Owner Mario Benedetti talks of family, having crew and the spirit of his new Horizon E88
Owner-operation can be an exhausting job. While it may have been the fatigue that led lifetime boater Mario Benedetti to his “dream come true” Horizon E88, in reality, it was simply the next logical step.
Mario grew up in Venezuela - his family in the car dealership business since the 1920s. His father was a rep for Chris-Craft in the 1940s, so boating was another prominent aspect of his childhood. “I got my first boat when I was seven years old - [it was] aluminum with a 4hp Evinrude outboard,” he says.There were several boats between that aluminum runabout and the Horizon E88, of course, including a Luhrs 37 sport fishing convertible he owned when he and his family moved to the U.S. in 2009 to establish their Toyota dealership operations. In 2012, Mario purchased the molds and everything related to the bankrupt Luhrs brand with the intent of reviving production in St. Augustine, Florida. The dream of building his first boat was cut short when an Italian corporation made him a purchase offer he couldn’t refuse.
Life continued for Mario and his family with regular extended trips to the Bahamas, hosting family and friends aboard a Hatteras 54 Convertible they ran themselves. “We’ve been doing Bahamas trips for the past twelve years,” he says, and while they loved the trips, the work involved was extensive. “Even when we would go out for a weekend on Elliott Key in Miami, I would be at the boat early in the morning getting everything ready for our guests to arrive, then when we got back in the evening I would stay late to clean; I couldn’t enjoy the whole day. At night my wife would say, ‘Mario, you look so tired.’ Last year I told her, ‘I’m the captain, the mate, I have the full responsibility of the boat. I want to enjoy our boat, but in a different way.’”
So, Mario and his wife began looking at larger boats in the 75- to 80-foot size range, focusing on the Hatteras and Viking brands before a friend suggested Horizon Yachts. “At first I thought Horizon only built the FD Series yachts,” he says, until one day, while browsing the internet, Mario came across “this amazing, beautiful boat,” a Horizon E88. He figured he would take a look and drove to Stuart, Florida to see her in person. “It was an instant click,” says Mario. “Her lines were beautiful, she was a very sexy boat. I thought, ‘this is the one.’”The final decision came down to the Horizon E88 and a Viking 75, which Mario, his wife and their daughter went to visit in West Palm Beach. “They didn’t like the Viking’s decor, and I knew the answer already,” laughs Mario. “We drove up to Stuart and when my wife and daughter saw the E88, their expressions said it all. There was no question about it. While it was a little bigger than we had planned, it was within our budget. We went to The Bahamas, came back and closed on the boat.”Mario’s Horizon E88 was christened Island Soul, the name of the family’s previous yacht and the moniker that represents the essence of their cumulative experiences on the water. “The name Island Soul is a reflection of us and what all of our boats have meant to us in precious and long-lasting memories of special times with friends and family.”
NEW CREW, NEW YOU
The transition to having crew has been an interesting segue for the experienced owner as well as for his wife, who generally assumed the stewardess responsibilities. “This is my first time having crew, and my friends make fun of me,” laughs Mario. “I took the boat to Safe Harbor Lauderdale Marine Center to have some work done and when we were being towed down the river, the joke was how long it would take before Mario takes the helm or touches a line!”Insurance requires that the E88 be fully crewed, so Mario and his wife hired a full-time captain, first mate and stewardess. “I told the captain that he’s in charge, but we work as a team,” says Mario. “They have worked together before and are a fantastic crew. We clicked from Day One. Our crew area has two bedrooms - one with bunk beds and one double - and we have one female crew member from Venezuela. Our captain offered her the double room. He’s a true gentleman.”
As for his onboard responsibilities now? “I help with the lines - I usually take the tender and the captain takes the big boat. Since I’ve been boating all my life I understand that sometimes things happen on a boat, so if anything goes south we put our heads together and solve the problem. I’m like a back-up captain!”
FINDING ONE’S SOUL IN THE ISLANDSMario and his family didn’t waste a moment and set off for a cruising adventure as soon as the boat was delivered. Spending time in the islands is what they love most. “Our normal route is Miami to Nassau, where we will spend three days at Atlantis as a pit stop to make sure everything is good and get any parts or supplies necessary. Then we cruise to Highbourne Cay Marina where we spend about 15 days - we’ve been going there for over ten years and have our reservations and secured dockage. We spend another 10- to-14 days on Cambridge Cay, exploring Sampson Cay and Staniel Cay, then head to Georgetown for another four or five days, then to Calabash Bay on Long Island for about three days, back to Georgetown, Cambridge, Highbourne and Albany Marina for about a week, then Chub Cay and return to Miami.”
Through all of this, Mario and his wife are joined by visiting friends and their grown children, who work with Mario in his business.“At first I thought the speed would affect me,” says Mario, whose previous boat could achieve 33 knots, “but my father had a Bertram 58 and I recall that 20 knots is a good speed. As a passenger it becomes like a cruise ship experience. I can visit different areas of the boat and enjoy them now.”Mario says he doesn’t have a favorite spot onboard, because every area has its own “magic.” “The aft deck is special; sitting on the sunpads on the bow is amazing. The flybridge is magic. When the tender is deployed we put a dining table up there, which gives us four separate dining areas onboard - like the cruise ships we used to make fun of!” He says. “The salon, the master, the skylounge - they are warm and beautiful. My wife and my sister enjoy doing puzzles on the games table, I enjoy sitting on the sofa as much as the swim platform… every area is, simply, magical.”On a recent trip, Mario was able to have a quiet moment on deck, where he contemplated the sea and gave thanks for his blessings. “My father was also in the auto business and boats were a passion that we shared. He would ask me often about this boat. He recently passed away and as I had that moment I was able to connect with him mentally and spiritually right there on the boat. I enjoyed him there with me in spirit.”
Not only is Mario extremely happy with his new Horizon, he says the experience working with the Horizon teams has been equally enjoyable. “I love the way Horizon works with their customers,” he says. “This is a ten-year-old boat and even though it was refit in 2021 and I put my own money into it to bring it to my standards, Horizon has been there to guide me in the process. They respond immediately and make me feel important, like a VIP. They have everything organized; their customer support goes above and beyond. They pamper me, even though it’s a brokerage boat.”
A self-proclaimed brand ambassador, Mario says that while he likes the popular FD Series, he is a fan of Horizon’s other series and models, and has already encouraged a friend to purchase a Horizon E84. “He asked me what I thought about Horizon,” he says. “I said, ‘sign the contract and get the boat.’ I also have an admiration for Horizon’s CEO John Lu. You can see his legacy in the quality and passion of his team and the sense of ownership.”After some bottom paint and maintenance work, Island Soul headed to the Dry Tortugas in November then went to Bahamas during Christmas and New Year Holiday.
“I really, really, really love the boat,” he says. “She is beautiful, seaworthy, the way she turns, the fit and finish, all of the details, the layout… It doesn’t get any better than that. When I walk away, I always have to turn back to look at her. We are blessed. Blessed with the boat and blessed with the crew.”
For more information please contact Horizon Yacht USA [email protected]