Always ready. Always steady. 

We were the only boat heading out of Port Everglades inlet-all the others were turning back. I didn't blame them. The horizon was lumpier than Kirstie Alley's midsection, which meant we were in for big waves.

So much for my dream of a pleasant day of cruising. The only other vessel I saw in the Atlantic was a freighter, and it was bobbing.

In 6-to-8-foot seas with 10-footers thrown in and 35-mph wind gusts, the Azimut 68S proved to be damned impressive. Even as we ran straight into the steep waves and spray covered the windshield, the boat never pitched much. It stayed amazingly well balanced. My inclinometer never measured more than 3 degrees.

Azimut 68s Review PerformanceThe 68S is also fast, befitting its racy appearance and optional Bordeaux hull sides ($33,700). With twin 1,300-bhp MTU engines spooling up to 2450 rpm, I hit 43.2 mph. When I backed off to 1800 rpm, the ride was comfortable at 28.4 mph. Run with the waves to improve that ride even more. I raised the tabs so they were even with the bottom of the hull and the 68S cruised at 30 mph.

When you're in rough seas, you want a boat that responds quickly to steering input. The 68S is downright nimble, switching direction handily and laying over in a turn like a traditional V-bottom go-fast.

When Azimut set out to build its first express in two decades, it didn't just slap a new deck on the same hull as its 68' flying bridge. The hull of the 68S is narrower, has a deeper bow entry, and sports a slightly flatter deadrise aft. The shallower deadrise and improved shaft angle created by propeller tunnels and the large strakes provide the lift that kept the ride level.

During my romp in the swells, l was impressed by the absence of rattles. Traditional construction techniques were used on the 68S, with a solid bottom made of multiaxial fiberglass and vinylester resin. Stringers and most of the bulkheads are fiberglass-encapsulated foam, with the exception of the engine compartment and anchor locker bulkheads, which are strengthened with a wood/foam core.

The engines and V-drives are installed with bolts driven through the mounts into tapped plates on top of the bearers. There's 2' of space between the engines. Extra-large-diameter Aeroquip lines carry the fuel to and from the tanks, and the fuel/water separators are on brackets welded to the tanks. Hinged panels in the decking provide access to the strainers. Azimut smartly chose lightweight Optima batteries, installing them aft in the compartment where they can be easily replaced. To keep water out of the engine compartment, the air intakes in the hullsides deploy automatically as the boat picks up speed. Some wire connections could have been sealed better.

As if it weren't challenging enough to provide good engine compartment clearance in an express, the 68S has a tender garage, the bottom of which is the overhead in the compartment. Even so, there wasn't anything I couldn't reach, not even the steering system.

From the cockpit, I had easy access to side passageways that lead forward. Azimut still has the best fuel fills in the biz, recessing them beneath removable grates to collect accidental splashback. The bowrail provides good security, but there are no rails on the pilothouse. Forward, the anchor locker has a dedicated chainbox with space for large fenders, but the hatch should open on a gas strut.

OPEN WIDE. Atop the garage, a large 6'-by-6' sunlounge has convertible backrests that let you lay facing aft or sit up looking forward. The aft section is recessed below deck level to keep everyone secure. To port is the entry to what would be the crew's quarters but will be left open for the U.S. market. Just ahead to port is a small dinette table and benchstyle lounge. To starboard are the battery switches and the control panel for the garage, gangway, and other accessories.

To let in the sun, the 68S' triple-hinged retractable hardtop opens so wide, it looks more like the sliding roof on the Toronto Skydome. It opens twice as far as those found on the Sunseeker Predator 68 ($2,425,000 powered like our test boat) and Viking Sport Cruisers' new 70 ($3,060,000 powered like our test boat). The 68S' salon is inviting with the roof closed, too. I liked the use of dark and light woods, off-white upholstery, and carpet- the boat has a contemporary design. With a lounge to port and a chair on the back side of the helm, everyone has a great view of the flat-screen TV that retracts into its own cabinet to starboard.

Forward, the helm area has a go-fast feel-each instrument is in its own pod angled toward the driver. The glare-killing, charcoal-gray finish looks good. It's a performance cruiser, so trim-tab indicators are included. I liked the small glovebox for car keys, cell phones, and other pocket items.

SEGREGATION MOVEMENT. The belowdecks area on the 68S feels isolated. Stairs leading to the galley and stateroom are separated by a wall, so the chef is off in nowheresville. Stairs to starboard lead to the galley, where there's counter space for meal preparation, plus the expected appliances. There's a dishwasher, but it's way too small. The glass and dish racks protected their contents well.

To rejoin the fun, you must go back up the stairs, around the wall, and down the stateroom steps to enter the cabin area. The aft master quarters has an island double berth that extends into the cabin from the port side, leaving space for a small dinette area to starboard with seating for four. Just aft is a counter that's perfect for a laptop computer. Six square water-level windows on each side let in plenty of light; Azimut also designed opening ports for cross ventilation. Stowage options include drawers in the berth base, a hanging locker, and smaller cabinets, but more of the shelves throughout the cabin area should have fiddle rails.

In the master head, there's the funkiest 12-spoke showerhead I've ever seen. Definitely Euro.

Additional accommodations for four include a port stateroom with twin berths and access to the day head. The forward VIP stateroom has another island berth with stowage in the base, plus a head equipped like the one in the master stateroom, except without the crazy showerhead.

In fact, the only thing that would be considered crazy when it comes to the 68s is a skipper who stays in port when the water gets rough. Go out and play, this boat can take it.

EXTRA POINT: After initial sea trials, Azimut had to put limits on the boat's steering system because it could turn tighter than most people found comfortable.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW ALL AZIMUT YACHTS CURRENTLY FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA

This review/article originally appeared in Boating Magazine, March 2005 and is written by Eric Colby. For more great yacht reviews, visit their website and subscribe at: http://subscriptions.boatingmag.com

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