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Italian Job

Oggetto rif.:  
Titolo: Italian Job
Magazine: Classic Boat
Numero: 388
Anno: 2020
Allegato (pdf/doc): copertina CB-20201113-164451.jpg
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The ketch Sahib, built on the Ligurian coast by the boatbuildingSangermani brothers Cesare and Piero, comes from a boatyard very close to theheart of Italian sailors, Sangermani, but before you can even understand theyard, you need to consider the era that her build was set in. This was Italy inthe 1950s, undergoing an economic and cultural transformation so profound thatit has since been referred to as a miracle. Today, we often refer to thatperiod as the ‘dolce vita’ (sweet life) years, forgetting just what a changeItaly underwent in the 50s and 60s.

Really, this is the era that invented modern Italy, establishing thestyles, objects and ideas that are so well known to the world today: state TVwas launched, and Italian cinema, with directors like Federico Fellino andVittorio De Sica and stars like Sophia Loren, was in its heyday. It was adecade that started with the country’s first ever international fashion show(in 1951), today seen as genesis for the country’s ascendency to world fashionleaders. The country’s cuisine, thanks to likes of Elizabeth David, wasbecoming known internationally.

In 1952, a little-known car maker called Ferrari won the Formula OneChampionship with Alberto Ascari at the wheel. They would go on to win more inmore in F1 than any other marque that decade, launching the prancing horse intolegend. This was the decade that saw the rise of the Vespa and Lambretta andthe introduction of the FIAT 500, and while Ferrucio Lamborghini was stillbuilding tractors for the time being, the boating side was similarly catchingup with the 20th century at great speed: Carlo Riva had just hit his stridebuilding what would become the most famous motorboats ever built, on Lake Iseo. If the 20th century was an American invention,it must have seemed that Italy at least owned that decade.



Caught up in this two-decade long explosion ofcreativity and commerce were two boatbuilding brothers of Liguria – Cesare andPiero Sangermani.

Given the preoccupation most of the modern worldhas with Italian style, it seems anomalous that the yard of Sangermani is notbetter known outside of Italy, where a Sangermani yacht has the reassuring sealof good taste. The Sangermani story, for those unfamiliar, began around the endof the 19th century on the Ligurian coast (records were lost during the war),under Ettore Sangermani who built a boat for each of his sons Cesare(1896-1976) and Piero (1909-1986). By the time war broke out, the two brotherswere already successful boatbuilders. One boat of historical interest from thattime, commissioned by the Archbishop of Genoa, was Solaro 1 a c40m,(130ft) motor vessel designed, and used, to transport a large group of Jewishsettlers to their future home, the new state of Israel that would be founded in1948. Interesting, but atypical, because it was yachts that the brothers wouldreturn to building after the war, and the yard, like much of the rest of Italyas we’ve established, really hit its stride in the 1950s and 1960s, with commissionsfor several RORC Class 3 yachts among others.



It was during this period that the name ofSangermani gained an international reputation, and built boats to plans fromthe greatest naval architects of the day: S&S, Laurent Giles, Illingworthand Primose, Philip Rhodes, German Frers and more. Most, however, were designedin house, including the race winners Mania (1969) and the even betterknown Gitana IV of 1962, a giant 91ft (27.6m) yawl built for BaronEdmond Rothschild. She took line honours in the 1965 Fastnet, shattering theprevious race record by 11 hours. The smaller Dick Carter-designed Rabbit mayhave won on handicap and been crowned the winner that year, but the 3 days, 9hours and 40 minutes that Gitana took to cover the 608- mile course wasa record so singular that it would stand for an amazing 19 years.

Sahib was built in1956 and launched in 1957. As a similar large bermudan-rigged yacht (albeit aketch rather than Gitana IV’s yawl configuration), she was thesecond biggest boat built by the yard up until then, and can only reasonably beseen as the forerunner to Gitana IV, albeit with the emphasis more oncruising than racing. She was commissioned by Guido and Silvio Pellerano, as a73ft Class One cuiser-racer and was later owned by Amalia ‘Maly’ Levi Da ZaraFalck, wife of Giovanni Falck, second son of the founder of the huge Italiansteel makers.



We don’t hear of too many Sangermani yachtrestorations: of the 225 or more vessels built by the three generations of thefamily over the course of a century, those that still survive are generally inlong, stable, family ownership chains. The Sangermani name is a strong one inItaly, and the yellow coveline ending in a diminishing ellipsis, meaning ‘S’for Sangermani in Morse code, is a symbol of refi ned taste and good quality.In 2015, however, Sahib’s fi rst heyday had ended ignominiously, and shewas deserted in a distressed state at the port of Agropoli, south of Naples.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, during Sahib’sslow tumble into dereliction, the Milanese architect and interior designerStefano Perani was quietly nursing a two-decade itch to own a classic yacht.Now 70, he had started sailing at 18, buying his fi rst boat at 22 and racingcompetitively for years in a number of classes; but in 2015 had been ‘betweenboats’ for 35 years.

“After fi ve years in the sun, he was able to pickup Sahib for the price of a nice car” relates son Giovanni, who was veryinvolved with the project and, with his good English, acted as interpreter forhis father. “At the yard, we opened the boat up and X-rayed the bottom part. Wefound everything was wrong.”

One of the hardest decisions in the project cameearly – whether to keep the original interior or change it. They chose thelatter course, altering it to two double cabins and a twin. Externally, theyacht had lost its original appearance when it had been altered by a previousowner, who had added a second cabin at the stern. The decision to remove that,returning the boat to its original appearance, was a much easier one to make,as was the aesthetically-driven choice to remove the guardrail.



The yard that carried out the restoration work, AnticoCantiere del Legno Aprea, has an even older history than Sangermani,founded as it was in 1760. On our recent visit three (July issue), Sahib hadjust left.

The work to the fabric of the boat represented afairly monumental task, taking the yard five years of intermittent work: thehull required a new forefoot and sternpost (in laminated iroko); butting andclosure of some new planks at the forefoot and stem, although much of themahogany planking is still original; new apron, keelson, battens and stringers;new stainless steel fl oors to replace the mild steel originals, so often arecipe for future degradation; new mast steps and steel beam keelson;restoration of all hull scuppers; and quite a few other jobs, as well as a lotof refastening work in copper rivets.

The deck had not fared as well as the hull overthe years. Pretty much the entire lid and associated timbers had to be renewed,a gargantuan task on a 70-footer.

These included all new beams and carlins, mastpartners, the entire cabin trunk, beamshelf, covering board, sheerstrake andgunwale. The cockpit seats, similarly, had to be built anew, to the originaldrawings, and the skylights restored. For the deck itself, teak planks werelaid in the classic swept pattern on plywood.

The engine, a six-cylinder IVECO diesel from 2003,giving 140kW (190hp), was completely rebuilt and reinstalled. Sahib, andlater Gitana IV, are thoroughbred sailing yachts, but having nearly 6hpto every tonne of displacement gives her the power to make good way ahead, evenin bad conditions.

In terms of deck fi ttings, the original wincheswere overhauled, chrome-plated and polished, and many of the stainless steel fittings were refabricated. The masts were distmantled, restored and given 15coats of varnish.

Given that the deck gear is mostly original orcast anew to the original patterns, it seems not over the top for the yard tohave made by hand many of the larger, authentic raised-head and slotted screwsand bolts, as they are nowadays hard to source elsewhere; the appearance ofscrew and bolt heads is a crucial detail.

The technical side of the restoration was handledby Elmar Global Service who, with Raymarine, were charged with installing thestate-of-the-art systems.

These include a Schenker 100-litre desalinator,Fischer Panda 15kW generator, Miele galley equipment, Mastervolt rechargingsystems, Climma air-conditioning and more, much of it controlled invisibly froman iPad.



The interior of Sahib has turned out to bewhat sets it apart from so many other yachts. “My mother is an artist and designer,so if the boat was going to be like jewellery outside, then it must be so onthe inside as well,” said Giovanni. The fabric theme was inspired by a familytrip to Peru, and throughout the boat, the feeling is one of deep opulence thatnever strays into ostentation. The jewel in the crown is perhaps the galley,designed, along with the wardroom and master cabin, by Stefano Faggioni (p40). Forsome years now, yacht restorers of this post-war era have been welcoming backthe long-derided Formica into the yacht galleys that would once have had it.The material, invented in 1912, would come to coat nearly every interiorsurface in the world, from American car interiors of the 1930s to the interiorof QE2, where 2 million feet of the stuff cover nearly every surface, includingthe first-class cabins, to the English greasy spoons of the 50s, 60s and 70s.It is period correct for many post-war yachts, and is the main design elementof the galley, where it is accented by dark mahogany.

“Actually, my mother gets seasick and begged myfather not to buy the boat!” remembers Giovanni. “But as an architect, he sawthis as a real-estate project. I remember him flying from Milan to Naples everymonth to viewthe progress. I was quite involved with him this point and went with him a fewtimes. Neapolitans are really warm – it was lovely to go down there in Decemberor January, when the weather in Milan was windy and rainy.”

Giovanni Caputo, in charge of the restoration, sums up Sahib’sjourney back to glory emotively: “Wooden boats have a soul, whatever that is;in any case, we like to believe that it is so. In Sahib, we have found asoul that is strong, yet gentle. A restoration is a sort of act of love. Whiledismantling the decks, we were fascinated by the construction techniques of thearchitect, Cesare Sangermani Sr, as well as the workers at that yard...sometimes it was like catching a glimpse in the form of a hologram, of thesloping pencil strokes of the drawings.”

On 4 July 2019, Sahib was relaunched, and she has since provedto be the perfect island hopper for the Peranis, who have sailed her out ofNaples to Capri, Istria and Ositana. “She’s easy to sail” says Giovanni, who byhis own admission is more of a pilot than a sailor. “Everything is manual onthe boat. You feel everything, unlike on other, modern boats, where you feelnothing. Sailing her after restoration was a dream.”

As is so often the case, Stefano has already put Sahib up forsale, having found a historic Swiss chalet to restore as the next project. Fornow, he and the family are busy enjoying the ketch as often as they can, and inthe future, no doubt this survivor from the dolce vita years will have notrouble attracting new owners saviours.


The author would like to thank Iain McAllister of Sandeman YachtCompany and Mario Marzari’s book The Yachts of Sangermani in researchingSangermani and Sahib, and Tim Langmead of Camper & Nicholsons for theintroduction.

Sam Hamilton

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