09.08.2013. Best of the Coast
Riva is to boating enthusiasts what Ferrari is to car lovers: an iconic Italian brand that inspires passion and devotion among its many aficionados. Founded in Sarnico, on the northern Italian lake of Iseo, in the 1840s, the Riva boatyard was one of the first to fit inboard and outboard motors on its yachts and transport craft. Between the wars, the company gambled on the growing motorboat racing and leisure sector, winning many national and international speedboat races. But it was in the 1950s and 1960s that Riva became a byword for Italianate boating style and elegance, producing a series of runabouts that soon became cult items.
The pinnacle of Riva’s achievement, the holy grail of Italian leisure speedboats, was the Aquarama. An aerodynamic beauty in polished mahogany, the Aquarama was built to skim effortlessly across the waves but also to look good bobbing out on the bay, with its cushioned sundeck and uncluttered bow deck, which makes for a perfect diving platform. Its name derived from the glamorous wraparound windshield – which recalled the widescreen ‘Cinerama’ movie format of the early 1960s. The care and meticulous attention to detail that went into the construction process meant that no more than 30 of these cult craft emerged from the Sarnico boatyard each year; in all, between 1962 and 1996, just 769 were made. Original owners included Brigite Bardot, Richard Burton and Peter Sellers.
The Aquarama Special owned by the Sirenuse hotel dates from 1973. Its name, Five and Fifty, refers to the boat’s serial production number - #550. Aquarama Specials have featured in Martini advertisements and Dior campaigns, piloted respectively by Charlize Theron and Jude Law; the Sirenuse Hotel’s own Aquarama became a cover star in October 2004, when it featured on the front of US travel and lifestyle magazine Departures. Powered by two 370hp Chrysler Marine engines, this sleek vintage runabout must be the most photographed boat in Positano.
But after years of Amalfi Coast action, the Sirenuse’s Aquarama was in need of restoration. As any Riva buff knows, there’s only one place worth considering when its time for a rehaul: the original Riva boatyard in Sarnico, which after the acquisition of the Riva brand by the Ferretti group became RAM, a nautical workshop which specialises in the restoration of vintage Rivas. Led by naval engineer Anselmo Vigani, a RAM team worked on Five and Fifty through the winter of 2013-13, repairing and revarnishing the mahogany hull and deck and polishing or, where necessary, rechroming its gleaming metal fittings and instruments.
Back in the water in May 2013, our lovingly restored Aquarama is once again available, with skipper, for guests keen to experience one of the world’s great motorboat experiences. In his 1998 BBC series Extreme Machines, British automobile writer and broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson defined the Riva “my favourite big boys’ toy of all” – beating any car every made. “It's made of wood”, Clarkson said, “it can barely crack 50mph and it was designed 32 years ago - but it is the most beautiful piece of sculpture in man's entire history”. We tend to agree.