FINE BALANCE
Yachting World|July 2020
AT FIRST ACQUAINTANCE THIS CRUISER/RACER SEEMS CURIOUSLY AT ODDS WITH ITSELF – UNTIL YOU GET BEHIND THE WHEEL
MATTHEW SHEAHAN

I’m a soft touch for a well-balanced boat with a light feel and the ability to change gear easily. Be it a cruiser or racer, performance and handling are, to my mind, essential aspects in any design. And while the accommodation is important, what happens below decks always comes second in my book.

So perhaps it was of little surprise that the Italia 11.98 and I got on so quickly. This is a boat that is silky smooth and light on the helm, responsive and comfortable to steer. The kind of boat where the autopilot will get little use and where the main trigger for any tension among the crew will stem from whether someone has been hogging the wheel.

This is also a boat that is as much fun and rewarding to sail in light conditions as it is when the breeze gets up thanks to its balance.

But this is also a boat that is very confusing.

It might sound clichéd, but from the first time I saw the 11.98 there was something about it that really appealed, I just couldn’t figure out what it was. When you first see the 11.98 you think you have it sussed: it’s clearly a modern cruiser/racer. But gradually you notice details which seem to suggest it’s maybe not that modern at all. And then you begin to wonder if it really is a cruiser...

For example, what modern cruiser today has maximum beam amidships with a full and rounded hull that rolls under the boat to form heavily flared topsides aft? Then there’s that odd-looking chine towards the stern that looks like a last-minute fold to ensure the hull meets the deck. Viewed one way it looks very cool, viewed another, dated. So what’s going on?

The name tells you nothing, apart from its length, while the brochure copy describes the company’s goal as creating ‘stylish yachts to sail fast, safely and comfortably in all weather’. To be honest, I’d guessed that already.

Yet, having tested a great deal of boats across all kinds of ranges and styles over the years, I find that every now and then one creeps up on me and gets under my skin for no obvious reason. The Italia 11.98 is one of those and as I dug deeper into this boat’s backstory I began to understand why.

PUTTING THE PUZZLE TOGETHER

In today’s style-conscious world where shocking appearances have become as much a selling tool as hitting the right price point, there is a theme for the contemporary look. A plumb or a reverse raked bow, full sections forward that open into slab topsides, an aggressive chine and twin rudders are frequently part of the modern mix.

On the other hand, there are design details that are as compatible as the parts from separate jigsaw puzzles that simply weren’t meant to fit together. A modern plumb bow, racy, raked, frameless portlights that were popular in the 1990s, a reverse counter stern from the bluewater cruisers catalogue, flared sections aft from the grand prix scene and T-style fin and bulb keel are surely never going to work as one. Yet this is exactly what Italia Yachts did with its 13.98. A model that proved to be a stunning looking, award-winning cruiser.

The message is clear, this modest Italian builder in Chioggia, near Venice, does things differently.

In 2013, just two years after the company had been founded, the 13.98 broke all the rules and walked off with four major titles including the prestigious European Yacht of Year award in the Luxury Yachts category.

A couple of years later in Barcelona an Italia 9.98, Low Noise II, won its class at the ORC World Championships and heads turned immediately.

The following year another 9.98 took the ORC Worlds title again as the Dutch Bachyachting Racing Team headed home with the silverware.

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