Life on Italy’s legendary Amalfi Coast is all about the sea. Here, the rolling hills of Campania—slathered with vineyards and olive groves, pastel villas and trattorias richly perfumed with sizzling garlic—drop precipitously down into a dazzling patch of azure ocean. And there, in that water, like so many bobbing ducklings, float the traditional gozzo fishing boats that are synonymous with the region. Their wide beams and full keels provide stability and safety for the fishermen who depend on them; their trademark rounded transoms are sculpted that way so the nets do not snag when being hauled in. In many ways, this ancient fleet is the lifeblood of the region, as its hauls of branzino and gamberi quite literally feed the economy. And for decades, the builder of these boats has been the Apreas.
Based in the village of Sorrento, Fratelli Aprea is a sixth generation boatbuilding family that turns out not only boats that are integral to life in this particularly beautiful corner of the world, but also floating works of art.
The builder’s line of fishboat-styled cruisers spans back to the 19th century, but it wasn’t until World War II that Fratelli Aprea began putting Jeep engines on their rowboat designs, thanks to a request from the United States Navy. The result was a boat that was fast and powerful by the day’s standards, but also looked like a harmless, oar-powered fishing boat to enemy planes overhead. One of the boats from that era is still in working condition in the Aprea-family shipyard—they use it to go fishing.
Today, the builder takes great pride in its incredibly rich lineage. Though they stopped building in all wood in 1988, when fiberglass was added to the hulls, woodwork is still of paramount concern. One of the uncles in the family has the enviable job of traveling the world to find the best lumber for each boat. Nowhere on board does a passenger come into contact with any fiberglass—only meticulously crafted woods on the teak decking, aft bench seating, swim platforms, and the like.
For the first time in Fratelli Aprea’s history, Americans are now able to experience these vessels stateside, thanks to Michael Sinacola, who is the builder’s broker for the domestic market. He currently has a 750 Open Cruise, a 780, and a 32-Hardtop ready and waiting in Palm Beach, Florida. A 36-Hardtop and a 50 are also primed to cross the Atlantic for a proper introduction at this year’s Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show. Sinacola, who is of Italian descent, was attracted to this builder for many reasons, but he really fell in love with the custom artisanship. “At Fratelli Aprea, we don’t have a factory full of workers,” he says, “we have a workshop full of craftsmen. These boats are masterpieces. The craftsmen are here doing their life’s calling. These trees they use had their original existence in a forest, and then they got cut down and take on a whole other second life as part of these vessels. I’ve never been around anything like this before, in terms of boats.”
The Fratelli Aprea lineup is powered by all straight-shaft propulsion units, though the manufacturer, be it Volvo Penta, Yanmar, MAN, or anything else, is up to the owner. Despite the full keel, the boats are also all semi-displacement, and can be expected to cruise around 20 knots, and be able to run at speeds up to 30 knots on the pins, depending on the model and power configuration. Regardless of propulsion, Sinacola says the boats will be dry and seaworthy. “You have to understand,” he says, “for generations these men were going out to sea on these boats for their livelihood. The boats had to run well, because they needed to get home safely with their catch to feed their family.”
It’s a comforting thought, and underscores the importance of family within the boating community—be it a father and son rowing out to check their nets off Positano at the fin de siècle, or your own little family, right now.