It was like meeting the sister of an attractive lady I'd known for years. As I stood on the quay in Viareggio, Italy, waiting to board Azimut's new 74 Solar motoryacht for her first test by an American magazine, I could not miss the family resemblance. The Solar is derived directly from the Azimut 70 Sea-Jet, but incorporates many features from Azimut's newer motoryachts.
The Sea-Jet was a popular model during the past half-decade, with more than 40 sold. Needing an update to fill the gap between the current 68 Plus and 80 Carat, Azimut called on designers Stefano Righini and Carlo Galeazzi to carry out the changes to their earlier design.
A longer hull on the same beam increases a key indicator, the length/beam ratio, for better performance. The 74 Solar upholds the family reputation for seakindliness with good acceleration out of the hole and quick response to her helm at all speeds. Response to the electronic MTU throttles was also quick, a bit too much so for my tastes. The throttles were manageable during our sea trial in gentle Mediterranean swells, but their sensitivity could be an annoyance in heavy weather.
The 74 Solar was impressive through a series of S-turns, with moderate banking, quick recovery after reversing direction, and little loss of speed. The trim tabs were quite effective, giving good control of the yacht's running attitude for speed optimization and matching of bow height to the sea conditions.
The exterior styling of the 74 Solar is obviously reminiscent of the Sea-Jet, an attractive design that has served as a model for several yachts. While the superstructure received only minor tweaking, the lengthening created a more svelte appearance. The most striking change to the profile is the addition of three large, vertical portlights on each side of the hull, panoramic windows on the passing world for occupants of the master suite. One port of each set of three opens for ventilation.
Part of a completely new interior arrangement, the master is large on the four-stateroom version and huge on the three-stateroom incarnation that was our test boat. The 74 Solar's extra 4 feet of length at the stern means the crew quarters, forward on the Sea-Jet, are relocated abaft the engineroom. This frees up additional space forward for owner and guest cabins.
In the three-stateroom option, the master head is lavish, with a full-size whirlpool tub and dual sinks occupying much of the space vacated by the fourth cabin. The hanging locker grows to take up the former master head location, and a private stair from the saloon sits in place of the smaller locker. On our test boat, the remainder of the fourth stateroom footage was a utility room with washer, dryer and extra stowage. An office option is available in this area.
At the bow, an island queen berth dominates the VIP stateroom. The joinery here, as elsewhere on the yacht, is cherry with burl accents, finished with a high gloss that brings out the fine detailing of the woodwork.
Between the master and VIP staterooms is a twin-berth guest stateroom, with Pullman berth, to port. There is a similar cabin to starboard on the four-stateroom version. The port cabin's head has a second door, opening into the lower foyer to allow service as a day head. While some owners, particularly older couples, prefer a day head up, I like this arrangement on what is primarily a family yacht. It frees valuable main deck space for other uses and keeps the view open.
In the absence of any significant seas, I crisscrossed our own wake and that of other boats to get a feel for the yacht's potential in heavy weather. While not a substitute for the real thing, this testing revealed no pounding of the hull (which carries 14 degrees of deadrise at the transom) and no rattles of the interior construction, even without the sound-damping effect of carpeting, which was yet to be installed. Except for some deep-throated exhaust rumble from the big MTUs as they neared wide-open throttle between 2200 and 2400 rpm, the yacht was quite quiet, inside and out.
Access to the spacious, airy engineroom is through the crew quarters. Ventilation comes through ducts with large fire dampers above the engines. There is good access to all sides of the engines, which are remotely mounted from the reduction gears in a V-drive arrangement.
Exhaust pipes are wrapped with insulation and sheets of polished stainless steel, exiting the hull under water after being injected with water for cooling and noise reduction. Two Kohler gensets with sound shields are mounted on the forward bulkhead between the reduction gears. Floor plates are readily removable over bilge-mounted equipment, including strainers and seacocks that are among the most easily accessible I've encountered. At the forward corner of the engineroom, a vertical ladder provides an access alternative to the transom door in case of heavy weather or emergency.
The 74 Solar has a main deck arrangement similar to that of the Sea-Jet, a proven plan that works well. Curved saloon sofas face each other aft, with space for fore-and-aft passage between. Forward of the sofas are an open bridge stair to port and a galley to starboard.
The galley is compact but capable, with a tambour door allowing it to double as a saloon bar. One galley appliance I really liked is the Liebherr refrigerator/freezer. It is equipped with integral indicators allowing you to keep track of the type and number of the unit's contents. You can see at a glance that you have six roasts and four chickens, for instance, without unpacking the freezer-assuming you remember to reset it as you remove things.
Outside on the main deck is Azimut's typical clean, functional arrangement. Teak covers the fore, aft and side decks for sure footing. Forward are a single centerline anchor and windlass, a sunpad on the trunk top, and lockers for fenders and lines. Aft, capstans and bitts ease docking, and transom gates flank a centerline settee.
In contrast to some stern gangways that offer all the flexible adventure of a diving board, the 74 Solar's telescoping passerelle, by Bitechnomare, offers a sure passage from quay to afterdeck. It is very solid with little spring, and is 18 inches wide at its narrow end.
A short trip from the afterdeck to the spacious flying bridge brought up one of my regular peeves with Azimut and some other yacht builders. The molded steps are wide, comfortably spaced and have good nonslip, but there is only one handrail. Azimut says it has never received a customer complaint about this arrangement, but I'd prefer a rail on each side. A single rail is fine at the dock, but not at sea when the boat lurches to one side, leaving you hanging from one hand.
Once on the bridge, much is forgiven. The upper helm is a control freak's delight, comfortable whether the skipper is sitting or standing, with all the necessary wheels, levers, switches and gauges in the line of sight. The helm chair has room for two, and a sunpad and circular settee aft will carry the rest of the crowd in style. The smoked-glass hatch adjacent to the helm is large enough for easy access to the saloon stair below and is fitted with a gas shock to assist in opening it. A RIB was stowed abaft the radar arch on our test yacht, along with a liferaft, both easily accessible.
Contact: Azimut Yachts, (011) 39 011 93161; www.azimutyachts.net.