Yacht builder Wally has already changed the face of luxuryboats, but the company’s latest craft is just asradical as its predecessors
all him a late bloomer: Luca Bassani was well into his 30s before his vocation became clear. A little more than two decades later, Bassani and Wally Yachts, where he is president and CEO, are creating some of the most recognizable and desirable boats—sail or power—on the open seas.
Back in the mid-’80s, Bassani, the son of affluent Italian industrialists, decided to purchase his first big yacht but was disappointed by what he found on the market. An avid sailor who had raced boats for most of his life, he did not want to give up the pleasure and enjoyment of speed. Yet, at the same time, he wanted something that was luxurious, could be sailed with a small crew and was safe enough for his young children to be aboard. “There was nothing like this at the time, so I decided to design and build the boat myself,” says Bassani.
While Bassani was influenced by some of the most innovative boat designers of that era, his design aesthetic—then and now—has been shaped more by the works of great organic architects. Frank Lloyd Wright was an inspiration, as was Gae Aulenti, the Milanese architect known for buildings like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and her furniture and lighting designs.
In the process of designing that first yacht, Bassani had two guiding principles: New technologies should be used to overcome practical limitations, and the layout needed to be natural and organic. The result was the Wallygator. Launched in 1991 the yacht (named after his children’s favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoon character) was the first lightweight, high-performance cruising yacht that could be sailed single-handedly. It was built to be raced in the afternoon and slept on at night. “Most cruising boats were comfortable but not fun at all to sail—too slow, too complicated,” says Bassani. “And racing boats were fun but had zero comfort. The Wallygator was both luxurious and fast—spectacular.”
The design was revolutionary, and it occasionally met with skepticism. But there were practical considerations to even the most radical-seeming departures. Take the Wallygator’s uncluttered deck, a hallmark of all subsequent Wally craft, for example. “My children were very young,” explains Bassani. “The deck of a sailboat can be a dangerous place—the swinging booms, the tangled thickets of halyards, winches and runner backstays.” So Bassani cleaned it up, concealing all the “clutter” below deck. Out went the complicated crisscross of rigging. In came a push-button system of self-tacking jibs. Out went the wood and canvas. In came the first-ever carbon-fiber mast on a cruising yacht.
Today, the Wallygator is recognized as one of the pioneering vessels in full-power-assist sailing—a concept that has trickled down to yachts half its size—and as a result, it was named one of Yachting magazine’s 12 most influential boats of the 20th century in 2011.
Clear the decks: Wallygator’s radical clean lines
ased on the success and recognition of the Wallygator, Bassani opened Wally Yachts in 1994. Today, the Monte Carlo, Monaco–based boatbuilder is famous for its jet-set but museum-quality masterpieces of form and function. It builds eight or nine boats per year, ranging from the 32-foot WallyDinghy (the perfect tender) to the 118-foot behemoth 118 WallyPower (the sleek motor yacht featured in the film The Island, starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor), for clients including Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, former chairman and CEO of cosmetic giant L’Oréal, and “friends and family” that include King Juan Carlos of Spain.
And in 2012, Wally welcomed a new vessel into the family: The 165-foot Better Place is the world’s largest carbon-fiber sloop and the first sailing yacht to receive a RINA Green Star classification, which is reserved for ships that are designed, constructed and operated in such a way as to ensure maximum respect for the environment. It has a signature Wally silhouette—minimal, stark, almost brutal lines—and the trademark raised bulwarks that add not only to onboard safety but also to purity of profile. With its clean, Bugatti blue hull and modernist form, it looks like nothing else in the marina.
Aside from its hull design and construction, Better Place boasts multiple innovations, from propulsion and sail control to the way living aboard has been thought through. One of the vessel’s most attractive qualities is the concept of indoor-outdoor living. “It is very important for me that a passenger has the same feeling or experience when he or she is standing on the deck as when he or she is inside the [cabin],” explains Bassani. “This was achieved quite well here, for example, with the big, full-height windows in the deckhouse. They allow ample natural light to flow in and do not break your connection to the sea.” The interior was created by Wetzels Brown in Amsterdam and comprises a total living area of 7,500 square feet on board—3,000 inside and 4,500 outside—and includes a 670-square-foot owner’s stateroom with a terrace.
While Better Place is a fully modern interpretation of the Wally ethos—yachts born out of a passion for performance, design and the sea—it’s very much a descendant of the first Wallygator: “When the owner commissioned us to build this yacht, he was looking for a boat that was luxurious and fun to sail in light or heavy wind, yet it had to be environmentally friendly and built with sustainable materials and propulsion systems. There was nothing like that on the market, just like before. So we built it.” And as long as people keep asking for new things, Bassani and Wally Yachts will continue to design and build them.
For nearly two decades, New York–based writer and editor Chuck Tannert has covered everything from arts and leisure to fashion and fitness to politics and technology. His work has appeared in many print and online publications, including Cargo, CNET, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Journal, MSN, Penthouse, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Sly, Wired and many more.