Azimut 55

The Azimut 55 is designed as a direct path to interior space.

At the heart of Italian culture is an innate sense of fashion and passion for life. Take the chef who works a handful of ingredients into a mouth-watering dish, then serves it in a single bowl to a table of exhilarated diners. That's what Italy offers-simple, stunning, elegant passion-and Azimut adheres to the credo.

The builder has long had a strong presence in Europe, Asia and South America, and its presence has increased in the United States in recent years. Now, the company hopes to firmly plant its trademark fashion and passion in American minds with the Azimut 55, a shadow of the 68 Plus designed for buyers ready to move up from smaller sedan cruisers into a yacht that is all about interior space management.

Our test boat's owner, Bob Bytwerk, started out with Sea Rays and Cruisers, then moved to an Azimut 52 before buying his 55. "The additional beam and length provides more commodious living quarters over the 52," Bytwerk said. "It has a much larger feel in the interior."

Even at first glance, the 55's exterior provides clues to the attention designers gave her interior. Side decks quickly surrender to the cabin side, indicating a beamy saloon. Three large, oval windows amidships in the hull create a megayacht aura and allow abundant natural light.

Also evident in the exterior is Azimut's passion for fashion. The forward portion of the bridge, the pilothouse windshield and the foredeck dissolve into the bow's stem, terminating at the windlass and ground tackle. Teardrop-shape forward side windows are similar to those on the 68 Plus, and after side windows are shaped like shark's teeth. Outboard wings on the hardtop serve as side barriers on its after portion.

Teak decking covers the swim platform, the steps to the cockpit and flying bridge, and the cockpit itself. The richness warms the exterior, which is otherwise white fiberglass and stainless, and offers a timeless nonslip surface. A curved stainless-frame sliding glass door between the cockpit and saloon is beautifully crafted and connects the saloon visually to the cockpit. Once in the saloon, there is no doubt this is an Italian craft. Appointments are fluid, carrying the eye slowly with no harsh angles to interrupt.

Air-conditioning and heat ducts are in overhead vinyl-covered coaming with teak slats. The system has been used on larger yachts to distribute hot and cold air evenly, but the lack of ugly registers is uncommon on a 55-foot yacht.

Up two steps and forward of the saloon are the dinette to starboard, the lower helm on centerline and the galley to port. The galley has an island serving bar that separates it from the corridor and is recessed one step, keeping the chef that much closer to conversations in the saloon. Unique features include the circular saloon cocktail table, which is disguised as an end table and pivots out from one end of the settee. The arrangement keeps the table out of the way and creates easy access to the circular settee. The dinette table is also unique, with a center section that can be removed to create two café-size tables.

To my personal disappointment, galleys these days seem designed more for takeout than dining in, possibly indicative of general owner preference on a yacht like the 55. Convection ovens stand where conventional ovens used to be, countertops are finished like jewelry and sinks are no bigger than those in the heads. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a leg of lamb on Easter and a standing rib roast at Christmastime. A boat like the 55, with all its entertainment amenities, would be a great place to spend the holidays, and a real cook's galley would help the cause.

The master stateroom is under the amidships pilothouse. The finish is to the same standard as that on the rest of the boat. The cabin stretches the entire beam, with natural light flooding in from six large, evenly spaced oval windows. The head is nicely divided, with a vanity separating the stall shower and MSD. Azimut's strength in interior engineering is evident throughout the master stateroom, with every nook utilized. The berth is diagonal in the portside after corner. Along the starboard side are a desk and workstation that can accommodate computer sessions or chart work.

A centerline island berth dominates the VIP cabin in the forepeak. This stateroom is finished with the same treatment as the owner's cabin. VIP guests have a private entrance to the portside head and separate stall shower, which is shared by guests in the starboard side twin-berth cabin. The twin berths are a bit narrow but should not dampen spirits. The boat should accommodate six comfortably, but a long trip might require rotating guests in and out of the side cabin for comfort.

In the transom, through the cockpit's transom seat, is what Azimut refers to as "crew's quarters." Webster's defines "crew" as a group of people, and thus this area on the 55 should be called the "captain's cabin." The space includes an MSD, a shower head and a small sink, as well as a control for one of the interior air-conditioning/heating units.

The engineroom is also accessed through a cockpit hatchway, then a two-step ladder. Our test boat had twin Caterpillar 3196s snuggled into this cozy space, along with an auxiliary generator, air-conditioning compressors, water pumps and stainless-steel fuel tanks. Sea chests are used for overboard draining needs, such as condensation and sinks, so dripless shaft seals are installed. While remote fuel gauges are at the helm area, there is a manual-read sight tube on the starboard fuel tank with crossover self-leveling plumbing to the portside tank.

A set of portside steps leads from the cockpit to the flying bridge. The line of sight is great on the port side but is somewhat hindered to starboard during close maneuvers. However, with the ZF/Mathers engine controls on the inboard side of the helm, it improves should the helmsman choose to stand.

Our sea trial was confined to the Intracoastal Waterway, and performance was just about to the penny of the manufacturer's published specs. The boat had good attitude at all rpm ranges and achieved a cruise speed of 28 knots at 2100 rpm, banking into turns without falling off. She is a quiet boat that gave us no need to shout. Her 3-foot, 1-inch draft will give her access to a lot of anchorages others will have to pass up.

Boating is about compromises. With the 55, Azimut identified the compromises its intended buyers likely will prefer, then made the most of them. Indeed, the 55 fits the bill of simple, stunning, elegant passion.

Contact: Richard Bertram Inc, (305) 633-9761; fax (305) 364-9071; www.azimut-usa.com.