An advancing cold front does little to curtail the vibes aboard the Solaris 44 Open in Miami.
Miami is prefab. The experience of the metropolis from end to end is entirely constructed for your pleasure and not much else. The apartment buildings stand on lush stretches of beachfront a block away from cheap tchotchke shops, the humans are beautiful and not entirely made of flesh, the port is packed with hidden contraband. And yet, there is an undeniable charm, a lilt in the air. When I sit at an outdoor South Beach breakfast bar and have my first sip of sweet, thick Cuban coffee in the morning, the sky turns a shade of electric blue that’s all but hallucinogenic as the palm fronds rustle and coo in the salt air. This city is ripe with possibility. And it’s nice when the veneer is stripped back, and you see life in Miami not as we imagine it, but as it is. Thus, I introduce to you the Solaris 44 Open.
I first met the Solaris 44 Open the day after the 2021 Ft. Lauderdale boat show concluded. She was docked stern-to behind the Boatyard restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, and after taking her outside in snotty conditions, I was initially impressed with her sturdy performance. In 3-footers she felt safe and fun in weather that I know for a fact some of her competitors can’t handle. Her interior volume also struck me; high ceilings, a roomy head, and forepeak and amidships berths make her suitable for a couples’ getaway. And I loved her looks, which are marked by sleek muscular lines accented with a handsome dash of tumblehome. Yet her modern, even flashy, appeal felt out of place in Broward County. As we pulled back into the dock after the sea trial, I turned to Juan Morillo of United Yacht Sales and said, “This boat begs to be in Miami.” Morillo, Venezuelan-born and Miami-raised, looked at me with a sly smile. “You know,” he said, “I think that can be arranged.”
And so was born the idea for this story. The Ultimate Miami Sunday on the Ultimate Italian Dayboat (Solaris is headquartered in Forli, Italy). There would be sandbars and sunshine and all of the other earthly accouterments that one could possibly hope for in the Magic City. Sundays are special in Miami. Whereas in many parts of America Sunday is reserved for church, and in certain cities hungover hipsters crawl out of bed to chase away their headaches with a post-yoga mimosa, in Miami, nobody is hungover because the party never stops. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but in Miami, some nightclubs never close.
We reached out to Seaspice—a chic riverside eatery—for brunch reservations and made plans to raft up at a sandbar off Nixon Beach with some of Morillo’s friends who own a large Azimut. It was shaping up to be an epic day on the water. But, to quote Andre 3000, you can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.
A cold front was forecasted to land a few days before I departed from my home in snowy Connecticut to what was supposed be a January oasis—one last hurrah before the birth of my daughter in the early spring. A friend of mine who lives in South Florida texted to warn me as I was packing that I should bring appropriate clothing. I thought it sweet of her. It had been single digits in the tri-state area nearly all month, and she thought I’d be cold in Miami? “LOL,” I replied. “I’m sure I’ll be OK.”
When I awoke at 6 a.m. the morning after my flight, the thermometer read 39 degrees. Morillo texted me tentatively for one last confirmation that I knew what I was signing up for. “Let’s do it,” I responded. “We’ll make the best of it.”
I met Morillo and his wife, Oksana, on board the Solaris at the Miami Beach Marina just after noon. The sun had poked through and the weather had thawed considerably into the upper 50s. The Morillos had laid out a feast on the boat’s wetbar aft of the center console, and the convertible table. There were champagne bottles on ice in the sink, and neatly folded slices of charcuterie, served alongside pearls of caviar. Electronic dance music slithered alluringly from the plentiful JL Audio speakers. Things were looking up. Oksana caught my eye and said, “There are three things you need to go boating in Miami. Good liquor, good music and pretty women.”
“The girls should be here soon,” Juan added.
“Girls?” I asked
“Some of Oksana’s friends are going to join us. They were out partying last night, so they’re running a little late.” He laughed brightly, and as I took him in, the deep tan, the clean shaven head, the big dark shades and the easy charm, I thought, This is the guy you want to go boating with in Miami.
Solaris 44 Open
Anastacia, Yulia and Alice presented themselves shortly. They were wet with diamonds and ensconced in designer clothes that didn’t look warm enough. The perfume-thick air crackled around them with the sound of champagne corks popping.
With the ladies aboard, we were off. The Volvo Penta IPS650s rumbled softly below us as we turned the corner from the marina and opened her up as we passed the leviathan cargo ships unloading their wares in PortMiami.
We shot out into the gusty, steel-gray bay, carving a swooping turn to port to run parallel to downtown. Biscayne Bay was, well, acting weird. It had big, yawning swells that felt strangely like the Pacific Ocean. As the Solaris dove lightly into the troughs and powered easily up the faces, I couldn’t help but wonder about the provenance of these strange Biscayne Bay rollers.
Overhead, the low winter sun was out and its rays prismed and striated in the boat’s single-piece windshield. Its light fell flat and hot on my flushed cheeks while I drove, but did nothing to keep my extremities warm. We zipped along at a 30-knot clip pointed in the direction of the Nixon Beach sandbar, where we were to meet the Azimut. In the cockpit, the women huddled over their glasses of rosé and cuddled into blankets Oksana had dug out from the cabin.
As we approached the sandbar, the skies grew dark and the temperature dipped even further. I went down into the cabin and put on all the clothes I had brought: a long sleeve hoodie, under a crewneck sweatshirt, under a red windbreaker, with a skullcap on my head. We dropped the hook and waited for our rendezvous. I scanned the popular anchorage, which on a normal Sunday is booming with boats and revelers. Today, a lone, brave sailboat negotiated the gusts off our starboard side. The women retreated to the warmth of the cabin, all save for a Serbian named Anastacia, who sat alone at the table, enjoying her drink, with a throw wrapped snugly over her head and around her body. She smiled from under the blanket. “You know,” she half-shouted over the slapping of the waves on the hull, “I think this is the coldest I’ve ever been!” Unvexed, she took a sip of wine and turned to face the wind as it swept over the watery tundra.
Shortly, the big boat bobbed up. I heard it before I saw it—dance music blasting from its speakers, and two women bopping around enthusiastically, their arms stretched overhead and their fingers fluttering at us as if they were trying to clap with one hand. After some back and forth between our boat and the Azimut, we decided that a tender would be sent out to bring the women on the Solaris back into the warm aegis of the Azimut salon. A small RIB appeared, and rocked violently in the big whitecaps. In the tiny tender, a bear of a man with a resolute head and massive, gym-born arms worked with dogged determination on the engine, which was acting finicky. The tiny boat bucked like a bronco and was drenched with spray, but the man did not care. That captain is an intense dude, I thought. I soon found out it was not the captain, but the owner. And when I heard he was a successful German tech entrepreneur, the fearlessness, stubbornness and obsession with the engine made a lot more sense. It turned out the engine troubles didn’t matter, though. Oksana had rallied the troops, and the women had decided to go down with the ship. We would all freeze together.
With our plans to raft up foiled by the chop, both boats pulled up anchor and left. We motored our way back to the marina and pulled up to the fuel dock to drop me, Yulia, Anastacia and Alice off. Morillo and his wife would be taking the boat north before meeting us later for dinner.
I turned to wave one last time to the Morillos, but they were already chugging off, bundled and prepared for a cold, dark trip up the Florida coast. I admired the boat one final time. Despite being an open boat originally designed for summer in the Med, it had acquitted itself well this day. It supplied a warm and welcoming cabin, a steadfast bottom and ample entertainment space for six adults plus all the bulky layering they could muster. And beyond that, the Solaris looked good doing it. On a Miami Sunday that was anything but prepackaged, the Solaris 44 Open had turned out to be the total package.
Solaris 44 Open Specifications:
Displ.: 25,353 lbs. (light)
Fuel: 317 gal.
Water: 87 gal.
Power: 2/Volvo Penta IPS 500s; 600s; 650s