- Business - Sailing by the stars

By Dario Schiavo

Sailing by the stars

Interview with Marco Massabò, CEO of Cantieri di Pisa, about the inspiration that lies behind three new product lines…


Marco Massabò, CEO of Cantieri di Pisa

Those who are sailors know that sailing is a passion where enthusiasm and teamwork shine brighter than the sun. It is a unique experience that embodies a deep culture of the sea and a different concept of boating compared to motoryachts.

The DNA of the new Cantieri di Pisa was indeed born from sailing, and it was no coincidence that during our visit, we discovered that the first boat produced by this historic brand was a sailboat – the 20-metre ketch Tyrsa in 1957.

We talk about the restart of the Pisa shipyard with Marco Massabò, CEO of Cantieri di Pisa, whose father was a wood master and owned a family boatyard. ‘Wood master’ is a fascinating term that I only learnt while working in our industry, like shipwright, which describes a prominent profession in the shipyards of yesteryear, when boats were still built mainly of wood.

‘Sailing’ is the key word that signposts not only the background of Massabò, but also the new venture at the redeveloped Cantieri di Pisa. And not just any sail, but a sail associated with the profile of what is considered one of the greatest exponents of this discipline, thanks to his creativity and innovation, that of Luca Bassani, founder and chief designer of Wally.

“In the early 1990s, before Wally was established and when I was working for North Sails, I was on board a Swan 59, the first Kauris of a long series commissioned by the owner Marco Tronchetti Provera. One of the guests on board was Luca, who already had the idea of making his first boat: the Wallygator. From there, we started working together. In ‘98, I established the first Wally service in Savona before joining Wally as sales manager. The rest of my career I spent as a business consultant in the sales branch, first at Mariotti, then at Cantalupi, and up to Pinmar until the creation of GYG Group,” says Massabò.

“I believe that sailing boats are 30 years ahead of motor boats.”

Then came a call from a long-time owner and great lover of yachts and yachting: Enrico Gennasio, CEO of Alfagomma, the hydraulic and industrial colossus founded by his father Felice Gennasio in 1956 in Monza, bought Cantieri di Pisa in May 2021.

“Enrico Gennasio, managing director for Europe and the Americas of the Lombardy-based Alfagomma group, which operates globally in the production of integrated systems for industrial and hydraulic fluids and employs almost 4,000 people, is a serious person and a recognised industrialist,” says Massabò.

A sum of €6 million is being invested to reorganise the company from the 20 people who were left after the last ownership in 2018, when Philippe Bacou, owner of the charter agency Yotha, took over the shipyard for around €2.6 million from Mondomarine.

“We started by securing everything,” Massabò explains, “and worked on the structures by starting to do refit work. But we ran into the first snag with a client who wanted a fast 80-foot yacht in carbon fibre, the 80 Veloce, who after the first step decided to stop building it.”

The plan is to develop new products and design hulls much more similar to those of sailing boats. “I believe that sailing boats are 30 years ahead of motor boats. Today’s America’s Cup boats with 15 knots of wind reach 40 knots of speed, not only because of the foils but because of the technology applied throughout the boat, which results in a drastic reduction in weight,” says Massabò.

Antonio Luxardo, chief designer, Cantieri di Pisa

The inspiration behind this is to adopt the mastery of welding aluminium from northern European countries, which “has as its highest level of expression in the treatment of aluminium in the J-Class boats, which have practically no application of filler. We will be the first in Italian yachting to take up caulking, as this particular preparation for welding is called, in which the individual sheets, of steel or aluminium, are placed next to each other with a 45-degree cut on the sides, so the welding fills the gap between the two sheets. With a milling on the weld, the job is done. The result is a sheet that is smooth on both edges and requires little filler, which means less construction expense and less weight for the boat.

“We pay meticulous attention to the treatment of the hull appendages, such as the u-brace, the bushings, the shaft line and the rudders, which, if worked on carefully, make it possible to have a hull that is up to three knots faster, that consumes less and therefore has less impact on the environment.”

This concept involved collaboration with designer Antonio Luxardo, recently appointed chief designer of Cantieri di Pisa. With Optima Design, founded in 2004 with Michele Zignego, Luxardo oversees all the new projects of the shipyard. Cantieri di Pisa has three product lines historically linked to names derived from astrology: Polaris, Saturno and Akhir.

The Polaris line, a name inherited from the prestigious mythical yacht of the 1960s’ dolce vita era, began in 1961 with a 13.2-metre cruiser, which became the Super Polaris in 1964 with the introduction of a flybridge. The new Polaris series includes yachts of 38 and 48 metres, extending to the 60-metre Super Polaris and even larger sizes.

Renderings of Polaris

The adventure begins with the 48-metre, a steel-hulled voyager with a displacement hull featuring EHPH (Eco High Power Hull) wave-piercing technology for long-range cruising and low fuel consumption, and an aluminium and carbon superstructure.

“For this new model,” comments Luxardo, “I wanted to preserve the shipyard’s DNA by entering a new segment, the voyager, which boasts different proportions and volumes, but still maintains the shipyard’s stylistic features such as the ribbon windows, the particular design of the air intakes, and the power.”

The exterior design of the Polaris highlights two free-standing aft decks that can be used either as an external garage to accommodate the toys on board or as a terrace for guests when the toys are launched. The interior design is by the Parisotto + Formenton studio.

The second line is the Saturno, more traditional and derived from a reinterpretation of the lines of the 1960s’ models, in which the very generous stern typical of the previous models has been retained. The main feature of this line is the connection between the beach club, the main deck and the upper deck directly from a transverse external staircase without passing through the interior.

The third line is dedicated to Cantieri di Pisa’s most famous boat, the Akhir, which is currently being kept under wraps.

Our visit confirmed the importance of the Navicelli area in the Pisa region. Shipyards such as Codecasa, Overmarine and Rossinavi are already present, making it another important hub that connects perfectly with the other locations of the so-called Miglio Blu (Blue Mile), which stretches from Livorno to La Spezia, where 35 per cent of the world’s yachts are produced. Who knows, at the Navicelli there may even be a return to sailing boats as was the case in the middle of the last century.

The modernisation work specifically envisages keeping the offices in the main hall as a historical area, extending this structure, and building a new shed. The buildings will be connected by a 20-metre-high and 14-metre-wide covered structure for the passage of boats.

All the production facilities and administrative spaces will occupy an area of 17,500 square metres, 900 of which will be dedicated to offices. The facilities also include a 600-metre-long equipped quay, a 300-tonne travel lift and a 20-tonne crane.

The new era of Cantieri di Pisa has begun with robust and passionate ownership, introducing a new range of motoryachts with three series that blend traditional elements with a contemporary touch. The location promises the highest quality, given the abundance of suppliers in the area. And who knows, perhaps one day the desire to conceive sailing vessels here will return, completing the circle perfectly.

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