THE ENDURING LEGACY OF CARLO RIVA
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.