There are, in history, icons that ascend to the level of myth, and a small Pantheon is also reserved for yachting, where undoubtedly the rainbow crown is reserved for the jewel of Lake Iseo: the Riva Aquarama.
Riva Super Aquarama, the winner of the London-Monte Carlo regatta
Rarely, however, does it happen that the myth, the icon, beats itself. And there is no doubt that this is one of those cases, because when a Super Aquarama won the London-Montecarlo, that is exactly what happened.
It was the 1970s and the challenge featured in this story was unprecedented: the London to Monte Carlo, a 14-stage speed race. Cowes, Brest, La Rochelle, Bilbao, La Coruna, Oporto, Cascais, Portimao, Marbella, Almeria, La Grande Motte. And finally the Principality, Monte Carlo. A total of 2650 nautical miles between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, miles fought over by major engines, racing hulls.
And then a small production Riva Super Aquarama, number 427, welcomed by the British press with the fateful phrase: “You won’t get to see the sea, the Thames is already too long for you.” A sentence that history will prove immensely wrong.
Riva Super Aquarama – From the Dolce Vita to Motor Sport
Riva, needless to say, is the shipyard of class and luxury par excellence. Riva is the icon of the Dolce Vita, the ‘Rolls Royce of the seas’. the unparalleled symbol of an era and the quality of Italian-made products. But it has never been part of motorsport, or synonymous with racing hulls, racing boats. And certainly few, if any, could have imagined the outcome of this race.
Even just scrolling through the list of entries, the average length of the hulls was between 30 and 40 feet. While the engines exceeded 700hp, up to the 1000hp of the favourite, favourite indeed: Tim Powell’s Bertram 33. And then our little Super Aquarama, just 8.28 metres long, and powered, as standard, by two inboards of 320 hp each. And yet, the Riva dealer in Monte Carlo (the one who had decided to participate), had seen it through, and with just a few modifications made the Jewel of the Lake into a boat worthy of the podium.
For the occasion, in fact, as well as clearing away all the superfluous, the keel was first of all reinforced, as were the bulwarks, stiffened by panels of marine plywood. Flaps were installed on the hull to improve trim in rough seas, which were also excellent for improving the overall trim, which had changed due to the change in power-to-weight ratios.
Tanks and engines were also subject to upgrades. First of all, the two engines were upgraded to 350 hp, for a total of 700 hp, and then the tanks were increased to 1,050 litres. Lastly, a whole series of small expedients, such as the creation of a small aft wheelhouse, or the translation in height of the tanks, in order to have better access to the propeller shafts in the event of breakdowns. And then the race, the centrepiece of this story.
Riva Super Aquarama – The London-Monte Carlo race
On10 Ju ne 1972, the Thames is enveloped in thick fog, a typical feature of the British capital. But the race starts anyway, with reduced visibility.
The Thames and the English Channel thus claim their first victims, thanks to the poor visibility, the currents and the long wave that inexorably batters the jagged cliffs. Halfway through, the fleet will in fact already be halved. Among the unfortunate ones was the highly favoured Tim Powell, while the Super Aquarama continued undaunted, always finishing on the podium, stage after stage.
Having passed the halfway mark, the Zoom boys (name of the little Riva), to everyone’s surprise, continue their charge at over 100 kph, the only non-English crew still in the race.
With the Portimao – Marbella stage, the Strait of Gibraltar is finally left behind. But the clemency of the Mediterranean leaves something to be desired, so much so that the crews will regret the ocean as soon as they enter a Mediterranean whipped by the Mistral. And then there were all the little dangers of our sea, including unmarked tuna traps, which are extremely risky if hit at 50 knots… But the Super Aquarama held out, and the engineer Carlo Riva also arrived in Marbella, and with him two new tanks to replace the ones on board, damaged by pitching and bad weather.
The succession of podiums culminates in Barcelona, where the Super Aquarama gains the highest step, despite the 226 miles of force 4 sea from S/W.
Riva Super Aquarama – The Monegasque Victory
The next leg also proves to be a victory for the Monegasque boat. This leaves only the final gangway, the leg between La Grand Motte and Monte Carlo: 117 miles where, however, the Mediterranean continues to be inclement, causing the first real breakdown. A tank detaches cleanly, severing the fuel hoses and tearing part of the electrical system, with attendant short circuits. The Zoom basically becomes a bomb ready to explode. A makeshift repair allowed it to continue in near-safety, still earning a third place on the Monaco podium.
Overall, a second place overall, and a first in class. A small Italian miracle (in Monegasque collaboration) that will go on to earn the rainbow crown and the icon of myth. It will be Prince Albert and Princess Grace Kelly who will hand over the trophies, engraving the name Riva Super Aquarama in history, once again… with probably a good deal of resentment from the English…
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