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2024-04-17 11:56

Antonio Vettese



INTERVIEW Luca Bassani by Antonio Vettese

by Antonio Vettese


Today we are meeting Luca Bassani, a man to whom recreational boating owes a lot. Probably, to define him with a word, we could use "innovator". Actually, Luca Bassani is also an entrepreneur, a designer, and someone whose main goal is to change not only boating but also the way things are done. This year marks a significant milestone for Luca and his endeavors as Wally, the brand he founded, celebrates its 30th year.

Luca Bassani has innovated many things and has changed the world of sailing starting from this Wallygator and Genie of the lamp. He also changed the motor world sector. In fact, who doesn’t remember the WallyPoweer 118, a very iconic boat that still has lots to say. In order to develop his boats, Luca Bassani invented the Wally brand, now merged into the Ferretti Group. Not all of his boats have been successful, but certainly his boats are among the most copied all over the world.


Luca, everybody knows you as a great creator, but you are also a man of the sea, and I believe that your creativity comes from your deep-rooted and extremely insightful experience. What was your real first boat?


Well, Antonio, I'll answer your first provocation in the sense that I think I'm a real man of the sea because I was almost born in Portofino. My parents met there, and their first kiss was in Portofino. Then they bought a house. So, I've always gone to Portofino. I grew up in the “piazzetta” (that is, the town square), on the pier, and on the Calata Marconi with my young peers from Portofino. I started doing a little bit of everything related to the sea: I used to go on small rowing boats, I used to go fishing, and then after that I started navigating with sailboats and motorboats and everything else that could be related to the sea. So yes, I think I am quite an old-fashioned man of the sea.

When did you get the idea of creating your first boat? When did you start thinking about changing the existing market and what it had to offer?


I got the idea of creating my first boat when I sold the family company, which had been founded by my father and his brother. So, I suddenly had more time and more availability. I already had the experience of producing both regatta boats and cruising boats because that was the passion my parents had passed on to me. I already knew almost everyone in the world of the regattas, and so I said to myself: "You can't find fun boats on the market, because if they are cruising boats, they are slow and not that comfortable; if they are racing boats, they are not comfortable and not that fast. But today there is the technology to make them much faster and much more comfortable". Why didn’t that exist yet? Because the written law has always been to follow the racing rules, that is, the handicap system, which is what has always influenced boat design for many years. So, I wanted to get off that path that led to a dead end because you had boats that did not take advantage of all the technology that was available at the time.


Wallygator is not the first model you built, but maybe this is where you can see the real soul of Wally, from the logo on the Spi... Can you tell us something about it?


Yes, of course. This is the second model of Wallygator, I developed the first one at Sangermani. It was the first Sangermani to have a carbon mast, actually, it was the second boat to have ever mounted a carbon mast, after that of the big New Zealand America's Cup boat, the one which had wings that had lost in San Diego to Dennis Conner's small catamaran. I talked to people on board, especially Laurent Esquier, who assured me that the carbon mast was working fine and that, for that America's Cup, they had designed it to reach a maximum of 25 knots of true wind speed, then they had taken it up to 30-32 knots and nothing had happened. That is what allowed me to get the whole idea of Wally going. The second model was intended to be a synthesis of all the previous experiences made on the 83-footer built by Sangermani. The hull was all carbon and Kevlar, the masts were carbon, the rigging was among the first with sheets with hydraulic pistons invented in collaboration with Gianni Cariboni, there were retractable propellers, a bow thruster and a stern thruster that turned 360 degrees... it had the best of both worlds, that is, the best for both cruising and racing.



"I talked to German Frers and told him what my idea was and asked him to do it together so that it would come out very well. 

I have to say that this boat has influenced almost all boating today."



Genie of the Lamp, another design milestone that has left an important mark in contemporary boating. It seems to me that the "fast and easy" comes from here, as well as a sense of comfort, which not everyone understands because there is a degree of comfort inside as well, thanks to the Wally idea, which is present in many details such as the height of the cabins and the way they are shaped. Again, tell us your point of view.


So, after the first two Wallygator, I realized that it was now my intent to enter the market with a company, which was called Wally. In order to make this entry explicit, we had to take another step forward from the 105-foot ketch Wallygator with a somewhat smaller boat. I think it was 1995, and an 80-footer was a very large boat, and a 105-footer was like an ocean liner. So, I had the idea to make this 80-footer, and as usual, I threw down some hand sketches, even though I don't know how to draw. Then, I talked to German Frers and told him what my idea was and asked him to do it together so that it would come out very well. I have to say that this boat has influenced almost all boating today, because if we look at the cockpit, or rather the two aft cockpits, all boats today are made like that.


On the one hand, the Wallygator was already in another dimension and influenced other things, perhaps with an even more modern hull since it was flatter and wider; in fact, it was born to navigate around the world. On the other hand, this boat influenced boats from 40 feet up to 115 feet, I would say. Below deck, it has a fresher style; I don't want to talk about minimalism at all. Until then, the inside of a boat was a bit like a mountain chalet, all built of wood, as classic boats were. So, the wood also decorated the boat. The moment we changed the material and the hull was no longer made of wood, we had to cover the material from which the hull and deck were made. So why continue only with wood? There are so many other materials that, when it is hot on a boat in the summer, are maybe even more pleasant. Let us not forget that life on a boat is mostly lived in a bathing suit. So, starting from there, we also developed that aspect. Perhaps the most important feature, which you also pointed out, was the absence of rigging. This is an 80-footer that was born with two winches because the self-tacking sheet was on a piston, again Gianni Cariboni's idea, as well as the mainsail sheet. At the foot of the wheelhouse, you could control both the jib and mainsail, so by yourself you could handle the whole boat. All halyards and other rigging were below deck, arriving at the mast. This was for a safety reason in regard to typical cruising crews, such as families, children, and non-sailing friends that one takes on a cruise. I had seen children as well as adults get hurt on smaller boats. On boats of this size with a significant load, it was critical for me to take out all the possible dangers. In one of the above pictures you can see the wallytender. It is nice because there is a union between the two boats. Actually, the wallytender was created during the construction of the large wallypower 118, which underwent extensive hull testing to ensure that it could go fast even in rough seas. The wallytender, on the other hand, was designed as a dayboat for going out to sea and swimming; it was especially designed to be a tender for cruising boats that otherwise had small three-meter tenders, like on the Genie, but on 60-meter motor yachts they had a very small 6-meter tender. 


All right, let's talk about this other major adventure... How do you feel when you look at your wallypower?


For me, it is like my second Sistine Chapel, the first was the Wallygator. Both of these boats of mine were highly criticized and then copied. Because by now all powerboats have a vertical bow, something that had been criticized even by naval architects; the glass structure to be able to see as much as possible outside; the terraces that open up, which are now a must on any boat... It's a fabulous boat that undoubtedly gave me quite a bit of trouble in the beginning to get it going, but then it worked out just fine. I would say that from a stylistic point of view, it has given inspiration to almost everybody. The thing that pleases me most is that even today, if you see her at sea or in port, you realize that although she is 20 years old, she looks as if she had just been launched. It definitely has very modern aspects. I don't want to be presumptuous, but there is an architectural mark on this boat that I think will stand the test of time.

Actually, these are flying boats; when they are on the water, they don't sail, either because they are stationary or because there is no wind and they lose the race, so they are not boats. They are not the future of cruising, and that's why I say they don't belong to my world. My world is still full of traditional boats that can give satisfaction in both racing and cruising.

Let’s talk about big regattas: the round-the-world race or the America's Cup. You were often asked to step in as a builder or whatever; however, in the end, you never got into it.


I think I had already told you about the America's Cup, my brother and I were getting into it, in the late 1970s when we had the Phantom, the first maxi at that time, a 66-footer that was giant at the time. We went to Lowell North, who was about to start his America's Cup campaign that he would later do with Enterprise, which later became the training boat of the Team Azzurra. My brother and I talked to Lowell North, and we liked the idea of doing the America's Cup with him. We presented this idea to our father as a way to bring the family company's brand to the United States, so it was a fairly modern concept as well. Fortunately, our father told us to finish university and that we would talk about it again at some point in the future.



You mentioned North and its wonderful people... Do you have any references or masters? Do you admire anyone in particular who has inspired you?


Absolutely, yes, I'm talking to you about not very well-known names perhaps. Let's start with Louis Noverraz, Genevan and Olympic champion. He was so good that when he was too far ahead, he would ease the sails to be closer and better control the second and the third. Straulino was another wonderful Italian character in my opinion; he was very good. I did many regattas against him, so I saw up close how good he was. Among the Italians, I would not like to forget Giulio Carcano. No, because he was a very good sailor and a very great engineer who not only invented the fastest motorcycles in the world, the Moto Guzzi, but also invented the most modern and fastest sailing boats, starting with Villanella in 1971. When it comes to the great actors of the last 30 or 40 years, there is undoubtedly Tabarly in terms of ocean racing, and perhaps one of the last very good ones, Russell Coutts, who proved to be the best of all from a professional standpoint as a sailor.


What does it mean for Wally to be part of such a big brand as Ferretti Group?


Well, being in such a solid and organized group like the Ferretti Group is very important for Wally. This boat, the wallywhy proves it. It is a very brave boat. Having a shipyard that is able to do it is not enough, you also need enlightenment to understand that this is a boat that can be successful in the market. I must say that in the Ferretti Group I found this openness, they understood right away that this was a very important project because it would open up another class of boats, a little bit like it had been with the wallytender. Today, there is an enormous tender market that was born with the wallyTender. The Ferretti Group believed in this project right away.



I believe that this range will not be the only novelty but that there will be different developments for the brand. Can you tell us a little bit about that?


Aside from the powerboats, so the wallytenders, we introduced the wallypower 58 this summer, which evolved from the 118 project. From here, we will develop a range, as well as a range of tenders. Then there is the wallywhy that will also become a range, with boats smaller and larger than the 200 that we presented last year. Finally, there are the sailboats. We are again designing and building sailboats. There is the new 101 for a historical Wally owner, and that will be delivered next March. We have also started building a 110-foot sailboat. In addition, there is also a new idea, a new Wally class that will be launched, and I cannot say more than that today. It will be very interesting, though. We are, as always, transversal, from tenders to powerboats, navettas to sailboats, larger racing sailboats to smaller cruising boats. With the Ferretti Group, we manage to be in the market.



What boat would Luca Bassani bottle up for himself?

For himself, I think he would choose the Genie of the Lamp because it is still a man-sized boat that, with a very small crew, allows for wonderful cruising, satisfying racing, and does not have exaggerated annual running costs. So, a sustainable boat, from all points of view.

Photo credits: Guillaume Plisson / Carlo Borlenghi / Gilles Martin / Wally Yachts