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Classic | A motoryacht that became an icon of an era

The Benetti's Delfino born again

“On the Dolphin…just like in your villa!” That was the advertising slogan used in 1962 in specialist nautical magazines to present the new motoryacht series launched by the F.lli Benetti yard in Viareggio. It was the dawn of the swinging sixties - the Russians had taken the lead in the space race by sending Yuri Gagarin into orbit, the Beatles and Bob Dylan were launching their stellar careers and JFK had just entered the White House.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of Fellini’s La dolce vita and Mina’s Le mille bolle blu, Italy’s economic boom was well underway, with an incredible surge in demand for consumer goods. The winds of optimism were sweeping through the nautical world, too - the international boat shows in Milan and Genoa attracted huge crowds and tempted people with a vast range of products, from plastic dinghies to large cabin cruisers. The cruisers’ design had rapidly adapted to modern demands - their seagoing qualities were enhanced and on-board comfort became a priority, with generous interiors, lit and furnished with great skill and refinement, combined with exterior spaces that provided a more intimate contact with the sea. Italian yards played a crucial role in the development of shapes and spaces, creating craft of undeniable quality that now nudged and sometimes easily surpassed twenty metres in length.

While other international brands retained the conventional wood and ply building techniques, the Benetti yard stood out with its large steel and light aluminium alloy pleasure craft, at that time unique in Italy, matching the yachts produced by the most important northern European yards. In the months to follow Lorenzo Benetti and architect Eugenio Manfredi sketched out a new yacht, developing the theme of the Lalin V, an 18.50-metre motoryacht launched in 1959. Although it would be fitted out according to her owner’s preferences, this time it would be produced in series. The result was the Delfino, an 18.60-metre motoryacht that together with her bigger sister, the Super Delfino, would form a series of twenty-three models between 1962 and 1969, achieving great international acclaim. In fact, the new line made the historic Viareggio-based company’s reputation across the Atlantic, and in the space of just a few years almost all of its production went abroad (95 per cent in 1966), helping to overcome the serious crisis that hit Italy’s nautical industries around 1965, after the euphoria of the second half of the 1950s. The Benetti yard’s new series, with a special version, the so-called Delfino-America, designed for its Stateside clientele, acted as trailblazer in foreign markets for larger models like the Tirreno and Mediterraneo 33. Fans of the new made in Italy motoryacht included showbiz celebrities like The Beatles, English actor Rex Harrison and Prince Ranieri and Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as a number of European business tycoons.

When the Delfino model was officially launched in 1962, the Benetti yard already had eight examples on the slips. One of these, launched in 1963 with the series number FB-36, was called Maxima Parranda. More than forty years later, after several changes of name and ownership, this motoryacht was taken to Capri by the Florentine architect Michele Bönan. It was love at first sight. Entrusted to the Esaom yard in Portoferraio, on the island of Elba, the yacht was returned to her original splendour down to the smallest detail, including the chrome instrument frames, the metal plaques in bridge and the classic F.lli Benetti logos on the superstructure sides, plus the wardrobe and cabinet keys - they were considered to be over the top, and were replaced with specially designed, more essential examples. All that was on board was restored to new, from the Siam teak decking to the mahogany panelling in the saloon and cabins. At the same time the motoryacht, which Michele Bönan renamed B.S.K. from the initials of his three children, Blu, Sky and Kim, was given a personal stylistic touch inside and out, drawing explicit inspiration from the 1950s and 60s, Michele Bönan’s favourite period. The look evokes Kennedy-era New England resorts like Hyannis Port or Martha’s Vineyard, and the typically Mediterranean feel of the island of Capri. At the time the island boasted an atmosphere of sophisticated elegance, and was visited by celebrities like Soraya, Maria Callas, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Jackie Onassis.

On the B.S.K the key design concept is now the combination of blue and white. It appears in the external livery, with a blue hull and white superstructure, the awning and various furnishing elements like the carpets, cushions and curtains. The yacht is also the setting for famous designer objects like Eero Saarinen’s Swan armchair and the Barcelona ottoman by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Several elements on the motoryacht are by Bönan himself - he has created furnishing lines and is responsible for notable restoration projects involving historic buildings in locations throughout the world, like Florence, Rome, New York, Miami, London, Paris, Heidelberg and Capri. A few years ago he also took part in the interior restorations during the renovation of the Shyraga, a 29-metre vintage motoryacht launched in 1954 by Abeking & Rasmussen, built from a design by Jack Laurent Giles. For his B.S.K Michele Bönan has designed a porthole mirror, a small table with adjustable height, lamps and a chair for the guest cabin, as well as ornamental patterns for the carpets.

Restoration work on the motoryacht also involved updating various accesories and installations, adding improvements like an automatic pilot, desalination plant and hydraulic stern walkway. “The care I’ve lavished on the B.S.K,” says Michele Bönan, “makes it difficult to separate myself from her, but I’d be willing to hand her over to a new owner who showed the same enthusiasm for the motoryacht, which is the symbol of an era.”

Roberto Riu

(Yacht Digest, n. 154)

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