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Maltese Falcon: Inside the refit of a yachting icon

10 March 2023 • Written by Katia Damborsky

As the world’s sixth-largest sailing yacht prepares to spread her wings after a full-scale refit, Katia Damborsky steps on board to catch up with the team undertaking the project in Livorno.

The late Tom Perkins spent nearly a decade masterminding one of the most unique and technologically innovative sailing superyachts in the world. The 88-metre Maltese Falcon was his crowning glory and the embodiment of all he had learned over his decades at sea. In 2006, the hundreds of workers who helped make his vision a reality watched as the hull hit the water at the Perini Navi shipyard in Istanbul. 

Fast forward to 2023. Sixteen years later, Maltese Falcon has checked in for a full-scale refit at Lusben. But the extensive work — which will include a totally revamped interior and new deck areas —is being undertaken with the importance of the yacht's heritage front and centre. 

The yacht arrived at Lusben in September
Credit: Raphael Montigneaux

“This isn’t a yacht that Tom Perkins had in his mind for six months, it’s something he had in his mind for years,” explains her captain, Pierfrancesco Cafaro. No detail was an accident and that means that “everything you're going to replace, touch, paint or update is something that has to be considered to the same level,” says Cafaro. In other words, you have to “use the same way of thinking as Tom Perkins”.

This becomes easier, according to Cafaro, when you consider the fact the Maltese Falcon's new owner is a keen sailor, a long-time Perini owner and someone who's passionate about maintaining the legacy of the falcon. 

The refit began in November 2022 and will complete in April 2023. In spite of the magnitude of the project, Cafaro is confident that the work will wrap up in time and Maltese Falcon will emerge from Azimut-Benetti's refit arm looking fresher than ever. “She’s in the best possible hands,” he tells me. There are certainly a lot of hands working on her — up to 80 hands (or 40 people) at a time, many of which worked on Maltese Falcon originally, back in the 2000s.

That’s not a coincidence, says Cafaro. “I called them because they know this boat inside and out,” he explains. For the people stepping back on board these teak decks, returning to the Maltese Falcon brings a sense of pride. “It’s like your child, you watch it grow and then it comes back,” says Giovanni Lencioni, CEO of Fabbri Fiore, a company that produces superyacht components and machinery and manufactured some of the original parts for Maltese Falcon.

Read More/Iconic yachts: The story of the 88m sailing yacht Maltese Falcon
Credit: Burgess

When I step on board in Livorno, I can see the extent of the refit work for myself. Around 80 per cent of the yacht’s interior spaces will be upgraded or changed in some way, according to Cafaro (although that figure includes work that was undertaken during a summer 2022 refit as well). 

Some of the changes are subtle — wood panels stripped back and replaced with leather, grey metal bulkheads repainted bronze — and some are more noticeable, like the vast holes in the en suites where the showers should be and the new steel awning structure being built on the main deck aft.

The refit will boost her appeal on the charter market. She’s already got a busy summer season ahead of her with Burgess and “this refit is going to elevate her to new standards,” says Ben Harwood, head of charter at Burgess. “We’re looking forward to welcoming back her clients, old and new to experience her post-refit.” 

Credit: Burgess

The interior theme of the refit can be summarised in one word: brightening. Rome-based studio Emanuela Esposito is at the forefront of the new interior concept. “She was very dark before, lots of carbon fibre everywhere,” says Cafaro. The social areas will be replaced with blonde woods, cream tones, an Orientally-styled main saloon with new artwork and newly-appointed exterior decks. 

A permanent awning will appear on the main deck cockpit and the marble countertop of the saloon bar will be switched from inky black to elegant ivory. The crew areas have been overhauled with fresh flooring and a brand-new shiny galley with up-to-date appliances. The main saloon will have its television replaced with artwork, and a TV room will be upgraded with all the latest audio-visual equipment. Elsewhere, the Jacuzzi has vanished and the guest cabins have been gutted to make way for a cleaner, lighter design. 

And finally, she’ll wave goodbye to her jet-black hull and will be repainted a sharp, smart navy blue — a true “Perini blue”.

Credit: Burgess

The refit will also give her machinery a much-needed upgrade up to modern standards, with the installation of new generators and electrical systems, as well as new Starlink connectivity. In terms of the overall look, “the only thing that you can see from outside in terms of changes will be the [hull] colour and the cockpit awning,” says Cafaro. “The boat will always be always an iconic yacht."

“The biggest challenge, but also the most exciting part of the job, has been for us to deeply understand and fully grab the original vision of Tom Perkins, matching it with the owner’s modern concept," says Giorgio Casareto, Lusben's general manager. "But we’re ambitious and shaping the future for Lusben means also sustainable technology. New gensets, [a] Tier III compliant selective catalytic reduction system and main engines silencers are now part of her green beating heart,” Casareto adds.

The refit is so intense that the yacht has its own temporary worker’s galley in the aft cockpit, with industrial-size cooking equipment and a makeshift crew mess (the actual galley is off-limits now that it’s been upgraded). 

Cafaro estimates it costs an additional few thousand euros a month to keep the crew fed and watered, but he’d rather they were on board for breakfast and lunch. Not only does it save them from having to go into Livorno for meals, it also creates a communal area where Cafaro knows where to find people and get progress updates when needed.

Credit: Burgess

Work is going on six days a week and it feels like the yacht is packed with people poring over every inch of the yacht. “You have to understand that this yacht deserves our work, our time and all the money we are spending,” says Cafaro. “Because when they built Maltese Falcon, they did it the same way. They worked a lot, and with the right spirit.”

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