It has long been a desire of mine to write about my love of classic boats and their maintenance and renovation. When I started CBV in late summer in 2018, my enthusiasm for beautiful boats found a platform where I could share the beauty of such vintage boats with others. The idea was to offer special one-of-a-kind boats from different shipyards for tours around the Venetian lagoon. Many people thought I was crazy, and I still don’t know if they were right? The effort to renovate such boats and to meet all the requirements for commercial use is enormous. Just imagine that you wanted to start a taxi business with five vintage cars, and you do it in Germany. They would probably fail somewhere due to safety regulations, exhaust emission values or economic facts. Well, unlike cars, with a few exceptions, like RIVA or Chris Craft, the prices of classic boats have not yet risen as much as some vehicles. Finding our boats took me several years. It is by no means the case that just because old, all historic boats were beautiful. The selection of remarkable boats is surprisingly small, partly because there were not so many leisure boats in the past, and partly because wooden boats without care become rotten after a certain time and decay standing on the land. The nice thing, however, is that wooden boats can live to be as old as you like if they are well looked after, and wood can always be repaired if the basic structure is sound.
In 2018, another crazy vintage fan introduced me to Mathias Lühmann, master boat builder who had built his masterpiece, a Venetian gondola, in Venice and then got stuck in Venice. He and his expertise are still a great help to me today.
Despite careful selection of our boats, I had to learn that the financial effort to bring the boats into the condition I wanted for our customers required on average three times the purchase value. I am convinced that it still pays off, but as you can imagine, with seven boats this was and still is a huge effort.
The good thing about our concept is that today we are the only providers in Venice who offer such a range. There is one friend of ours in Italy where you can rent some beautiful old RIVA boats on Lake Como from Erio Matteri, www.matteri.it.
In addition to the renovation costs, there is also the annual maintenance, whereby the “varnish”, i.e., the multiple layers of varnish applied to the wooden surface, is the most time-consuming work step. Just to give you an overview of the effort, we have had in the last 24 months.
JANDONA built from 1968, in winter 2021/22 had a new teak deck put on and the renewal of some rotten deck superstructures which were made in the shipyard Vizianello. The next winter, the upper window frames and a new hull paint job were all re-done.
Lady Betty, our oldest boat from 1894, got some repairs on the deck and all wooden parts were repainted at the shipyard Vidal in Certosa.
Our RIVA Super Florida „Chiara“, built in 1958, owned by our partner, was taken to Matteri on Lago di Como in autumn 2022 to be completely renovated. During the work, Erio Matteri discovered that some material had rotted between the individual layers of wood and then the decision had to be made: All new? Whew! Okay, yes.
The result was incredible. Five months of work in many individual steps. The boat was stripped down to the frames and 70% of the wood was replaced with matching new wood. This sounds easy at first, but you must imagine that the grain of the wood must match and that today mahogany wood is very hard to get from stock. On the weekend of 6th of June, the time had finally come for us and our partner to take delivery of the boat at Lago di Como in mint condition and test it extensively. Admittedly, there have been worse days of work and at the end of the day we were all happy and stowed CHIARA on her new trailer.
In 2022 we decided to buy Nobody’s Perfect. She is a 17 m long old Lobster boat, built in 1980, from the French Atlantic coast. The special thing about her is her deck, which is low above the water level and runs continuously from front to back without any changes in height. The previous owner had installed a large table for 12 people and a stainless-steel kitchen on deck.
An ingenious combination that combines enjoyable time on the water with cooking and eating. Unfortunately, at the end of the season 2022, a “closer look” revealed many weak points on the hull, which were tackled by the shipyard Casaril in Venice during the winter. It turned out that, apart from the stern end, the wood was in good shape, but the nails with which the oak planks were nailed to the frames were largely rusted. This, together with poor sealing with wrongly used „plastic“plank edges, led to water inside and had to be repaired.
Now we had the right man in the Casaril shipyard. He is probably the only shipyard in the Venetian lagoon that knows how to bend 4.5 cm oak planks so that they stay in shape. Approximately 3,500 stainless steel screws later, all the planks are now screwed back to the hull as they should be, and now the final work of caulking is being carried out. This involves pressing hemp threads into the gaps in the planks and then filling them with warm pitch! This old method allows the wood to “work”, that is, to expand and contract, depending on what is at hand.
The reader will have noticed how different these works are. One cannot compare the work of a shipyard Matteri, and with the work of Casaril. Both are masters of their craft and could not even begin to match the work of the other. But this difference is also the brand essence of our company, CBV. We want to bring the beauty of old boats closer to the enthusiasts and those guests who will go on board them. What you don’t see are the many hours it takes to build or renovate such boats. It is the craft as such that is preserved and promoted here at a high level. There is hardly any other area that I know of where the depth of craftsmanship is so great. I hope that this short “excursion” into boat building and the history of our boats will give you an understanding of the effort that is necessary to offer these activities. We will be happy to tell anyone interested more about the individual boats and the work described, preferably directly from our Master Boat Builder, Mathias Lühmann.
Written by Carl Georg Zwerenz