These days all too often boats tend to be assessed by their size rather than by their style. But there was a time when the likes of Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, Anita Ekberg and Sean Connery thought smaller and considerably chicer: their choice was an Aquarama, a Triton or an Ariston, one of the craft by Riva, Italian boatbuilder since 1842.
Hand-built with mahogany decking – apparently scrubbed to a mirror shine by some leathery deckhand – luxe seating and a seat configuration that made it more the water’s answer to a Ferrari, a Riva seemed conceived for cutting across Lake Como or cruising Venetian canals. Riva has become something akin to the Rolls-Royce of motorboats, bought as much as a brand as a vessel.
The Aquarama may have ceased production in 1996 – though 8m versions still change hands for anywhere between US$400,000 and $700,000 – and has since been superseded by more advanced craft from Riva. But its style lives on, having become of sufficient cultural capital that other boat-makers can’t help but reference it – even if it, in turn, had been inspired buy the Chris-Craft wooden speedboats of the 1920s and 1930s.
Take, for example, Beau Lake, the US maker of arguably the world’s most beautiful paddle-boards. It has now launched its two-seater boat, the Runabout, with a molded fibreglass tunnel hull – co-designed by one of the America’s Cup designers – an inlaid veneer deck, leather seats, hand-carved wooden tiller, integrated cooler and stainless steel driveshaft. The difference between this and a Riva? This is a pedal boat. Yes, that’s right, it’s a very upscale, US$20,000 version of the kind of molded fibreglass craft found on boating lakes, based on the idea first proposed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Why make an engine-free boat? Well, there’s the environmental benefit, of course. But this is a craft designed for those who live on calm lakes – much as the Riva Aquarama was – and who need a simple means of getting about on that lake: for fishing, for example, to get between properties on the shoreline, or as a hub from which to swim. It’s good exercise too.
It’s an idea that, while old, is catching on again. The Nauicraft Corporation, another pedal boat maker – whose Escapade model made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for completing a crossing of the English Chanel – even offers a four person version, as well as one in which the pedalling charges an electric battery, allowing for a rest should one need it.