Hear the name Carlo Riva and it’s hard not to conjure-up images of a mirror-varnished Riva Aquarama, with a young Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Loren lounging on the back, soaking-up the St. Tropez sun. While the legendary Italian boat builder will always be indelibly linked to the oh-so-sexy Aquarama, it’s a much grander yacht from Riva’s drawing board that, for the past 40 years, has been spinning the heads of yachting aficionados as fast as any Aquarama.
Back in the late ’70s, Riva, working with the Italian yard CRN, designed a 100-foot mini-superyacht he called Vespucci. Launched in 1978, he loved the boat so much he kept her for himself, using it for long family vacations and as a floating billboard for the Riva brand.
What set this sleek, white-hulled beauty apart was the striking design of its pilothouse. Those dramatic, green-tinted, reverse-angle windows—said to have been inspired by Riva’s futuristic office at the original Riva yard on Lake Iseo in northern Italy—were unique to Vespucci. And they were never again replicated by the designer.
Like the pilothouse, the slender displacement hull was also a work of art. From that soaring bow with its wave-deflecting scalloped sections, to the elegant transom, to those long, racy exterior side exhausts, the shape screamed performance.
Yet despite her sleek lines, Vespucci was never intended to be a go-fast boat. Powered by twin, low-revving 435 hp Caterpillar diesels, her top speed was a stately 12.5 knots, with an economical 10-knot cruise.
We don’t know for sure how long Carlo Riva kept Vespucci before selling—it’s thought three or four years. She went on to change hands a couple more times before coming on the market again in 2016. That’s when passionate Riva enthusiast and real estate investor Philippe Gillion and his wife, Miene, stepped in. They were on the hunt for a classic-looking yacht and came across the very run-down Vespucci.
Knowing the yacht needed more than a quick makeover, they committed to an exhaustive and hugely expensive, 18-month restoration with refit specialists Monaco Marine, at the company’s Antibes yard on France’s Cote d’Azur.
Vespucci’s Captain Benjamin Calzaroni said that Philippe Gillion had first fallen in love with Vespucci as a wide-eyed 10-year-old. Visiting Monaco Boat Service, a Riva agent, with his Aquarama-owning father in 1978, Philippe gazed longingly at a scale display model of the newly launched motoryacht in the showroom window.
“He never forgot Vespucci and here was the opportunity to own her,” Calzaroni told Robb Report. “Initially, the owner had many ideas to change the boat. But he quickly decided it was important to preserve the spirit of Carlo Riva and his design.”
The restoration included plenty of fundamental improvements, like re-plating considerable portions of Vespucci’s steel hull, replacing almost 900 feet of corroded steel pipes and miles of wiring, adding new teak decks, and rebuilding the aging Caterpillar engines.
Below decks, the Gillions’s priority was preserving as much of the Carlo Riva-designed furniture as possible. Workers spent endless hours removing and then restoring all those hull-side portholes, revarnishing the elegant woodwork, and rebuilding the delicate Riva-designed lights and switches. The operative word was restoration rather than replacement.
One of the biggest upgrades was a reconfiguration of the flybridge to offer more outdoor seating. Expandable tables were designed to provide additional dining options.
The beautiful flybridge helm, with its original spoked, stainless-steel wheel, and simple gauges set beneath a stainless, porthole-style cover, look the same as when Carlo Riva took delivery of the yacht.
The refit also included new electronics and navigation gear, plus a repaint in that brilliant white, with Riva’s original color scheme of bright red bottom-paint with an aquamarine waterline stripe. “Today she is just a wonderful yacht to cruise aboard,” says Calzaroni. “She is very stable, comfortable at sea, and extremely well-built. Bad weather is not a problem for her.”
Since her completion in 2018, Vespucci has split her time between cruising the Med with the Gillion family aboard, and being a busy charter yacht, with space for up to 10 guests in four staterooms. “She is a true piece of history. Everywhere she goes, people are taking pictures, stopping to take a look, wanting to know about her,” says Calzaroni. “There are plenty of classic yachts around, but Vespucci is truly unique.”
Vespucci is available for charter through Northrop & Johnson.