With the success mainstream Italian yacht builders have found on our shores, I suppose it was only a matter of time before a young Italian upstart would shake things up a bit.
For the past 15 years, Aicon has been building interiors for other Italian yacht builders and, in the process, become familiar with the demands of the American market. The company began building boats just 21/2 years ago, and recently established a beachhead in the United States with Aicon USA. Its first offering, a 56-footer, is targeted at yachtsmen moving up from express cruisers who favor style and performance but want the added interior amenities a motoryacht design allows.
All models shipped to the United States will be fitted with 800 hp Caterpillar 3406Es. During our sea trial, I recorded a maximum speed of 27.6 knots at 2200 rpm. This is 100 turns short of what Cat recommends. According to Aicon, sea trials of the same boat in Italy yielded the missing turns and a few more knots. This is not an uncommon phenomenon, as the hot South Florida summer robs horsepower.
Reducing the pitch or moderating the cup on the wheels will bring back the turns and may add a bit of speed, as well. When the 56 is dialed in, Aicon expects a 31-knot maximum speed with a 27-knot cruise.
With 22.4 degrees of deadrise amidships and 16.8 degrees at the transom, the 56 is well suited for offshore service. While sea conditions were mild during our test, several stout wakes gave me the sense that the 56 will deliver a soft, dry ride. She is responsive to the throttle, accelerates evenly and is predictable in high-speed turns, however, her power steering did not operate properly during our sea trial (the problem turned out to be a spent hydraulic pump).
Sound levels were quite reasonable, although her underwater exhaust musters a throaty grumble at transition speed, as the boat climbs to plane. This is not uncommon, however, Aicon plans to incorporate a muffler in the design.
Sight lines from the flying bridge and the interior helm are excellent, and a bow thruster is provided for wiggling out of tight spots.
Styling and interior design are not taken lightly in Italy, and if your taste in yachts is not encumbered by tradition, you will find the 56 a comfortable fit. Her exterior lines are a familiar refinement of what American yachtsmen seem to favor in the breed. Her rakish superstructure is accented with a low-slung arch. It is thoughtfully fitted with an extension that positions the radar above the captain's cap. Her slight reverse sheer terminates in a reverse transom that borders an integral swim/tender platform.
Rail gates are fitted on the side decks, and our test boat was equipped for boarding astern (European style) with a hydraulic passerelle that can be retracted or deployed from shore by remote control. Aicon says the passerelle is designed to serve as a tender crane, as well, but this was not demonstrated during our test.
The teak-covered afterdeck has built-in seating, and a sunpad tops the 56's raised trunk forward. Warping windlasses are fitted aft, and a windlass/wildcat controls a plow-style anchor with 330 feet of chain.
Molded-in stairs on the afterdeck lead to the flying bridge, where curved seating is aft and an island helm and raised sunpad are forward. This is a rather clever arrangement, as positioning the sunpad forward of the helm allows for additional interior headroom in the main cabin forward. As a result, there is less nip and tuck in the belowdecks overhead and sole, creating a more sophisticated, big boat feel.
The flying bridge's helm bench seating is one with an integral console with a wet bar and space for a barbecue grill. I would ask about increasing the size of the helm seat, as it is a bit of a squeeze for two average-size Americans.
An impressive, polished, stainless-steel framed sliding glass door on the afterdeck leads to the main cabin. Almost all the stainless steel aboard the 56 is fabricated at the yard. Aicon also crafts its own interiors, and the 56's high-gloss cherry joinery has the detail and luster Italian yacht builders are famous for.
The split-level main cabin has a built-in curved seating area aft and an open galley area opposite a curved dinette forward. A partition can be closed to segregate the chef. With the exception of a dual-voltage refrigerator, all appliances are familiar brands. There is a fair amount of stowage, including drawers designed to accommodate the custom tableware.
A built-in washer/dryer is positioned conveniently in the passageway that leads belowdecks. The master stateroom, with a queen island berth, is amidships. A forward stateroom with a queen island berth has a private head. A second guest stateroom has two single berths. A third head without a shower is accessible from the passageway and is convenient as a day head.
The 56's construction follows European production yacht practice, with a solid bottom supported by a closely spaced network of transverse and longitudinal fiberglass stiffeners. The hull laminate is composed of alternating plies of woven roving and mat, and end-grain balsa coring is used to stiffen the topsides, superstructure and decks.
The engineroom is accessible from the afterdeck and, unlike some enginerooms on European designs, is quite spacious and thoughtfully laid out. Machinery installations seem neat and tidy, and service points on the main engines and auxiliary systems appear to be within easy reach. Fuel is carried in two stainless-steel wing tanks that gravity feed a day tank on centerline. An 11kW generator with a sound shield is abaft the engines.
A small compartment abaft the machinery space is designated as crew's quarters on the arrangement plan, however, Aicon USA offers this as an option. Those interested in cruising the Bahamas would be better off using the space for spare parts, a freezer and a watermaker. The lazarette is accessible from the swim platform and is segregated with a watertight bulkhead.
In a relatively short time, Aicon has assembled more than 250 employees and set up three production facilities in Sicily with 276,000 square feet of production space under cover. By year's end, the company expects to be producing two 56s a month. A 52 and a 64 are scheduled to be introduced in the United States in 2003.
For one of the first boats out of the box from a new builder, our test 56 had a surprisingly few pre-delivery loose ends. This is truly an achievement. It suggests the builder has corralled the right talent and is committed to building a quality boat. Aicon seems a serious competitor, and the 56 is worth a serious look.
Contact: Aicon USA, (954) 786-0211; www.aiconyachts.com.