He changed classic yachting’s traditional criteria by creating simple boats and introducing pure new lines, both in sailing and motor boats. It is by far one of the most copied boats. But Luca Bassani, the creator, founder and president of Wally surprisingly confessed : “I didn’t invent something ‘new’….”
Yachting is considered the “sport of kings”… It was the year 1660 when Charles II climbed onboard a “jacht” for the trip back to his country to be crowned King of England. That sloop was light and fast, its Dutch name meaning “destroyer” because it was used to hunt down pirates in the shallow waters of the Netherlands. The Dutch East India Company produced a replica, the “Mary” that Charles used to race his brother James along the Thames, from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. He won 100 pounds … today Wally builds the most advanced, most highly admired yachts of all pleasure craft.
Who is Luca Bassani Antivari and what has he added to the history of yachting?
The dawn of yachting in the vastest sense of the term dates to the early 1900s and I start as an extremely lucky person. Thanks to my parents, I fell in love with sailing early and have been a boat owner ever since. I designed my first sail boat for my father in 1991. My family has owned many, many boats… and this enabled me to gain vast experience in terms of fleet. At a certain point I said, “OK, now I want to build a boat for myself!” The sailboats I saw around in 1989 no longer enticed me. Not only those series boats like the Swans and Baltics, but even the custom models of shipyards such as Sangermani, one of the loveliest brands. I wanted to get out of the rut the sailing industry was in, affected more by the rules of racing than by the water and wind. The first ratings were established in the late 1800s and for more than a century sailing was affected by the rules built around a certain type of boat, rather than letting different types of boats race each other. The American school favored boats that were wide and light while the English school was for the narrow, heavy boats: two rating philosophies that penalized both the English boats racing in America and the American boats racing in England.
At a certain point, a strange consequence of the ratings, the race craft started to present large volumes while the cruise vessels remained narrow with small volumes, uncomfortable both inside and out… and for a person who loved sailing, this was no longer tolerable. I was surprised that the cruise boats were so influenced by a system of rules that had nothing to do with cruising at all. I cleared the slate of all these limits… a complete revision that started from the “basic” concept of building a comfortable, simple boat using the best materials to make it as light as possible. I wanted to eliminate the flywheels and baby stays, using carbon masts and special cross trees, but items which already existed. We used the soling sail surface to build a larger boat with a self-tacking jib. On a Wally, nothing is invented from scratch.
In a world as “traditionalistic” as that of sailing — which has seen an evolution in materials but not in concepts — what was the impact of your ideas on the naval designers you worked with?
It was an obstacle… and the fortune of Luca Brenta. Before my preliminary design of an easy-to-handle boat with a self-tacking jib… Bruce Farr proposed building a boat with the mast shifted far aft, with a single rollable Genoa jib and without the spanker! I told him that, as a cruise boat to be used also for racing… it seemed a bit limiting. German Frers listened to me but responded with “I’ll think about it”… I think that, at the peak of his career, he saw the pursuit of such a new idea as quite risky. So I sought a young architect who had yet to “make his name” and Luca Brenta had just built the Marisa, a fast boat with a lovely, wide stern, quite similar to my boat concept. He liked my idea and we worked well together… thus we produced the first Wallygator.
Besides the easy sailing, how did the immense added value of the Wally — its simplified esthetics – come about?
The esthetics of the Wally did not start out from there, but it arrived there. It came out during the many meetings in which I designed the Walligator with Luca Brenta… At that time my children were little and I asked him to hide away all riggings that could be dangerous for them like the sheets, with their three tons that can take your hand off. Moreover, I didn’t what my guests, or even myself, to get pinched fingers while on deck! In designing the windows of the coachroof, facing the choice of making two or three crossed windows, I decided to make one single one, very tapered and clean-cut. A simplification made mainly for functional purposes and in the good taste of simple things.
When he saw the first Wally, Fiat-owner Agnelli said: “Bella bella… sembra una mattonella” (What a beauty…like a tile). A cute ditty that, today, seems like a premonition given the success of the precise, unexpected details like the straight bow or open stern. What is the trait-d’union that unites the Wally, with sails, with the motor boats produced by Luca Bassani?
My cornerstones are the Wallygator ketch and the WallyPower118 because whenever I climb onboard to sail, both grip my heart! After having launched the first Wallygator I saw that, for a full two years, no one copied our ideas… it was an epic for me. The boat handled well, it was comfortable and fast, and it was even very lovely from my point of view. At the time it was considered a boat with too vertical a bow, while today it even seems to lean forward. I perceived that there was room for some business and thus I decided to create a really modern boat… The result was the Wallygator ketch project which is, today, the Narida. Then came the “Genie of the Lamp” and the “Tiketitan”… On the WallyPower, one spends a great deal of time in the forward cockpit where, uncluttered, without any superstructure at one’s back, it is possible to enjoy a full 360° view of the sea, almost like on a sailboat. Its glass surfaces also provide a complete view from stem to stern, creating an acoustic, but not visual, barrier that blocks out noise and still lets you keep tabs on what is happening at all points on the boat.
Wally has introduced advanced materials such as carbon on its cruise boats, materials which had previously only been used in America’s Cup racers. How have you exalted such an extreme innovation into your cruisers?
The very first carbon sailboats were produced by NorthSails for the Moro di Venezia in 1992, but after having hoisted sail they immediate lowered them because they broke. When we launched the Walligator ketch in Rhode Island in 1994, the first sails in Spectra were heavy and did not keep their shape, thus I notified Tom Whidden of NorthSails that I absolutely wanted to have carbon sails. Their fabrics expert proposed spreading the carbon fibers in a Mylar sandwich. The idea seemed right and I accepted the proposal even though, after the experience with the “Moro” they had me sign a clause that I assumed all responsibility for the final result.
First we created a very light jib that we used in winds of up to thirty knots. It lasted three years and kept its shape wonderfully… Ever since, the sails on large boats have all been made this way. The 3DLSails came later.
Speaking of onboard comfort, Wally proposes very accurate interior design: from the “terrace on the sea” aft to the central cockpit, to the bow cockpit where one can enjoy utmost privacy, even when at the wharf… How have you reinvented outdoor life?No matter how big they are, boats are still small. Every once in a while you need to have a bit of space to “get some air”. This means that the traditional concept of a single cockpit is to be replaced by two or three zones where one can stay apart. At some moments of the day, separate groups tend to form spontaneously, often divided between adults and children, sometimes men and women… In fact, today, everyone is building a bow cockpit, particularly on motor boats.
Having worked with the best naval architects and the most famous interior decorators, is there still a designer you would like to work with?
Certainly. There are many designers I like a lot and with whom I have never worked, but I won’t mention any names. It is important to be flexible enough to interpret your own thoughts, adapting them to the boat and not just applying the same solutions already successfully tested on other boats, as all too often happens. A good architect is the one who “adds something of his own” and still knows how to interpret the customer into each project.
For Luca Bassani, what is luxury?
Freedom. Money. And time to enjoy them.