Ferretti's dazzling new 53 brings out the romance in your soul: a triple turn-on no matter how you look at it. 

I have a vivid and indelible association with these boats. It was Portofino. I was sitting in a cafe, admiring the cypresses rising like wetted artists' brushes from the headland behind the castle, feeling the late season sun dissolve my angst, when this sleek craft ghosted in from the Gulf of Rapallo. It slipped through the fishing smacks and found its mooring. Heads raised. Men stole anxious sideways glances, beautiful women uncrossed and recrossed their legs and pretended to pay attention to table talk. And that, I said to myself, is the way to make an entrance.

Years later, but with no less romance in my soul, I was again confronted by a Ferretti. This time, it was on the American Riviera, our own little slice of Europe on Florida's Gold Coast, Fort Lauderdale. Palms clacked overhead, their shadows playing like fans over the deck where I stood. It all came rushing back.

The company, Ferretti, is now three decades old. The Ferretti brothers began with entirely romantic notions in 1968, building sailboats and motorsailers in their shipyard at San Giovanni. After making a mark in that market, they decided to enter the powerboat side, as well, and in 1987 began construction in a second yard at Forli. The result is a line of stylish motoryachts that has captured the imaginations of moguls and mariners, families and jiggly starlets. If you want  to cruise under the porphyry cliffs of the Esterel...or enter Ocean Reef or Newport Harbor in style...you could choose no more impressive vessel. 

ROYAL YACHT: Ferretti 53 makes mincemeat of a chop. The interior is rich in polished woods, stone, and leather. 

In 1993, Wes Dickman formed Ferretti of America in conjunction with Alessandro and Norberto Ferretti and Greek entrepreneur and yacht dealer George Kyriacakos. Wes' resume includes stints at Hatteras and Bertram. He knows good quality when he sees it. Also involved in the company is the legendary Lee Dana, one of the engineering factotums who helped build Bertram's reputation.

"When I first went to Italy to look at these boats," Wes told me, "I took Lee with me. We ran out of an inlet and into some snotty seas. Lee looked at me and said, "This boat feels more like a Bertram than a Bertram."

Which underscores a point we'll discuss in a moment that the Ferretti you buy in the United States is in many ways an American boat.

The model I had come to see was the new 53, sister to a line that ranges from 43 co 80 feet in production boats and 94, 104, and 112 feet in its custom yachts. For the US market, Ferretti of America imports the 53, 55, 62, 65, 72 and 80. They sold out their entire inventory at the Miami boat show and Wes & Company expect no more until this fall. "They build only 50 to 55 boats per year," says Wes' son, Mike, "and it is not nearly enough. Only 12 to 15 are earmarked for this country ."

The yachts' rough-water capabilities should come as no surprise. Although the weather in south Florida was yawningly calm on my visit, the motoryacht hulls share an engineering heritage with some of the fastest offshore racing boats in Europe (Ferretti catamarans won the World Championship in 1994 and 1997). And, I'd take Lee Dana's word on just about anything.

First impression of the interior: sumptuous. The salon is graced by a wide, leather settee to starboard, with a glossy high-low table. This, and all of the other wooden sections of the boat, is mahogany finished with polyurethane. "We clean it with Windex," Mike says. "If you see a scratch, chances are it's just in the finish. You can use a heat gun to bring it out."

Opposite the settee is an entertainment center with a TV and a "chill space" under. Flanking this are two curved-back chairs that fit perfectly into niches, or that can be brought out and used at the table. One of the crowning touches of this, and other Ferrettis is the sliding glass door and the huge picture window on the after bulkhead. This window lifts up on hydraulic pistons to open the salon to the cockpit, creating a very European flow of air and conversation.

HANDSOME ARRAY

Forward of this, the companionway splits the centerline, down three steps leading to the staterooms. Up and to the right is a dinette, and up and to the left is the helm station. Behind the dinette is a series of steps, more like a large sculpture - form almost overwhelming function - curving up to a large hatch that opens onto the bridge. Both helm and dinette have opening windows. The helm itself has a two-person seat. Sort of. But the console is quite handsome with its array of instruments and electronics; in this case, a 64-mile Furuno radar, Icom radio, Robertson GPS chart plotter and autopilot, Simrad depth/speed, and controls for a bow thruster.

Just abaft this is the galley, down two steps. There is a wide, very useful counter topped by granite. It is a little low for us taller folk (chopping onions might be a minor chore) but otherwise excellent space. In the center is a double sink. On one side is a stainless steel disk that functions as a cover, a vegetable drainer, pasta strainer, whatever. There is a portlight over the sink - but the entire area is open to the brilliant light of the salon/helm station. Cabinetry here is lovely, too, with a GE microwave oven, four-burner Bosch stove, and a fridge/freezer nicely concealed behind a wooden panel. There is very good stowage over and under and the boat comes with its own Melmac-like '"boat china" and cutlery nestled in specially fitted drawers.

All of the appliances are bought in America and shipped to Italy for installation. And this is where Lee Dana comes in again. "We use his knowledge to help do the right thing," Mike says. Lee supervises all electrics, for example.

Off the galley is the kind of added accommodation Europeans insist on squeezing into a boat: a very cramped crew cabin. Windowless and dungeon-like to me. There is a berth and a private - if oh, so tiny - head, replete with MSD, and a sink with a telephone shower faucet. I would get the heebie-jeebies sleeping in such a place, but your curmudgeonly teenaged son probably would adore it.

The companionway is a little narrow for these Ralph Lauren/Bill Blass shoulders, but if you're the Armani physique, it's perfect. Think of it this way: You wouldn't bounce very far in a seaway.

Port and starboard of this are the two guest staterooms, almost Rorschach in their identical layouts - but, I mean that in a very nice sense. Each features two single berths, one step down, and a hanging locker and cabinets over the portlights. Drawers under the outboard berth add some stowage.

PINK MARBLE

The day head is almost identical, as well, to the master head. It is designed around a circular shower door that effectively expands the space when it is not deployed. When it is shut, however, you cannot leave or enter the head, as it blocks the door. On reflection, this may be a good thing. The basin is pink marble and there is lots of elbowroom around the potty. There are cabinets over the portlight and the cabinetry, as elsewhere, is so lustrous you feel as if you could fall into the finish.

The master stateroom has a pedestal queen berth with two drawers under the foot of it, and honest-to-God steps down from each side, not just some awkward, angled platform to send you flying in the middle of the night. A large, square hatch over the berth acts as skylight and escape route. Two hanging lockers with shelves are located port and starboard.

Back topside, the cockpit is another of the 53's glories. As mentioned, life here flows very easily into the salon. The after bench seat is split by the passerelle (and more on that in a second). Under the port seat is a ladder down to what could be yet another cramped crew cabin, but which in this boat is given sensibly to the washer and dryer and an extra freezer. Under the starboard seat is additional stowage.

ITALIAN FLAIR: Galley has a wide counter of granite - and all the amenities. Bridge helm features pop up electronics. 

Under that marvelous flip-up window is a lift-off table. Nearby is an icemaker. Molded steps, port and starboard, lead to the nice, wide side decks (with excellent nonskid). Heavy-duty cleats are concealed under the coaming. The hatches lift with manual hydraulic pistons. There also is a freshwater sink under the portside; perfect for washing your hands after line handling, or for a quick shower in the cockpit.

The aforementioned passerelle is multifunctional. It serves as a boarding stage from the quay and doubles as a davit for the PWC or inflatable you can carry on the wide swim platform. Access to this platform is via an ingenious door, to starboard, that flips down to form steps. The passerelle also is controlled by an infrared sensor: You may command it to lower itself as you approach in the tender!

ENGINE ROOM

The engine room access is via a hatch in the cockpit sole. I am not a mechanic, but it seems to me that routine service would be quite easy.

The bridge, naturally, is an expansive sundeck, entertainment plaza, and command station. At the after end is a large, circular bench seat with table. Just forward of this is a sunpad that conceals a life raft, PFDs, or anything else you need to hide.

And in front of this is a two-person companion seat. Opposite is the single helm seat with a nice array of instruments and a hydraulically operated enclosure that houses radar, et al.

Even the bow is beautiful! There is a large sunpad forward of the house, and lots of line/fender stowage, an anchor windlass, and yet another freshwater washdown hose.

From Wes Dickman's office above Las Olas Boulevard, we can look down on several Ferrettis basking, awaiting delivery. Sold. A done deal. Next boat in town: September at the earliest. The owners, Wes is saying, tend to be very wealthy entrepreneurs, guys who've done a lot of research. "We have very few impulse buyers."

We are silent for a second. We are both dreamers. We're both probably thinking the same thing: what a boat to take somewhere. Anywhere. 

"The first turn-on," he breaks the silence, "is the sleek profile. The second is when you see the interior. The third is performance."

And the fourth is when you glide into port.