We all like to get excited about the past but when you’re considering classic boats, it’s important not to get misty eyed about it. An old boat is not necessarily a good boat, however captivating its style. Also, the fact that engines, materials, boat design aids and building techniques have come so far in the past 30 years is not something that should be overlooked.
However, for all the undoubted improvements that modernity provides, there remains something profoundly appealing about antiquity. You see the proof of that at boat shows, where a great many ‘new’ boats combine modern construction methods with the lavish styles and hull shapes of a bygone age. If you’re one of the many people who tends to stop and stare at these heritage-rich modern marques, it might be worth committing to your fondness by hunting down and perhaps even buying one of the five classic power boats below…
Triana Tropica 25
If the 35-foot Tantarella was Triana’s answer to the Fairey Huntsman, the Tropica 25 might be said to have been the spectacular response to the smaller Huntress craft. Designed by the famous Renato (Sonny) Levi, this beamy but deep-hulled express cruiser was originally fitted with twin Volvo Aquamatics for speeds approaching 50 knots. It was also built to a standard commensurate with the Lloyds Register.
That made it a very expensive boat even when new – considerably more expensive in fact than the competition at the Southampton-based Fairey yard. Headroom was a touch tight on this four-berth boat but the performance, particularly in rough waters, was a match for anything else out there. The happy news is that in the modern market, a really first-class example of the Tropica will cost you little more than £30,000 (or about a quarter of the price of a new Windy 26 Kharma). It makes you think doesn’t it?
This simple five-man 19-footer is one of the best looking classic sports boats you can buy. From the boldly flared, almost platypus-style bow shape to the long, raked, wraparound screen, the vast aft ‘wing’ and the powerfully squared off transom, it is a radically distinctive boat.
Originally built for general leisure cruising, the standard 165hp Mercruiser 470 offered an easy 30 knots. However, some more recent re-powered V8 Capricorns routinely push on towards the mid 40s. If you love the boat but you’re not sure about committing to something that’s 30 years old, it might even be worth getting in touch with John Broom. Who knows, with a bit of persuasion, the fourth generation of this iconic British boat building family might even agree to build you a brand-new Capricorn.
When you think about the archetypal classic boat, most people think about Riva. When you think about the archetypal Riva, most people turn to the Aquarama (see also Aquariva Super: a classic sportscar on water). In many ways, that’s perfectly natural. After all, it has been this legendary marque’s longest running and most famous model, but what about the equally delightful, barrel-backed Ariston? Yes, it’s smaller, simpler and less feature-heavy but since when did the calibre of a classic depend upon its practicalities?
Built from 1950 until 1974, around 1,000 Riva Ariston models emerged in a range of specifications. Lengths ranged from 20 to 23 feet and engines all the way from the base 105hp to the 350hp of the 45-knot Super Ariston. Whether you look for the standard Ariston, the more powerful Ariston Cadillac (1956 to 1957) or the Super Ariston (1960 to 1974), what you get is a Riva in its most perfectly uncomplicated and elegant form.
Fairey Huntress 23
Fairey is probably most famous for its legendary Hunstman 31 and with very good reason. However, to my mind, those in search of a special sea boat from the Fairey stable will find the beautiful Huntress 23 a very special companion. Constructed using Fairey’s hot-moulded agba lamination process (where mahogany layers are glued, vacuum packed and steam-baked in an oven), the boat had huge strength throughout its entire hull to cope with the impacts of offshore use.
In fact, despite its modest size, the Huntress was a great sea boat, accounting for almost 25 per cent of all entries in the 1962 and 1963 Cowes Torquay endurance races. Based on the hull drawings of renowned designer, Ray Hunt, they achieved enormous success not just on the race circuit, but also on the big screen and in the military fleets of several navies. It’s an extremely special boat but if you can’t quite stretch to £40,000 (and you still have the common decency to lust after a Fairey), take a look at the outstanding 15-foot, outboard-powered Cinderella. For prices ranging from £4,000 to £10,000, it’s a delightfully pure distillation of the classic Fairey qualities.
Founded by British engineers, Peter Hives and Archie Peace, Albatross Marine is famous for its lightweight aluminium ski boats of the 1950s and 60s. The fleet was very much conditioned by the skillsets of the two men involved, taking the automotive excellence of Peter’s background with Rolls Royce and combining that with the aeronautical engineering methods of Archie’s experience with the British Aeroplane Company.
Taking advantage of the post-war aluminium surplus, they generated a range of small powerboats that found great favour with the rich and famous. A-list owners apparently included Prince Philip, Stirling Moss, Brigitte Bardot and Prince Rainier of Monaco. The advent of the mass production of fibreglass boats sounded the death knell for Albatross but whether you favour the classic two-seater, the four-seater Continental version, the later Coventry Climax powered craft or the extremely rare Alpine model, it remains a glittering British marque.
For more stunning classic power boats see: 10 best boats to drive.