Insight: Rossinavi, the evolution of Italian subcontractors turned custom superyacht creators

Written by Gemma Fottles

“We actually started in the maritime industry almost four decades ago, in 1980,” starts Federico Rossi, the charming, unconventional and entirely Italian COO of the Rossinavi shipyard as we sit in their modern meeting rooms in Viareggio. This may come as a surprise to those who were only made aware of the brand in 2007 when they emerged as builders of large, custom superyachts with the signing of two significant projects measuring an impressive 53 and 70-metres respectively.

Aurora cruising in the Bay of KotorPhoto: Tom van Oossanen / SuperYacht TimesBut even before diving into the deep end of custom superyacht construction under their own brand, the Rossi family had long been connected with the world of building big boats. Founded by brothers Claudio and Paride Rossi in the late 70s and beginning with the reparation of small fishing boats in the Viareggio region, their expertise in naval architecture and engineering soon developed and expanded their horizons. By 1992, the company employed 15 people and was building hulls and superstructures in steel and aluminium for major shipyards that have since become some of their main competitors.    

Comfortably growing over the next 15 years, it wasn’t until the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/8 hit that the yard - then named Cantiere Navale Fratelli Rossi - were forced to reassess their business model. Oddly enough, whilst some of their main clients were losing business building big boats, this is exactly where the Rossi family turned to save their own business. Rossi explains, “When the market asked for yachts, the historic shipyards were very well equipped to meet that demand. When the GFC hit, these yards were suddenly operating at half their normal production - some even going bankrupt. We were obliged to change our organisation as these yards were our clients: we were also losing business as the GFC took its toll. We already had the expertise in building boats, so this is the direction we took to cover our own operating costs and survive.”

Aurora cruising in the Bay of KotorPhoto: Tom van Oossanen / SuperYacht TimesOf course, it wasn’t as easy as simply making the switch from subcontractor to fully fledged yacht builder. The first hurdle? Attracting a client to build a yacht with Rossinavi without any product to demonstrate their skills. “Believe me,” Rossi assures me, “This was an extremely difficult activity. You are approaching a client with just your promise, your history, and a brochure. We are forever grateful to the owners of our very first projects, the 53.2-metre South (now Rarity) which we delivered in the summer of 2008, and the 70-metre Numptia (now High Power III), delivered in 2011. Without their faith, we may not have made it.”

Considering that projects of 53 and 70 metres are rather significant investments (even if the yard were charging an exceptionally competitive price that basically covered their own costs with no profit!), how did they manage to get those clients to sign on the dotted line? “Well, it came down to the deep knowledge and expertise of our company, our family, and especially my father and my uncle,” says Rossi.  

With the American owner of Numptia, this knowledge and expertise was shared over a period of three intense months. His lawyers in the States were quick to warn against what they saw as a notable risk, and Rossi laughs as he remembers the struggle: “His lawyers advised him not to build with this yard because the downpayment for the yacht was basically the value of the shipyard at the time! But after three months of visiting the boats we had created for other shipyards, sitting in technical meetings with us, he soon understood that we have knowledge of our own - not knowledge that other shipyards had given us. We do not have a technical department: we are our technical department. And he understood we were capable of creating his custom dream.”High Power III in St Peter's PortPhoto: Ian TomsAnd so Numptia was born - understandably an important milestone for the Rossinavi brand.  Actually, the owner of Numptia was not just an integral part of allowing Rossinavi to show the world what they were capable of, but he is also the very reason behind the name ‘Rossinavi’. “He told us he wants a brand on the side of his boat… Cantiere Navale Fratelli Rossi does not exactly roll off the tongue. And so we created Rossinavi! I still go to America and meet with him sometimes - he is a visionary man.”  

Since the delivery of South and Numptia, the Rossinavi brand has gone from strength to strength, and clearly the risk their inaugural clients took paid off. The next few years saw multiple custom superyacht deliveries, just a handful including the 46.35m 2 Ladies in 2012, 48.31m Param Jamuna IV in 2013, 48.29m Polaris I in 2014, 38.55m Taransay in 2015, 49.9m Endeavour II and the 49m Aurora in 2017 and, just three days before our interview in early June, their most recent delivery: the 63m Utopia IV.

The future looks to be just as busy for Rossinavi, with no less than three yachts currently under construction, each scheduled for completion in 2020. And now with a string of successful deliveries under their belt, Rossi tells me that the time has come for the brand to focus their efforts on a more concentrated endeavour: to crack the American market.  

Taransay by RossinaviThis is not as simple as merely attracting more American clients to the Italian brand, but is focused on offering something different to American clients to make that happen. That something will be to incorporate American components into their projects. Why? For easy maintenance State-side. “We want to follow the ideas of our American client,” Rossi says. “They have a lot of great components, for our boats for US clients (and standards) we are importing all technical elements directly. We don’t want them to have to go through a lengthy, expensive process when it comes to maintenance of their dream. That’s why we also set up a small office in Florida for after sales, and we include two years of warranty to all of our customers.”  

And now that the financial side of the business is healthy, will Rossinavi continue to offer only custom products? The answer from the ever-passionate Rossi was a resounding ‘yes’... Here, he explains why.  

From the very beginning, Rossinavi offered only custom projects. Why?  

Well, from a financial side, at the beginning it was necessary for us to keep our money in the bank and only begin with construction once we had sold the product. But more than that, I do not like trying to convince someone that they should buy a specific boat: our specific boat that we have created with no specific individual in mind. Our vision has always been to build dreams, to understand what a client wants to create. What will they be using the boat for? Where? What is the owner’s lifestyle like, what is his mood like? Does he want speed, or does he want a full displacement boat? That is how you build the best boat possible. It’s all about a perfect synthesis between brand and client.  

Utopia IV launch in Pisa Photo: GUIDO MENCARIThe custom yacht market is a niche, competitive market. How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?  

For us, it is clear. We are one of the only fully custom shipyards that do not combine custom superyacht building with other areas. A lot of yards have a strategy in place whereby they have custom yachts as their main business, but serial production in the background or a sector of their business focused on commercial vessels, with the management of a marina, or a refit facility. Our business is to produce only fully custom yachts. I think that is the best approach to luxury boats.  

What do people come to Rossinavi for?  

Our vision and our expertise in engineering. The difficult thing for us sometimes is that people do not always fully understand what a full custom boat is. For us, we develop concepts as proposals, which we use to start a discussion and to show what is possible with custom projects. With Pininfarina for example, we presented a really unique project, but we have four other concepts with Pininfarina too that remain entirely secretive. We also have another two new concepts with Team4Design, and we use these as a basis to start discussions.  

Define custom in your own words. 

Fully custom is when all the aspects of the boat are in accordance with itself. That means that every single component has been built specifically for that vessel. People may think that some components are the same from boat to boat… but they are not. We create every single piece for each individual project. With Taransay, we bought a lot of bronze to create the machines so that everything looks the same. Every tiny aspect is completely unique.Taransay bow area
What about yachts built on an existing platform but with totally unique interior and exterior design?  

If I build on a platform, then I am obliged to cater the layout to the platform. Then the yacht is not fully custom. When a client then wants a bigger beach club or anything else, you can either say yes or no. Generally, people say yes and sell the vessel. But then you must calibrate the yacht differently. The vessel is modified from the beginning. Our approach is different. We do not want to use the platform, because we study the layouts, we tank test for three or four months, especially for comfort. We are engineers at our core. We study every aspect, weight, distribution, the hull form. That, to me, is fully custom.  

Which of your projects has presented the biggest challenges?  

Taransay. That boat is just so different, and it was certainly a challenge, but a fantastic opportunity for us to show that we can realise any custom dream. Taransay is a very classically styled boat, and we did a lot of very deep research in order to fully comprehend the yachts of this era. In the past, we also rebuilt a traditional sailing yacht, which gave us a much broader understanding of these classic yachts.  

Aurora cruising in the Bay of KotorPhoto: Tom van Oossanen / SuperYacht TimesYou are one of the industry’s youngest leaders at just 39. Being a young industry leader has its advantages, but has this ever presented a challenge when dealing with clients?  

I am one of the youngest leaders, yes. I am happy now because when I was 30, people thought I was 45… now I am 39, they still think 45, so I am not ageing badly, at least! But we are a family business. The founders are in their 60s, and if it does so happen that there is a client who wants to speak to an older man, they can speak to my father. He is the CEO, responsible for the management of the company. Some clients, like the young owner of Aurora, would prefer to work with a younger guy. It varies, but together, we make the perfect team.  

How does the lack of definition of custom affect Rossinavi?  

The impact is the perception of the price. For a totally full custom product, the price is higher of course. It’s normal that clients compare prices from yard to yard, and we must justify why our product costs more.

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