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Italian Job

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

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

In 1952, a little-known car maker called Ferrari won the Formula One Championship with Alberto Ascari at the wheel. They would go on to win more in more in F1 than any other marque that decade, launching the prancing horse into legend. This was the decade that saw the rise of the Vespa and Lambretta and the introduction of the FIAT 500, and while Ferrucio Lamborghini was still building tractors for the time being, the boating side was similarly catching up with the 20th century at great speed: Carlo Riva had just hit his stride building 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 of creativity and commerce were two boatbuilding brothers of Liguria – Cesare and Piero Sangermani.

Given the preoccupation most of the modern world has with Italian style, it seems anomalous that the yard of Sangermani is not better known outside of Italy, where a Sangermani yacht has the reassuring seal of good taste. The Sangermani story, for those unfamiliar, began around the end of 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 brothers were already successful boatbuilders. One boat of historical interest from that time, commissioned by the Archbishop of Genoa, was Solaro 1 a c40m, (130ft) motor vessel designed, and used, to transport a large group of Jewish settlers to their future home, the new state of Israel that would be founded in 1948. Interesting, but atypical, because it was yachts that the brothers would return to building after the war, and the yard, like much of the rest of Italy as we’ve established, really hit its stride in the 1950s and 1960s, with commissions for several RORC Class 3 yachts among others.



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

Sahib was built in 1956 and launched in 1957. As a similar large bermudan-rigged yacht (albeit a ketch rather than Gitana IV’s yawl configuration), she was the second biggest boat built by the yard up until then, and can only reasonably be seen as the forerunner to Gitana IV, albeit with the emphasis more on cruising than racing. She was commissioned by Guido and Silvio Pellerano, as a 73ft Class One cuiser-racer and was later owned by Amalia ‘Maly’ Levi Da Zara Falck, wife of Giovanni Falck, second son of the founder of the huge Italian steel makers.



We don’t hear of too many Sangermani yacht restorations: of the 225 or more vessels built by the three generations of the family over the course of a century, those that still survive are generally in long, stable, family ownership chains. The Sangermani name is a strong one in Italy, 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 she was deserted in a distressed state at the port of Agropoli, south of Naples.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, during Sahib’s slow tumble into dereliction, the Milanese architect and interior designer Stefano 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 racing competitively for years in a number of classes; but in 2015 had been ‘between boats’ for 35 years.

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

One of the hardest decisions in the project came early – whether to keep the original interior or change it. They chose the latter course, altering it to two double cabins and a twin. Externally, the yacht had lost its original appearance when it had been altered by a previous owner, 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, Antico Cantiere del Legno Aprea, has an even older history than Sangermani, founded as it was in 1760. On our recent visit three (July issue), Sahib had just left.

The work to the fabric of the boat represented a fairly monumental task, taking the yard five years of intermittent work: the hull required a new forefoot and sternpost (in laminated iroko); butting and closure of some new planks at the forefoot and stem, although much of the mahogany planking is still original; new apron, keelson, battens and stringers; new stainless steel fl oors to replace the mild steel originals, so often a recipe 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 lot of refastening work in copper rivets.

The deck had not fared as well as the hull over the 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, mast partners, the entire cabin trunk, beamshelf, covering board, sheerstrake and gunwale. The cockpit seats, similarly, had to be built anew, to the original drawings, and the skylights restored. For the deck itself, teak planks were laid 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, and later Gitana IV, are thoroughbred sailing yachts, but having nearly 6hp to every tonne of displacement gives her the power to make good way ahead, even in bad conditions.

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

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

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

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



The interior of Sahib has turned out to be what 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 on the inside as well,” said Giovanni. The fabric theme was inspired by a family trip to Peru, and throughout the boat, the feeling is one of deep opulence that never strays into ostentation. The jewel in the crown is perhaps the galley, designed, along with the wardroom and master cabin, by Stefano Faggioni (p40). For some years now, yacht restorers of this post-war era have been welcoming back the long-derided Formica into the yacht galleys that would once have had it. The material, invented in 1912, would come to coat nearly every interior surface in the world, from American car interiors of the 1930s to the interior of QE2, where 2 million feet of the stuff cover nearly every surface, including the 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 element of the galley, where it is accented by dark mahogany.

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

Giovanni Caputo, in charge of the restoration, sums up Sahib’s journey 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 a soul that is strong, yet gentle. A restoration is a sort of act of love. While dismantling the decks, we were fascinated by the construction techniques of the architect, 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 the sloping pencil strokes of the drawings.”

On 4 July 2019, Sahib was relaunched, and she has since proved to be the perfect island hopper for the Peranis, who have sailed her out of Naples to Capri, Istria and Ositana. “She’s easy to sail” says Giovanni, who by his own admission is more of a pilot than a sailor. “Everything is manual on the boat. You feel everything, unlike on other, modern boats, where you feel nothing. Sailing her after restoration was a dream.”

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


The author would like to thank Iain McAllister of Sandeman Yacht Company and Mario Marzari’s book The Yachts of Sangermani in researching Sangermani and Sahib, and Tim Langmead of Camper & Nicholsons for the introduction.

Sam Hamilton

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