SIGHTLINES

HOW CHANCE ENCOUNTERS WITH SONNY LEVI LEFT A LAST­ING IM­PRES­SION.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Michael Peters

Meet­ing the fa­ther of mod­ern power­boat de­sign.

One of my fa­vorite stomps as a kid was the old boat­yards down by the port in San Pe­dro, Cal­i­for­nia. I had a fas­ci­na­tion with hull de­sign even at that age, so I cruised these yards look­ing at the un­der­sides of boats blocked for stor­age. I learned a lot about hull de­sign this way, and ran across some very cu­ri­ous boats at times.

Wan­der­ing through a yard in San Pe­dro one day in 1972, I came across a moth­balled off­shore race boat un­like any­thing I had ever seen. This boat had a sin­gle shaft stick­ing out sev­eral feet be­hind its deep-V hull and on top of its tubu­lar stain­less steel rud­der ex­ten­sion sat the driver’s seat and throt­tles. The hull it­self was about 28 feet long, but its bow had an­other tubu­lar struc­ture run­ning well for­ward of the bow that sup­ported an ar­row-sharp hull ex­ten­sion. It was a mys­ti­fy­ing con­trap­tion by any mea­sure, and I hadn’t a clue what it was.

A year or two later I was read­ing an ar­ti­cle in Rud­der mag­a­zine about the newly launched, su­per fu­tur­is­tic Riva 2000, de­signed by Renalto “Sonny” Levi. The boat sported a “delta” deep-V hull and three fixed-shaft sur­face drives. All of this was new and ex­cit­ing to me, so I headed for the down­town li­brary and found a sin­gle copy of Levi’s book Dhows to Deltas. My world opened up with this book and I be­gan my own de­sign ca­reer with it as my bible to power­boat de­sign.

As I be­gan to read Levi’s book, I ran across a race boat he de­signed for the land-speed record holder, Craig Breedlove. It was a clas­sic Levi delta de­sign that af­ter some test­ing and rac­ing, was mod­i­fied to seat the driver aft of the tran­som for a bet­ter ride and a bow ex­ten­sion to im­prove its rough-wa­ter run­ning. I re­al­ized this had to be the boat I had dis­cov­ered sit­ting in stor­age in the San Pe­dro boatyard a cou­ple of years be­fore. Know­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of what I found, I drove back to the port to take an­other look, but it was gone.

In 1982 I moved to Sara­sota to es­tab­lish my own de­sign stu­dio, ref­er­enc­ing my Xeroxed copy of Dhows To Deltas many times. I had only ever seen one of Levi’s boats in per­son, but I was well versed in what a delta looked like. One day I was driv­ing south on the main high­way and I came up be­hind a boat be­ing towed. I knew there weren’t many deltas in this coun­try, but this boat had to be one, so I fol­lowed the guy to his house. I jumped out be­hind him and asked, “Is that a delta?”

The young man an­swered, “Yeah, my fa­ther used to own a boatyard in San Pe­dro and I towed it to Florida.” The bow and stern tubu­lar ex­ten­sions had been re­moved, but it was the same boat I had lost track of years be­fore. A full decade and al­most 3,000 miles later, the mys­te­ri­ous Levi “Delta 28 with Ram” had ended up in my new home­town. What were the odds of that?

In 1994, we were vis­it­ing the build of the 117-foot mo­to­ry­acht Lady Tif­fany in Portsmouth, Eng­land, and my wife and I de­cided to take a side trip to the Isle of Wight. I knew Sonny Levi had re­tired and lived on the is­land out­side of Cowes, so on our last day we gave him a ring.

He had us up to his house and I had great fun re­lat­ing the amaz­ing story of his long-lost race boat. I also told him I had a tat­tered Xerox copy of his book that I had cher­ished for years. He grabbed a sec­ond edi­tion copy of Dhows To Deltas from the shelf and au­to­graphed it for me along with his new book Mile­stones In My De­signs. He and his wife drove us back to Cowes and asked us to join them for lunch at the Royal Lon­don Yacht Club.

As we walked up the steps to the club, we were stopped by a trio of gen­tle­men, one of whom was the club com­modore. Asked if he was a mem­ber, Levi in­tro­duced him­self to the quite as­ton­ished com­modore. Per­haps one of its most fa­mous mem­bers, he had never ac­tu­ally been to the club and no­body had ever met him. Sonny Levi, Royal De­signer for In­dus­try and fa­ther of mod­ern power­boat de­sign died in Novem­ber 2016 at age 90. I am hon­ored to have met him.

Renalto “Sonny” Levi rev­o­lu­tion­ized boat de­sign.

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