History & Legends

Portofino, a World apart
May 2016

The Boatmen


At Portofino the boatmen have represented a true institution, a new economical transformation that slowly increased in the shade of the residential guests: this work was carried out mainly in the summer period with the guest’s boats, furnished with curtains ad cushions, that they seemed like the “carriages of the sea”. This new economy involved about thirty families of which ten of them worked for themselves: the work was by oars or sails and it was only after 1920 that an outboard motor was used. The people who used this service were Bianchi Cavallo, Finollo, Steimman, Villa, Raggio, Spizz, Nina Toie, Bruzzo, Croce, Basso, Braum Cunigan, Rivetti, Clifford, Rocca, Oder Marsano, Vigorelli, Bocciardo di Niasca, Trossi, Potenziani and others, plus four scandinavian Consuls. As you can see, there were a great number of people who passed through Portofino during the summer season and every name corresponded to a villa or apartment: lots of youngsters took their first steps in this new category and they learnt how to sail, to handle the first engines, and in particular, they lived amongst people who lead different lives to ours, teaching them how to administer themselves and learn new languages. Finally, a real nautical school was formed.


The other boatmen, who used the outboard motors, had started a service to San Fruttuoso, Rapallo, and they organized pleasure trips from 1920 to 1940: I want to quote their names to give you some idea how the economy was developing. The boatmen were: Mario Prato called “Whiskers”, with his boat called “Pensiero” and the sailing boat “Gardenia”, Alfonsin Benso with his boat called “Anna”, Giovanni Prato called “Givanin” with his boat “Giovanni”, Giorgio Costa with his boat “Giorgio”, Attilio Costa called “Tananana”, with his boat “Onda”; Cesare Viacava called “Fortunin”, with his boat “Grane”; Emilio Prato called “The American”, with his boat “Emilio”; Carlo Rosselli with his launch “Carla”; Giuseppe Viacava called “Pipitto”, with his boat “Giuseppe”; Domenico Auditano called “Giumain”, with his boat “Giulietta”. After the second war world other boatmen arrived, like Gino Denaro with his boat “Federica”; Emanuele Gimelli called “Peteu”, with his boat “Emanuele”; Giacomo Schiaffino called “the Devil”, with his boat “Giacomo”; Guido Risicato called “Hard Times”, with his boat “Guido”; Arturo Carbone with his boat “Arturo”; Mario Lodi called “Malitti”, with his boat “Daniela”; Giancarlo Prato with his boat “Portofino” and Vittorio Caversazio; many of these men and youngsters had moved on to other activities but always in the sphere of this category, for example sailing boats, becoming excellent skippers, they also participated in the Olympic Games and various regattas in England and America, for example the triangle regatta.

In the Mediterranean, a person who brought fame to the port’s sailing boatsmen was Luigi Carbone, called “Buscin”, who was a regatta teacher: others occupied themselves looking after, and servicing the boats, and to this I want to dedicate a whole chapter. I would like to quote two anecdotes, to show you the characteristics of the natives of Portofino, they are the following. Nicola Casta called “Pumin”, was the first boatman to carry out a service with an outboard motor branded F. Z. , it was given to him as a present by an american lady who was in love with him. In a coarse, but distinct and dignified way, he refused more than once to go with her to America: like that, for many years, the attractive lady spent the summer season in Portofino.


The other anecdote regards Domenico Prato who, on the Quay had found some tourists whom wanted to go to San Fruttuoso by rowing boat. On leaving the port they hadn’t fixed a price, and when they were at the point of crossing to the Lighthouse, the trippers asked what the journey would cost: the boatman asked for 10 lire (it was about 1936-1937) which to them seemed expensive; the boatman replied: “Expensive? Let’s go back!”. But as he turned the boat round, they agreed on the price, but the furious boatman went towards the port and, after he told them to get off his boat, he replied. “Fora (go on land), we are all musci (rich) and the natives of Portofino are all rich.” The tourists trip finished like that. Between all these active and ambitious men that took care of their boats, as if they were jewels, there wasn’t one who understood a foreign language, but they all understood that for works sake it would be advantageous to speak a language, because they sensed that tourism meant their future: so they worked together enthusiastically understanding that it was possible to carry passengers on bigger boats, also thanks to Attilio Cupido called “Thin”, who was an expert engineer.

This person was a true “doctor of motors”, having been, some years ago, pupil of Cortopassi, assistant of Count Trossi in the motor car races. Tommaso Viacava called “Mascitto”, with his brother Angelo called Gelli, two young boys with initiative, who built the first tourist boat at Riva Trigoso with the Stagnaro brothers, then others followed: insighting that tourism would have become one of the main economical sources of the places and cities facing the sea. Like that, after the co-operative, Nando Carniglia, the Sturleses and others followed their example plus the neighbouring lands, which caused disagreement and many discussions amongst the competitors: but after, intelligently, they all set up a marine society, called “Consorzio Marittimo del Tigullio“, that became owners of the Primero society. They became the “biggest shareholders” of transport, because they owned an enormous fleet that provided the transport needs of passengers from La Spezia to Varazze, including the touristic service of the Fiera Nautica (Seamanship Exhibition) of Genoa and her port. Thanks to Giovanni Carbone.

Portofino, a World apart.