Exclusive interview: Pier Luigi Loro Piana on the refit of Masquenada

Pier Luigi Loro Piana is best known as a competitive sailor and the owner of four sailing yachts called My Song designed by Nauta Design, culminating in the Baltic 130 delivered in 2016. Three years later the maxi yacht was damaged beyond repair when it fell off a cargo ship en route to Genoa from the Caribbean. The loss was a heavy blow to her owner, but every cloud has a silver lining and in the wake of the accident Loro Piana reappraised his priorities. The result was the refitted explorer yacht, 51-metre Masquenada.Pier Luigi Loro Piana Photo: Justin RatcliffeMasquenada yacht cruisingPhoto: Giuliano SargentiniYou always used your sailing yachts for both racing and cruising; why the switch to a motor yacht? 

After I lost My Song I decided to separate the two functions of racing and cruising, which she had fulfilled perfectly. At the time of her launch I don’t believe there was another sailing boat with the same level of speed and comfort. But she was also at the limit in terms of size for both racing and cruising, because to race at a high level in safety meant we needed around 30 crew for every regatta, and that becomes like managing a small company. My Song yacht in Porto CervoPhoto: Merijn de Waard / SuperYacht TimesSo I decided to have a dedicated regatta boat and a motor yacht for more comfortable cruising with friends and family. Together with Mario Pedol we came up with a concept for a new 58-metre motor yacht designed for long-range cruising and a trip around the world. But any new build, sail or power, takes about three years to complete and when the Covid pandemic hit I started thinking I didn’t want to wait that long.

That’s when we thought about refitting an existing yacht and with Mario acting as broker we came across the explorer Aspire, originally Etra, which was very similar in terms of size and style to the concept Nauta had designed for me. I liked her powerful lines and solid construction, and she was in good condition. We realised that with some adjustments we could bring her even more in line with my original concept without losing a cruising season in the Med, and that was the spark that triggered the whole exercise. The boat went into the Lusben shipyard in Livorno in October 2020 and she was ready for the 2021 summer season.Masquenada yacht cruisingPhoto: Giuliano SargentiniThe Mediterranean is not short of dedicated refit yards; why did you decide on Lusben?

There were three or four yards on our short list, but Lusben has the infrastructure, professionalism and technical know-how to ensure a job well done. Of course, they also have the connection with Benetti and can draw on a whole network of suppliers and subcontractors between Genoa and Livorno. I’m based in Milan, so Livorno was handy for visiting the yard and I had a good relationship with Azimut-Benetti president Paolo Vitelli. I put Lusben under a lot of pressure because I wanted the boat to be finished quickly and I wasn’t prepared to accept much in the way of compromises, but they responded to the challenge and did a superb job in record time.Masquenada yacht in-build at LusbenWould you recommend other owners to refit or convert at a time when new build slots are in short supply?

For sure. Refitting a yacht that it still relatively young – Etra was originally launched in 2007 – makes a lot of sense. We gave new life to an existing vessel and avoided the conspicuous consumption of building a new one. It’s a bit like recycling in a way. If a yacht is designed, built and maintained properly it can last for decades, and it’s no coincidence that some of the most beautiful boats around today are among the oldest. So whichever way you look at it, refitting is a smart choice. Of course, every owner has different desires and requirements and if they can’t find a suitable pre-owned yacht for refitting then they should build a new one with the latest technology and efficient propulsion systems. Masquenada yacht aft deckPhoto: Giuliano SargentiniYou mention efficiency: I believe the remodelled stern section of Masquenda led to improved hydrodynamics and performance?

The transom was restyled to provide an open platform and Francesco Rogantin designed a whole new aft section. This meant a longer waterline length, which together with new propellers improved not only the hydrodynamic efficiency but also meant we gained around a knot of top speed, which was very satisfying. Masquenada doesn’t burn a lot of fuel and she recently crossed the Atlantic averaging 150 litres of fuel per hour at just over 11 knots in stern seas and four-metre waves. Her two Caterpillar 3,508 engines only had 5,000 hours on them, but they were overhauled and we fitted a new exhaust system and more fuel-efficient Kohler generators. Masquenada yacht cruisingPhoto: Giuliano SargentiniWhat were the most important modifications in terms of how you intend using the yacht?

I wanted to free up the open aft deck as much as possible, so we did away with the old crane and installed a new heavy-duty crane with a 7-metre reach that disappears into its own compartment under the deck. We needed the crane because we carry an amphibious Iguana on board for exploring even the shallowest water, which weighs almost 5 tonnes when full of fuel. When in the Med we have a 48-foot Maxi Dolphin chase boat, which was also designed by Nauta

Cutting down the bulwarks meant we can also use the aft deck for heli operations – an important safety factor when you’re in remote locations and may have to evacuate someone. 

I have all the space I need on Masquenada to live comfortably at sea for weeks at a time. There’s always a valid argument for adding an a metre or two to the length, but I don’t see the point of huge yachts of 100 metres or more. For the kind of bluewater cruising I want to do a yacht between 50-60 metres is ideal: she has enough room to comfortably accommodate a dozen guests, but much bigger and I wouldn’t be able to access the out-of-the-way places I want to visit.  Masquenada yacht cruisingPhoto: Giuliano SargentiniWhere did you go for your first cruise in the Med last summer?

We joined the yacht in Samos and  went down to Castellorizo just off the Turkish coast, visiting other islands along the way. We were able to get into all the small bays and inlets and lay a land anchor, something we couldn’t do with My Song because, despite her lifting keel, she had a minimum draft twice that of Masquenada. Then we went to the Lesser Cyclades and Polyaigos, which for me is one of the most beautiful islands in the eastern Med, and Kythira at the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. By September we were in Capri and the Aeolian islands, and we finished the cruise in Taormina, Sicily. By the time the boat returned to the shipyard to prepare for the Atlantic crossing, we had done most of what we had dreamt of doing when we started the refit of Masquenada, so in that sense it was brilliant.  

Does that mean you’ve now abandoned sail for power?

Not at all! As I said at the beginning, I’ve just split the racing and cruising. Sailing and the sea has always been my hobby and I’m building a high-performance, 82-foot racer with Nautor’s Swan designed by Juan K [Kouyoumdijan]. In the meantime I bought a Swan 36 to keep my hand in, although I think my children have raced her more than me because now I’m older and put on a bit of weight I appreciate something more in the maxi size. In fact, I also took part in the J/80 worlds and had a lot of fun, but realised I need an 80-footer rather than an 8-metre!

The new boat is what I would call a perfect compromise, a word a lot of competitive yachtsmen don’t like. In performance terms she’s modern without being out on the edge, because I don’t see the point of building something that in three years’ time will be obsolete like an America’s Cup boat. To borrow an expression from the automotive world, you could call her a gran turismo as she can still be used for sporty day cruising. She’s due to launch at end of April and I’m hoping our first regatta will be the Tre Golfi Sailing Week in Sorrento in May. Pier Luigi Loro Piana Photo: Justin RatcliffeAnd what’s next for Masquenada?

A few days ago the boat arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands. After transiting the Panama Canal, the idea is to spend a season or two in the Pacific visiting Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, maybe the Seychelles and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, and return via the Red Sea or by Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. We’re planning to cruise the world aboard Masquenada for more or less the time it would have taken to build a new yacht!  Masquenada yacht cruisingPhoto: Giuliano Sargentini