February 28th, 2010 by James Ferris

Loosely quoting Carroll here; The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things; such as the boatbuilder….Chris Casparis, of Sea Sonic Boats in Canada.

Chris is taking out all the stops in restoring Perlita; as far as he is concerned, mere perfection is not enough.

I met Chris about 14 years ago on Lake Tahoe at the annual Concours. He was tooling around in a very nicely restored 1959 Riva Ariston ‘Desafinado’, which he had restored in Switzerland and brought with him to Canada, and I was in my recently acquired 1966 Riva Ariston, ‘Barchetta’. Floating around outside the marina in the typical choppy Tahoe afternoon, we Ariston enthusiasts struck up a boat to boat conversation, and friendship and an ensuing professional relationship followed on from there.

upper~ 1959 Ariston ‘Desafinado’  ~ lower~ 1966 Ariston, ‘Barchetta’.

It’s not easy when you have an historical “gem” like Perlita , to finally make the commitment to a restoration project; we visited numerous shops in Europe and the US, as far back as the mid 1990‘s, researching and talking with the top restorers, uniformly with excellent reputations and sterling credentials (I looked at various boats from their shops and spoke to clients), including Chris. In the end I decided to commit with Sea Sonic Boats. What was the tipping point, which enabled the final decision after mulling it over for 16 years? First of course, he does outstanding woodwork, which we have tried (and not always succeeded) to show in our articles, and moreover he does it almost all himself. Secondly, choosing to work on his own, he has developed a diversity of skills, and does each one of them extremely well. And not last, he has an unrelenting fixation on, and attention to detail.

Beginning to resemble a boat again…….

A small example: in drilling the thousands of holes for the screws and rivets going into Perlita, Chris experimented with some different tools. I provided a nice selection of brand new bits and plug cutters for his use, along with sourcing the fasteners. He tried them out, and decided that the resulting plugs were out of round with the holes by a couple of thousandths of an inch, even on a very expensive drill press…..HE could see the resulting glue-line; no one else could……so he ordered new tools from Switzerland, and drilled every hole twice, so his newly cut plugs fit seamlessly! This allowed HIM to sleep at night……Still, in my opinion, our decision to charge Chris with this project was the right choice; though one may not wish to be quick to face up to the eventual cost……

When you can’t save the old, you just have to make new, and Chris says they will be right!

A small detail; few will notice it, but Chris “sweats the details” on his projects.

As Chris ponders, James prays for divine guidance……4 millimeters on 6, or 5 millimeters on 7……

These attitudes became more important the more we researched, the more we took things apart, the more likely it seems that Perlita was pretty much built like a prototype, despite what Piero Gibellini says in his book on Tritone; that #3 was the first true Tritone in series-production. Too many details have no discernible follow-on in later Tritones, or any other Rivas. With so few boats sold each year in the very early 1950’s, my feeling is that Carlo Riva had to use whatever parts he could obtain, in very small quantities, just when he really needed them. So Chris’s respect for and determination to achieve perfection, is being adequately tested!

Undeniably, some of Chris‘s enthusiasm for the project had something to do with being selected over other more well-known restorers. However, he has maintained that this is the only restoration he would do, since he is really focused on his own boat building company. His decision had much to do with his long relationship and affinity for Rivas, and he reminds us that he has lusted after accomplishing Perlita’s restoration since he first learned of her existence through a close scrutiny of Gibellinis’ first volumes on “Carlo the Legend, Riva the Myth” in 1996, in Italian!  A chance meeting with her caretakers in the middle of Lake Tahoe must have felt like a signal from someone above that he was ‘the one’……

Sea Sonic Boats was created in 2000, and the new boat shop completed in 2002. Chris says the idea to create a company with the exclusive purpose of designing and building modern speedboats, incorporating exceptional handcrafted features alongside new technologies and superior power, has been in his head for over 18 years. The “Canadian Yachting” review says it all. “Power & Elegance”. Based on 30+ years in the design business, one thing that stands out is how ‘together’ (of a piece/purpose) the boat appears, and how totally user friendly it is.

A perfect family boat, although “the perfect day-boat for a mega yacht” was my first thought…..hydraulic garage door opens at the waterline….Sea Sonic slides gracefully into the warm waters…..guests off to a day of water sports in a tropical paradise……

I think Chris should send me and the Sea Sonic south on an expenses-paid photo-shoot while he perseveres on the details of perfection with Perlita…..

Exceptional handcrafted features

Just a taste of the beautiful detailing on the Sea Sonic……

This amazing construction slideshow shows it all. Be patient; it’s slow to load but well worth watching!

Classic Styling, Cutting-edge Technology Sea Sonic uses a proprietary design incorporating a carbon-Kevlar composite in the construction. With 800 horses on tap, a boat of this caliber really has to be “bullet proof.” And when you think of “bullet proof”, you think of Kevlar bullet-proof vests. Carbon-Kevlar composites are standard in Formula 1 race cars, Boeing Dreamliners, (and the side blades of the Audi R8), amongst other things,  and of course in Sea Sonic Boats.

If you viewed the construction slideshow above; there was a peek at the carbon Kevlar…..and that’s all you’re likely to get, as Chris keeps this technique very much to himself……

The superior, effortless, and reliable power comes from 2 GM 496 HO Mercruiser motors. These engines were designed for offshore racing; built on the marine 502 block, to withstand the sustained high rpms experienced in off-shore racing. Chris said his reasoning to go with MerCruisers was that what held up under extreme racing conditions was likely to be good enough for the Sea Sonic Boats. The 496 HO/425 HP is the most power you can buy without going into actual racing engines, and is still suitable for an all-purpose, everyday boat with friends and family out for a nice ride and a picnic. Still, 850 HP is quite respectable for a daily driver…..

Chris was hands-on responsible for every phase of the boat construction, from design through completion. He built the all of the forms, jigs, and molds; crafted the patterns and had the chrome hardware cast and chromed. He designed and built the mechanical hardware and linkage systems.

He is extremely multi-talented, something you don’t often find in those who are wood craftsmen. What is even more important, everything works flawlessly. Even after lengthy periods of storage, you just turn the key and go. He confessed he did not do the electrical and upholstery himself, however he supervised it very closely. Nothing is allowed to happen on his boats without his very close supervision. This Sea Sonic interior slideshow illustrates many of the fine details.

I asked Chris what’s next for Sea Sonic Boats? He is looking for a few very exclusive dealers, to get the Sea Sonic message out to a few discerning boaters. And as soon as Perlita is out of the shop, he is starting on another new Sea Sonic……

For now however, it’s back to Perlita ~The woodworking phase in a classic wooden boat restoration is of course the infrastructure, around which everything else revolves. If this is perfect, but your peripherals, and “frosting on the cake” parts are not perfect, you can basically write off the whole exercise. This is why we have gone to such extremes to select an award winning team suitable to compliment Chris’s level of perfection! Or should I say obsession?

Chris will continue with final assembly to near completion (as near as we can prior to the Canada Customs-imposed exit deadline). Next, Perlita will head (on her shiny new trailer) to Dennison International south of Seattle, for a couple of months, for some final tweaking. (Astute readers may speculate that the date of the Tahoe Concours will have passed by this point….) We are hoping that Perlita might debut at the 2010 Kirkland Concours, but that too remains to be seen…….

We welcome your comments, suggestions and discussion below, or email me at idesign@esse-group.com or Chris at chris@seasonicboats.com .



  1. Brian Driggs Says:

    Stunning. As usual.

    Something that’s been on my mind recently, which I pick up on in this post, is the notion that, if the success of your business is dependent, to a greater extent, on your own direct involvement, it’s unsustainable.

    I admire the artisanship reflected in so many vessels mentioned here – Desafinado, Barchetta, Centaur, Sirena, and Perlita Too – but in order for Sea Sonic to truly take the world by storm, I suspect that Chris will need to ensure that he is not the only one so passionate about the work so that production volume can increase without an impact on quality. I noticed a couple other people in the epic slide show, so I suspect this is already in progress. The ways in which Chris enlists his team and elevates their mentality to that of partners would be very interesting to hear about.

    I might add that it would have been nice to hear the background music during the construction slide show continue it’s course, building in intensity and power, finally culminating in images – or video – of the completed Centaur aggressively slicing through heavy chop, spray everywhere, paid models in the back seat unable to contain their genuine excitement for the ride.

    I know, I know. Borderline invective for such a warm, graceful machine, but (and this is the gearhead in me speaking) you don’t put a couple 500hp V8s into ANYTHING and then not indulge in the occasional, vulgar display. Hmmm… I wonder if this all stems from the music selection, though.

    Here’s to September!

  2. James Ferris Says:

    Brian – interesting take you have on “handcrafted” being at risk as a sustainable business…..You’re probably right in the general sense of business today! In Chris’ case, handcrafted means he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it to his satisfaction, or to his schedule. So, it requires 100% of his involvement. As mentioned, whatever work Chris subs out is micro-managed, and of course this applies especially to any employees or assistants in his shop; all are micro-managed, most do not last ;-). You might classify it as more old-school “master and apprentice” mindset (not all bad), than a more collaborative modern business process. We have a plan and this is the way we are doing it (often referred to as “my way or the highway”). Great for an all-original project like Perlita; maybe far more challenging for a series production business.

    Setting up a sales and distribution network, which might result in several orders, will move production to be simultaneous rather than consecutive. Chris told my partner that he could now build three boats at a time, with impeccable organization and some help, and they would still be completely “handcrafted”. In their most productive years, the Riva yard built no more than a few hundred boats anually in their small factory on Lago Iseo in northern Italy (reputedly fewer than 4000 in 4 decades), and each was as good as you could get, for the 3000 hours! reputedly lavished on them.

    Perlita of course is the beneficiary of this early-stage handcrafting business, and the quality of work being done bringing Perlita back to life will last for many, many years. 

    As always, a great comment. BTW, I am sure ‘pedal to the metal’ will be a fun occasional option; used with discretion 