Filippetti's S55 looks to modernize surface drives

Cut & Run

The Filippetti Yacht S55 is an ode to past and future sport yachts that honors a family’s deep connection to the sea.

Filippetti S55

Filippetti S55

Giovanni Filippetti didn’t have a typical childhood. The 38-year-old can still remember leaving behind the pretty hamlet where he grew up. In northeast Italy, Mondolfo retains an Old World, fairy tale charm, complete with a castle on a hill and ramparts that look down on the Adriatic Sea. It’s the sea that entranced Filippetti. Cruising both day and night around the boot, from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian Sea, Giovanni accompanied his father, Fausto, on deliveries to far-flung locales. Fausto wasn’t just a company captain, but co-founder of Pershing, in the heady days of the Italian sport yacht company’s meteoric rise. “It was a unique and very formative experience,” says Giovanni of those early days. “It was this path, our father who mostly sent us this passion.”

Even today, the passion is hard to miss. In fact, right now it’s creating a plume of sea spray about 15 feet high. The rooster tail belongs to Hull No. 1 of the Filippetti Yacht S55, a resurgence of sorts, or maybe a harkening back in time. At the wheel is Fausto, which is fitting: You could say he has his hands all over this design. Cruising out of Miami’s South Beach into Biscayne Bay, there’s a good amount of traffic. It’s obvious while sharing the water with center consoles and larger motoryachts that the S55 is the only yacht in the bay outfitted with twin 1,200-hp MAN engines paired to Arneson Surface Drives.

The Filippettis are showing their hand and hoping somebody calls them on it. Not only are we moving at a steady clip of 45 knots, but we’re throwing water around, too. The plume is a signature, a calling card. In 2015, the late Capt. Richard Thiel argued in this magazine that there will always be a place in the boating industry for surface-piercing drives—or surface drives, as they’re more colloquially known. The Filippettis would agree, though they do offer the S55 with an IPS option.

There’s a language barrier of sorts, in that Fausto barely speaks a lick of English and, well, I never learned Italian. But I can read his eyes, see it in his hands as he describes what it was like creating the first sport yacht in over 18 years, with Giovanni translating. When Filippetti Yacht was conceived, in 2009, the global financial crisis was placing the Italian market in a stranglehold. “In that period, we concentrated our resources on international markets more interested in larger boats,” says Giovanni, CEO of the company. Three model lines followed, each well over 80 feet in length and highly customizable: the Flybridge, Navetta and Explorer range. Prospective owners came calling, and production picked up at their two shipyards located in Olbia and Trieste. Says Giovanni, “Every boat [of ours] has its own soul.”

Before Filippetti Yacht, Fausto was one of three founders at Pershing.

Before Filippetti Yacht, Fausto was one of three founders at Pershing.

But something was missing. Italy has long been enamored with open concept sport yachts. Bold, contemporary lines. Sleek, aggressive styling. Boats with a design essence that’s pure speed, and yet sophisticated in that decidedly modern, Italian way. When a more mustachioed Fausto and his partners Tilli Antonelli and Giuliano Onori founded Pershing in 1981, they both capitalized on and accelerated this growing trend, making its way across the pond and all over the world. They named their company after an intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system. This would be a fitting—and prophetic—name, as their first boat, the Pershing 45, indeed moved like a missile, given its size, and was so well received that the company exploded in popularity.

The Pershing 45 gave rise to a line of chic, luxury motoryachts. Filippetti Yacht had forgone an entry level boat in favor of building megayachts. Could they reverse course and add a sport yacht to their range a decade later?

In his role as CEO, Giovanni continues his family’s boatbuilding legacy.

In his role as CEO, Giovanni continues his family’s boatbuilding legacy.

Today, the hamlet of Mondolfo—continually listed as one of Italy’s prettiest towns—has two large shipyards only a short drive from each other on the industrial outskirts. One is Pershing’s base of operations, long part of the Ferretti Group. The other is Filippetti’s main shipyard, which looks like a postmodern battleship. But whatever the façade might telegraph, Giovanni maintains they aren’t going to war with his father’s ex-company. The differences, he says, are obvious. One is a multinational shipbuilding company that’s part of a massive conglomerate; the other is a small, family-run yachtbuilder. But the strength of Filippetti lies in their boutique nature, which allows them to create a limited number of bespoke vessels each year with unmistakable Italian styling. Clients are entreated to visit the Filippetti shipyard, and to participate in every significant phase of construction.

“The most difficult thing at the beginning was finding a client ready to bet on our team and our new brand,” says Giovanni. “He bought the first boat on paper and then we started.” At the beginning, this placed Filippetti at a disadvantage. Before starting on this new path, Fausto had been selling Pershings for 10 years as a dealer, and the Filippetti company had no recent boats of their own to point to. Plus the build process took time. “Now, when people understand the reason why they have to wait, it has become a strong point,” explains Giovanni. “To offer superior quality, we need to design the boat down to the smallest details before starting with the construction. We build boats, not numbers.”

This is evinced in the S55. (“S,” of course, stands for Sport.) Working with Davide Cipriani of CentroStile Design, Fausto designed the S55 for performance but also for comfort, because nowadays clients expect both. Stepping aboard, the first thing you’ll notice is how much social space the 57-footer affords. In the cockpit, an L-shaped sofa combines with a massive sunpad to answer the question, “Where are my guests?” on a sunny day. A robust, sliding glass partition is capable of completely disappearing. While running the S55, with the sunroof open and the partition partly down, the salon actually felt airy—no air conditioning required. Down below, a large hallway leads from an enormous galley. A three-cabin arrangement offers a full-beam master, a VIP cabin aft and a smaller berth with double bunk beds positioned next to the galley.

Whether from Italy or the U.S., a fast boat brings a universal smile.

Whether from Italy or the U.S., a fast boat brings a universal smile.

An S65 and S75 are up next, and, if the renderings are to be believed, they will somehow inject even more sex appeal into the sports yacht segment. The 55 appears to be enjoying burgeoning interest in the States. Three have been sold thus far, with, at the time of this writing, Hull No. 2 nearing completion and hulls three and four in lamination. I asked Giovanni if prospective clients in the U.S. are gravitating toward the Arneson Drives or shirking them for the comfortable predictability of the simple-to-operate IPS. What does the demographic that chooses the performance-minded surface drives look like? I wondered. His answer surprised me. At the 2019 Miami boat show, more than half the people they spoke with expressed interest in Arneson Drives. “There’s no demographic,” said Giovanni. “We’ve received interest from millennials to an 85-year-old.”

It’s not entirely surprising when looking at the numbers. Trading surface drives for pods, the boat’s performance drops by 10 knots (though range does increase, from 270 nm to 315 nm), while the draft, nearly 4 feet, jumps up by more than a foot. “People hear surface drives and they think of speed and high performance, but these specialized props are all about efficiency,” said Filippetti North American Sales Manager Darren Datson. Though more efficient, surface drives are sensitive to trim, and take time to master. One of the added benefits is how fast a boat can jump onto plane. In the case of the S55, it starts planing around 16 to 17 knots. But this, too, will require a deft hand. For the skilled captains out there, it will no doubt be a badge of honor, like knowing how to drive a Ferrari with a stick shift.

03-S55 Sport Yacht Filippetti (16)
Fausto guida pershing

This being a sport yacht, I’m obligated to let you know that the higher rpm ranges are a thrill to experience. Carving turns in Biscayne Bay, one could feel how handling is sharpened with surface-piercing drives, and the S55 certainly cuts a striking profile while underway. Reaching speeds in excess of 45 knots felt exhilarating, though Giovanni and Fausto claimed they hit a top end of 47.5 knots in flattish water during the boat’s initial performance test off the coast of Northern Italy. (Which proves my theory that everything is better in Italy.) It leads one to wonder why more competitors aren’t carving out a niche in this segment, or making use of such propulsion. “It’s really just us and Pershing and that’s it,” admitted Giovanni. A good problem to have.

Fausto was at Pershing for the launch of the 45, 59, 62, 72 and 78—each model designed to utilize surface drives. All told, he oversaw the completion of over 300 vessels. Giovanni and his sister, Martina, were there as well, sometimes joining their father on deliveries near and far. Now, Fausto is putting all of his knowledge into building the next generation of sport yachts. And his children are contributing their time and energy to the family business: Giovanni around the clock in his role, and Martina overseeing administrative duties. Now making his own deliveries, Giovanni, one expects, will pass on the family’s fondness for the sea to his five-year-old daughter.

“Our company is a family business. It is our job but also our passion,” Giovanni told me. You could say such an outlook is the driving factor behind the constant production of boats that are beautiful, but bellissima rolls off the tongue so much better. 

top-S55 Sport Yacht Filippetti

Test Report: Filippetti S55

Test-Report-Filippetti-S55

Filippetti S55 Specifications:

LOA: 57'2"
Beam: 15'22"
Draft: 3'9"
Displ. : 58,000 lbs.
Fuel: 713 gal.
Water: 184 gal.
Standard Power: 2/1,200-hp MAN V8 with Arneson Surface Drives
Optional Power: 2/900-hp Volvo Penta IPS1200
Price: Upon Request

This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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