Writer: Maya Khoury / Photographers: Gilles Martin-Raget & Toni Meneguzzo
An exercise in well-studied compromise, the Wally Ace is small enough for an owner to legally skipper himself but large enough to accommodate ten guests and four crew. It won’t win prizes for speed but its frugality, stability and originality have won it a place in our hearts.
Defining Wally is difficult to do. This young Italian manufacturer (it was only founded in 1994) builds everything from 13-metre motorised tenders to 50-metre sailing boats. And that’s before we start talking about stillborn projects like the WHY - a revolutionary concept conceived in collaboration with French luxury giant Hermès - or the Wally Island, a gigayacht announced in 2007 that was evidently influenced by the (then) zeitgeist of over-consumption.
So what exactly is Wally and more importantly, are its products any good? Basically, yes. A Wally displays formidable design, engineering and construction know-how, while integrating the latest technology, all in one highly aesthetic package. The company blurb claims that “Wally was born of a passion for performance, a passion for design and a passion for the sea. Every Wally expresses these three passions in every detail.” While the phrasing was clearly dreamed up by a press department a little too in love with the word ‘passion’, we’d ask you to consider our own description of Wally products - they’re cool. And not just any old cool. They’re swashbucklingly cool.
A company that dares to try new things, Wally is not afraid to stretch the brand by exploring all sorts of (exciting) directions and naturally our Ultimate Boat of the year is a case in point. For contextual purposes, remember that these are the same guys who brought us the planing-hulled Wallypower 118, a 36-metre 60-knot monster, yet now they’re building a 26-metre displacement yacht that can only muster 13 knots. But isn’t that, well, a little slow? Glad you asked. You see slow speeds mean low fuel consumption and that in turn means a long range. The Wally Ace can travel 3,000 nautical miles at 12 knots. Throttle down to 9 knots, and it’ll go 5,000nm, drop down to 8 and you’ll get a remarkable 10,000nm. That’s the equivalent of sailing from Spain to Australia and back without refuelling.
“The displacement option was a fundamental decision. We have seen the economic and social status quo change dramatically in the last few years and to my mind, a motor yacht has to reflect these new conditions in terms of fuel performance,” explains company founder Luca Bassani. “Our brand may be well known for performance yachts but the Wally Ace is still a performance yacht in the sense that it performs its mission exceptionally in providing more volume, comfort and stability, with super-reduced fuel consumption, noise and vibrations, all characteristics that will delight lovers of long cruises and life in the bays.”
In terms of volume, with its wide beam, the Ace offers way more space than its length would suggest – a whopping 30 per cent more than its closest competitors. This is most apparent in the beautiful top deck, which is unsullied by the need to carry a tender and free from a helm station. It measures a staggering 60 square metres and is split into two-thirds aft and one-third forward by a central bar unit running perpendicular to length of the boat.
Forward in the bow is a lounging area offering an additional 33 square metres of space. Here you’ll find large sun beds and a capacious table that can be raised for dining, lowered if you’d rather use it as a coffee table, or covered in cushions if you want to create a massive sun bed. Want to bet this will be a favourite spot for guests?
The spacious aft deck, with its rear-facing sofa, is another big space dedicated to the love of the outdoors. Its three sun beds can be joined together to make one huge pad on which you can lounge in majesty, absorbing the sun’s rays or watching films at night on a projector TV that drops down from the deckhead.
The interior space on the main deck features an expansive open-plan layout incorporating the living room and dining room. There is glass all around and the impression of light and airiness is incredible. Towards the front is a glass wall behind which lies the navigation and control station. Near this is a glass-sided stairwell that leads down to guest accommodation, all of which is situated on the lower deck.
It’s here that things start to become even more interesting. First of all the height of the ceilings is a generous 2.3-metres thanks for which again go to that deep displacement hull. Also - and rather interestingly - Wally’s unique hull design places the maximum draught nearer the bow than on conventional hulls. While this may help provide efficient performance, it also means the engines are moved further forward, which in turn allows more space for guest accommodation. You see, with its two 385hp Caterpillar C12 engines midship, the Ace rather shrewdly places the tender garage right over them. This then frees up space for guest cabins in the rear of the boat, an area more traditionally used to stow tenders and other equipment. More on that later.
In the forepart of the vessel, ahead of the tender garage, is the crew area. There’s a full-beam galley, the crew mess, two twin-berth cabins and a couple of bathrooms. This area is accessed via stairs that lead down from inside the wheelhouse on the starboard side. Alternatively - and this is a very well thought out aspect - it can be accessed via the tender garage, which allows the crew to come and go without disturbing guests unnecessarily.
Rearwards from the midship section is the guest area. First off, there are two generously sized twins, one either side of the corridor. Pullman berths over the innermost bunks mean these cabins can sleep three if need be. Both cabins have ample storage space and gorgeously outfitted bathrooms featuring modern showers. Continuing down the corridor towards the stern, you get to that pièce de résistance we touched upon earlier and which can be configured in two ways. You can either spec your boat to have two equally-sized master bedrooms facing one another, or you can opt for the one double-sized suite. If this were our boat, we’d probably go with the extra bedroom just because it’d allow us to bring along more friends but it’s the single full-beam arrangement that makes best use of the Ace’s incredible floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, which open on to the ‘terrace on the sea’. We think that this concept of allowing cabins to open onto a sumptuous swimming platform will be one of the primary reasons the Ace will be so popular.
Unfortunately, we never got to test out what it’s like to actually cruise aboard the Ace but just standing at the master cabin window and looking out to sea, we were soon lost to fantasies of waking up bright and early, slipping into some swimwear, sliding open those magnificent doors and diving off the rear of the boat. The platform is so large in fact, we even imagined our crew setting up breakfast on the terrace ahead of our return.
All in all, the Ace is one of the most pioneering boats we’ve seen in many years. It’s only inevitable that other manufacturers will pinch many of Wally’s more innovative ideas but as with anything, it’s the one that gets there first that will always be remembered.