Some people have the savvy entrepreneur gene. Others don't.
I am among the latter. Scott Ales is king of the former.
When the Eustis businessman, whose specialty is exotic cars, first saw the Riva Super Aquarama, she was one battered old girl. A garage where she was being stored in Stuart collapsed on top of the Italian-made wooden boat during the hurricanes of 2004, crushing her windshield and steering wheel, knocking holes in her hull and leaving her surface scarred by scratches and gouges.
But as soon as Ales, the former Eustis mayor, saw her serial number, he knew he had something rare — and he suspected she'd be worth a small fortune.
Never mind that those around him were certain that he was about to squander some serious cash on 28 feet of potential termite habitat.
How could Ales have known that five years later, after restoration in the Netherlands, the Riva would sell at a Kissimmee auction for $775,000, an apparent world record for a boat of its size?
He didn't. He was just being Scott, taking a chance on what his instinct told him would pay off. From the day he bought it for a price he won't disclose, Ales was asking $1.5 million for the boat.
"People who saw it loved it. They said, 'It's cool and all…' But I had no buy-in on the price from anybody. They were saying, 'What a jerk. He's asking too much.'
"After a while, I thought, 'Maybe I am whacked,' " Ales said. "I'm just applying principles from another market that should apply here."
Piecing it back together
The other market was cars. Ales is a car man. Buyers were paying millions for exotic cars from the 1960s with high-power engines like the Riva's. And the boat came with the added attraction of history and panache.
"How can this not be the same if you parked them next to one another?" he said.
Job No 1, however, was to piece the Riva back together.
It started with the hull, No. 125 in a series of 203 Super Aquaramas built between 1963 and 1971 by Riva.
She holds the distinction of being the highest-powered one ever built — two 400-hp Chevrolet engines were modified for marine use by her original buyer, Cal Connell, flamboyant operator of a Cadillac dealership in Louisville, Ky., who raced both boats and cars.
When Connell sold the boat, he removed the custom engines he'd installed, so the hunt was on for two similar ones.
The restoration job went to a firm called Riva World in the Netherlands. The owner restores Riva boats. Ales doesn't want to say what that cost him, either. However, he said that the restoration would run about $320,000 today.
A character known as "Big Block Bruce" in Ohio found two Chevrolet engines manufactured within a week of each other in July 1966, and those went into the boat. The company that manufactured the vinyl located the original dies for vinyl used on the Rivas, and they retooled some machines to make vinyl for this project — with exactly the correct grain. So the boat has coverings that match the originals.
$850K takes it
After two years, the Riva returned to the port of Jacksonville sitting in a cradle aboard a trailer owned by Ales — at 8½ feet, she was too wide to fit in a shipping container.
"Every single item on this boat was finished to the level of a grand piano," Ales said. "The varnish work was like glass."
Which is why Ales was a nervous wreck when he picked it up from the port and drove it to Lake County, where a crane lowered it carefully into Lake Dora for the March 2008 boat show in Tavares. He fired up the engines, and she ran just as she was supposed to — her 7,500 pounds of heft blowing through the water at precisely 54 mph.
After 30 days of advertising the boat on dozens of Internet sites and e-mail lists, Ales got a telephone call from the captain of the Odessa mega-yacht, a 160- vessel who interior was designed by Armani.
The owner of the yacht, a Swede whose fortune came from mining interests, saw the 28-foot Riva on a Web site and decided it would look just dandy on his deck as a tender.
With buyer's fees, the boat cost slightly over $850,000.
Perhaps they think this is just another of Ales' fantasies.
In any case the snazzy boat that so many Lake festival-goers have admired in various shows and festivals is gone.
Interested in seeing her new home? It's breathtaking: yachtforums.com/forums/christensen-yacht/12591-review-christensen-yachts-160-odessa.html.
Anyone who wants to see more pictures of the Riva's damage and then restoration may visit the Riva's Web site at riva125.com.
As for Ales, he is on to his next project. What will it be?Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun