always intended as a pleasure yacht, with its high-volume hull and an elegantly sculpted profile styled by Paolo Martin. Mr. Brown is only the second 80 built so far by Otam—the third has already been delivered, with a fourth under construction—and is so far the only production example to follow the prototype’s lead with four MTUs and Trimax drives.
All, naturally, are fully custom builds. Rampezzotti chose the well-respected Achille Salvagni studio to style his new yacht’s interior, and it would have been fun to be a fly on the wall during the briefing. Whatever was said, Salvagni has done his client proud with a resolutely masculine design that features plenty of contrasting tones and textures and some pleasingly tactile detailing in stainless steel and leather. The chrome-plated pistons set in their backlit alcoves in the central corridor might sail a little close to petrolhead parody for comfort, but they’re beautifully done.
With the machinery space taking up almost half the hull length, and the galley and crew quarters arranged amidships, holding the guest layout to just three well-proportioned cabins was a sensible move. The two guest en suites have 7 feet of headroom, which might seem over-generous considering the 6-foot, 2-inch by 2-foot, 4-inch berths and the modest volumes of stowage, but they feel spacious enough. Low-level LEDs don’t quite make up for a lack of portholes or hull windows, but there is unexpected daylight illumination thanks to hidden side-deck skylights in the overheads.
In an appropriately old-school touch the master suite is forward, with a large central double berth and an excellent shower compartment. Making a V-shaped cabin feel luxurious never seems to be easy, but with its big hull windows and entrance lobby, and generous 6-foot 8-inch headroom, Mr. Brown’s master makes a pretty good go of it. By the way, those upholstered leather ribs on the bedhead and seat backs are a lot harder than they look—if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is not a boat for wimps.
Up on the main deck the small saloon and big cockpit are completely dominated by four tall, forward-facing seats at the helm. With four engines, three trim tabs, and two fixed and two trimmable Trimax surface drives, Mr. Brown’s control console is also not for the faint of heart. There was a noticeable vibration at tickover as we made our way through the maze of boat-show pontoons and their attendant swarms of small craft, but once we got going all was calm and smooth. Speed is the guiding principle of this yacht—the bathing platform even tilts upwards, away from the drives’ plume of spray, to save an incalculably minuscule amount of drag—and given the complexity of its drive system, getting the best out of the boat will take some practice.
So I can’t pretend to have completely gotten the hang of it during our sea trial, but in principle you start with the inner drives fully down, in the usual way. Then, at 1,900 rpm, you lower all the tabs, and she clambers up onto plane, accelerating all the while. Next, you raise the outer trim tabs to about 60 percent and bring the drives up too. Ease forward on the throttles. She’s really tramping at this point, so have a look out the window, then finally, raise the center trim tab to 50 percent, and check the speedo—it should be reading somewhere in excess of 50 knots.
With different propellers Otam actually expects to do better than that, but anything over 50 knots is extremely impressive for a boat this size, especially one that handles as deftly as this one. Noise levels in the saloon seemed unobtrusive—I’m afraid I was just too busy at the helm to take sound readings—and after a little experimentation with trim angles we found that she’s happy to plane as slowly as 16 knots and content to cruise between about 25 and 45 knots—although the sweet spot in the performance envelope, where you’ll find the best combination of speed and fuel economy, is in the mid-40s.
I was surprised halfway through our trial to see that we had a healthy 3-foot chop in the bay. Not because it was noteworthy in itself, but because I hadn’t noticed it before: The hull’s deep forefoot had been quietly ironing it out with a minimum of drama. With this capable hull shape and Mr. Brown’s taut, responsive handling, it occurred to me that even at the high speeds the boat is capable of, it might prove possible to at least hope to steer a considered course through the waves with her, and give your guests a smooth ride.
Fast, comfortable passagemaking is boating’s ultimate oxymoron, but on board Mr. Brown I found myself wondering if it really was a practical possibility. She may be a dinosaur, but she’s fully house-trained.
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Generator: 2/13-kW Kohler, Air Conditioning: 75,000-Btu Frigit
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 72°F; humidity: 72%; seas: 3’
Load During Boat Test
5 persons, 500 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 4/1,622-hp MTU 10V 2000 M94s
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 2060, 1.7:1 gear ratio (Trimax surface drives)
- Props: 5-blade Rolla SI
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.