Innovation & Know-How

With WallyWhy, Luca Bassani opens a new era for boating

Bettina Bush Mignanego

By Bettina Bush Mignanego06 décembre 2022

Luca Bassani, the visionary founder of Wally boats, has revolutionized the way of sailing, as well as the lifestyle at sea. Now he's creating floating villas with a sustainable concept.

The creation of a spacious villa at sea by Luca Bassani, called WallyWhy, once again heralds a new era in boating (Alberto Cocchi)
Luca Bassani, entrepreneur with a passion for sailing and founder of the Wally boat brand (Martinez Studio)

Luca Bassani, entrepreneur and sailing enthusiast, founder of the Wally boat brand, knows that at 66, being a visionary is a gift that comes with many risks.  He has experienced the limits of it, in the course of his revolutionary nautical projects. Concepts that have been driven by a growing industry. According to figures from the Deloitte consulting firm, the sector has recorded an average sales increase of +10% per year, from 2014 to 2021, for a total market of 28 billion euros. An expansion further accelerated by the pandemic, where the need to move autonomously, safely and sustainably has led to the emergence of a new culture of experience at sea. 

A slightly crazy designer, Luca Bassani had already anticipated these new ways of living at sea for a long time. Today, his surprising and spectacular floating island project, a spacious villa at sea called WallyWhy, once again seems to be the forecast of a new era in boating.

The next evolutions of the WallyWhy will be designed as a set of floating villas, with their own land (DR)

The son of a well-known Milanese entrepreneurs, Luca Bassani developed his passion for the sea in Portofino, where he spent every summer during his childhood. It was there that he competed in his first regattas with the locals, and honed his love of the sea. Later, as financial director of BTicino - the family company sold in 1988 - he says: "When the company was sold, at the age of 33, I was able to devote myself entirely to sailing and to the realization of my dream boat, the Wallygator. It wasn't easy, I had to convince the former designers to follow me on this crazy idea." In an exclusive interview with Luxury Tribune, he talks about how Wally, this very unusually shaped boat style, helped rethink sailing.



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What were your first revolutions?

There were many. Let's start with the layout. At the time, the owner's cabin was usually at the back, so I moved it forward and then moved the large cockpit to the back. The carbon hull and mast type are also small revolutions. My obsession was to have a boat that was easy to sail, technological, beautiful, fast, made for cruising. The first Wallygator was born.  It was an 83-foot (25-meter) boat that could sail with two crew members, instead of the traditional six, while being much faster than other boats of the same size."

You didn't stop there. What happened next?

The Wallygator by Luca Bassani, 33 metres long and adapted for racing (Guy Gurney)

At that time, I wanted to sail around the world with my family. I designed another Wallygator with the same principles, 105 feet long (33 meters), also adapted to ocean racing. I built it in the United States. I was going to launch it, when my wife became pregnant with our third child, and we postponed the idea. When the boat was finished, I left New Port to take it to Saint Tropez to participate in an important regatta. I remember Gianni Agnelli, the way he looked at it carefully, and then said, "This boat is really beautiful, but she looks like a brick." He was right, it had a vertical bow and stern, and nobody was used to that. But I was firmly convinced that these shapes were the right choice, I felt ready to devote myself to my shipyard. It was then 1994. I decided to call it Wally, a disruptive, playful name, in contrast to the buzzwords of the time. The Genie of the Lampe was born, an 80-footer built with German Frers, equipped with only two winches, which you could operate with your foot while sailing.   

Almost a mirage. How was it welcomed?

I showed the drawings to Gianni Agnelli in St. Moritz, and he was very enthusiastic. When he saw it, he liked it, but didn't buy it. He decided to have the Stealth built. In Saint-Tropez, however, Lindsay Owen Jones, then president of L'Oréal, also noticed it.  He was amazed. But I decided to propose him another one, even more innovative, the Magic Carpet. After him, Marco Tronchetti, another important executive, followed with the Kauris, and the Wallys multiplied; the brand was born.

Is it difficult to constantly profile yourself as a disrupter?

The Tiketitan, a 27-metre sailing boat designed by Luca Bassani (Guy Gurney)

My fourth yacht, the Tiketitan, titanium color, metallic paint and teak deck really struck a chord. It was an 88-foot (27-meter) sailboat with two major innovations: the first canting keel for cruising boats and an open, hollowed-out stern with an ocean-view deck and windowed salon. She was bought by a German client, then taken over by several successive owners, before unfortunately catching fire in a shipyard, a sadness felt by many sailors. Then in 1999, an owner of a Mangusta arrived in Monte Carlo. He had seen the Tiketitan, and wanted a similar boat, but with a motor. The idea had been in my head for some time, but I lacked inspiration.  It was born again thanks to this idea of a bow as vertical as a knife, to split the waves, all shaped in a glass superstructure, wide and strong thanks to the carbon. I didn't want any distinction between the inside and the outside. It was launched in 2003, after three and a half years of work. The Wallypower was born. A boat that could reach 60 knots, with three turbines instead of a diesel engine, a real experimental laboratory of 118 feet (36 meters). Then we built Wallytenders, small Wallypower boats, which are now copied by everyone, because they represent a big market.

What does it mean to be a visionary?

Being a visionary is dangerous. In business textbooks, statistics show that only 1-2% succeed. Humanity is conservative, and even more so at sea! But I have never stopped being one. In 2006 I presented the Wallyisland. At that time, beauty, comfort and a lifestyle on board were the trend. I thought of the boat as a villa, with its own garden, lawn, tennis court, and even a vegetable garden.  One day, while leafing through a boat magazine, I noticed a Norwegian architect who had designed gas exploration vessels in the North Sea, very stable in extreme conditions, 100 meters long and 60 to 70 meters wide. We took up the concept of this stability, while imagining a habitable boat.  We then imagined a boat 58 meters long and 38 meters wide, with a huge and wonderful interior, covered with 1500 square meters of solar panels, self-sufficient at rest, able to use the heat of the engine room for a better circularity of energy. It is designed as a floating artificial island. Some have even compared it to a spaceship.  We presented the project in 2008, but the subprime crisis stopped everything.

Today, Wally is part of the Ferretti Group. What has changed?

On the main deck of the Wallywhy (Toni Meneguzzo)

I have been a patron of the nautical industry for many years, and the time had come to join forces with a large group capable of turning my ideas into reality. With them was born the evolution of Wallyisland, the Wallywhy. They had the courage to realize it. We presented this concept in Monte Carlo, a 27-meter boat that represents a new way of going at sea. Then, we will create an evolution of the Wallywhy, larger, thought as a set of floating villas, with their own land. Today, it's a vision, but I'm sure it will be copied again, soon.

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