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Made in Lake

The modern historic boatyard

Photography by Raffaele Grosso

With the hands of an artisan and the mind of an entrepreneur, Daniele Riva tells the story of his company with the eagerness of a boy who loves the water, wood, and boats. His vision is however as modern as the needs of Lake Como itself. After eight generations of boat builders, Daniele embodies the inexhaustible spirit of one who loves his work and is constantly striving for improvement. The Cantiere Ernesto Riva boatyard, which today has two locations, its historic base in Laglio and, since 2008, its centre of operations in Maslianico, can trace its origins to 1771, “or perhaps a little further back, but I hesitate to go beyond the Council of Trent” laughs Daniele, and has been all that time creating bespoke luxury boats of great beauty and high performance. "With a dozen or so employees we could be described as a small craft business, but the great strength of our size is seen in our capacity to provide perfect, elegant boats that are respectful of our heritage. Just as my father Ernesto taught me”.

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It is no coincidence that E-Commuter, the first zero-emissions motorboat on Lake Como, and in all Italy, premiered in Laglio in 2017 and was the prototype for a whole series of other electric boats that bear its name. Daniele, now head of the family business, owes much of his knowledge and expertise to Ernesto Riva. “I have always been making boats, ever since I was a boy I used to sit on the dock with string and blades of oars, and invent stories. I would pinch leftover bits from production and modified sailboats and rowing boats with my friends, some of who whom are still essential parts of today’s team. I built my first boat with my father at the age of 17, and have not stopped since. I have to thank him so much for not having succumbed to the lure of fibreglass, and for teaching me to keep loyal to wood”. Wood is never the easy choice, it is often hard work to use, but it yields the greatest satisfaction, satisfying every desire for experimentation. With Ernesto, for example, a perfect balance has been achieved between innovation and old school. The motor is electric and its new concept hull fairing is a unique and virtuous example of the use of wood, both in terms of the manufacturing process’s minimal impact on the environment and in its reduced creation of waves when underway. It is no coincidence that behind the scenes of the E-Commuter at the Ernesto Riva Shipyard is the nautical ‘starchitect’ Germán Mani Frers, whose signature vessels include the Moro di Venezia and the Luna Rossa. His talent has made an essential contribution to the success of the project.

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This area of experimentation has become the mission of the yard's recent work, with an agreement having been signed with Ecovolta, a major Swiss manufacturer of battery packs and the technologies behind electric mobility. Other models will be following shortly, including full electric ‘steamers’, ideal for exclusive, silent and beautiful journeys on the lake, much appreciated by Lake Como’s resorts. “Over the years I have had the good fortune to meet many important, influential, as well as demanding, people, from Hollywood stars to financial gurus, all of whom have relaxed when coming to our boat building yard and experiencing the scent and shine of the wood. They have hence been happy to leave the work in our hands, trusting in us and letting themselves be guided by our processes of creation and restoration work”. Some of the work has of course been mechanised, and new technologies mean that plans can be drawn up that are tailored to the needs of man and the environment, while it is the expert hand that still files, turns and polishes to make a final product that truly stands out, both in the detail and in its entirety.

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In the large spaces of Maslianico, the works alternate all year round between the building of new boats and the restoration of motor boats and sailing boats of great historic value. These latter have included the Riva di Sarnico motorboats, and the traditional and practically unique 12’ sail Dinghy, a kind of ‘deriva’ with 110 years of history that skims quickly over the water with a structure that renders it practically unsinkable, as well as the Lucia, "which derives its name from the literature of Manzoni, where its real name is ‘battella’, a rowing boat for fishermen, with distinguishing arcs for the mounting of canvasses to keep the sun off, or as makeshift overnight tenting”. Among the historic pieces restored in the new millennium at Cantiere Ernesto Riva, that of the Velarca stands out, a famous boat-house donated by the Norsa family to the FAI, the national heritage association, now moored in Ossuccio, opposite the Comacina Island.

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We are in a fortunate place, all you need to do in Como is establish as noble circle between all those who live there and those who visit, to achieve quite extraordinary results.

“First we completely rebuilt the hull and then the living quarters, and the whole thing was incredible in terms both of its extent and its precision”, explains Daniele. Yet this circle of history, exceptionality and modernity, inevitably looking outwards to the international markets, with interest also coming from the Principality of Monaco, where Daniele and Ernesto received a special award for the development of sustainable boating, is completed in Laglio, at the Sciostra, the ‘warehouse’ in the lakeside dialect, a historic site now transformed into the E-Concept, a meeting room and boating research facility, “for the odd loopy ones, like us, who take on visionary projects”. The Cantiere Ernesto Riva boatyard is jewel of artisan workmanship, bonded to the local area but with a technological and far-sighted vision of tomorrow’s world. “I am the father of two children and the uncle of six nephews and nieces, and I would like some of them to carry our tradition on, with the same true passion that I had myself. We are in a fortunate place, all you need to do in Como is establish as noble circle between all those who live there and those who visit, to achieve quite extraordinary results. We have started down this road, thanks also thanks the Lombardy Region and the CNA who backed us for the E-Commuter”. Naturalness, beauty, and ingenuity are the character traits in the soul of these boats, which are unique, just like “the sound of wood that meeting water”.