Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Italian Boat Design Shines on The "High Blue Sea"

It's clear that great boat design knows no boundaries in terms of time or location. Some of the first stepped-hull designs are almost 100 years old, and many of the most innovative design ideas have come from overseas. Such is the case with Renato "Sonny" Levi, who's expressive and effective boat designs are showcased on a very interesting Italian website, Altomareblu - which translates to "High Blue Sea." The site, which is written in Italian, can be fairly well understood in translation; simply click the appropriate language flag, which you'll see in the right-hand column when you visit the webpage. The site is loaded with fascinating historical and technical information that any lover of fast boats will be sure to appreciate.

Born in Karachi in September, 1926, Levi is known throughout the world for his sleek and risk-taking designs. Trained as an aeronautical engineer, he became projects manager in the AFCO yard of his father, who was producing different types of pleasure, sailing and motorboats. The decisive turning point in his career was in 1961 with his transfer to Italy and the Navaltecnica yard of Anzio, where he built the legendary "A Speranziella" which he led personally to victory in the Cowes-Torquay race in 1963. In 1965, Levi became independent and began work as a freelancer and consultant for a large number of manufacturers around the world. In this role he designed a number of racing boats and pleasure craft -- working in wood, iron, aluminum, fiberglass, rubber and even stainless steel.

In addition to Levi himself, the website has a number of other valuable contributors, such as Antonio Soccol and many others, all of whom share interesting stories and insights into past and present examples of Italian boat design. Also covered are the work of other boat designers and racers, with Dick Bertram being just one example. In typical Italian style, a Soccol recollection of the American offshore scene of the mid-60's makes it clear he is quite taken with the mother-daughter racing team of Rene and Gale Jacoby:
"Those compliments on the two American pilots: they create "moral and material damage" with my journalistic collaborations; with well more than a hundred titles written, the memory, sometimes--often goes haywire. However, I am sure that what I had written 43 years ago, was true: Rene and Gale were truly American -- 'cheerful and rather reckless.' And the fact that they were mother and daughter increased their charm."
Some of the stories have appeared in print publications (like "Nautica" - above) and it's fun to note that some include a reference to the subjects "tipping a few" and sharing good times together; many are very personal and engaging, even though they are not always easy to sort out in translation. Don't worry --you'll get the gist of it.

Even if you have a tough time wading through the language translation - the real treasure here are the number of vintage photos you will find. The designs--including boats like "Dart" , the well-known quad-engine "Barbarina" and others. An in-depth study of the designs reveals that although many of the fast boats are very attractive and sexy-looking (what else would you expect from the Italians) the hulls are based on very sound hydrodynamic principles. For example, there is a very nice analysis of "The Ventilation of Planing Hulls" here. You'll also find some neat restoration projects, including this sharp Levi-designed "Mini-Dragon" featured here.

PHOTO CREDITS: All photos in this article, courtesy of

As I noted before, the translations - which are done automatically by Google - sometimes leave a lot to be desired. But the information and entertaining insights you'll find on Altemareblu are definitely well-worth the effort. Be sure to take some time and check it out. Note: All the links I've included run the site through the Google translation system, including the homepage, HERE.

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