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Italy v UK: Battle of the sportscruiser superpowers

Two nations make the hottest yachts of this class in the world. But who comes out on top? Sam Fortescue picks the contenders.

Forget Russia versus the US, India versus Pakistan or even Gondor versus Mordor – the only superpower showdown we’re interested in here is the UK versus Italy. What makes these countries such fierce competitors on the global scene, you ask? They both make the finest, fastest and frankly most fun sportscruisers on the planet. And if you’re in the market for a 12 to 24 metre weekender for crew-free blasts into the sunset, you’ve got two great choices: la dolce vita or a stiff upper lip. Both have their charms, but, importantly, which one is going to turn the most heads when cruising into Cala di Volpe? The strutting, prideful Italians or the unassuming, measured Brits?

As it turns out, this view of each country’s efforts in the sportscruiser arena is a little old fashioned, because when I started to look into the question of who produces sexier boats, the picture became less and less clear. For one thing, design is not just about style. Yes, it’s great to arrive looking like 007, in a perfectly tailored dinner jacket, but it’s not much good if you can’t hold a conversation over the rattle of the engine, or you’re dripping with spray from a poorly designed hull. Good engineering is key.

And when you consider a yacht in its totality, including equipment made all over the world, where do you pin its design provenance? Take one example: Fairline Yachts, based miles from the sea in Northamptonshire, UK, is the quintessential British sportscruiser brand – all about safe, seaworthy, roomy vessels that stand the test of time. But its latest collaboration is with Italian design wunderkind Alberto Mancini from Trieste – whose other projects include the new 45.3 metre GranSport from Mangusta, a brand that builds boats that scream “I can go faster than you!”

Mancini describes his job as creating “a nice jacket; a fine Italian suit” to pack Fairline’s engineering into. Head of design Andrew Pope explains: “British yachts were maybe not as stylish 10 years ago, but we’ve always had practicality and technology covered. If people were viewing an Italian brand of old – everyone respects the style, but there’s always been a question mark over the engineering of them. Now, the picture is becoming blurred, as the sector becomes more global.”

Or take Princess Yachts, whose tagline is “Created in Plymouth, England”. “I think design provenance is a badly thrown around term,” says Antony Sheriff, executive chairman. “Nobody would argue that the most iconic British design is the Aston Martin DB5 – designed in Italy. Same with the Triumph Spitfire. Provenance doesn’t have much to do with anything. What matters is the feel that you get – understatement and the right amount of emotion – not too much, not too little.”

Iconic Italian brands have also flirted with British designers – Peter Stevens was behind Lamborghini’s Diablo Jota, with its twin air scoops on the roof. But for all that, the Italians seem to have a clearer idea of what the red, white and green stands for. “Made in Italy is the expression of a high quality of materials and unrivalled craftsmanship,” says Stefano de Vivo, chief commercial officer at the Ferretti Group. “It is a timeless value.”

Federico Lanterno, brand manager at Azimut, pitches in: “To me it is culture built from centuries of attention to beauty, architecture and art. This background makes it possible for us today to innovate without abandoning the beauty that has characterised our history.”

The language of design is slightly different. Hot-blooded Italians tend to talk about “beauty” and “passion”, where cooler Brits are all about “harmony” and “understatement”. With a foot in both camps, Mancini describes the “class” of British design heritage but reckons that marketing teams need to take greater risks. “Sometimes, as a young designer, I feel that we must try something more.”

At least both sides agree that good design is subtle, not in-your-face. Mauro Micheli of Officina Italiana Design, responsible for the effortlessly elegant lines of modern Rivas, says: “Nowadays there is a general stylistic chaos: many designers strive for the ‘wow effect’ rather than good design, above all in the exterior design.”

“Boats have gone aggressive,” agrees Sheriff at Princess. “We’re trying to bring back elegance, working very hard to get the balance of the lines. A lot more energy is going into detail design and surfacing, honing the forms and the reflections, so when you look at the roof rail or the transom, they’re really quite sculptural.”

Perhaps the truth is that the market has matured since the early days of Alfa and Aston. At the sports end of the spectrum there is a higher expectation of comfort – maybe even room for the family, while at the cruiser end, owners are no longer content to putter along at a speed in the low double digits. The slick-haired, designer swimming trunks wearing dandy has grown up and had kids, while the family man is making his money earlier in life and is not yet ready to give up on youth. To my eyes, both British and Italian design schools are working towards the same goal: efficient and elegant family yachts that still produce a few pangs of adrenaline when you pin the throttles. But which one to choose? We've picked some of our favourite new models from both countries to lend a helping hand...

Fairline Targa 63 GTO

LOA: 19.9 metres
Beam: 5.2 metres
Top Speed: 32 knots

The Targa 63 GTO is the first new Fairline model drawing on the design flair of Italian Alberto Mancini. “We’re not a showy product,” says head of design Andrew Pope nonetheless. “We like to think the owner is sitting quietly in the cockpit with a G&T, enjoying their boat, not waving at everyone and saying ‘look at me’.”

This is a boat built to enjoy outdoor living, with a large aft cockpit, subtly lit, a big sunpad aft and twin loungers forward. There’s dining space inside and out, on stylish tables with raked supports, and a wet bar and grill area to one side. You can have the galley up in the saloon (most people choose this), or below instead of a fourth cabin. The emphasis is clearly on social space and excellent accommodation. Pope says that the design language is consistently Fairline, despite Mancini’s input. “You get two views of a boat: one on the horizon, when you won’t pick out the little details – just black and white. The other view is doing the jetty walk in the evening. We want a clean identity that is immediately clear as a Fairline – backlit logo, sweeping stairs and so on. Not a hodgepodge.” But he also points to the non-visual design – the systems and the technology that underpin the boat’s performance, from the heavy acoustic insulation to the double-chined hull. “It’s a driver’s boat, so we always tried to make it feel balanced. For example, putting the Volvo IPS engines further forward where it is still sporty, but much safer for the driver.”

Princess V65

LOA: 20.3 metres
Beam: 5.08 metres
Top speed: 38 knots

Launched at Cannes last year, the V65 marks a new chapter for the Plymouth-based yacht builder. It is the first major output under the company’s new executive chairman Antony Sheriff, formerly of McLaren. Being part Italian, I expected him to be full of bluster about speed and performance. Again, my preconceptions were disappointed. “Certain things make a Princess, which we won’t veer away from,” he tells me. “They are seakeeping, comfort and the predictability of the boat – hallmarks of the design that come from the shape of the hull.” These are qualities that you appreciate in tough conditions, but it’s not the stuff of white knuckles and effortless flair on the Riviera. Yet the profile of the boat speaks to me more deeply about pizzazz and speed – it has tense, elegant lines, streamlined but not flashy. And her performance figures bear this out, with a flat-out, throttle-down speed of 38 knots with the twin 1,400hp MAN V12 engine option. Real thought has gone into connecting the owner to the water, with a hydraulic bathing platform at the stern. The cockpit is large, thanks to an electric fold-away aft window, acres of glazing and a panoramic sunroof. A stylish bar at one side allows you to face your friends or guests as you mix the cocktails, while the master suite is complemented by three further double or twin cabins below. “We’ve found a really nice balance. She’s beautiful and elegant and looks fast even sitting still. All without sacrificing stability,” adds Sheriff.

Sunseeker Predator 50

LOA: 16.48 metres
Beam: 4.48 metres
Top speed: 32 knots

Poole-based Sunseeker launched its fast Predator line back in the late 1990s, but the latest in the range would be unrecognisable to an early owner. The newest 50 is no slouch, with a top speed of 32 knots – surely enough to turn heads – but the aesthetic is more balanced, with a marked positive sheer, broken amidships by a step. The jagged glazing line in the hull is common to all the Predators – reminiscent of a shark’s gills, or perhaps the tip of a fishing spear. “We draw our inspiration from the natural world, and most importantly from our previous designs,” says sales director Sean Robertson. Watching from a restaurant in Cala di Volpe, it would appear to be a lean, fast yacht, the hull lines and tones helping to minimise the necessary size of the cockpit roof. For all her sporty looks, this is very much a family cruiser, with flexible accommodation below. Besides the full-beam owner’s cabin, there’s a double in the bow that can be split into twin berths, and you can choose to replace the lower saloon with a third Pullman cabin for the kids. The cockpit has a sunroof and offers lounging, dining and a wet bar with aft doors – keeping you warm in Bergen or cool in Capri.

Riva Rivale 56

LOA: 17.27 metres
Beam: 4.74 metres
Top speed: 34 knots

Design doesn’t get much more iconic than Riva, with its heritage of sweeping curves from the wooden launches that made its name in the 1950s and 60s. Much has changed at the boat builder, which is now owned by the Ferretti Group, but its dedication to the aesthetics that made it famous, albeit now in GRP and laminate, are still clear.In silhouette, the Rivale 56 is sleek and minimal to the point of resembling a smaller boat. That’s in part due to its long windscreen, clean lines and entirely open cockpit – just the arch carrying the comms gives the scale away. The design team at Officina Italiana Design have deliberately kept things as simple as possible. “‘Less is more’ is our ethos,” says chief designer Mauro Micheli. “The aim being to capture the essence of a unique, unmistakable style in which innovation meets a tradition. We don’t like showy boats brimming with solutions.” The interior design makes use of rich mahogany, stitched leather and highly polished stainless steel – “a very precious material that makes the difference on board”, according to the design firm’s CEO, Sergio Beretta. “Because of its close connection to the sea and the generous spaces it affords, it is perfect for sharing with family or friends.”

Azimut Atlantis 51

LOA: 16.18 metres
Beam: 4.55 metres
Top speed: 35 knots

“What we really wanted was a boat that could combine a strong sporty character with the best comfort on board,” says Federico Lantero, Azimut Yachts' brand manager. “That was our goal and I’d say we succeeded!”Azimut went back to first principles with its new 51, starting with a hull shape optimised for comfort, but pushing the beam out to 4.5 metres to give “incredibly generous” volume. Neo Design took those dimensions and created an open cockpit yacht with three cabins, two dinettes and a tender garage. The huge windscreen is a single piece of gently curving glass with no central mullion. Couple this with the sunroof, open cockpit and broad aft sunpad, and you feel like you’re outdoors. “The Atlantis 51 offers a proper owner’s cabin, not just a VIP cabin ‘converted’ into a master suite,” explains Lantero. “We moved this cabin towards the bow, so that there could be room for two more cabins. Another solution is to place the dinette right in front of the galley: this results in an aperture feeling, where the space is larger and more profitable.” The finish is “the perfect balance between noble woods and shiny lacquers, combined with technical and innovative fabrics for exteriors”, he adds. These include Esthec for the decks and soft-touch Batyline fabrics.

Sessa C44

LOA: 13.85 metres
Beam: 3.99 metres
Top speed: 38.2 knots

Despite being the smallest of the sportscruisers in our showdown, the Sessa C44 packs quite a punch. Smaller equals lighter, so she’s nimble on her toes, with a top speed of 38 knots when you take the twin Volvo IPS600 engines. And yet she offers many of the features you’d expect of a family cruiser, with lots of glazing, sunroof above the driver’s seat, optional tender garage, hydraulic bathing platform and a large saloon. The only compromise is the lack of a third cabin. The hull is largely the same as the 2008 vintage C43 (in itself a highly successful yacht) but the new streak of glazing down each side and the full interior rework make this boat one of the year’s key offerings in this size range. “Conceived to have more light inside the cabin in order to stay more in contact with the sea,” says marketing director Riccardo Radice, “the restyling also includes new painting and air intakes able to enhance the hull and the lines as well as the window shapes.” Not only do the big windows let in more light, but the tones they illuminate are also bang on trend. Gone are the multiplicity of veneer surfaces and leather-style upholstery – replaced by a more subtle limed wood finish, smoked glass and suede effect sofa that will set off your trunks nicely, whether they’re Orlebar Brown or Missoni.

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