Azimut 70: This is your planet.

I'M NOT SURE EXACTLY WHY ... BUT WHEN A BIG BOAT enters a harbor for the first time, everything stops. People drop whatever they're doing and gaze with a common expression. What this expression means exactly, who knows. But I also notice it on the faces of people confronted with magnificent works of nature and other grand stuff.

Anyway, one morning a few months ago in Florida, when Azimut's new 70' Sea-Jet eased past the Harbormaster's Office at Miami Beach Marina, the phenomenon took hold instantaneously.

Finishing up a Boat Test on a much smaller vessel, I lifted my eyes from my notebook and stared in silence. So did a couple of nearby dockhands, a lady and gentleman coming out of the restaurant and a whole bunch of others.

In my opinion, the rapidity with which the Sea-Jet captured all this attention is directly related to the high level of styling Azimut has achieved with the boat. Designed by Italian naval architect Stefano Righini and built on the Italian Riviera, the Sea-Jet's huge, dramatically swept-back windshield, its perfectly proportioned, eye-shaped elliptical side windows and its spare, almost menacingly militaristic bow produce a look that's roughly equivalent to what Lamborghini does with the Countach.

Into seriously elegant styling and detailing that won't quit? Check out the Azimut 70. Top speed: 35 mph.

INNER BEAUTY.

Later in the day, after boarding the Sea-Jet, test gear in hand, I was immediately reminded of a principle that's as true of boats as it is of people. Good looks are important, but even more important ultimately, is interior essence. And the Sea-Jet's lock on the latter is as apparent as its lock on the former.

The level of finish throughout the interior of the boat, executed in solid, exquisitely joined cherry and pricey veneers as well as Alcantara fabric and leather, is just about as good as it gets. Other notable features of a more practical nature abound. Countertops are smooth, thick marble. Easy to clean. Hard to scratch or disfigure. Appliances in the galley, which can be cordoned off from the salon via a gorgeous tambour slider, are General Electric, part of Azimut's American Package," which also includes a second genset to handle extra air-conditioning. And the heads, one for each of the four staterooms onboard our test boat, are uniformly luxurious, with Vacuflush MSDs and beveled-glass mirrors. Azimut, incidentally, addresses the "facilities" area with several standard layouts as well as a lengthy list of high-end options like a Jacuzzi for the master stateroom ($3,500) and Rosa Verona marble inserts for the floors ($1,300 apiece).

WHERE THE ENGINES ARE.

The engine room on the test boat was commercial-grade, meaning it was tough, thorough and sensibly laid out, with top-notch ancillaries. Maintenance points on everything from the Crusair compressors, located outboard port and starboard, to the ZF V-drives, are totally open and approachable.

I was a little pestered, however, by the genset configuration onboard. On the plus side, there are two of them, big, healthy Onan 21kw models capable of putting out enough power to preserve a long ton of snowballs in hell. Any big boat, with electrical demands that entail lots of air-conditioning, electronics, lighting and appliances, requires two generators. In fact, most commercial vessels have two gensets that are routinely swapped out so one is in service while the other rests.

But there is a downside to the genset story. Both Onans are succinctly packaged in sound shields and stacked, one on top of the other. To my mind this is a heck of a lot less convenient than having both Onans secured on deck where the top one doesn't obfuscate the bottom.

Engine access, on the other hand, is superb. While installing test gear, I encountered no trouble getting at the engines from any angle and, with full-standing headroom above me and thick, molded-aluminum diamond plate below, I was able to work as comfortably as I can in my own shop in my basement at home.

Although the Sea-Jet is built in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping strictures, an owner must pay a $35,000 premium to have the yacht actually inspected, tested and certified by ABS. Thus a buyer benefits from ABS guidelines one way or the other and a high-level of construction results, with pricey vinylester resin, a bolted-and-fiberglassed hull-to-deck joint, foam-cored fiberglass stringers, collision, firewall and other watertight bulkheads.

The prirno approach is as apparent in the specifics as it is in the general. Consider engine-room vents. A couple of years ago, I tested a slightly smaller Azimut with vents in the hullsides that, being unbaffled and near the waterline, allowed seawater spray to enter the boat. Not good.

On the Sea-Jet, Azimut has taken an entirely different approach, positioning vents in the sides of the flying bridge as far above the level of the water as possible. The approach pays off. While testing the Sea-Jet, I spent some time in the ER, with my ear protectors vibrating against my temples like orbital sanders, the engines roaring full-chat and the hull powering through legions of 6' to 8' Atlantic rollers. I detected not even the slightest whiff of saltwater.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE.

The Sea-Jet runs like a scared rabbit. Its simple deep-V hull, with two wide lifting strakes per side, puts the virtual karate chop to waves. And no matter how we ran, either with or against the seas on test day, we took no spray either on the flying bridge or, while operating the boat at the lower helm, on the broad windshield.

Overall, I prefer the upper helm station. Visibility is good from here, at least looking forward; visibility astern is limited by the structure of the flying bridge deck extension. Visibility from the lower station, incidentally, is not particularly good astern either. A bulkhead and intervening structure cut the view to zip.

The way Azimut handles the radar arch on the Sea-Jet makes a lot of sense to me. A problem I have often belabored in tests of low-profile European motoryachts is that their arches are mounted so low it concerns me to be at the upper helm when the radar scanner is operating. Microwaves, after all, don't mix all that well with brain waves. The scanner mounted on the Sea-Jet's arch, however, was a full 8' off the deck. That's great.

There is only one engine package available for the Sea-Jet: twin 1,150-hp MTUs. With these engines, the boat sells for $2,220,000. Comparison shoppers will more than likely look at Hatteras' 70 Sportdeck, which sells for $2,030,000, with 1,075-hp Detroit Diesel 12V-92TA DDECs.

At any rate, don't expect to sneak into even the most exotic, over-populated harbor with Azimut's new 70' Sea-Jet. In addition to its solid construction and an interior that puts to shame half of the stuff in Architectural Digest, it's a big boat ... and a compelling one.