In the past, a sunny day would almost always find me driving a flying bridge yacht from the upper helm. But after trying out the captain's seat at the lower helm of Azimut's 68 Plus, staying indoors is becoming a tempting option. So often, the lower helm on a flying bridge boat is an afterthought, with a seat barely acceptable for a bowling alley and a few gauges slapped into a panel.
The 68 Plus' high-backed leather captain's seat, on the other hand, feels as if it belongs in a Mercedes. It offers firm back support, thick cushioning, and comfortably padded armrests. Push a couple buttons and it adjusts to more positions than a Craftmatic adjustable bed. Ahhh. A long cruise never looked so good.
Ahead of and around the driver, the helm is laid out for convenience. All the VDO gauges are in a clear line of sight, as are the Raytheon R80 radar, Raychart 520 plotter, ST 6000 autopilot, and ST 80 Multiview indicator. I have one gripe, however. There was so much glare coming off the shiny white panel forward of the dash that I had to wear sunglasses even behind the darkly tinted windshield. To port, the Mathers controls, VHF radio, and power plugs are easily reached. Charts are nearby to starboard, protected and easily accessed inside their own drawer.
On days when you decide to drive up top, the flying bridge helm seats two, both of whom are protected behind a Venturi-style windscreen. A better seat, however, would adjust fore and aft. As it was, I had to drive with my elbows locked. All the instruments, controls, and electronics repeaters are where you want them. To improve both helm stations, Azimut should give the driver a place to set a drink. But then, I couldn't find cupholders for the passengers, either.
THE HIGHS: A lower helm seat so comfortable you won't miss the sun. Flying bridge lounges recline perfectly. A galley that closes off is smart. Open lazarette is great for stowage.
THE LOWS: Where are the cupholders? Way too much glare at lower helm. Anchor locker lid needs a gas strut to hold it up. Starboard batteries are difficult to remove.
THE RIGHT ANGLE. Once you drive this boat, the absence of a cupholder seems relatively minor. Riding on a hull with a deadrise of 16 degrees at the transom, the boat tops out at 39.5 mph and cruises at 31.6 at 2100 rpm on a pair of 1,150-bhp MTU diesels. At all speeds, the ride remains level, never rising above four degrees. The hull has the V you need to cut through waves yet is shallow enough to get up and run.
In tight turns, the 68 Plus is agile, carving smooth arcs and maintaining speed. At no-wake speeds, I never touched the steering wheel, keeping the boat under my command with just the engine controls.
The 68 Plus' hull shape - combined with a construction process that uses foam coring in the hullsides and deck to save weight-helps it make more out of less horsepower than its competition. Ferretti's 68, for example, weighs 85,900 pounds (nearly 6,000 pounds more than the 68 Plus) and has a hull with a 12-degree deadrise. Less V could mean a rougher ride in big water. It runs about 40 mph on twin MAN 1,200-bhp engines and retails for $2,557,000. With the same engines as the Ferretti, Viking Sport Cruisers' 68' Motor Yacht ($2,440,680) has a 19-degree deadrise, which is great in the waves but could mean less speed in calm water. It weighs a svelte 70,560 pounds (nearly five tons less than our test boat) and manages a top speed of 41.4 mph.
HERE COMES THE SUN. Passengers will feel as pampered as the driver wherever they go on the 68 Plus. Up top, there's a friendly circular lounge around the flying bridge table, but the prime tanning spot is either of two athwartship lounges to port. Stretch out and lean back on cushions set at a perfect 45-degree angle. There's also a large stowage locker in the base. For alfresco dining, the topsides wetbar has a grill, sink, and cooler, but the gas strut that holds up the wetbar lid is too weak to do its intended job. A gas strut, preferably stainless steel, is also needed for the lid on the bow anchor locker. The locker's capacity is exemplary, and freshwater washdown hookup and hose stowage are good, too.
After soaking up the rays on the flying bridge, take a dip off the aft swim platform - reboard on a power ladder that deploys with the push of a button. The transom gate opens on a stout stainless-steel hinge to provide entry to the aft cockpit with comfortable seating on the stern lounge. In the cockpit sole, a hatch opens to provide access to the lazarette. This area can be outfitted as crew's quarters or a transom garage, but I'd leave the area open. It provides outstanding stowage, and you couldn't ask for better access to the steering, the air conditioning system, or the seacocks.
Engine room entry is provided through a heavy-duty steel door that closes onto thick rubber weather stripping. The engines are through-bolted to stainless-steel mounts that are bolted to tapped-aluminum plates fiberglassed onto the engine bearers. Space between the flame arrestors on the motors is tight at 1' wide, but Azimut eases access by mounting all water/fuel separators, seacocks, and strainers abaft the motors.
Removable diamond-plate flooring throughout the engine room provides access to the waste oil pumps, the strainers, and seacocks. Getting to the port batteries behind the motors is easy, but removing the starboard batteries will be hard on your back, as access is partially blocked by the genset, and you have to bend at the waist to haul one out.
PEACE AND QUIET. Close the engine and lazarette hatch and the 68 Plus runs extremely quiet - my decibel meter never topped 80 at the upper helm on a windy day. In the salon, at a cruising speed of 31.6 mph, I recorded 70 decibels with the door closed. Relax on the salon lounges and you can talk in normal tones. Although some people might think you can never have too much padding on a lounge, the bottom cushions on the 68 Plus are so thick they're difficult to remove, making access to the stowage beneath them a chore.
Two steps lead up to the dinette area to port with another large lounge around a leafed table just aft of the lower helm station. To starboard, the galley can be completely closed off when you're underway. When opened, its location lets whoever is cooking stay involved in the party or chat with the captain. The Granulon countertop contains a four-burner stove and has channels molded into it to route spills back into the twin sinks. I also liked that in the galley and throughout the boat, all the stowage drawers opened on real metal rollers for smoother operation.
Steps forward of the galley lead belowdecks to the living quarters. The aft master stateroom features a thickly padded double berth and a walk-in closet with a full chest of drawers. A vanity with a makeup drawer and a stool is a nice touch as is the master head with a full-size bathtub and bidet, plus the usual accouterments. In this stateroom and throughout the boat, Azimut provides easy access to all the circuit breakers for electronic equipment.
Another couple will enjoy the forward stateroom with its double berth, while the kids can relax in their own cabin with separate bunks. Each cabin has its own private head. Across from the kids' cabin is a laundry room that's equipped with a combination washer/dryer. There's stowage next to the appliances and a small berth across from it for extra guests or crew members.
LAST WORD. On this boat, the captain has the best seat in the house - in more ways than one.
Displacement (lbs., approx.)...80,000
Transom deadrise ............16º
Bridge clearance ............23'2"
Minimum cockpit depth ............2'9"
Max. cabin headroom ..............7'1"
Fuel capacity (gal.) ............1,268
Water capacity (gal.) ............317
Price (w/standard power) ............$2,185,000
Price (w/test power) ............$2,185,000
STANDARD POWER: Twin 1,150-bhp V-12 diesel inboards.
OPTIONAL POWER: Twin diesel inboards to 2,300 bhp total.
TEST BOAT POWER: Twin 1,150-bhp MTU 12V 183TE V-12 diesel inboards with 1,336 cid, 5.04" bore x 5.59" stroke, swinging 33 1/2" x 45 1/4" four-bladed Nibral props through 2.23:1 reductions.
STANDARD EQUIPMENT (major items): Raytheon R80 radar w/repeater; Raytheon Raychart 520 w/repeater; Raytheon Raypilot ST 6000 + autopilot; Raytheon ST 80 Masterview depth and speed indicator; Raytheon Raystar 112 LP-ST GPS antenna; 2 Shipmate VHF RS 8300 D radios; forward anchor winch control; bow thruster w/controls; trim tabs and indicators; Venturi windscreen; davit w/771 lbs. capacity; 1,500-watt reversible windlass; windshield wipers; 2 21" TVs/VCRs; 3 AM/FM/CD stereos; 4 salon speakers; 2 galley sinks in Granulon countertop; 4-burner stove; convection/microwave oven; refrigerator; twin stern cleat windlasses; hot and cold transom shower; power swim ladder; power-adjustable leather lower helm seat; master head w/Sealand commode and bidet, 2 sinks, and shower tub; VIP and guest heads w/Sealand heads and standup showers; 2 Kohler generators; 2 220v/50a shorepower outlets; fire extinguishers; Racor water/fuel separators; water heater; 79,000-Btu CruisAir a/c system.