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Launch Riva Aquarama by WoodButcher - FINISHED - SMALL - popsicle built

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I decided it was time to try and belie my handle, and - for my second from-scratch model - build something whose beauty resides in its woodwork as well as its lines. I.e. the finish has to be perfect.

Some history of the Riva Aquarama:

"I’ve decided that the most jaw-dropping, eye-watering, hand-biting man-made spectacle of all time is the 1965 Riva Aquarama speedboat.. Oh, and it’ll do 50 mph."

Jeremy Clarkson. I Know You Got Soul.

"The Riva Aquarama was a luxury wooden runabout built by Italian yacht builder Riva. Production of it ... ran from 1962 until 1996. The hull was based on the Riva Tritone, an earlier model speedboat by Riva, which in turn was inspired by the American mahogany Chris-Craft runabouts. The boat's speed, beauty, and craftsmanship earned it praise as the Ferrari of the boat world.

The Aquarama has become over the decades a nautical legend. The Riva Aquarama's 8.02 - 8.78 metre[ hull was sheathed in mahogany and varnished to accentuate the beauty of its natural wood grain. All versions were twin engined, with top speeds of 45/50 knots depending on engine choice. Power varied from 185 hp to 400 hp per engine delivered by Riva 'tuned' Cadillac and Chysler models, among others. On top of the engine compartment was a cushioned sundeck. The boats also carried a convertible roof which retracted behind the rear seat and cockpit. A swim ladder was often mounted in the stern."

Wikipedia Riva Aquarama

Owners have included

Stewart Granger, John Barry, Rex Harrison, Peter Sellers, Brigitte Bardot, Karl Heineken, Sophia Loren, Joan Collins, President Nasser, Victor Borge, King Hussein, Ferrucio Lamborghini, Prince Rainier, Roger Vadim and Richard Burton.


There are plenty still on the second-hand market. This is the most expensive one I've found:

Aquarama for sale.jpg

I've finally let the moths out of my wallet and purchased a small scroll saw (Dremel).

The plans I have call for a build about 70 cm long. I had to reduce the originals by about 20% so that the rib spacing (3 ribs) could be spanned by a single popsicle stick. But a consequence of the largish scale is that a single stick wouldn't span the width of most ribs. So rather than making plywood out of multiple sticks and cutting them to shape (as for my previous build) I had to build the ribs rather in the shape of the plans. The largest rib has 23 individually cut pieces. Making them would have been impossible without the scroll saw.


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Sorry about the abrupt ending - I thought I'd loaded the recent photos onto the computer. But apparently not.

The plans for this are for a radio-controlled version, but I am omitting that. The omission is supposed to simplify the construction.


Cut outs.JPG

Assembly did not go perfectly.


I also had problems with the stern. I could not understand the plans which appeared to show a solid transom and all the pictures I had seen in researching the project had a split transom. This was not helped by one of the photos accompanying the plan having a split transom and the other a solid one.


solid transom.jpg

split transom.jpg

Eventually I found pictures of the Aquarama which had a solid transom, so I understood where the plans were coming from. But I like the split transom so I decided to fudge my build to accommodate this revision.


Eventually (apart from the transom) the skeleton was complete.




Frame hull.JPG

From a distance it doesn't look too bad but it really is a total disaster. Even though I'd cut the left and right sides of each frame at the same time (to get symmetry) the gluing together gave somewhat varied angles (I had to judge angles by eyeballing the frame templates). It didn't help that I'd had to alter some of the dimensions to accommodate the size of the Popsicle sticks.


Deficiencies 1.JPG

But having put so much work into the frames I was not prepared to give up. Perhaps some fillings and sanding might save the day, and allow the skin to cover a multitude of sins.

corrections 1.JPG


corrections 3 (2).JPG

Corrections 2.JPG

But having proved my idea that Popsicles can constitute  the entire wood in a model boat, I will never again use them to build large frames.

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Incidentally, (and off-topic) while I was holidaying on the island of Madeira I came across these in a shop window.

The Toyota truck would be a good 6 feet long!



His site is http://jaime-rodrigues.blogspot.co.nz/

Its in Portuguese but gives you some impression of how he works.

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Woodbutcher, the boats you show are Riva Aquarama Specials. Largely similar to a normal Aquarama, but with the extra length (28' OA) of the bathing platform transom.  I have a set of Riva works drawings where the older more upright transom has been deleted and the newer bathing transom added.


I have no idea why these boats have such a reputation. The hulls are made in a steel mould of three layers (Triple Armour, they call it). Very early boats were seam battened, like Chris Craft, to whom they paid a licence.  The support structures below the floors are simple soft wood and the plywood decks are made here in England at High Wycombe by a furniture company. The engines are Chevy Big Blocks with a bit of standard marinisation stuff attached.  The deck fittings are all catalogued items with a Modena address moulded into the bases.

The apparent excellent timber selection is because the veneers from which the "Triple Armour" is moulded are knifed from the same tree.


I have seen Rivas in anger on Windermere and yes they move nicely, but so, I imagine, do the larger Gar Woods, Hackers and Chris Crafts, not to mention the gorgeous Greavettes and Minett-Shields.  I have never witnessed them at close quarters.  But I would have a Greavette Streamliner or Gent's Racer any day rather than a really rather ordinary Riva.




PS, one of the models I've made (from scratch, not kits) of an Aquarama Special.


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While I was waiting for the glue to dry on the frame I got started on the cockpit and well. The well (and cockpit) have rounded corners, which would mean bent sticks.

I tried steaming (again - for 8 minutes this time) in a damp flannel in my microwave, but this didn't achieve anything. So I decided to try the household ammonia trick. My reference suggests 50/50 ammonia and water, but I suspected that the author never intended bends of a right angle (or more) so I omitted the water. He also suggested ammonia weakens the wood. Certainly I had a 50% breakage rate, but I got there in the end.


Well corners.JPG

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  • 1 month later...

To try and compensate for the ragged frames I decided to build long planks, rather than span between frames as I did with my previous model. This would allow smoother curves although the plank attachments to the ribs might be rather tenuous.Planks.JPG


The curves of the planks dictated the shape of shims and trims on the frame so there was something for most of the planking to attach to.

The result from stem to stern wasn't too bad.Planking.JPG

But from top to bottom of the planking it was definitely uneven, and much sanding was needed to give the sides an air of respectability. Indeed, a few planks are now almost transparent.


side view.JPG

While all of this was going on I was working on the split transom, in the absence of plans. It took me three weeks to achieve something that looked reasonable, with many false starts, errors and blind alleys. But I was quite pleased with the result.transom attempts.JPG


It was only much later that I realised that the transom was not symmetrical. But by then I had advanced too far to correct. It was either a matter of scrapping the whole project, or hoping no-one would notice. Since for me the fun is in the build I chose the latter course.
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  • 2 months later...

sweet looking model!  I was wondering when some one would do something with Popsicle sticks.......your not going by the 'eat and use method are you.   that would take some time to accumulate that many sticks  ;)    craft stores carry them by the bag....some are wider than others too!   I will follow long.......you've done  great job so far  :) 

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  • 1 month later...

Finished - except for the steering wheel. I can't find a (cheap) toy of the appropriate size to steal its wheel. I've ordered a wheel thru my local hobby shop but they say - on past experience - it will be weeks, months or never before it arrives. Its been a month.

Riva might vaguely recognize the hull but never the fittings. It was the best I could do and I'm reasonably pleased with the result. (Although I've recently noticed the hull is twisted slightly stem to stern).

The dashboard bears no relation to the real thing. I had several attempts, drilling holes with bigger and bigger bits but they all ended up splitting - even when I made ply with a second layer glued on with grain at right angles. Eventually I realised splitting this medium was inevitable so a complex dashboard was out of the question. Hopefully the splits are concealed by the wood stain.

The fo'c'sle ventilators should be flat and circular. My attempts at those were obviously going to look horrible so I settled for something simple and attractive. The mooring rope guides could be better, but I'm reasonably happy with the stern access rails.




cockpit 3.JPG


side3 .JPG

Edited by WoodButcher
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this has been a short but interesting build.   I've never seen a model done in this fashion before.......perhaps the method you used produced the shortcomings you stated.  a more 'solid state' construction may have alleviated the hull twisting,  but for what it is,  you've done an admirable job ;)    I really like the outcome.   in scratch building a model,  anything can happen........having done quite a bit of scratch building myself,  I've come to expect it.   don't count yourself short......it came out better than you think  :)      super job!


what's your next project?

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  • 3 months later...

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