Ships in the night: A surreal encounter with a $27m super yacht

Viareggio, Italy (CNN)The maiden voyage of the Aurora -- a new 160-foot, $26.6 million aluminum super yacht launched last week in Viareggio, Italy -- lasted less than one hour and only covered a humble 500 yards.

It also took place entirely on land, when all 320 tons of the boat were loaded atop heavy duty, remote-controlled dollies and carefully rolled from the shed where it was constructed to the edge of the Mediterranean.
Watching an imposing vessel like the Aurora passing through the darkened streets of the scruffy, seaside town, halting traffic and only narrowly avoiding a collision with a streetlight, induces a surreal and somewhat disorienting feeling. But for those more immersed in the world of bespoke luxury yachts, surreal is perhaps the norm.
    The maiden voyage of the Aurora took place entirely on land, when it was rolled from the shed where it was constructed to the edge of the Mediterranean.
    "Viareggio is famous for this reason," says Federico Rossi, COO of Rossinavi, the family-owned and operated company that built the Aurora. "Our tradition is to see vessels that go around in the city during the night."

    Young millennial buyers

    What isn't tradition is the age of the Aurora buyer; the latest entry into the rarefied world of super yacht ownership -- who, although present for the unveiling where he mingled with guests, wishes to remain anonymous -- is only 30 years old.
    "Generally, the customer is 55 to 70," Frederico, himself only 39, explains. The Rossi family takes pride in satisfying all customers, 25 years outside of the usual age range or not.
    In spending power, the buyer of the Aurora -- who is from Switzerland -- fits the profile of the typical Rossinavi client. His age is the most noticeable exception and also marks a potential turning point for the company.
    Research conducted by Rossinavi suggests that the average yacht owner is getting younger; they believe it may shift in the next 20 years to include more buyers in their 30s.
    Rossinavi COO Federico Rossi and Architect and interior designer Achille Salvagni survey the Aurora; interior elements will be put in place once the ship is in the water.
    Last year, the company partnered with the International University of Monaco to research what yachts for millennials could look like, focusing on environmental impact, implementation of new technology, safety concerns and updated aesthetics.
    While acknowledging that super yachts for millennials is a niche corner of an already niche industry, Federico is enthusiastic about what tapping that market could mean for Rossinavi.
    "Yachts are a conservative business. People generally want the same boat: classic," he says. "Millennials are used to going outside the general boundaries. For us, it's a great opportunity -- shipyards that can take this [demographic] into consideration are only shipyards that build full custom ships."

    Family heritage

    The Aurora is the second of three extravagant super yachts set to be delivered this year to clients of Rossinavi. The shipyard has roots dating to 1980, when brothers Claudio and Paride Rossi worked as subcontractors, assembling passenger ships on behalf of other builders in a previous incarnation of their business operating under the name Fratelli Rossi.
    In 2007, they began to take commissions from their own clients. Save for some interior design pieces and the occasional element co-designed and co-engineered with companies like Rolls Royce, Rossinavi luxury pleasure boats are made entirely in-house.
    Fixtures are often fashioned from a single piece of aluminum or steel -- "like Michelangelo," as one craftsman in the company's workshop describes it.
    A Rossinavi yacht   under construction in the Rossinavi shipyard in Viareggio highlights the company's expertise working with steel and aluminum.
    Claudio serves as co-owner and CEO of the rechristened Rossinavi brand. Paride is still a co-owner, as well as working alongside a handful of his siblings, nieces, and nephews enlisted to keep the enterprise humming.
    As COO since 2010, Federico -- Claudio's son -- also functions as the face of the company. The creation of each bespoke ship takes between two and three years to complete and passes through several pairs of Rossi hands working in tandem before it's finally delivered to the client.
    "We are really close," Federico says. "It's a good family."
    The crowd at the Aurora's unveiling is a mix of friends of the owner, Rossinavi employees and their families, and locals from Viareggio.
    Typically, the process begins when prospective buyers approach Rossinavi with an idea of the size and type of ship they want. Rossinavi enlists a naval architect outside the company to collaborate on ensuring the vessel can meet technical requirements like speed, range, and propulsion, as determined by the client's preference.

    (Almost) anything is fair game

    Exterior and interior designers come in next. Sometimes the same person or firm handles both duties, and most often they are selected from a pool of frequent collaborators, like Fulvio de Simoni, Tommaso Spadolini or Venice's Team for Design.
    "If the client says 'I have my own designer for the interiors,' we accept it," concedes Gabriele Zucconi, Rossinavi's "historical consultant" who has known the Rossi family since Claudio was only 15-years-old. "[But], I will say, we are not very happy about it."
    Once the plans are finalized and a fee negotiated (plans for the Aurora took four months to finalize) construction begins at one of Rossinavi's waterfront properties in Viareggio or their work site in nearby Pisa.
    Achille Salvagni, the Rome-based architect and interior designer who has worked on three Rossinavi super yachts, including the Aurora, says the Rossi's status as Italy's only family-owned and operated super yacht shipyard separates it from the pack.
    A local priest prepares to bless the new vessel.
    "From a screw up to the hull, they are capable to make a telephone call and go directly to the right source to get it ready," he explains. "You have a family that never says no to any single problem."
    Federico can think of only one instance in which he will turn a client down outright. "When they ask me for a Spartan boat," he says. "I'm afraid the market recognizes a Spartan boat as a cheap boat. We prefer to maintain our target, and we say, 'no, this is not possible.'"
    Otherwise, anything is fair game -- and Rossinavi clients come to play. Given a price tag that can run from $26.6 million to $53.2 million, coupled with yearly maintenance expenditures that the company estimates to be approximately 10% of the sales price, Federico explains that most Rossinavi clients need to have at least $106.5 million in liquid assets in the bank.
    The cost of repainting the entirety of a 230-foot boat for instance, can easily run upward of $4.26 million when manpower is figured into the total.
    "A guy who can buy a multimillion euro toy is supposed to be somebody who knows his business and who knows how to run it," Zucconi says.
    After a blessing from a local priest, new yachts are christened with the traditional shattering of a bottle of champagne against the hull.
    "Generally speaking, you are dealing with successful people (who are) conscious of being successful." Zucconi describes a client who paid $127,732 to buy and install a 103-inch Sony plasma TV on board his yacht, then threw in an additional $120,000 to include a secondhand Steinway piano.
    "When I tell you that we are speaking toys, they are really toys," he says.
    Not that Rossinavi is in danger of running out of potential clients eager to pick up an expensive hobby. The company has received commissions from Luca Barilla, a repeat Rossinavi customer who sits atop the Barilla pasta empire; Mario Sbarro, of Sbarro pizzeria fame; Italian shipping magnates; and an international assortment of businessmen from Russia, India, and Germany.

    The next one is the best one

    Aside from courting a younger clientele, Rossinavi is also in the process of building an "ice class" ship, designed to perform in both Caribbean and Arctic waters, more vessels that push 230 feet in length, and others with the capability to traverse the Pacific and the Atlantic.
    Federico says none of these technical achievements will come at the expense of the level of comfort owners and their passengers request from Rossinavi. But they might have them coming back for more.
    "Luxury for us is to have the shipyard at the disposal of the client," he says.
    "The next one is the best one, he adds.