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In Yacht Pursuit

Long a staple for wealthy bachelors, mid-sized yachts have become family friendly
| By Edward Kiersh | From Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

A woodworker is sitting in a shipyard, muttering profanities under his breath.  

"Damn, it just doesn't fit," he says disgustedly, as he bends over a piece of wood, trying, unsuccessfully, to work it around the edge of an unfinished mahogany cabinet. He asks a fellow woodworker to cut and sand down the piece a little more. The other man quickly scampers across a makeshift gangplank and returns to his workbench to study the offending piece of wood. He measures it, then hurries back to the boat. He's repeated this routine numerous times during the past few hours on this bright and warm July day in Forli, Italy. Although he's confident this last effort will create something unique, the detail work remains less than perfect. Amid another stream of epithets, the duo continues to make minute adjustments.  

These two artisans are building a luxury yacht for the Ferretti Yacht company, a firm long synonymous with finely crafted 43- to 80-foot motor yachts. Their obsessive devotion to style and precision is not unusual in this sun-baked shipyard near the Adriatic Sea. Whether it's engineers preparing circuitry of twin 800-horsepower Caterpillar engines, laminators applying fiberglass to wide-beamed hulls or leather specialists tending to interior ceilings and couches, Ferretti is considered by experts to be the preeminent mid-sized yacht builder.  

"Ferretti epitomizes the luxury of a Rolls-Royce and the performance of a Mercedes," says Terry Schrubb, a broker with HMY Yacht Sales in Dania Beach, Florida. "If you want real woodworking, attention to the minutest detail like engine fittings made of stainless steel instead of plastic, or marble counters instead of laminates, Ferretti is by far the superior choice. The Italians simply know great, well-constructed boats."  

Other stars in the 43- to 80-foot range include Fairline Boats PLC and Sunseeker International from Britain and New Jersey-based Viking Yachts Company. These builders specialize in luxury motor yachts that are ideal for family retreats to hidden Caribbean coves or spirited weekend jaunts with friends. While this intermediate size category might not be big enough to house swimming pools or helicopters, it is richly endowed with performers such as the sleek Viking Motor Yacht 72 with its racy lines and alluring cherrywood interior, or the Fairline Squadron 55 with its elegant sleeping accommodations and 30 knots of cruising power.  

What makes these boats so thrilling? Why opt for a Ferretti or Fairline with a flybridge when you can get express cruisers, sportfish or high-performance cigarette boats? And how does a prospective buyer find his ideal berth without running aground?  

Keen navigational skills are certainly a prerequisite for anyone journeying to boat shows, shipyards and showrooms to purchase a yacht, because these places are filled with fast-talking salesmen. From bikini-clad models armed with catalogues to head-turning promises of "once-in-a-lifetime" rebates, so many fantasies are spun in these waters that Schrubb warns,

"Never spontaneously buy a yacht at a boat show. Go there just to gather information and go home. If a potential buyer doesn't do months of careful investigation, really thinks clearly, he's facing big headaches and possible financial disaster."  

A Ferretti can cast its own seductive charms. Just hop aboard one, luxuriate in the harem-sized, soundproofed staterooms, then feel the adrenaline burst from standing at the helm station loaded with the latest array of switches, monitors and gauges that allow you to command a pair of mighty diesel inboards. Interacting with a sleek, deep-V hulled yacht, savoring her moves as she confronts raging waters, winds and other seafaring challenges is an exhilarating testosterone bolt of raw power.  

These alluring mid-sized yachts can be costly, however, as prices range from $400,000 to $2.75 million price range. Other costs might include a captain (who may be necessary for longer trips or to help a beginner), yearly dockage fees, maintenance, fuel and insurance. (A good rule of thumb to follow: 10 percent of the value of the boat is needed for maintenance, dockage, insurance and general repair and cruising. Captain costs range from $150 per day to $100,000 a year, depending upon the boat, job description and work environment.)  

Although they may cost a pretty penny, these yachts offer many creature comforts. Ferretti is particularly proud of its on-board family-friendly features. Cigar-smoking company co-founder Norberto Ferretti, 53, points to an elongated swim platform (which also serves as extra stowage for jet skis or surfboards) on a 68-foot yacht and says, "My boats are toys for the whole family, not just for the guy at the controls. We make the aftdecks so large that children can play there, and unlike many boats where galleys are separate from living areas, we don't exclude the cook from other social activities. These entertaining and dining areas are all connected to really emphasize family togetherness."  

Reaching a top speed of about 40 knots (roughly 45 mph) and able to travel 400 miles without refueling, this $2.5 million Ferretti 68 is the company's newest offering, a one-year bow-to-stern warranteed boat (five years on its structural integrity) that mirrors Ferretti's relentless pursuit of perfection. "My thing is winning, and that translates into giving people the best product," Ferretti says. After nine years of competing in death-defying catamaran races around the world, he's concentrating on running an empire that grew out of his passion for the sea.  

"My late brother Alessandro [who co-founded the company] and I started off in the early 1960s by making a 40-foot sailboat for ourselves, and when people praised its design, we hired a few workers to build more," says Ferretti, the scion who oversees 700 employees and five boat-building divisions (four of which are in Italy), including Pershing and Bertram, which build sportfishing boats. "It's incredible. We've grown to the point where we're making 50 to 60 Ferrettis annually [a company such as Sea Ray Boats Inc. produces thousands each year]. I'm still not satisfied, though. We must still improve the speed of our boats, make them more beautiful, or else other companies will try to knock us out of the water."  

Ferretti's world-renowned naval architect, Giovanni Zuccon, has designed several opulent seafaring vessels. His 72-footer offers inviting space for eight passengers, with private facilities for a crew of three, and the equally elegant 57 boasts a 29.5-knot cruising speed. Both are typical Ferretti extravaganzas of luscious veneers, spacious staterooms, lavish entertainment centers and solid construction.  

One of these sinewy 57-footers is docked at Allied Marine Group (Ferretti's U.S. sales agent) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Once the engines are powered, it glides sleekly through the water. Sporting plush carpets, granite counters and a high-tech helm station worthy of James Bond, this 1,600-horsepower boat combines style with comfort and consistent offshore performance.

A Ferretti-made yacht is known for the strength of its grid-system hulls and hardware as well as the two weeks of tests that the company conducts before a boat is shipped out, according to Michael W. Dickman, a Ferretti of America representative. "Ferrettis are in a class by themselves," boasts Dickman. "We have the attitude 'if it costs more to do something in a better way, it doesn't matter.' Unlike a mass-production company, we give our engineers and woodworkers the freedom to improvise, to style a better boat. We don't do cookie-cutter boats."  

Bargain-hunting Americans, intent on purchasing a boat abroad face an added expense (about $50,000) if the yacht has been specifically manufactured for the European market. Buyers also must determine if pre-owned Ferrettis suit U.S. wiring requirements.  

"We know where every boat is going--Europe, the U.S., wherever--and any boat built for America is wired totally different than one built for Europe," says Dickman. "Instead of using European brand appliances on that boat, we buy everything in the U.S. and meticulously install them in Italy. If the wiring or anything else causes a problem and the owner can't get to a service center, we'll send someone on a plane to provide the ultimate in service."  

The joys of purchasing a yacht can easily be tempered by a range of financial miscalculations. Novices must avoid the temptation to buy too much boat, or a yacht they can't afford to properly maintain. The boat should meet the owner's seafaring needs, not the tastes of brokers--who are sometimes former real estate agents or used-car salesmen who know little about a boat's true value and only want to sell every flashy feature imaginable.  

First-time buyers should also be careful when dealing with offshore companies. It's a good idea to register with a reputable foreign corporation if the boat is worth more than $1 million or if you're traveling abroad (flying a non-U.S. flag in foreign waters can give you a tax break and help you avoid a legal headache). However, more often than not, these stratagems resemble a magician's sleight of hand, and once the authorities begin to ask questions, a novice yacht owner in unfamiliar waters can easily be shipwrecked.  

The same fate also awaits buyers who can't cast aside their egos to separate true boating desires from the myriad fantasies that surround yachting. Boat buying, as Schrubb points out, "is always a struggle between heart and mind, fact versus fantasy.  

"It's sexy to think about racing to the islands in a cigarette boat. Or a real manly thing to go deep-sea fishing on a sport fisherman," Schrubb says. "But if you have a dog, and children who need extra staterooms, a swim platform and staircases instead of ladders [typical of sport fishermen], then you go the 40- to 70-foot flybridge boat route. If the neophyte can't separate the macho stuff from reality, he's going to make so many big financial mistakes, he could wind up just like the Titanic."  

If a buyer opts for family-friendly instead of the speed demon route, he must then focus on budgetary parameters. While industry sharks promise low-interest loans and rebates on lesser-known brands, a Ferretti is rarely discounted and costs more than a similar-sized American boat. Other European-made yachts, such as a Fairline Squadron or Sunseeker Predator, are also pricey. Yet, that's to be expected, as the Predator 54, for example, has a top speed of 36 knots, full-size sunlounger and horseshoe seating for eight in the cockpit.  

A Sea Ray may be less expensive than its European rivals, but this American-made yacht still has many assets. The company's Sundancer line of yachts offer elegant staterooms and exteriors that have recently been redesigned to give these boats more curvaceous lines.  

First-time buyers adhering to a budget will be particularly pleased by Sea Ray's 480 Sedan Bridge, a 48-foot boat costing $727,845 that boasts three spacious cabins, a pair of reliable Caterpillar 3176TA engines with a combined 1,200-horsepower, and a long list of standard equipment. Extolling the "multi-layered luxury" of this yacht's sleeping accommodations, Lakeland Boating magazine raved in 1998, "Until you look at yachts a dozen feet longer [and a million dollars more] you don't find many guest staterooms that have as much space and comfort as the master. The 480 managed to achieve this minor miracle through careful layering of the interior space."  

Another enticing choice is Sea Ray's 560 Sedan Bridge, a 55-foot, $1.3 million boat with three cabins. It features twin 776-horsepower Caterpillars and hits a top speed of 35 mph (or 30.4 knots). Lauded by Power & Motor Yacht magazine for its European flair, this recent addition to the Sea Ray fleet boasts a dinette with seating for six, a helm equipped with the latest Raytheon electronics (chart display, radar, Ray Pilot and other features) and, unlike wood-laminated Sea Rays of the past, a decor that is an artful mix of Corian countertops, oak cabinetry and tan vinyl upholstery.  

Whatever boat and budget suit your lifestyle, a buyer should consider what Schrubb calls the "intimidation factor." This entails evaluating your boating experience and determining your comfort level as to whether or not you can pilot a 70-footer, which demands greater proficiency in docking maneuvers, or if you feel more at ease handling a 45-footer.  

"Whatever the purchase, buyers must feel comfortable handling the boat and shouldn't dread negotiating all the passages, ladders and railings," warns Schrubb, who's been a broker since 1993 and holds a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in ship design and construction. "Don't overdo the size, the ego thing, or be impressed by what your friends are doing, for many beginners find that handling a big $2 million boat means too much stress. Boating should be fun, or else something is terribly wrong."  

The size of a boat, and how it affects a beginner's navigational skills, is a hotly debated issue among yacht aficionados. While Schrubb feels a neophyte can handle a 55-footer after a week of training, he worries that anything more than 60 feet could cause problems. "Once you get into this size boat, hiring a captain is recommended. I'm experienced yet I'd still need a captain, since when you're docking this size boat you have to sprint from the bow all the way aft to the flybridge to adjust the boat's position. One person can run a 55-footer, but 60 feet generally tends to be a cutoff point for me."  

Dickman takes a far more adventurous view. He believes an 80-footer is easier to dock than a 50-footer. "It's OK for the first-time buyer to learn seamanship on a bigger boat," he says. "The size selection really depends on the person, how much work he wants to do in the marina. Only when you get past 80 feet do you need a captain."   Going it alone on a larger boat does offer a heady burst of exhilaration. Before setting off on this thrilling course, however, buyers should seek the counsel of a well-recommended broker who can provide a few sea-tested reality checks.  

Discovering such a trustworthy agent is a time-consuming process of talking to yacht owners and interviewing candidates. Yet, once a seasoned broker is found, he or she will steer a buyer to the yacht that meets his needs. Besides acting as a negotiator, the broker ensures that the boat is equipped properly, oversees the drafting of legal documents and hires a naval surveyor to conduct sea trials and inspections (an engine and hull survey, along with a "haul-out," or lifting the yacht out of the water to view its hull, typically costs about $2,500 for a 70-footer).  

"Purchasing a yacht is such a dangerous business, buyers need an ally with independent views who can analyze the pros and cons of particular boats and also make meaningful comparisons among different builders," says Gerry Hull of Fraser Yachts in Ft. Lauderdale. "These builders have varying reputations for quality and warranties. If you try to differentiate these guarantees by yourself or walk into showrooms unaided, it's the same as going to car dealers, where it's always caveat emptor."  

Brokers also know the prices and histories of available boats, will arrange the terms of putting down a deposit, and can find the buyer a slip in a boatyard. However, in a market where these ever-affable agents typically receive 10 percent of the price from the seller, buyers must treat boat purchasing as a hard-nosed business and be quick to question their consultant's every move.  

"Since there are some people who are very good at taking advantage of clients financially, buyers must be ready to call them on everything," Schrubb advises. "Be wary. Instead of guiding you, too many brokers stick it in and break it off. They don't tell you about dockage costs, yearly bottom jobs and monthly cleaning costs. Worst of all, there are some brokers who deal directly with a boat company, inflate the price to the buyer, then pocket the difference." Schrubb also warns buyers to avoid glitz, and to keep yachts "vanilla."  

"The interior design of a boat must be very neutral, nothing outrageous, for that makes the yacht much easier to sell," says Schrubb, standing at the MicroCommander controls of a British-made 56-foot Viking, a $1.05 million boat with twin 800-horsepower MAN engines, a Bose Surround Sound system and cherrywood cabinets. "Too many people go overboard with the furnishings, not realizing that most boats are kept for only 18 months. A yacht is a depreciating asset, with people typically losing 10 to 20 percent [on their investment] the first year. They must determine up front how much they can afford to lose, and know that a lot of extra gizmos or wild styling motifs often complicate selling the boat."  

A yacht with name recognition, such as a Ferretti, Sunseeker or Fairline, is also easier to resell. Consistently praised by such influential magazines as Power & Motor Yacht and Yachts International, these companies have become legends in the industry, reputed for cutting-edge engineering, swift, reliable service and futuristic styling.   Fairline's recently introduced deep V-hulled Squadron 62, for example, boasts three staterooms with large bathrooms, a split-level dining area and a wraparound flight deck, while Sunseeker's Manhattan 64 flaunts spacious accommodations for six, a massive galley and an airy salon accented by warm wood and tinted glass.  

"Only 300 to 350 Sunseekers are made in Britain each year and each boat has a finish and elegance that's difficult to match," says John Henry Falk, a sales representative with the Hideaway Yacht Group in Pompano Beach, Florida. "While Sea Ray might do fine boats, they just don't have the leathers, the stainless steel hardware or overall workmanship you get out of Europe. Hideaway gives a five-year warranty on major parts [for Sunseekers] because we're confident Sunseekers are the Bentley of its class."  

Despite their magnificent appointments and unique power to stir exciting visions of worldwide travel, all of these yachts must be subjected to a no-nonsense test.  

"I don't care what kind of boat people look at, they have to kick the tires," says Hull, a broker for 20 years. "The absolute worst mistake novices make is buying a yacht at a boat show or off the dealer's floor without first taking a demonstration ride. Spend time in that boat, and make sure your purchase agreement allows you to get back the deposit if the survey and sea trials are unsatisfactory. To do otherwise is very foolish."  

After failing to take a test ride, one recent buyer was blindsided. "This guy, who was a little overweight, to say the least, thought he had bought his dream boat," recalls Schrubb. "He eventually went out on it, and discovered he was just too large to fit through the door. Understandably, he's now very unhappy."  

Another mistake is taking advice from anyone who touts himself as an expert. These individuals might own a boat or have some seafaring experience, yet, as Hull counsels, "these people are so grossly unqualified to make reasoned judgments, they only muddy the waters with their grand pronouncements. Hire a surveyor instead, and keep 'Uncle Charlie' at home where he can't cause any trouble."  

Even if new buyers take these precautions, they will discover that yachting is not always about fun and adventure. Boats break down, they demand hands-on maintenance and, as Schrubb points out, "no matter how much effort neophytes put into acquiring their first boat, that yacht never turns out to be perfect. There's always some detail to dislike, so buyers shouldn't drag out the search looking for that 100-percent-perfect boat. It doesn't exist."  

Yet, Ferrettis, Fairlanes and Sunseekers do get close, according to yacht cognoscenti.  

"Freedom, feeling a new passion--that's the beauty of these flybridge yachts," Norberto Ferretti says, holding an unlit Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona as he walks in his Forli shipyard. "Racing against the wind, controlling a superbly engineered machine, or just discovering an inviting harbor, all kinds of adventures are possible on these boats. They're the ultimate toys for boys."  

Florida-based Edward Kiersh writes frequently for Cigar Aficionado.    

To learn more about flybridge yachts, visit the following Web sites or contact the companies directly. Most sites offer detailed descriptions of the company's models and a dealer directory.  

FAIRLINE BOATS PLC Oundle, England PE8 5PA. Tel. 44 (0) 1932273661 or Fairline Boats of North America P.O. Box 21376 Hilton Head Island, SC 29925. Tel. 843/342-3453  

Via Ansaldo 5/7, Zona Industriale Villa Selva, 47100 Forli, Italy. Tel. 39 (0)543 474411 or Ferretti of America Inc. 2300 East Las Olas Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL. 33301 Tel. 954/527-1126  

SEA RAY BOATS INC. 2600 Sea Ray Blvd., Knoxville, TN 37914. Tel. 800-SRBOATS  

SUNSEEKER INTERNATIONAL LTD. 27-31 West Quay Rd. Poole, Dorset, England BH15 1HX. Tel. 44 (0) 1202381111  

VIKING YACHTS CO. Route 9, New Gretna, NJ 08224. Tel. 609/296-6000  

Hideaway Yacht Group, 750 S. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach, FL 33062. Tel. 954/943-3200  

Fraser Yachts, 2230 Southeast 17th St. Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316. Tel. 954/463-0600  

HMY Yacht Sales, Dania Beach, FL 33004. Tel. 561/309-2878