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SUPERYACHT #494
June 2003

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news


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Giancarlo Ragnetti, Chief Executive of Perini Navi S.p.A. interviewed by Lucio Petrone


PERINI, THE FUTURE IS ALREADY ON BOARD

In the nautical world's collective imagination, the Perini logo is today synonymous with highly technological luxury yachts with indoor and outdoor areas which are much more comfortable and liveable than traditional yachts; yachts that allow the skipper-owner to handle the sails, manoeuvres and systems alone, in absolute safety. We have put some questions to engineer Giancarlo Ragnetti, Chief Executive of the Shipyard:

What prompted you to be the first to build this type of luxury yacht?

Only the intuition and ingeniousness of Mr. Fabio Perini. He loved large yachts and was extremely skilled in mechanics, having built machines for producing paper. He had had some Sangermani boats and then a 22-metre yacht and in 1980 he wanted to get himself an even bigger, but innovative boat. However, he couldn't find anyone who would make a design of what he had in mind... a yacht with a flying bridge and automatic winches etc.

The concept was too revolutionary for the times...

Exactly. We even went to the USA to meet Dick Carter, the designer of "Luna", a twin-mast which was, at the time, fairly innovative, who came up with our first design. But when we came back to Viareggio we only kept a few lines of bottom and on top we put a different structure, another propeller area, other machines, flying bridge..... In short, a whole heap of new ideas for a new product which we designed ourselves and which was first made by a shipyard in Ortona. We made a 40 metre, then a 42.

But then you have chosen Viareggio...

Yes, in '87, when we bought the present premises on the docks for the design and commercial offices and the small shipyard below as a back- up for the equipping of the first boats. At the same time we bought a part of the Cantiere Beconcini of La Spezia.

Then you bought the famous Picchiotti shipyard?

Exactly, around the end of 1989 and the beginning of 1990, from the official receiver, taking its trade-mark, name and its historical archives.

The name Picchiotti, then is yours. Are you thinking of building other motorboats?

Absolutely not! Perini is synonymous with large luxury yachts. But you never know what will happen. It's an option, with some commercial value; it's something wève put on the back burner and no-one can take it away from us.

You've also built a shipyard in Turkey...

Apart from the advantages of the area (45,000sqm), the licence and the position, on the sea, in a gulf about thirty kilometres from the centre of Istanbul, what convinced us was the discovery of labour which was already skilled in working on metal hulls, because of the experience in German naval shipyards which were at the time in decline because of Asian competition. Now in our shipyard there are around 100 people and if you compare a product that comes from Turkey with one made in Italy or in North Europe, you notice not only that therès no difference, but that the Turkish one is sometimes even better. The advantage for us is to be able to produce all the boats we need, at our level of quality and speed, which was becoming difficult in Italy where many shipyards with large boats turn to suppliers for the hulls, to outside sub-contractors doing metal structural work.

What are you building at the moment in Turkey?

We started out with steel, and then with the new high-quality plates now available on the market we went on to 100% aluminium and we build hulls complete with the superstructure which comes by sea to our Cantiere Picchiotti, (the name hasn't changed in honour of the nautical history of the city) already ahead, if necessary, as regards systems, insulating, painting etc. At Viareggio we complete and equip them but we also produce aluminium masts, rigging, winches, coilers and all the machines created by Fabio Perini for checking and handling the propellers.

Finally, you recently bought the Cantiere Beconcini in the Gulf of Spezia...

Last year, 100%. A magnificent area, around 35,000sqm which we will use for maintenance and repairs for our boats. At the end of this year, with the three units currently being equipped and delivered, we will have as many as 30 large Perini at sea and therès the problem of servicing them, of giving our boats the possibility to come back to us for maintenance work. In Viareggio, unfortunately, the lack of depth and limited wharf space makes it impossible while Spezia is a large harbour, very well protected, where it is easy to get out and in.

To sum up, in only a few years you have created a production and service complex which is really enviable. And your prestige is growing. Perini is acknowledged by everyone as having created a market which didn't exist and which many important European and American shipyards have now entered...

The merit, as I said, should all go to Fabio Perini, who many considered at the beginning of the eighties to be just a dreamer. He created this market segment and now many more have followed us. That proves the choice was a good one. And now from 40, 42 and 43 meters we went on to 46, and 48 meters and then to 50, 52, 56, 58 and so on. We also built three units of 25 metres in resin-glass into which we put all the technology of bigger boats but prices rose too much to our competitors' advantage. So we gave that up to stay faithful to our first goal: producing luxury yachts.

What key did you use to enter this traditionally Anglo-Saxon sector?

We set ourselves the objective, first of all, of making not only a quality product but also one that identified us. So at least our first 10-12 boats were all designed and built as we had conceived them and only later put on sale. The aim was not to alter the design on the owner's request. We couldn't back down on certain basic points like aesthetics, characteristic lines, shapes and certain interior details. At the beginning we even had to sell them at prices which were lower than the costs because Italian products in 1985 and 1986 did not have a good name abroad. However, it was a planned investment. Now that wère known, we sell them as a design.

Was it the boats which said it all?

That was our goal and we won our battle. But don't let's forget the machines for controlling the sails, which we invented, created, tested, made, unmade, remade, rebuilt, set up. And they're so reliable that they allow sails areas of 1,600-1,700 sqm with a Genoa of 750sqm which really opens and closes in less than a minute, without the slightest effort and without the slightest problem.

What's your secret?

To simplify, in safety. We studied the systems of the paper machines and we transferred them to our boat sector. They are all electric, so we abandoned hydraulics for electricity which is much easier to handle.

Is the management software yours as well?

Yes, although we also have someone external who gives us a hand. Wève achieved flexible control of the assemblage so as to keep account of the various speeds of the various apparatus so that they move in harmony. For example there are sensors that pick up both the load that's on the sail as well as its position and on the basis of these parameters alters the speed, reducing it if therès more power or, vice-versa, increasing it when therès less. Electronics today guarantees enormous safety parameters. And if it goes haywire? No problem, you bypass all the electronics and you have a normal electric machine that functions like an electric machine.

How many kilometres of cables are there on one of your 50-metre boats?

50-60 kilometres of cables and perhaps even more, bearing in mind the current development of electric and electronic parts on the boat.

Is there continual monitoring of the system?

Constant, and it enables, in the various work-stations on board, each different function of the boat to be checked at any time with sound and written alarms that tell you "This has happened, act there". And it's automation-monitoring because you don't have to go and turn on any switches; on the monitoring if you click on the pump, the pump starts, the valve shuts and so on.

Of course you have a black box that memorises everything...

Yes. It's divided into two: the machine systems part and the propeller part. For the latter we record the speed of the boat, the direction of the wind, the loads on the sheets, listing, etc.. so those who check the default, are warned "Yoùre not on target, see what it is, if something isn't regulated properly"... It's important to remember, however, that the machines are set for certain wind loads. So, supposing a genoa is set on 15 tons, if the wind force exceeds that limit, the winch is released, bringing the system back into safety conditions. Obviously it can be set for light, medium or strong winds, increasing or reducing the loads. If you want to increase performance during regattas, the automatic management system can be completely cut out.

Does the shipyard also receive this information?

Yes. When it's not transmitted directly by the boat we note it ourselves on the first servicing visit which is carried out always directly by the shipyard. This information allows us, in everyonès interest, to update the system and make any software alterations also while sailing in distant waters, simply reinstalling the correct programme that we send telematically

How does one learn to sail a Perini?

In general, the owner just pays us a visit while the skipper, engineer and surveyor can have a minimum training of 18 months with courses specially on the propeller part. Then, when they go to sea, as well as normal tests, a couple of people stay on board - one for the deck and one for the machine part - for about a fortnight. In short, we really look after our customers and we have created a network of skippers, engineers and crews who gravitate around our boats, going from one to another. They don't need a lot of training to sail a Perini; it's a product that can't cause problems for the peace of mind of the purchaser or for us; one that preserves its value over time, like any excellent investment.