No Limits

The owner of 129-foot Aurelia wanted a compact superyacht to search out the world’s best surfing spots. He found it at Cantiere delle Marche in Italy.

Sales of explorer yachts have boomed in the past few years, largely thanks to younger, more adventurous owners wanting to cruise beyond the Mediterranean or Caribbean. This trend is only likely to increase in a post-pandemic world, but many explorer designs favor styling over substance and are no more built for long-range passagemaking than your average SUV is made for serious off-roading.

A Baxter leather sofa, vintage furniture and exposed wiring conduits set the post-industrial tone in the main salon.

Guillaume Plisson

A notable exception is the construction at Cantiere delle Marche in Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Just over a decade ago, the brand launched its hardy Darwin Class of steel-hulled explorers and has since carved out a niche in the market for oceangoing vessels under 500 gross tons.

“We wanted to be identified from the beginning with a real pocket explorer that epitomized our shipyard, and the Darwin Class was like the Defender for Land Rover,” says Sales and Marketing Director Vasco Buonpensiere. “When people look at it, they think, With that one, I could go around the world.

The more contemporary Nauta Air series by Nauta Design, a few one-off builds and the new RJ line by Francesco Paszkowski followed, but arguably the yard’s most eagerly anticipated project to date has been Aurelia, its first Flexplorer model. Designed by Sergio Cutolo of Hydro Tec, the naval architect behind the original Darwin, 129-foot (39.2-meter) Aurelia was developed for a repeat client in Australia who wanted to travel the oceans with his family, exploring the world’s best surfing sites.

The laid-back vibe continues in the upper deck lounge. 

Guillaume Plisson

“For me, explorer means long-range capacity and the ability to carry bigger tenders and toys,” says Ennio Cecchini, CEO of Cantiere delle Marche, who grew up in a family of commercial shipbuilders. “That’s what we did with the Darwin Class, and the Flexplorer is an evolution of the same concept, but as the name suggests, we wanted to introduce more flexibility into the design.”

The most obvious example of merging yacht design with shiplike engineering is Aurelia’s 3.5-ton-capacity A-frame crane, which was the starting point for the whole project. Such cranes are widely used on working vessels because they offer higher lifting capacity, simpler engineering and safer operation without heeling, but on Aurelia the concept has been taken a step further.

A centerpiece is the two-deck wine rack modeled to resemble an elevator.

Guillaume Plisson

Made of carbon fiber by Advanced Mechanical Solutions, the crane is used for launching and retrieving a 28-foot Joker Boat Clubman tender and a Williams Dieseljet. When not in use, it disappears flush into the teak decking (despite the gentle camber that is a feature of all CdM yachts). The teak planks are cut at 45 degrees to further disguise the join.

The aft deck, when combined with fold-down bulwarks, provides around 1,000 square feet (93 square meters) of open space for the owner to use as he wishes. Other versions of the Flexplorer can have a swimming pool (when covered, the pool serves as a hold for stowing deck furniture and water toys). Another client wanted to install containers on deck for use as an artist’s studio and schoolroom. A cinema screen can also be rigged between the crane’s two supporting pillars.

Guillaume Plisson

The owner also requested dedicated stowage for several surfboards. CdM devised a stainless-steel hold with a watertight hatch sunk into the aft deck that has its own drainage system and freshwater supply for washing down the boards. Another request was for a gym and dive center in the transom space normally reserved for a tender garage or beach club. As the owner is more than 6 feet tall, the challenge was to maintain good headroom in spite of the crane housing recessed into the deckhead.

CdM builds its explorer hulls using half-inch steel plates that are thicker and heavier than the required standard. Besides adding strength, this choice places the weight low down in the vessel where it is most needed to enhance stability and motion comfort. Powered by twin 1,000-horsepower Caterpillar engines and with a fuel capacity of nearly 16,000 gallons, Aurelia is able to cruise 5,000 nautical miles at 10 knots.

Aurelia in beach club mode with her tenders launched, crane retracted into the deck and side bulwarks deployed. 

Guillaume Plisson

There is a full-beam master stateroom on the main deck forward, and three guest staterooms are on the lower deck (a dedicated laundry room replaces a fifth stateroom). The layout is asymmetrical on the main deck, with a walkway to port for crew to move between the aft deck and the galley or crew quarters without having to pass through the salon. An under-lower tunnel provides extra space for cold and dry stores, and access to the four stabilizer compartments (the CMC electric fins work in conjunction with the rudders for better course stability and steering control).

The unusual interior design is by Francesco Paszkowski and Margherita Casprini. The owner wanted to fill the interior with objects that have a “beautiful patina” rather than with the regular designer brands you might see aboard their superyachts. Materials such as concrete, iron, slate, glass and weathered leather are combined with fossil wood, antique light switches and exposed electrical conduits to create a vintage feel with a post-industrial twist for a laid-back vibe. A centerpiece in the main lobby is an all-glass wine rack integrated into the stairwell and fashioned to look like a classic elevator that extends to the upper deck. The final effect is highly original but effective.

The starting point for the Flexplorer was the open aft deck and carbon-fiber A-frame crane. Facing page: 

Guillaume Plisson

“The flexibility is in the design and engineering, but also the real-life use of the yacht,” Buonpensiere says. “The great majority of our clients want to go to the Northwest Passage or Ushuaia, but they also want to be at the Monaco Grand Prix, and they don’t want to get there looking like they just arrived in a cargo vessel. With the Flexplorer, you have a yacht that fits with whatever you want to do with it. We believe it should be you that sets the limits of what you want to do with the boat. Not the boat.”◊

For more information:


LOA: 129ft. 1in. (39.37m)

BEAM: 28ft. 2in. (8.6m)

DRAFT (full load): 8ft. 5in. (2.6m)

CONSTRUCTION: Steel/aluminum

SPEED (max./cruise): 14/10 knots




INTERIOR DESIGN: Francesco Paszkowski Design/Margherita Casprini

BUILDER: Cantiere delle Marche

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.


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