The Azimut Atlantic Challenger has been one of the big names in the ’90s, when boats, and earlier passenger ships, challenged each other in the Atlantic to cross it at full speed, without stopping. The goal? The Blue Ribbon, recognition for those who succeeded in crossing the Atlantic Ocean without stops and without supplies, carrying passengers (at least one). Obviously the goal was to take as little time as possible.
Today, as you can see from the photos, unfortunately, the Azimut Atlantic Challenger lies semi-abandoned near Mantua, Italy. Thank Alessio Negrini for the photos.
Azimut Atlantic Challenger in the golden age
In 1988 Paolo Vitelli, founder of the Azimut shipyard, is determined to gain the Blue Ribbon, the recognition for those who manage to complete an Atlantic crossing without refueling, carrying passengers.
This is the testimony of Paolo Vitelli in the book “On the crest of the wave. The Italian boating industry since the 50s. A story in history, Azimut-Benetti”
“The purchase of Benetti gave Azimut worldwide resonance. It seemed to me the time to do something to consolidate and expand this reputation with a valid initiative in terms of communication and technology. I decided to launch a challenge to cross the Atlantic without refuelling and win the prestigious award for the fastest Atlantic crossings, the Blue Ribbon.
To tell the truth, Richard Branson gave me the idea of crossing the Atlantic at high speed, and among many successful records, he had tried to cross the Atlantic with a 15-metre motorboat that nevertheless needed to refuel along the way.”
Sponsors and companies enthusiastically joined the project and the Azimut Atlantic Challenger were born: it is a 31-meter aluminum hull with Pininfarina design, built-in Viareggio by Benetti and powered by 4 CRMs of 1,850 horsepower: 7,400 total horsepower on a Riva Calzoni hydro-jet propulsion system.
“I immediately activated myself – says Vitelli in his book – to be able to conquer the Blue Ribbon according to the established rules which were essentially two: one was to have at least one paying passenger on board as well as the transatlantic liners who had been competing for the Blue Ribbon for almost fifty years.
The challenge is not only to go fast, but also to get to the other side without ever stopping for fuel. In fact, the Azimut is designed to “pull straight ahead”, carrying over 80 tonnes of diesel. Obviously, with such a weight, technical problems arise, especially if you have to sail at over 35 knots on average to break the record (still intact) of the SS United States, the transatlantic liner that set the record in 1952.”
As we were saying, to get the recognition it was necessary to have at least one paying passenger: in the case of the Azimut Atlantic Challanger she boarded Whintrop Rockfeller, at the symbolic price of 1 dollar.
The prophecy of Gianni Agnelli
“The other rule was to have enough range, in order not to refuel. The route began in New York, USA, and ended at Bishop Rock, the westernmost and southernmost point in England. The boat was stable and fast, could load an enormous amount of diesel fuel and was equipped with the most modern navigation equipment. […] We had Cesare Fiorio as skipper and Gianni Agnelli as chairman of the organizing committee. Gianni Agnelli was thrilled with the boat and the project, but he added: “Pay a lot of attention to the CRM engines, that’s the Achille’ heel of the boat”. In fact, we didn’t complete the crossing because of the breakage of an engine’s valve lift!”
“Our attempt, made in July 1988, was followed by televisions all over the world and was also reported on the front page of Italian newspapers. […] The name Azimut and the adventure it had attempted with its few strengths touched public opinion. In Italy, in particular, the story was followed by national news and the front pages of almost all newspapers. In short, a great success.”
Today a historic boat of Italian nautical history, unfortunately, lies “semi-abandoned”, according to the images, in a dock near Mantua. Who will save it?
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