In 2002, when I reviewed one of Aicon's first offerings in the U.S., it seemed that the Italian company had just accomplished a most difficult hat trick: to deliver, as a new builder, a serious contender in a foreign market in turnkey fashion. This happy beginning proved to be no isolated success; since then, Aicon has prospered in American waters, raising the question of how they came to know us so well from so far away.
Five years ago Aicon was a relatively new brand in the luxury yacht market. However, the company had extensive design and engineering resources acquired in its 12 years of specializing in producing fine commercial interiors. Its client list had also included several large yacht builders.
Coming to America was not a step casually taken, according to Marc-Udo Broich, who established Aicon's beachhead and is president of Aicon Yachts LLC in Ft. Lauderdale-the group's American headquarters. Broich was born in Italy, but, and this seems key, spent much of his youth cruising the Mediterranean aboard American production designs. Migrating to the U.S. for a career in business, he continued to pursue his passion for boating. His experience soon provided inspiration. "I came to believe that there was a demand for an Italian-built boat designed specifically for the American market," says Broich.
Impressed with Aicon's commitment and financial strength, Broich established Aicon's U.S. base in 2002. "It was tough being the new guy on the dock and I am sure some of our competitors wondered how long we'd last," he now admits. The market was saturated with familiar European brands and a newcomer, no matter how appealing, was a hard sell. Broich persisted and sold his first boat in short order. "From that point on prospective customers seemed more comfortable with our product and our company."
With a business plan focused on expansion and the support of a favorable business climate in Sicily, Aicon now operates three shipyards and has a workforce of 450 craftsmen. This year the builder will produce more than 60 yachts from 54 to 85 feet. There are currently 23 Aicon dealers worldwide, including seven dealer locations in the U.S. The genesis of its latest design, the 64 Sport, reveals in large part the secret to the builder's success. "She is the direct result of input from our current American owners," says Broich. "It's really quite simple," he adds. "We attempt to address the needs of our American customers on the drawing board during the design stage, not on the production line by retrofitting existing product."
Broich feels that the 64 demonstrates what the yard is capable of and why his program is different. The 64's modern swept-wing profile and shapely reflective windows are well balanced and, yes, very European. This seems a given for an Italian yacht. What is surprising is her layout.
The main cabin is open, not crowded with built-in furniture. The design is not so curvaceous that it is impractical; instead, it follows something of a minimalist theme. Bolster-style leather seating is complemented with such accents as frosted glass, stainless steel and a hardwood sole dressed with a custom area rug. Broich recognizes that unlike most European yachtsmen, Americans like to cook aboard as well as entertain. For that reason the galley is not hidden behind a bulkhead or buried in a cave, but is on the same level as the dining area. It also has the proper tools and space to prepare a meal.
An interior helm station has leather seating for two and space for an optional electronics package. The main cabin's vent windows open with the push of a button, as does a door to the starboard side deck that is thoughtfully fitted with an electronic security feature and an emergency manual override. A 32-inch flat-panel TV intended to drop out-of-sight is a detail Broich must fine-tune stateside, but otherwise the translation seems complete-even impressive, considering the 64's main cabin design is more or less semi-custom. "We are willing to do pretty much anything the customer wants as long as fixed tooling is not compromised," says Broich. This includes a choice of woods, finishes and fabrics.
The lower deck arrangement is fixed, offering either a three-stateroom/three-head layout or a four-stateroom/three-head layout. In either case, the master stateroom extends full beam and has three-foot-tall hullside "windows" that open to allow natural ventilation. A compartment aft of the machinery space can be arranged as crew's quarters for two or three and also serves as a storage and work area.
Our test boat's interior fit and finish was first-class and the rather complicated joiner design was flawlessly executed and offered more than a hint of the builder's heritage. There is plenty of headroom (seven feet on average) and enough real estate in the passageways and showers to suit the average American yachtsman, who tends to be somewhat bulkier than his European counterpart.
Exterior spaces follow the same uncluttered theme as the interior. A teak-soled afterdeck has built-in bench style seating and room enough for a table and chairs. A passerelle extends from a pocket in the transom with a push of a button. Stairs lead above to the bridge deck and aft to a water-sports platform with a hydraulic lift that is designed to carry a 1,000-pound tender-American style.
The space above deck, where Europeans might prefer to store a tender, is dedicated to pleasure and is arranged with seating areas and a wet bar with a refrigerator and an icemaker. A built-in barbecue grill and freezer can also be fitted. An exterior control station has helm and companion seating and space for a full complement of electronics. A sunpad area to port extends ahead of the helm-a European feature that Broich found appeals to his American customers. Skippers can easily keep an eye on the kids or their significant other while under way.
We conducted our sea trial in a light chop offshore of Ft. Lauderdale. The 64 is powered by a pair of 1,300 hp MAN diesels which have more than enough muscle to deliver impressive performance. I recorded a maximum speed of 34.2 knots, a bit off the 36 knots Broich expects; a little wheel tweaking is most likely in order as there was a slight bit of vibration. She managed more than 30 knots cruising at 2100 rpm and the engine electronics indicated a fuel burn of 104.5 gallons per hour. The relatively low decibel readings I recorded in her main cabin are worthy of note.
The 64's hull form was designed in-house at Aicon and tank-tested in the UK. "Our boats are designed for the steep, short seas common in U.S. waters," says Broich. With forward sections that are relatively fine compared to some European designs, she trims appropriately (approximately 3-5 degrees) at speed and moves easily through the water. I would imagine that in more challenging conditions her ride would remain dry and comfortable. Most importantly, the 64 is a pleasure to command. She is agile, predictable and has the feel and helm response that in American terms is similar to a high-speed convertible-very satisfying!
The 64's machinery space is accessible from a large hatch in the afterdeck or via a watertight door that separates it from the crew's quarters. Systems are not unnecessarily complex as sometimes seems the case on European yachts.
The 64 is built using a three-piece tooling system consisting of a hull mold, an interior and exterior deck mold and a bridge mold. The hull bottom is solid fiberglass and is supported by a fiberglass stringer system and marine plywood bulkheads. Foam coring is used to stiffen the hullsides, decks and superstructure. "Our boats are also RINA-certified class-A/ocean service which requires beefed-up structure and systems," says Broich.
People love being listened to, and Americans are no exception. If you appreciate European styling but find European interior layouts hard to live with, Aicon's semi-custom approach and the 64 are worth consideration. Complete with electronics and the most popular options, the 64 prices out at around $2,400,000. "The interior and exterior layouts we have created for the 64 might not be popular in Europe," admits Broich, "but this is not Europe." Indeed.
Contact: Aicon USA, (954) 713-8108; www.aiconyachts.com.