Design DNA: Vismara Marine

Written by Ellie Brade

Alessandro Vismara, founder of luxury Italian yacht design house Vismara Marine, has been at the heart of the international sailing sector throughout his 30 years in business, playing an instrumental role in driving the popularity of composite performance yachts. Having grown up sailing it was a natural step for Vismara to make a career from his love of sailing and, having studied naval architecture, he moved to the UK in the 1980s where he began designing race boats. “My speciality is in racing boats, with a strong background in scientific design and performance, new materials and hull shapes,” says Vismara. “This has been the direction for Vismara Marine right from the beginning and remains the case today.

Vismara V80 Maxi, photo by Luce Guida

By 1989, building large yachts from composite was still in its infancy but “I was addicted to working with carbon fibre and high tech materials, so I decided to start up my own company,” he says. Immediately, a key goal for the newly formed Vismara Marine was working on developing performance-focused cruising yachts. “This process was a simple transformation of design attitudes, materials and construction technologies… basically taking the approach of high performance design but translated into the cruising market.

While today light, performance-focused cruising yachts are all the norm, in the 1980s and 90s this was not the case. “Back then we still had to convince people that a cruising yacht did not have to be heavy to be comfortable,” he remembers. “At that time, I took every opportunity to make people understand that new materials were allowing boats that were less demanding, with better seakeeping and better stability.” It was this educational campaign that led to Vismara working with Finnish Baltic Yachts, becoming the yard’s service agent in Italy and design team for the wider Mediterranean. All these efforts heralded the start of a new era of performance superyachts. “Baltic was really the first company in the world to invest in high tech composites for high cruising boats and in 1996 we built the first 70’ carbon full composite fast cruiser, a Farr design for an Italian client.

Alessandro Vismara

In its infancy as a design house Vismara Marine was working with many clients around the world to design yachts, but by the end of the 1990s Vismara made the decision to work solely with Baltic Yachts. With Baltic building high-quality yachts and Vismara building smaller, cheaper yachts that were the beneficiaries of extensive research into materials and systems, Vismara was reborn as Baltic Yachts Italia. Three years ago Vismara Marine became part of Cose Belle d’Italia, a Group that aggregates Italian companies and brands representing the excellence of Made in Italy, with a move that proved to be extremely successful for both sides. “From 1998 to now, we have developed our brand and the concept of fully custom or semi-custom sailing yachts,” says Vismara. “The people that come to us are usually experienced people, who have already owned many different boats.'

Today the Vismara team works on sailing yachts from 50’ to 100’, with yachts of 60-70’ their key market. The number of yachts in build at any time is limited, with a focus on building long term relationships with owners and their families. “We have generations of clients, and are not the type of yard that runs huge advertising campaigns, we rely on recommendations,” says Vismara. “We like to be a bit of a hidden secret for yachting connoisseurs.”

Vismara’s key goal is always to work with clients, interpreting their vision and helping them achieve their dream yacht. “This is the DNA of our company, our real strength is bringing all the key players of a project – designers, engineers, specialists – round the table,” he says. “We try to be the single phone number to call; I always say that the service is more important than the product itself.” Vismara believes that designing and building custom yachts is a skill that includes helping owners to understand exactly what they want and need from their yacht. A custom yacht is not always the right fit for every client, and the Vismara team always try to ensure customers have a tangible reason for going custom. “If you want to build a custom boat, it has to be special,” he says. “The client has to be able to give you a reason why they want to go custom, it is not just about the aesthetic… Most people want something that looks different, but our approach is that the reason to build a custom boat is for it to perform better at sea. It can be faster, it can be silent, it can be ecological - there has to be a real goal.

Vismara believes that the sailing sector will see more activity as boats evolve and owners educate themselves. “In the past, bigger yachts were basically the same as smaller boats, just bigger, but now technology developments have made larger boats much more user friendly, and the bigger sizes will become a more natural choice.” A current challenge is the limited knowledge of the clients and the crew on the operation of larger yachts. “Some owners focus purely on size, without understanding the implications of a bigger yacht,” says Vismara. “I have built a few boats for people who were then not able to run it… it’s a totally different affair to run a 100’ or an 80’ when compared to a 50’ or 60’ yacht.

Photo by Fabio Taccola.

In this light Vismara’s belief that ensuring client education and understanding about sailing is key to the success of a build makes complete sense. “Once we built a light, low fuel consumption yacht for a client, and then he later came back and said he hadn’t realised that a light yacht means more noise when you’re moored up… you feel and hear the water on a carbon hull, it’s like crystal. Obviously we had explained this before we built the boat with him, but it is one thing to build and dream, and it is another to use, so sometimes the clients have to be educated.” While a common theme in industry commentary and analysis is that owners are more knowledgeable, educated and involved in yacht builds than ever before Vismara believes this is not always the case. “20 years ago the clients spent a whole day in the yard to see how the boat was laminated, now they come here for one hour and then they want to go to the restaurants in the area… it’s a different approach, but perhaps people are a little less dedicated.

Vismara believes that everyone needs to play their part in assuming this educational role for the sailing industry to prosper. “Very few players are helping to teach the clients what it means to go yachting,” he says. “If you want to go play golf, you pay for the best teachers, you have to understand what it means, which takes time.” Vismara feels that the media in particular has a duty to help facilitate this educational process. “Most magazines talk about nice yachts in Monte Carlo or Portofino, but not about the practicalities or realities of a design… this might lead owners into building a yacht that is not right for them.

Photo by Fabio Taccola.

With sailing yachts his first love, it may seem surprising that Vismara also designs motoryachts, but Vismara believes that sailing and motoryachts both share the same design core. “I have a very scientific approach and I specialised in performance prediction and structures of materials when I studied, so the heart of my designs, whether motor or sailor, is that same,” he says. “A Vismara motoryacht is more like a sailing yacht transformed into a motoryacht.” The company has just developed a Vismara 100’ motoryacht to complement its Vismara 100’ sailing model. The in-build 100’ sailing yacht is the biggest that Vismara has developed to date, built for a very experienced client needing a step up in space onboard.

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