Reinvention, Rivolta-style

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Yacht builder diversifies into small boats with panga-style skiffs starting at $10,900

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Golf communities, sports cars, sailing yachts, waterjet-powered express cruisers - and now skiffs. The Rivolta Group has done whatever it has taken to keep its business humming along for more than 30 years.

Piero Rivolta and his son, Renzo, have launched a fleet of panga-style center consoles under the Mojito Boats name that range from 16 to 22 feet (with plans for a 28-footer). And that's just part of their expansion plan.

The father-and-son team intend to use the company's 45-foot motoryacht hull to build commercial workboats - police, fire, rescue, towing or whatever the application calls for. It's called the "XO" line, and it will include commercial renditions of the Mojito pangas. On the sailboat side, the group has begun building a fast, shallow-draft 43-footer that naval architect Robert Stephens designed.

The Rivolta Group, based in Sarasota, Fla., is an example of a company diversifying its product line to meet the challenges of today's marine market. "We have to reinvent ourselves," says Piero, 69. "We've invested a lot of money in this business, so we try to use what we have - the tools, the boats and the experience."

Piero has built boats and cars, developed residential communities and office towers, and written two books of poetry and two novels (www.rivolta.com). He has passed on his passion to design and innovate to his son. With a master's degree in architecture, Renzo, 38, has designed the Rivolta Group's commercial buildings, including a 15-story condominium complex. He also has designed the interiors and styling of the company's cruising powerboats and designed the Mojitos from the keel up. Piero, a sailor at heart, is overseeing the production of the sailboat, the Rivolta 43 Vintage. The boat will have an all-wood deck and a resin-infused cored hull.

However, the Rivolta Group's priority - for now, at least - is the Mojito fleet. The 16-, 18-, and 22-footer are in production. The group held a press event in mid-August on Sarasota Bay to introduce the boats and Soundings Trade Only was on hand to inspect and sea-trial them.

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"We've always tried to build functional, unique and beautiful boats," says Renzo. "When we decided to go into the small-craft category, we already knew of the panga hull - how seaworthy they are, how efficient they are and how unique they are. They do stand out in comparison to all the other smaller boats on the market, with the high, rising bow."

The Mojito strays from the traditional panga design, which is narrower and has less freeboard. "We gave the panga boats a little Rivolta twist with our styling and we gave it a little more beam, a little more height to make the boat appeal to our customers in our waters," Renzo says. "But we maintained the functionality and seaworthiness and efficiency that the panga is renowned for."

The company's 16- and 18-footer are bare-bones, rolled-gunwale boats. The Mojito 18C has an aft poling platform that doubles as a stern/helm seat, a small helm console on centerline just forward of this seat and a raised foredeck platform. Standard power is a 70-hp Suzuki. A tiller-steered 25-hp Suzuki powers the Mojito 16 and the driver sits on a cushion-topped cooler. Both the 16 and 18 have non-skid-coated deck cap sections at the bow and the quarters.

The Mojito 18C retails for $22,900 with the 70-hp Suzuki 4-stroke. The Mojito 16 with a standard 25-hp Suzuki tiller engine is $10,900.

"It's our job to come up with new product that's affordable and of quality so people enjoy it," Renzo says.

Offered as the Mojito 18, the boat has a more traditional center console setup. The console is placed farther forward and is surrounded by a powder-coated handrail. It has a tinted windscreen and a leaning post, and it opens aft on hinges for access to the helm wiring and controls. The boat, which has a liner, comes with four flush-mounted stainless steel rod holders on the gunwale caps and other standard features. The Mojito 18 with a 90-hp Suzuki is $32,900.

The Rivoltas tried to keep the Mojitos simple and functional. "I think the market is going to go toward the smaller boats again," Renzo says. "There's very little to break on a small boat. They're more manageable and certainly the fuel efficiency is a huge part of the appeal."

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Trade Only recorded some performance numbers during the sea trials. At 25 mph, the Mojito 18 with a 90-hp Suzuki burned fuel at a rate of 3 gallons per hour, which equates to an impressive 7 mpg. With five people on board, the Mojito 22, powered by a 175-hp Suzuki, burned 7 gph at 30 mph, resulting in 4.3 mpg.

The Rivoltas hope sales of the Mojito models will support the day-to-day operations and production of the cruising powerboats and the commercial workboats. In better financial times, the company was building several of its large powerboats without sales commitments.

"We were not waiting for a customer," says Piero, who moved his family from his native Italy to the United States in 1980. "We were finishing up to 80 percent of a boat." Those days are over. "Now if people want the boat, they wait six months and we build the boat," he says.

The motoryacht fleet consists of the 44-foot Coupe 4.5 and three boats in the 41-foot 4.0 Series - the enclosed pilothouse Coupe 4.0, the open-bridge PT Runner 4.0 and the Express 4.0. Designed by Swedish naval architect Håkan Södergren, who is known for his rough-water power cruisers and sailboats, the 4.5 hull will serve as the platform for the large boats in the XO lineup. (The Rivolta Group also builds a 90-foot high-performance ocean sailer with a Södergren hull for passagemaking.) Rivolta will custom-build the deck and the pilothouse according to the customer's needs and install just about any type of propulsion system, including pod drives, Renzo says.

"The goal was to create a stable sea platform that would allow a variety of modular deck configurations and the option to select different propulsion engine packages without having to re-engineer or modify the boat," Renzo says.

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In addition, deck components can be swapped out if the owner's needs change, he says. "A center console model can be retrofitted to a full-cabin model," Renzo says. There are several configurations in the XO 4.5 M-Series, including a boat with an extended cabin, a center console, a walkaround and RIB versions. (M stands for monohull.)

Renzo and his father also have come up with a power catamaran design of the same length - the XO 4.5 C-Series. Still in the conceptual stage, the catamaran is based on the 4.5 hull.

"We want to split our hull and create a catamaran hull," Renzo says. The Rivolta Group may tap Michael Peters Yacht Design, also in Sarasota, for the hull design, Renzo says.

A 4.5 hull sits outside under wraps at the Rivolta boatbuilding facility, ready to be transformed into a working vessel. "We are talking to some people," he says. "It takes time."

The panga hulls also can be put into commercial service. And like the larger hull, the pangas can be retrofitted for various uses, such as towing or rescue. All this begs the question: Can a company diversify too much?

"Yes, there is a danger," Renzo says. "But it makes sense as long as you don't tool up and you utilize the tooling you have in hand and keep that under control. And if you have platforms that do work, then why not use them any way you can?"

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.

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