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Nautical Eye Candy

We were standing outside, two strangers waiting for the owner of the marine consignment store to come, unlock the door, bring in his dogs and start the day. Drinking our Dunkin Donuts coffee, we made small talk about boats when he said, “You have a boat? Surprised to see a female boat owner there. When we got to the boat he had, he pulled out his wallet and first showed me the picture of the Boston Whaler he now had. He paused and pulled out the second picture, “And this is the boat I lust after,” he said, keeping a tight grip on the picture of a Riva mahogany speedboat. He said he couldn’t afford even a used one but in case he won a lottery, the first money spent would be on a Riva. I remember going home and looking up Riva online – he had good taste.

Riva boats started back in the 1840s when Pietro Riva began repairing boats. He also built boats – two and four oared boats on the Oglio River in Italy. His son Ernesto convinced him there would be more business if they moved to the shore area of Lake Iseo where the fishermen would need boats and boat repair. After they moved a storm brought new business from the local fishermen whose boats were damaged by the storm. The new location also encouraged them to build steam-powered cargo and passenger boats to use on the lake. In 1907 Ernesto died in an accident after being caught under a boat being launched.
Ernesto’s son Serafino took over and promoted his own interest in small sailing boats but World War I stopped production for the duration. When they could start up again, Serafino moved the company in the direction of small fast boats. World War II shut down the boat building business again and when they could resume production after the War, Serafino lost interest. His son Carlo found a partner to help them get funding to restart the business. Gino Gervasoni had been a boyhood friend of Carlo’s and he rounded up enough money to get supplies and pay salaries.

After World War II Carlo read and re-read all the American boating magazines and was convinced that the big companies like Chris Craft were producing better boats faster. In 1952 Carlo came to the United States to look at Chris Craft’s mahogany speedboats, to look at their production lines, their methods of operation and to buy a few engines from them. When he went to the factory in Michigan to buy engines he didn’t have enough money to import as many engines as the Americans wanted to sell and he said he invented a lie about the Italian government not allowing so many engines to be imported and he signed up to import six at a time with a total of fifty.
He came away with three things in his pocket –his passport, his plane ticket and three dollars. Needing a higher quality engine, he moved on from the Chris Craft engines to Cadillac and ultimately to the Crusader. He was the most satisfied with his dealings with Warren’s Crusader Marine, where they were willing to make 100 changes for him. They provided their Crusader engine in a lighter, quieter, more durable and reliable form that became the Riva engine.
Riva had a “no problem product” concept. They felt their boats were mostly used in a concentrated period of three to four months during the year and every person at the Riva factories felt the boats had to go out ready for the concentrated use period with no problems.
In the 1950s Carlo Riva created status symbol wooden boats. Traditional construction was time consuming and expensive. He tried to improve the process by switching from mahogany planking to using plywood. The plywood bottom in a test model was too thin and it sank during a sea trial that left him challenged. He solved the problem by starting the Marine Plywood company with an engineer who specialized in prefabricated plywood panels in 1956. His production line switched to plywood. The Aquarama was built with an entire unit of molded, matched plywood for each 29-foot side of the boat.
By the end of the 1960s Carlo could see the competition would force him into building fiberglass boats. He purchased a Bertram and a Magnum and was surprised at the poor quality of the Magnum. The first two fiberglass boats he built in 1970 and 1971 under license from Bertram were copies of the 20’ Bertram Bahia Mar and the 25’ Bertram Sport Fisherman. He redesigned the interior Italian style with more interior wood and fabrics that changed the look of the boats so much that when Dick Bertram came to the boat show in Italy he said he could hardly recognize the Bertrams Riva built. Almost 150 Bertrams were built by Riva and sold in less than two years. Wooden boat production continued until 1996 at Riva.
Carlo may have been partial to Bertrams because he owned one for 45 years. His “LaCarlina” was a 38-foot Bertram Motor Yacht formerly owned by his friend, Dick Bertram. Carlo took his Bertram through the Aegean Sea to Turkey and on trips to discover Greek islands.
The Riva Aquarama came out in 1962 and was a significant part of how Carlo operated. He was always thinking and experimenting, finding new ways to move ahead in style and design. His deep interest and passion for building the best boats connect to what he called the best day of his life. He and his conservative father had split on the kind of boat to build and the way to build them. In 1950 Carlo borrowed heavily and started running the business his way. He started up with minimal supplies but full of ideas and his vision of how the boat building production would be – highly organized. He came from a family that had built up the business by moving with the times without sacrificing the quality of the product.
In 1969 after workers went on strike at Riva, Carlo had an offer and in a matter of weeks, sold the boat building part of Riva’s business. Although he sold Riva’s boat building, he kept the sales and service parts of the business. Carlo came in every day until he was in his 90s and checked on the parts of the business he didn’t sell. He kept the boat service group that sells and services Rivas and other top brand boats. Their sales and service locations are in Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Monaco and Italy.
Whittaker bought the Riva boat building company in 1969, sold it to Vickers, a British group, in 1989 and in 1991 Rolls Royce owned it before it was sold to the Ferretti group in May of 2000. In 2012 Ferretti announced that the new majority shareholder in Riva would be Shanelong of China who would provide financing.
Now, with new financing, Ferretti has the largest Riva ever built under construction, the Riva 54, which has already been sold although completion will be some time in 2025. It is 177 feet long with an aluminum hull that should reach top speeds of 18 knots.
When you bought a Riva from the company Carlo ran you could expect your boat to be tested three times. Company policy provided for testing after engine installation, again when the boat came off the assembly line completed and the third time just before delivery. Now that Rivas are being built by the company that had problems with the boats they built for Bertram. You have to wonder if the new Rivas will be tested three times.
If you can’t swing the boat loan for an old Aquarama or Ariston, there’s always Amazon with several companies waiting to sell you a Riva model you can put together yourself or other companies selling assembled models.