Yachtsmen in search of the Holy Grail of yachtbuilding know just where to go to find it: the small port of Viareggio, on Italy's western coast. Here is where you'll find skilled craftsmen with huge enthusiasm and a workforce that can turn raw steel into the beautiful curves of a superyacht. Along with some other notable yachtbuilders, Uniesse Yachts calls this port home.
It's a safe bet that any yacht with the Viareggio tag is going to be high-class, and the Uniesse 66 is no exception. This latest and largest addition to the Uniesse line (which begins at 42 feet) is the sort of yacht that can offer serious cruising performance to a couple who wants to drive their own boat. The style is cool-nothing outrageous or extreme-just good taste with a timeless, classic appeal.
Uniesse followed its own path with the 66, tapping American designer Fred Hudson to produce a hull design that does not have the conventional deep-V with a deadrise that runs the length of the hull, but a hull that has a deep-V at the bow that runs flatter toward the stern. By introducing a low deadrise aft, the hull has a better surface on which to plane, and nothing is lost in directional stability with the addition of a skeg to the keel. The theory is for a fine wave-cutting entry and an efficient, flat run aft.
The seas off Viareggio produced the perfect proof-is-in-the-pudding conditions for a boat test. The day before, an intense Mediterranean storm passed through, leaving behind a considerable incoming swell. As the gleaming dark-blue hull sat invitingly at the dock, there was some doubt about whether we could go. Go we did, though, and the Uniesse performed impeccably.
As is often the case, the worst seas were in the entrance to the harbor, but the 66 powered through without a drop of spray, coping with the confused waves with very little movement. Soon we were off at speed, riding the swells in comfort, with no slamming or pounding. Running before the swells is the real test of any motoryacht, since it's where any weakness in the steering will show up and where you might have to work hard at the wheel to maintain a straight course.
It was a joy to see a boat behaving in these conditions as the 66 did. Even when we put the seas astern, she steered a straight and steady course with only a little help from the wheel. It was the sort of ride where you wanted to keep going all day. The sun was bright and the visibility clear; I felt I could see around the world. The Apennine Mountains, where Michelangelo found his pure-white marble, stood out starkly in the Mediterranean light, and the 66 felt like one of the best boats in the world.
The 66 is a great boat when it comes to driving, but what about the lifestyle and comfort she provides? Well, I did not find many problems here, either. In contrast to her hardworking performance at sea, the 66 is designed for relaxation in the harbor, and she has everything her owners need to maintain the sophistication of their lifestyle.
The flying bridge includes a large jacuzzi alongside the two-seat helm. It was not difficult to imagine unwinding here. This helm station is set low, so you feel quite exposed when standing up, but it has everything required for navigating the boat. Abaft is a U-shape settee surrounding a table, and the bar and barbecue aft under the mast arch will keep guests plied with food and drink. Sunbathing on the 66's only sunpad requires a trip forward to the coachroof.
The after end of the flying bridge is used for tender stowage, and a davit is installed for that purpose. This leaves the swim platform free for its true function, but I'm never very happy about launching tenders from the flying bridge, where they can swing about on the end of a wire.
On both sides, steps lead up from the swim platform to the cockpit. The passerelle comes out from the starboard steps, and two transom doors allow access to the crew cabin, as well as the engine compartment on one side and a stowage area on the other.
The cockpit offers an alternative outside dining area that's protected from the sun. The settee is in the transom, and portable seating and a table supplement the area. Steps on both sides lead up to the side decks. On the foredeck, teak has been fitted throughout for that luxury appeal. The cleats aft are concealed behind lifting flaps but are easy to use with the power capstans. The cockpit and decks are remarkably clear of clutter, a pleasing feature that gives the 66 clear lines and enhances her styling.
The saloon is similarly uncluttered, managing to provide all the comforts of life in a very relaxed way. To starboard is an inviting tan leather settee surrounding a low coffee table. The settee faces an entertainment center, where the focus is a huge TV that can be hidden in a curved portside sideboard when not in use. A bar and refrigerator are encapsulated in a long cherry cabinet. Light-color, highly lacquered cherry is used on the saloon's paneling and joinery, as well as in the main-deck heads.
The dining area, where another settee surrounds the dining table, is up a couple of steps from the saloon on the port side. Opposite is the internal stairway to the flying bridge and galley, which has generous space for meal preparation. On one side of the galley are the cooking essentials-a four-ring burner and microwave oven-and on the other is a two-basin sink. The marble countertop beside the sink allows food to move directly from the galley to the table in the galley. The arrangement makes the area suitable for use by a crewmember or a guest serving as cook.
Belowdecks, the emphasis is on comfort rather than squeezing in a maximum number of berths. Everything has been kept straightforward with the exception of the master head, where sheer luxury reigns. The rich, red marble of the sole and countertops invites you into the generous space. Fittings include a full-size spa tub, separate shower, an MSD and a sink. This is a temple of cleanliness, while the master cabin, with its large double berth, is a tribute to comfort. Large lockers are fitted into each after corner, and a settee is to port. Again, simplicity is the key.
Marble is found in great quantity in the en suite heads of the other two cabins, as well. A comfortable-looking twin cabin is to port, and another double cabin is forward. It all adds up to good accommodations for six, with the facilities on the main deck comfortably accommodating the same.
Noise levels are so low that you almost forget about the powerful twin Caterpillar diesels below. They seem to purr even at full speed, but with 2,900 hp, this boat does not hold back. The engines link into a conventional shaft and propeller drive system, and the 66 can power up to 32 knots and cruise at close to 30.
This makes for impressive performance, but more outstanding than her speed is the way she handles it. Anyone at the helm has that glorious feeling of being fully in control, with the 66 seeming to forgive any mistakes her driver makes. Any boat can perform well in calm conditions, but this thoroughbred really comes to life when conditions get tough. Her bowthruster and sternthruster allow her to shine in the harbor, as well.
I went aboard the Uniesse 66 thinking I would find just another motoryacht chock full of glamour but not very high on the list for seagoing performance. I came away from my sea trial with a very different viewpoint, recognizing this yacht is one of the better ones in her class, both in harbor and on the high seas.