STERNLINES

THE EN­DUR­ING LEGACY OF CARLO RIVA

Yachts International - - Contents - By DuD­Ley Daw­son

Speed­boat is a term you don’t hear much any­more, but when I was a kid, every­one knew ex­actly what it was: a gleam­ing streak of var­nished ma­hogany and pol­ished stain­less steel. If you had any sense at all, you wanted one with ev­ery ounce of your be­ing. A few old guys still had vin­tage Gar Woods and Hack­ers, but for the younger crowd, the dream was a new Chris-Craft. It would have a big­block V-8 is­su­ing a throaty rum­ble through dual tran­som ex­hausts, and would be out­fit­ted with white tuckand-roll up­hol­stery, sim­i­lar to that in a ’57 Chevro­let Bel Air con­vert­ible, the other icon of the era.

Still shy of my high school years but al­ready knowl­edge­able in the ways of boats, I lived the speed­boat dream one sum­mer. My dad’s friend owned a Cen­tury Coron­ado, a 21-foot float­ing jewel with a 400-plus-horse­power Lin­coln en­gine and a slid­ing white hard­top. The dad was leav­ing town for the sum­mer and asked if my brother and I would take care of her in his ab­sence. Well, duh, yeah! The as­sign­ment didn’t pay any­thing, but he said we could take her out for a spin “once in a while,” an im­pre­cise ex­pres­sion that al­lowed us more lat­i­tude than Jimmy Buf­fett ever dreamed of. An­chored just off our dock, she was a beck­on­ing temptress that you could not ex­pect any teenage boy to re­sist, and we didn’t.

Those speed­boats from Chris-Craft, Cen­tury and a few other U.S. builders ruled my dreams un­til the day in the 1960s when I saw a picture of a Riva. Brigitte Bar­dot sat at the helm, but it was the Ital­ian beauty rather than the French one that caught my eye, and I was smit­ten for life.

Even now, when vis­it­ing Monaco for the Septem­ber su­pery­acht show, I al­ways make time to stop by Monaco Boat Service to gan­der at the re­mark­able fleet of Riva Aris­tons, Tri­tones, Flori­das and es­pe­cially the mag­nif­i­cent Aquara­mas that, so help me, they use as taxi boats dur­ing the show. Monaco Boat Service and these metic­u­lously main­tained boats lie, ap­pro­pri­ately enough, in the shadow of the palace, across the har­bor from the famed casino. To me, it is a mag­i­cal mecca of ma­hogany.

This all came to mind re­cently when I learned of the pass­ing of Carlo Riva at age 95. He was the fourth gen­er­a­tion of the Riva fam­ily to build boats in Sar­nico, Italy, and when he took over the al­ready suc­cess­ful fam­ily busi­ness at the ripe old age of 27, it was the pro­duc­tion of sleek speed­boats of his own de­sign that made the brand known around the world.

As I moved through school to­ward a ca­reer in naval ar­chi­tec­ture, Carlo Riva con­tin­ued to de­sign boats, each one seem­ingly more beau­ti­ful than the last. If there are rock stars in the boat de­sign world, Carlo was Elvis, St­ing and Seal all rolled into one, with a touch of Michelan­gelo’s art and da Vinci’s tech­ni­cal ge­nius thrown in for good mea­sure. As I sat at my draw­ing board, I wanted to be him, but it was not to be—not for me or any­one else. Carlo Riva was one of a kind.

A decade or more ago, I was in Santa Margherita Lig­ure, a lovely lit­tle town on the Gulf of Tigul­lio, down a coastal road a few kilo­me­ters from Portofino. The stars aligned that day. Not only was the weather per­fect for sea tri­als, but I learned that Carlo Riva was in town and man­aged to ar­range an in­tro­duc­tion. We chat­ted about boats and de­sign, and I am happy to say that I was not dis­ap­pointed with our mo­ment, though it was all too brief.

Not only was Carlo Riva the de­sign hero I knew him to be, but he also was an in­ter­est­ing and gra­cious gen­tle­man as well. God­speed, Carlo, and thank you for the legacy you left for me and the world.

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