With styling as cool as Italian gelato, the Italia 15.98 was one of the stand-out yachts in trials for the European Yacht of the Year. But does she perform? Toby Hodges finds out
From supercars and pointy shoes to novel pasta shapes, Italian design is lauded the world over. But it can lack practicality – there’s no room for the kids in a Ferrari, Gucci heels are terrible off-road and linguine simply translates to sauce on your shirt. This new Italia Yachts model is as true to this generalisation as it is to its patriotic name.
Let me start, however, by introducing the Venice-based yard’s Italia 15.98 model as a stand-out yacht. Her Cossutti lines are long, sweet and fast, her Studio Spadolini styling is as cool as it comes and her quality of finish is simply prima. She is an elegant yacht on which to gaze admiringly and drips sophistication.
And it is almost impossible to imagine that the Italia 15.98 will sail anything but beautifully. So I was particularly excited about our trials, as her smaller sister, the 13.98, was one of 2012’s finest new production yachts to helm.
Indeed, our test sail initially seemed like a repeat performance of the 13.98. Once again we were the very first to sail this boat in any breeze and she excelled from the off, punching powerfully upwind into a sharp swell off Santa Margherita.
However – let’s get it over with – the cockpit coamings are far too low (and the winch layout can make sheet-handling overly difficult, but we’ll come back to that). Shaped cushions can obviously be added to create some form of back comfort to the cockpit benches, but seated crew still feel ill at ease and exposed.
The problem is that the cockpit is raised to create headroom below for a master aft cabin. And this is where Italian design simply will not compromise: the coamings are kept low so as not to spoil the sleek lines.
Take the wheel, however, and concerns for crew comfort soon vanish. On the helm she feels fast, yet purposeful, a real sailing boat. This is a yacht you really want to take for a drive in all conditions. She was immediately gratifying, slicing to windward at 8 knots in a Force 4, and tacked sharply.
You can feel the medium displacement of the 15.98: the helm is relatively stiff, but direct. She has been designed to offer a fast cruiser’s performance with ocean-going manners, a brief she fulfils in most areas. This, despite being laden with 500kg of anchor chain (100m of 12mm) forward – far from ideal, especially when displacement has been very well considered. A combined 1,300lt of fuel and water tanks are sited centrally below the saloon, for example.
The 15.98 has a generous rig, and sails quickly and easily. With a large gennaker set we took off into double figures. It was an impressive display, especially for a freshly unwrapped new model, surfing at 11.5 knots, up to 13.5 knots in 20-24 knots true.
Her powerful sail plan is one you would want to be able to tame properly in cruising mode, however. The 15.98 is part of an increasing trend to site both mainsheet winches and primaries aft. This keeps the working parts clear of the cockpit benches, but with all lines led to a compact area in front of the wheel, including running rigging, it can be an art to lead spinnaker sheets safely and keep rope tails tidy.
The problems with the cockpit (my main complaint) stem from the yard’s desire to offer a multitude of layouts without compromising deck aesthetics. There are 12 interior combinations in total (including a crew cabin). It is rare for a south European yacht of this size to be offered with options for both forward and aft owner’s cabins. The latter will appeal to north European sailors, who tend to prefer aft cockpit yachts.
Tommaso Spadolini has cleverly created a host of modular options – the port side of the saloon is the only section that stays the same. Both an L-shaped passageway galley and a more central U-shape are available.
The test boat had the master cabin forward, with two double cabins aft. In this layout a machinery room is created between the cabins, separate from the engine room beneath the companionway. This boat also had an unusually large day bed to port, an option that exchanges a potentially large chart table for a very small one.
The 15.98 includes an impressive number of quality seaworthy features. The C-shaped galley, for example, is superb. Stowage is excellent, the attention to weight commendable, and the look, ambience and quality of finish fantastic.
She carries the style and sophistication below promised by her polished exterior.
LOA 16.60m/54ft 6in
LWL 14.00m/45ft 11in
Beam (max) 4.85m/15ft 11in
Draught 2.90m/9ft 6in
Disp (lightship) 15,800kg/34,833lb
Sail area (100% foretriangle) 162m2/1,744ft2
Sail area:disp 26.2
Price (ex VAT) €690,000 (£540,000)
Designed by Italia Yachts design team, Matteo Polli, Cossutti Yacht Design & Studio Spadolini
This is a sexy design that sails as beautifully as she looks and is soundly built. But, by trying to offer something for everyone, Italia Yachts has introduced a problem whereby, in the Italian way, aesthetics have won over practicality. Cockpit benches are totally inadequate for protection and, in an effort to be simple, the cockpit layout is too complicated for a typical cruising couple.
So the question is: how important is an aft cabin? If only Italia had made the coamings higher, the best of both worlds might still be available. But like driving an Alfa or wearing a sharp Italian suit, this yacht is more about how it makes you feel.
The 15.98 is designed to encourage yachtsmen to spend more time at the wheel when sailing offshore. If you are searching for a yacht with looks and performance that can take you long distance and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of cockpit comfort, she’s extremely hard to beat.
This is an extract from a feature in Yachting World January 2015 issue