time spent on a big boat is cool. Rocketing through the waves on one at high speed is awesome. When I hopped aboard an Otam 80 HT for a test run in the Med, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The fastest I’d ever been on a boat was 36 knots, racing thunderheads to a Bahamas weekend on my buddy’s 45-foot Cabo. That was a thrill, but pinning ears back and throttles forward on Otam’s Mr. Brown was the thrill of a lifetime.
With an eye on trends in sporty open superyachts and chase boats, Otam Yachts, an Italian boatbuilder with a penchant for designing fast boats to break records, set out in 2004 to add an element of luxury and comfort to its high-speed product. First came a 45-footer, then a 55—which became the current model 58—followed by the 80, today’s flagship of Otam’s Millennium series and one of the world’s fastest yachts for her size.
“She’s very aggressive … a little bit military by design,” said Otam CEO Gianfranco Zanoni. “She’s not the most voluminous boat for her size, but she runs very fast. No other boats in class are averaging a 45-knot cruising speed. That she is able to double the class norm given her size and amenities is quite a design feat.”
Zanoni, who started racing boats at age 16, has a robust racing pedigree of his own, with three Offshore Endurance championships and six speed records to his name. Several of those speed records still stand today, although the time came to hang up his racing stripes.
“I’ve been upside down at 100 knots off Argentina,” Zanoni said. “One can only get so lucky so many times.”
His passion lives on at Otam. Let’s be honest: There’s a lot to like about ripping along at 54 knots in an 80-foot beast, even on a less-than-idyllic day.
With a cold front bearing down on us, winds had picked up and the seas had started to swirl. You’d never have known it from the helm of the Otam 80 HT. While smaller craft struggled for stability, Mr. Brown and her four 1,622-horsepower MTUs coupled with Trimax surface drives packed an awesome punch.
All those horses hurling 80 feet of Aramat (a blend of fiberglass and Kevlar) across the waves might conjure visions of illuminated fastenseatbelt signs for turbulence, but those expected bangs and bumps never came. Our ride was cushy and soft, effectively resembling a steak knife cutting through a gooey tiramisu, thanks in part to the deep-V hull penned by naval architect Umberto Tagliavini. A single-lever control at the helm for all four engines, along with the surface drives playing off a 21-degree transom deadrise, made handling easy at high speed. Using only the two external engines and the bow thruster yielded a tight turning radius for maneuvering in close quarters.
Also of note, the swim platform on Mr. Brown was customized with a hydraulic trim feature, eliminating friction between water and platform at high speed to gain half a knot, according to the yard. Of course, by my standards, what’s half a knot when you’re pulling 54 of them already? But I wasn’t about to debate that with a record holder like Zanoni.
Mr. Brown may be the poster child for extreme yachting, but it would be a mistake to write off this bad boy as strictly a performance boat. Cruising comfort, even at high speed, is a base principle of the Otam product line. Mr. Brown’s interior, designed by Achille
Salvagni, employs ebony, teak and leather in a minimalist fashion. The modish result looks and feels the very essence of Italian style. The interior furniture was fit to the living spaces prior to being finished, a process that, while more labor-intensive, ensured flush surfaces throughout and eliminated knocks or rattles underway.
Forward of the comfortable and roomy deck salon, the main salon is also surprisingly wide and accommodating, especially considering the mass of might and fury beneath the decks. Warm wood tones fill the bright and airy Hermes-inspired space, as a blend of ebony and teak with matching leathers emits a contemporary vibe.
The bridge aboard Mr. Brown is mission control, with four contoured, leather-covered sport chairs with electrically operated, padded backs. Various instrument panels face each of the chairs. The helm is to port and includes the navigation system and radar. To starboard, the engine station includes a full vessel monitoring system. All the screens are digitally connected, making the displays interchangeable per the viewer’s preference.
Between the two bridge consoles, a staircase leads belowdecks to three staterooms with ensuite heads. The master is forward with a pair of twins abaft. Designed for European cruising, the galley and crew cabins aboard Mr. Brown are separate from the living areas, with access from the main deck and the foredeck. With Otam positioning itself as a bespoke builder, deck arrangements can vary from hull to hull, but never at the cost of safety.
“We enjoy the challenge of catering to owners’ requests, but we have to make sure they won’t affect performance, weight or structural integrity,” Zanoni said. “Then we must say ‘no.’ These boats are designed to exceed a 40-knot cruise in [3- to 6-foot] swells. Luxury should never compromise the functionality of the product.”
With Otam’s 58- and 80-foot models gaining fans (especially since Mr. Brown turned heads at the boat show in Cannes last fall) the builder continues to improve upon efficiency. Newer builds offer two engines instead of four. Twin 2,600-horsepower MTU engines with Arneson drives now propel the Otam 80 HT to 50 knots while burning approximately 238 gallons per hour—nearly half the fuel consumption of the four-engine alternative. To me, the fuel savings alone seem well worth the 4-knot tradeoff.
Technicalities aside, to be honest, I’ve never been a speed guy. I’m quite content cruising at 15 knots on a trideck, or even at 6 knots on a trawler. But you don’t need to be a speed guy to appreciate the engineering and craftsmanship that go into a vessel like the Otam 80 HT. She offers a rare, well-executed combination of sophisticated technology, aggressiveness and elegance.
She may not be for everyone, but rest assured: Shredding waves at 54 knots in total comfort and control on a sexy 80-footer can be a thrill for anyone.