When the day begins with a tender picking you up in Cannes, France, to take you to a yacht lying offshore, and ends with you disembarking farther east at Cap d'Antibes to savor a meal at Eden Roc, you just know it's a good day. And when the yacht is the Azimut 98 Leonardo, it's nothing short of a great day.
The occasion was Azimut's introduction of its latest creation to the world's boating press. I had seen the sleek and innovative motoryacht four months earlier during a visit to Azimut's facility in Viareggio, Italy, where craftsmen were working feverishly to ready her for use at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. The yacht was nearly complete at that point, but she was still open enough to offer a satisfied peek at her sound composite construction and neatly routed systems.
When I boarded in Cannes, the 98 Leonardo was ready to run. In the gentle swells of the Med, we topped out at 31.4 knots, and cruised comfortably at 27.7 knots with the MTU diesels turning a relaxed 1900 rpm. That's a bit short of Azimut's projected top end of 33 knots, but we had a complement of about 20 people aboard. Sound levels were surprisingly low at the inside helm, just 63 decibels with both the sunroof and the big aft doors open. Belowdecks, some wood-on-wood squeaking contributed to a higher sound level of 75 decibels.
Being familiar with Azimut and its attention to detail, I knew that the squeaking would be quickly remedied when the yacht returned to the yard for final checks before delivery, but of more concern to me was the yacht's flat running angle and resultant spray at the bow. When I voiced my concern to Mary Brayda-Bruno, Azimut's marketing representative, she immediately relayed my comments to the builder's technical department. In a quick response, one of Azimut's engineers acknowledged that the company was aware of the problem and shared with me a drawing of the hull modification that had already been tested and would soon be implemented to improve the hull's running attitude.
What is surprising about all of this is not that there was a problem. As a designer and consultant, I had seen these same symptoms any number of times on new hulls. What was refreshingly different was Azimut's candor and the speed with which it was acting to rectify things. The company isn't perfect-no builder is-but it was sure working hard to get there, and it wasn't going to deliver the boat until she was right. You can't ask for more.
The Leonardo's profile is striking, with its dark blue hull, dramatically curved window lines and cantilevered afterdeck seating that seems to float in midair. The interior is no less dramatic, with spaces that are much more than they seem to be when you're viewing the yacht's plans or photos in two dimensions.
With the large sunroof open over the lower helm and the four curved-glass after bulkhead panels rotated fully outboard, the Leonardo is essentially an open boat, with everything from the helm to the stern composing one large outdoor space. Close the doors, and the dining area becomes an intimate room with a great view and protection from the elements.
The saloon, with its textured sisal carpet, three curved sofas, low oval cocktail tables and huge bar in the after corner, is definitely party central. This is a place that cries out for informal entertaining on a grand scale, and I have no doubt that the five extra seats around the lower helm, just forward of the saloon, will be popular perches.
Should the saloon reach its capacity, there's lots of room for overflow on the afterdeck and on the flying bridge above, reached via an open stainless-steel stairway with etched glass treads. The upper deck has a helm forward, but the remainder of the deck is devoted to relaxation and sun worship, whether on the dinette seating or on the sunpad that surrounds the circular spa at the after end. Liferafts are stowed just abaft the legs of the radar arch, in an elevated outboard location that makes for trouble-free launching.
When the party's over, eight guests can retreat to the four en suite staterooms belowdecks. Forward is a VIP cabin with a queen island berth. Just aft, to port and starboard, are two cabins with twin berths.
The master stateroom is remarkably light and airy for a belowdecks space thanks to five large vertical ports on each side. Four of these 10 ports, one each in the stateroom and bath on each side, open for fresh air when the weather is right.
The décor in the master stateroom, as elsewhere throughout the yacht, is primarily light oak with cordovan leather accent panels on the bulkheads and joinery. In addition to twin lavatories, toilet and bidet, the master bath has a large shower with multi-head spray tower. The master bath sole, as well as that of the VIP bath, is ivory marble with onyx variegation and verde inlays.
The master berth is recessed about 18 inches into the bulkhead, creating a lighted soffit above and night tables to either side. Glass shelves float in the corners above the tables, and drawers are built into the base of the berth.
Between the master stateroom and the engineroom are the crew quarters, galley and washer/dryer. The space is accessed via a spiral stair outboard of the saloon bar. There are two en suite crew cabins, one with a double berth and one with upper-and-lower singles. The galley has adequate space and appliances for the anticipated usage, and a dumbwaiter to the bar above eliminates the need to climb the stair with dinner plates or trays of canapés. A door from the crew quarters to the engineroom allows for safe access at sea when the transom door cannot be used, and also serves as a secondary emergency escape for both crew quarters and engineroom.
The main engines are arranged in a V-drive configuration with remote-mounted reduction gears. As on all Azimuts, a structural shroud is provided to retain the engine-to-gear jackshaft in the event of a U-joint failure. Generators are athwartships, outboard of the gears.
Personal watercraft are stowed in small garages port and starboard between the engineroom and the transom. The center section of the transom folds down to create a swim platform and provide easy access to the engineroom. A small jet tender and its companion crane are carried in a recessed compartment on the foredeck. An accordion-fold cover protects the tender and prevents flooding of the compartment when the Leonardo is at sea.
The Azimut 98 Leonardo is an interesting and innovative yacht. She is not the best design for long passagemaking, but she's just the thing for weekend trips with a few friends, extended day trips with a dozen companions or serious dockside partying with a crowd. In fact, she was planned from the beginning with that in mind. If we're honest, that covers 90 percent-plus of the usage most owners give their yachts, so why not consider a design that throws out the preconceptions?
Contact: Azimut, (011) 39 011 93161;
www.azimutyachts.net. For more information, contact: (866) 922-4877