Born with a Wooden Heart

The cold-molded Vicem 75 Flybridge reveals the joys of building yachts with wood.

Vicem’s captain waits patiently, giving deliberate commands with a soft-spoken, direct delivery. The boating traffic around us in the old port of Cannes is abuzz and slightly chaotic, yet the mood on board the new Vicem 75 is serene. We maneuver the yacht around in a continuous rotation trying to free ourselves from the eager tentacles cast by the various ground tackle that’s grabbed our anchor. There is no yelling or frantic movement by the captain. He simply shrugs his shoulders and grins, possessing an unflappable confidence in his ability and the craft beneath his bare feet.

After 30 minutes we’re free and we head out to the open Mediterranean for an early-evening sea trial. It seems wildly appropriate that I’m testing the latest Vicem in the south of France — a region that constantly overwhelms the senses. This yacht’s classically inspired design complements the backdrop and golden light. Only Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly sipping champagne on the bow as their head scarves blow in the evening breeze are missing as we point our bow toward Monaco.

I take the wheel and palm the purposefully designed electronic engine controls, pushing the throttles forward. I’m taken aback by what I don’t hear. There’s no protest from below, no whining of turbos kicking in (even in the salon), no excessive vibration — nothing but the sound of rushing water and casual conversation from the 12 people on board.

The wind climbs to 15 knots and the waves are stirred by the heavy boat traffic. Accelerating to a top speed of 30 knots, I head into confused seas, and yet again, I smile as nothing happens. No pounding, no spray, no loud noises, nothing but a soft easy landing like cotton falling onto carpet. At 1900 rpm, the 1,550 hp MAN V-12 diesels provide a cruising speed of 23 knots, representing about an 80 percent load. If longer range is desired, take her all the way back to 1200 rpm and 11.5 knots to achieve an approximate 870-mile range. Throughout the speed curve the 75 is sure-footed and solid. I didn’t expect her to be such a fun boat to drive, and there is also the immense satisfaction of knowing that the ride under your feet is predictable and true. I’m starting to understand the captain’s calm demeanor.

While maneuvering over the wake of a passing ferry, I’m reminded of a byproduct of cold-molded construction — natural insulation and a great ride. It’s no wonder that many of the top custom sport-fish builders in south Florida and North Carolina prefer cold-molded construction for designs that are intended to perform in a variety of conditions at high speeds. This building method also results in less tooling and therefore more development flexibility. Vicem uses multiple skins of laminated mahogany (from managed forests) to create the hull. The practice of laying up the wood in a multidirectional grid adds to the strength and integrity of the hull. And Vicem, based in Turkey, benefits from generations of native boatbuilders who have perfected their craft for centuries. The end result is a yacht with an easy to maintain, strong finish and noteworthy performance.

Vicem Yachts was founded in 1991, and the Vintage line, which includes the 75, now goes up to 100 feet. In 2012, the boating public will see the yard’s entry into the megayacht market with the launch of a 46-meter, a 35-meter trideck and a 32-meter raised pilothouse, all built with composites.

I tested my first Vicem nearly 10 years ago and was impressed by the flawless, old-world mahogany joinery, reminiscent of a London gentlemen’s club. So I was surprised when I stepped aboard the 75 — which features the same traditional exterior styling as all Vicems in the Vintage line — to find a thoroughly contemporary interior fit and finish. The light anigre wood is complemented by wenge accents and trim along with a dark iroko sole. The combination works, and instead of jarring the senses, the interior is soothing, providing a canvas that will not compete with the scenery beyond the salon windows.

The 75 features a lower helm station that benefits from a good line of sight forward. I would move the opening transom door to the port side to allow the helmsman to naturally look over his left shoulder and see the platform through the opened door while backing down. The helm is finished in hand-stitched leather, and the design places the engine’s analog gauges in the line of sight of the helmsman. An opening door at the helm brings in air and allows easy access to the deck. This is the station I would choose while docking, an activity aided by Side-Power bow and stern thrusters.

Two straight settees are abaft the helm. I called up all my reserve willpower in order to avoid lying down here for a snooze while offshore with the double doors open to the cockpit. A table in the salon will accommodate smaller meals, and a huge L-shape settee in the cockpit is well suited for large family gatherings.

Down four steps from the salon is the spacious galley with an upright Sub-Zero refrigerator and two drawer-style refrigerator/freezers beneath. Our test boat was equipped with high-end appliances, including a dishwasher, oven, cooktop, microwave and ice maker. There is plenty of stowage to provision for an extended cruise off the beaten path.

The master is to starboard and includes an athwartships king island berth, plenty of light streaming through the hull window and ports, two hanging lockers and shelves. I would find it difficult to leave this cabin in the morning, so it’s a good thing the large window above the headboard will show me what I’m missing outside.

Two twin-berth staterooms are forward and share a head, while the large third guest stateroom is in the bow with an en suite head, island berth, overhead hatch and two hanging lockers. For owners looking to host the occasional crew, accommodations are aft and below the cockpit.

Exploring the staterooms at cruising speed with a sound meter, the benefit of cold-molded construction once again reveals itself. The decibels never register more than 71. Considering the level of normal conversation is 64, this is impressive.

The reduction in boat speed as we return to Cannes lures me back to the flybridge. Since a tender will be carried on the swim platform, the space here is dedicated to relaxing and entertaining. The U-shape settee and table flank the bar unit with grill. I like the clever extension on the double helm seat to port, which folds out to allow two guests to lie back and enjoy the sights. A stainless rail surrounds the venturi. If the venturi height were reduced by half an inch, the rail could also serve as a perfectly placed handhold for anyone standing around the helm.

After we Med-moor, with the same ease in which we departed, I must force myself to leave the 75. I don’t want to be that guest who doesn’t get the message that the party is over. Yet walking around the wide teak decks, and looking at the varnished cap rail and blue hull set against old Cannes, I want to savor as much of the moment as I can. It’s been said before: There is something about a wooden boat, even one layered in epoxy, that soothes the soul and captures the heart. And isn’t that what yachting is all about?

LOA: 80'4"
BEAM: 18'5"
DRAFT: 5'7"
DISPL.: 102,500 lb.
FUEL: 1,744 gal.
WATER: 344 gal.
TRANSOM DEADRISE: 17 degrees
ENGINES TESTED:
2 x 1,550 hp MAN V-12 diesels
BASE PRICE: $3,845,000

Vicem Yachts, 954-713-0737