Ups and Downs of a Hollywood Star

September 27th, 2009 by James Ferris

Hollywood has always been about glamour. In 1953 the classic Italian speedboat “Perlita Too”, was imported from Italy by tv producer Roland Reed, and was the star in the 1954 tv series ‘Waterfront‘, episode 24, “Safe Harbor”, coincidentally produced by Mr. Reed himself. We have searched the archives of film & television distributors for several years and found almost all episodes from both series; all except “Safe Harbor” (episode 24, series 2).  The plot synopsis was that “Captain Herrick (Preston Foster) desperately attempts to stop a speedboat from crashing into a freighter”. We’re pretty certain this was Perlita Too, and we know she was saved. ☺


Perlita Too underway to Catalina, probably how she looked in the Waterfront episode.

Fast-forward fifty-five years


Not a bad body for a 56-year old!


Now our star is in complete makeover… by Chris at SeaSonic Boats in Canada,
where she arrived at the end of 2007.


Not a pretty sight. Rotted frame ends and corroded fasteners.

Unfortunately for Perlita, by now her looks were only skin deep. On closer inspection, Chris began to find serious signs of aging, including failing joints, hundreds of broken and corroded fasteners, and evidence of many poorly done repairs and modifications. Many of the frames were so badly rotted at their joints that replacement was the only choice. What had appeared to be a straightforward ‘restoration’ was turning into a keel-up overhaul! Not all that unusual in the antique wooden boat world :-)

After a thorough inspection and cataloging of parts, Chris began the process of disassembly. Many parts were still good enough for use as patterns, but in some cases deterioration or someone’s modification meant that I had to go back to our research to confirm the proper shape, size, and position. At times like this it’s good to have a restorer like Chris, with his “Swiss” attitude of precision (and stubborness). He wants to really know how it was done do he can get it right the first time (which he usually does), however if the first attempt is not to his satisfaction, he’ll do it over again.


Chris got to buy lots of new clamps for Christmas and put them right to work.

The one thousand hour point has long since come and gone, and we are nearly done with the framing. A new keel, new laminated chines, a new stem carefully integrated into the salvaged original side pieces, all new topsides frames carefully fit and riveted to the new bottom frames; the list goes on, and on.

One bright spot is that nearly all of the deck frames were reusable, and Chris is very pleased that these few pieces of the hull have always remained in place during the restoration process, however he has had to be careful to work around them, and integrate them with new wood as required. (the original pieces are easy to spot as they still have the old paint on them.


Once again, the beauty is going to be more than skin-deep!

6-2 transom

All’s well that ends well, and Perlita once again has a great ass!

In my opinion the Riva Tritone displays a beautiful example of the “barrel-back” shape that Chris Craft made so famous in the late 1930’s.  Perlita’s new transom is a work of art, and I can’t wait to be able to apply the glitzy chrome letters PERLITA TOO back in place.

7-1riveted frames

God is in the details; and we’re sweating those details……

Thousands of hand-set rivets in the frames and the bottom. The sharp-eyed will notice lots of new wood in the boat….. thirty years of high speed runs in the open ocean, coupled with many years of outright neglect, means that Perlita’s structure was in truly bad shape. That not-too-bad-looking coat of varnish in the early pictures hid the real disaster underneath (to continue our Hollywood analogy; a thick layer of pancake makeup over some serious wrinkles!).

STOP PRESS! (Or whatever the digital equivalent is……)

Monviso wheel 150

A great picture of the original type steering wheel, on a 1948 Monviso-bodied Fiat 1100 no less.

Courtesy of Pete Vack, editor of Veloce Today, where it appeared last Friday.

We have been researching this project for a very long time.  I originally found Perlita Too in a barn in California’s Sacramento Delta almost 20 years ago, with the incorrect steering wheel. Earlier this year the Riva historian Piero Gibellini sent me a wheel composed of 2 different examples. Butch (Dennison International) is restoring the wheel; using some existing parts and fabricating other components, to recreate an exact original. This picture is verification that everything we are doing is correct. That’s a milestone for us!

A significant part of ‘managing perfection’ in an over-the-top restoration like this is the research. We are endevouring to discover every detail of Perlita Too’s history, and are very eager to find the “Waterfront” tv episode from 1954 in which she starred. Does anyone know where we can find the specific episode “Safe Harbor, #24, in the second series? We would love to discover if Perlita Too did indeed star in this pic, and then be able to share this ‘gripping drama’ with all of Perlita’s fans!

Check out our other posts listed in the column at right. And please comment below (we love comments!), or connect with me by email at or follow my partner @CASUDI on twitter.


4 Responses to “Ups and Downs of a Hollywood Star”

  1. Eric Says:

    Beautiful project!

    I have been following this boat for about 5 yrs now and I’m very glad that this VERY significant Riva is getting the care that she deserves.

    A few questions if you have a moment.

    In the photos of the frames it looks like the knees and exhaust surrounds are fabricated from plywood. Is this the case?

    Was original Stem and keel built as a bent lamination?

    Will you be skinning the boat and adding the rivets for appearance or will the boat be planked, full thickness, as the original with live seams?

    Keep up the good work…. I look forward to seeing the completed Tritone!!

  2. James Ferris Says:

    Hi Eric, glad to see that you have joined Perlita’s fan club!

    Q. In the photos of the frames it looks like the knees and exhaust surrounds are fabricated from plywood. Is this the case?

    Correct, the gussets at the topsides and bottom frame joints are indeed plywood, as they were originally. As we disassembled the boat for inspection, we saved most of the pieces for ‘historical value’. (we knew people would be curious;-). Inspection showed us that Perlita had never been disassembled before now. Individual pieces have been replaced; and those are pretty obvious if you know what to look for.

    The pieces surrounding the exhausts are also plywood, again as they were originally. The new pieces are different in this respect: they are the best quality current 9-layer marine plywood; the original pieces were only 3 layers, likely shop-made by Riva, as they were thicker individual layers. As with the rest of the original plywood pieces, they did not survive particularly well, and permitted moisture intrusion.

    Q. Was original Stem and keel built as a bent lamination?

    The original stem, knee, and keel were fabricated in 5 pieces of dimensional mahogany, then joined with glue, and mechanical fasteners (aka steel bolts). The new stem, knee and keel are fabricated as multi-layer laminations. We were able to salvage and reuse the original “ears” at the top of the stem. Although this is not precisely “original”, I believe the added strength of this method will enable Perlita to live much longer; maintain her shape perfectly, and of course add a bit of safety for offshore use.

    Q. Will you be skinning the boat and adding the rivets for appearance or will the boat be planked, full thickness, as the original with live seams?

    Perlita’s topsides planks will be full thickness mahogany. As to the “live” seams, I hope and pray not! And as to “adding rivets for appearance”; I think you’ll find my riveting job far superior to that done by ‘Luigi’ and ‘Giuseppi’ after their obligatory glass of vino with lunch!

    Future posts will show the gory details!

    Keep up the good work…. I look forward to seeing the completed Tritone!!

    You and me both, brudda!

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