Azimut 58

A sneak peek at the Azimut 58 reveals a showpiece of design, inside and out.

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Azimut's design expertise never ceases to amaze me but then why would anyone expect less from Europe's largest builder of motoryachts? Azimut is committed to innovation-they have a whole department dedicated to working on new technology-but they match their passion for modernization with the sensible design that has taken them to the top of the market. You won't find extremes in the Azimut stable but you will find motoryachts that perform well while still looking pretty.

I visited Azimut's stunning new marina in northern Italy's town of Varazze for a privileged look at the new 58 before its official launch. Their initial sea trials, which were performed before my arrival, resulted in seven pages of detailed modifications that will be implemented before the 58 hits the market and these covered most of the things I thought needed improving. It's refreshing to see a builder go through this detailed development regime rather than just rushing boats onto the market.

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Outside, the 58's style is distinctly Azimut, with the curved saloon windows immediately signaling the familiar style of Stefano Righini. The pilothouse is set well forward to maximize internal space and the hull is also full, so you might feel the effects of these as a livelier motion in head seas. But on this day, the Mediterranean was all blue skies and calm water. The large hull windows that Azimut pioneered don't enhance the exterior aesthetics much, in my humble opinion, but you can certainly see the benefits in the glorious view from the master stateroom. The swim platform fits well within the visual sweep of the hull, and the overall effect is a compact-looking, low-profile, sporty yacht-especially for a flybridge cruiser-with the balanced arch mast adding practical height for the radar array and the navigation lights.

The low profile does mean lower than normal headroom in the saloon but it is still more than adequate. This is a two-level area with the lower saloon aft and the raised dining area and galley forward. The lounge has been kept simple, with settees on three sides and the TV in the starboard forward corner. The furniture and some of the paneling are limed oak and it is matched to deep tan leather and oatmeal-color fabrics and carpets. Where the moldings are visible they are a deep chocolate brown-not my favorite color, but it does create a fashionable, modern decor. The dominant feature of the saloon is the pair of fashion stripes that curve and frame the windows on either side.

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Two steps up, the galley features the same chocolate brown touches and occupies more than half the width of the beam. While it may be a cook's delight, the dinner guests might feel a bit cramped at the narrow table with seating for six-but this is the price you pay for having separate saloon and dining levels on a yacht of this size. A good feature in the galley is the fiddle on the electric stove that allows it to be used safely at sea. A raised shelf, glass and molding, at the front of the galley counter part does not make a lot of practical sense but it does incorporate one of the few handhold opportunities in the saloon.

Down below, the style moves from the more practical to the luxurious. The master suite amidships is a gem. The double berth is angled from the port aft corner and below the starboard window is a generously sized desk that doubles as a vanity. With the vanity top down, there are great views from this large window. Limed oak is again the dominant accent throughout the accommodations. It even extends into the heads where it is paired with a deep tan leather for an opulent, comforting feel. The VIP cabin forward has a similarly generous double berth. It shares a head with the twin cabin located on the port side. Long windows in the forward cabin give good natural light here as well.

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At the central helm, the driver has the benefit of a dedicated adjustable leather seat. This faces a dashboard with the usual navigation and monitoring controls plus the best innovation of all: the joystick control. Azimut's joystick controls the gearboxes, the steering, and the bow thruster, balancing the resulting thrust so that it moves the yacht in the desired direction. And with the Azimut system this is achieved without special propulsion units such as IPS drives.

The line of sight from the lower helm is adequate, but most maneuvering will be done from the flybridge, where there are matching controls and an improved view but limited navigation displays. I loved the luxury of the very comfortable sun beds on the flybridge. The well-equipped bar, barbecue counter, and the nearby fold-out table make it clear that this is where most of the daytime at sea will be spent. Behind the aft settees, there's space for an additional sun bed or this could be used as stowage for a jet ski. Access to the flybridge is easy and safe but the steps from the cockpit to the side decks would benefit from an extended handrail.

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The large portable table for the cockpit may explain the limited dining space in the saloon. This area is perfect for evening dining since the transom settee is supplemented by portable chairs. The main tender stowage is provided by a wide swim platform with a passerelle on the starboard side. There is another sunbed forward, complete with secure rails along the sides. Overall, the outside of the 58 is clean, uncluttered, practical, and very good-looking.

The machinery that powers this fine-looking vessel has not been forgotten-two 800-horsepower MAN diesels look tiny in the generous engine space. Azimut thoughtfully put a lining in the bottom of the engineroom that makes it easy to keep clean. Everything here is designed for reliability and easy access-although labels on the well-engineered fuel system are one more touch I would have appreciated. The propulsion is by conventional shafts and propellers and the low sound levels recorded reflect the good insulation down there.

The hull of the 58 is a moderate vee, deep enough to cushion the ride but shallow enough for efficiency. The Azimut designers spend a lot of time developing their hulls and on the 58 they have made the cabin soles part of the hull structure. This helps to reduce weight without sacrificing strength and it also accounts for the boat's practical and versatile performance.

This 58 has been developed from the same proven hull design used for their successful 55 with an extension of a few feet, so this is a development design rather than a brand new one. But it has been brought fully up to date with modern equipment and style, so I'm confident it will be received with acclaim when the public gets its first glimpse.

Azimut, 39 (011) 93 161; www.azimutyachts.com