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Wally 94

Luca Bassani's new Wally 94 sails like a maxi, but offers the creature comforts of a cruiser.

October 4, 2007

When I first saw Y3K, the new Wally 94, tied stern to the quay in Monte Carlo, she was tugging at her docklines like a racehorse chafing at the reins. She was alive and moving: she seemed to be saying, “C’mon, let’s go play.”

Wally Yachts evolved from Luca Bassani’s quest in the late 1980s for a comfortable cruising boat for his family. It also had to be fast and safe and easy to sail with a minimum number of crew.

His search took him to designer Luca Brenta, who created an 83-foot carbon composite yacht, which Bassani christened Wallygator for the cartoon character his children loved. The first yacht proved to be speedy yet stable, the decks were as empty as those of an aircraft carrier, and Bassani could sail her himself. A 105-foot Wallygator led to the launch of Wally Yachts, which swept onto the scene in 1993.

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The design brief for Y3K, named as a sardonic poke at the Millennium Y2K crisis during which the yacht was conceived, was similar to Bassani’s original need. The owner, an experienced yachtsman who had recently campaigned a Swan worldwide, wanted a yacht on which he could cruise shorthanded with his family, yet which would still allow him to compete around the buoys in maxi races or in transatlantic events.

While some Wallys have had technological gadgets, such as bomb-bay doors for underwater anchoring, hinged keels, and touch-screen sail controls, Y3K has been kept relatively simple. In the design of this yacht, German Frers drew heavily on naval architecture from his America’s Cup experience, resulting in a yacht that has the performance of a maxi with the luxury and comfort of an ocean cruiser.

Strict attention to weight kept Y3K at just 39.3 tons, of which 17 tons are ballast in the bulb at the end of the keel. The yacht draws 15 feet, 6 inches, a draft set by the depth of the harbor in St. Tropez. Although the yacht is light, it was engineered with Force 10 North Atlantic conditions in mind.

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On deck, flawless teak seems to disappear into the distance and, though uncluttered, the layout is thoughtful. The deckhouse, painted Porsche silver, ends at the mast, leaving a wide foredeck dotted with flush-mounted hatches and bordered by reassuringly high lifelines forward. The amidships cockpit has teak bench seats on each side, and the winches are bunched just forward and abaft the twin carbon fiber wheels. A big sunpad is farther aft, followed by what the owner calls his “beach”-a large recessed area open to the transom and covering a garage that houses an 11-foot Zodiac tender. With this layout, the owner/skipper doesn’t have to worry about either children or guests, since the social areas have been separated from the working areas.

The companionway leads to a spacious and minimalist saloon, which has large windows and an unusual cherry interior. The wood grain runs horizontally rather than vertically and, just as your mother told you when you wore that horizontally striped sweater, it makes the space seem much wider. Leather settees are to port and starboard, with a dining table to port. Large ports have been carefully placed so that seated guests have a view outside, and the interior (co-created by the owner’s wife and Wally Yachts) is sophisticated in its simplicity. One unusual feature is the Nomex honeycomb sole, which has been finished so the pattern shows through like a black textured carpet.

Unusual for European yachts, the galley is open to the saloon, because the owner’s wife enjoys cooking and wants to be a part of the social scene. Acres of counter space, deep sinks, and dedicated glass and china stowage are equally capable of serving a cruising family or a racing crew of 18.

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To starboard is a navigation station/office surrounded by electronics, with a passageway leading aft past a single cabin and the day head. The master cabin spans the full beam with a pair of twin-size berths on each side, a spacious head with shower, and windows facing aft over the beach. Forward of the saloon are two identical cabins with twin berths and a Pullman, each with a private head equipped with a Wally-designed carbon-fiber toilet. Crew quarters, in the bow, double as a sail locker.

Under sail, Y3K is just plain fun. We had light and shifty winds off Monaco, but she was responsive to each puff and accelerated quickly any time the wind steadied. She pointed high, reached fast, and carried her way through a tack even in zephyrs. With a narrow and deep rudder (12 feet), Y3K is as sensitive as a dinghy and just as enjoyable to sail.

For shorthanded sailing, all the sheet winches are hydraulically powered by the generator, which runs continuously but is so quiet it can’t be heard. With a 100 percent headsail, she carries about 4,100 square feet of sail on the Southern Spars four-spreader mast. The 3DL mainsail has full-length battens, and it drops neatly into place on the wide Park Avenue boom. In racing conditions, Y3K can carry an 8,000-square-foot gennaker, which requires 10-12 people to muzzle. Aside from that, the sails are trimmed with fingertips.

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When sailing with his kids, the owner often leaves the boom awning in place and unfurls just the jib, which gives him a reaching speed of 10 knots in a 10-knot breeze. And, when it comes to racing, the owner grins that even though Y3K is bigger than his Swan, it’s easier. “On the Swan, it took three days to protect the interior, and three days to unprotect it. With Y3K, we take off the dinghy, put on the racing sails, and go racing!”

Under power, the 250 hp Cummins diesel turns a three-blade folding prop for a top speed of 12 knots, and the Max Prop bow thruster folds out of the way.

Everywhere you look, there are clever innovations, such as the dodger that hinges down into a lidded compartment on the house so it is invisible but always ready for use. The mainsheet is under the deck, with a two-part adjustment just abaft the helm, and all the winch-control buttons are recessed flush with removable chafe pads. The entire anchor and roller assembly hinges out of a flush locker in the foredeck and extends over the bow when needed, leaving the area free for sail handling without clutter.

Stylish and sophisticated, and of course sexy, Y3K continues the Wally revolution in the design of large sailing yachts. Though luxuriously finished, she is really a thinly disguised racing yacht and, as such, a pure joy for real sailors.

Contact: Wally Yachts, (011) 377 93100093, www.wally.com.

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