Slip into the WallyPower to blow away the bigger boys

Just as there are every year, several of the boating world’s most mega of mega-yachts will be moored off the Croisette, providing a fittingly flamboyant backdrop to the wheeling and dealing of Cannes.

Paul Allen’s 198-foot Meduse boasts screening facilities and a recording studio, and his largest boat, the Octopus, is a grand 416 feet; Ron Perelman keeps his 187-foot super-yacht docked in St. Barts.

Then there’s Larry Ellison, who traded in his 244-foot Katana to buy the 452-foot Rising Sun for $250 million. Why? Because he wanted a bigger boat than Paul Allen’s, which in titanese is called navis envy.

What these dueling, size-obsessed power brokers don’t know, however, is that the newest hype in the yachting industry is not about girth, but about gusto. This year, all eyes will be on the 118-foot WallyPower, one of the world’s fastest speed yachts, which is now setting the pace for luxury speedboats.

A cross between a Stealth fighter and a modernist manse, this Monaco-made machine has rocked the yachting world with its ultra-slick lines and jaw-dropping muscle. It pumps out enough horsepower to roar through open waters at a fearsome 60 knots — speedy enough to get you to Monaco and back in the time that it takes to screen a 30-minute festival short.

“The yachting market has become very aggressive,” says Wally exec Monica Paolazzi. As the demand for muscle continues to rise, shipyards are finding themselves pressed to set themselves apart. “One way to be distinguished is to be faster,” Paolazzi says.

More importantly, perhaps, the WallyPower has style. Dark, menacing and sexy as hell, it has almost single-handedly detonated the cliches of the luxury yacht market by stripping away decoration and flourishes in favor of a modernist purity.

After seeing its side panels mechanically fold down to provide additional swimming platforms and its forward bow open up like a bird’s beak to reveal a tender garage (complete with a second speedboat for shore landings), you half expect this thing to fly.

On the other hand, it’s surprisingly comfortable. As visitors often remark upon stepping inside its smoked-glass superstructure, the living area, with its open plan and 360-degree views, feels more like a light and airy New York loft than the typical luxury yacht. Her lower suites, which offer a distinctly Italian modernist design courtesy of Lazzarini Pickering Architects, are spacious enough to easily accommodate a dozen people: six guests and six crew members.

But according to owner Luca Bassani, the WallyPower has something else other boats don’t — an innovative hull design to go with its speed.

“We knew that strong sea conditions could easily limit our targeted speed,” explains Bassani, who’s looking forward to introducing his boat to Americans visiting Cannes this year. “So we needed to research a hull shape that could ride through the waves without jumping and slamming.”

That research apparently paid dividends. Since the yacht’s debut, it has repeatedly scored high marks for its remarkable handling. “It’s unique,” says Paolazzi, “in that it can sustain high speed in rough seas thanks to its hull lines.”

But are speed-hungry yachters ready to fork over $24 million for a boat of this kind?

Critics are skeptical; but as Rebecca Cahilly, editor of Boat Intl. USA, explains, “When it comes to the luxury market, excess and snobbery are still very much alive.”

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