Infiniti Design Chief Alfonso Albaisa Cheats Death on the High Seas

The stylist lashes himself to the mast of his beloved, beautiful Beneteau.

Alfonso Albaisa

Alfonso Albaisa grew up in Miami around water—and boats. We’re not sure if his exposure to seafaring vessels influenced the designs of vehicles like the Infiniti Q30 crossover, unveiled at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, or the Q60 concept introduced in Detroit back in January, or if the roiling and unpredictable ocean piqued his interest in designing what he once described to us as “super intentionally fucked-up surfaces.”

What we do know is that he owns a boat from Beneteau, the venerable 130-year-old French shipbuilder, which he moors and sails in southern California—home to one of four global Infiniti design studios that Albaisa oversees. And the boat, named Sayonara, is more than just a means of winding down from a day’s labor.

The Drive: What is your favorite thing?

Albaisa: It’s my Beneteau sailboat. I’m a car designer—engines and speed and dynamics. You would think a sailboat is quite distant from that. But actually, when you’re 12 hours out on the ocean, and you’re alone and it’s night and it’s just purely the elements, and the boat starts speaking to you—when it’s vibrating—and you’re tuning sails and you’re doing it from feeling... it’s occupies all of your attention. And it’s quite fast and wild, and you have to concentrate.

As far as objects go, I only have one favorite. That’s the one.

Alfonso Albaisa

Why did you fall for this particular boat?

It happens to be very good looking, but it’s not because it’s the most modern design. It’s specifically its capability to be away from land for a long time. It has twin helms in the back, it’s very wide in the back. Quite fast. Its hull speed was good for what I needed, which was to be away from land. I usually do a 24-hour trip. So I put my timer on my phone; I don’t have a watch. I literally have no objects. I don’t have a watch. And I go 12 hours, alarm hits, I turn around. So for me it’s always a game of how far I can go, and then managing my time: 24 hours of intense activity. No sleep.

How did you find out about this particular model?

I saw one go by me very fast, when I had a previous boat. I said, “Wow, that’s a little bit of envy.” It’s really well suited for what I do. I love storms and stuff like this; I get it from my mom. Cuban women are brave. My mom and her father had two boats growing up. Fairly large for the Forties, almost 60 foot. And they’d spend a lot of time on the ocean. And they’d get hit by major tropical storms. She loved that feeling of the waves and the crashing. So she came and visited me one day and she said, “Hey Alfie, it looks like there’s a storm, let’s go out on your boat.” I said, “I don’t know, this is California, not Miami. The water is going to be freezing, if we get hit by a storm...” She insisted. “No, no, no, I want to do it.” She’s 65. So we went out.

The ocean opened up all of its anger at us. The wind was 35 miles an hour and the waves were 10 feet or whatever. I sent her downstairs to the cabin, I locked up everything, tied myself up—it was that level of crisis. Two or three hours later, things got a little better. I untied and I got onto the tether line and I crawled to the master cabin from the outside. And it’s all fogged up. I’m like, What the hell is going on? And then I crack the door, and my mother’s on the bed and she’s combing her hair. I’m like, “Mom what’s going on!?” And she says, “Aye, Alfie, I love your shower.” While I’m tied up in the storm, she’s showering and then in the bed. She’s like, “I love this. Can we stay longer?” I said, “I called the Coast Guard, mom. We’re not staying longer.”

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

What keeps you coming back to this boat?

Every time it’s different situation. Nature changes, and there are other discoveries. Sometimes it’s whales. When you’re alone and there are blue whales around you, it’s very serene—even though I’m still concentrating, because I’m flying all the sails and everything alone. But then you see this majestic animal... I love it.

Life has been very hectic. We have four studios. We have a lot of very creative, very dysfunctional people. They’re lovely, but it’s a lot of work. So when I get out there, everything gets balanced.

You can turn it all off.

Well, it’s still on. But it’s on in a different world. A different canvas.