Outside of James Bond movies, David Snediker had never before seen a Venetian water taxi. The boats are practically nonexistent on America’s waterways, having been built for Italian canals.
Intermezzo was purchased in Venice, Italy, as a functional water taxi by a woman who kept the boat in Sag Harbor, New York, for a few years. But classic wooden boats are demanding vessels, so it wasn’t long before the elegant craft required serious maintenance. In 2007, she ended up at Snediker’s boatbuilding shop in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, Snediker Yacht Restoration.
“The owner had nursed it along for a number of years and then found us to do some minor repair work to keep the boat afloat,” says Snediker. “But it was apparent at that point that the boat was going to require more work than she was really willing to put into it.” Intermezzo was ready for a new home, but as a wooden boat, she wasn’t an easy project for just anybody to take on. Luckily, he had just the
Like Snediker, Joe Robillard had never seen a Venetian water taxi before Intermezzo (though he has since learned of a few others in the U.S.), but when he saw the photos, he knew she deserved to be saved. “It was not something I was looking for, but there was only one person crazy enough in the world to restore it,” he says.
Robillard has been sailing since he was a little kid and has owned a boat since before he graduated college. He also began restoring boats when he was an undergrad, doing all the work himself when he was younger. Now, most of his restoration projects are done by boat shops. Although he has made a career on Wall Street, boating and restoring old boats remain his primary passions, and he owns at least a dozen classic boats. Over the past 20 years, he has worked with Snediker on a number of projects, including the 78-foot Herreshoff sloop they are currently restoring. When Snediker introduced Robillard to Intermezzo, he responded with a now-famous line: “I need more varnish in my life.”
Intermezzo was built in 1961 by an Italian boatbuilder called Chia. Besides this fact, however, little is known about her origins. “It seems that wooden boats are not valued there in the same way they are here in terms of there being a revival,” Snediker says. “It seems that they were just considered workboats and there wasn’t a lot of history behind them.” Though he couldn’t find any publications about her construction, Snediker believes she was built on Murano, the more industrial island opposite Venice, and that she originally transported people from the Santa Lucia train station to the Venice city center.
If wooden boats are not as revered in Italy as they are in America, it is certainly not for lack of craftsmanship. Intermezzo is entirely hand-constructed using a traditional double-planking method. The inner layer is laid on the diagonal from the rail to the chine, and the outer layer is applied on her topsides, which makes for a very light and waterproof hull. Between those two layers is another layer of linen fabric that Snediker guesses is set in either paint or white lead.
“The people that built her did an incredible job in terms of the quality of construction and the quality of materials. It’s absolutely stunning,” says Snediker. Intermezzo’s planking is also book-meshed from side to side, meaning the builder selected pieces of wood that were twice as thick as needed to make two planks. Each piece was placed in the same position on opposite sides of the boat, “a hallmark of really fine construction,” Snediker says. All of the wood is ribbon-stripe, instrument-quality African mahogany.
Snediker and Robillard embarked on the major restoration project over winter 2010/2011. The boat was still equipped with her original propulsion, an old Volvo gasoline engine that was very loud and very hot. The plan was to replace it, and this led them down a path of even more repairs. “Once we had the engine, propeller shaft and running gear out, we realized that the bottom of the boat was in pretty rough shape,” Robillard says. “We didn’t want to bolt a brand-new powertrain onto that questionable structure.” Instead, they flipped the boat over and pulled the entire bottom off to replace it.
“We put in a new keel and put a new bottom on the boat utilizing the same construction method, but instead of bedding two layers in cloth and paint, we epoxied the two layers together,” Snediker says. “We took advantage of modern technology to make it stronger.”
Because Robillard wanted to use the boat in Maryland, where it gets steamy in the summer, and put her on a lift so that he can take her out of the water when he isn’t using her, Snediker had to implement another modern technique to help the boat hold up to the wet-dry cycling. He wrapped the chine in fiberglass to ensure it was structurally sound and waterproof, and then he covered the fiberglass in a layer of outer planking to maintain her traditional appearance.
Intermezzo was then fitted with a new 6.2-liter MerCruiser V-8, which provides the 30-foot boat with a top end speed of 33 knots–a significant uptick from what she could achieve with her original engine. The boat had originally been extremely loud, as the cockpit is right on top of the engine, but they added insulation and built enclosures to dampen the sound. She also got a new transmission, shaft and prop, and they installed air conditioning in the aft cabin.
Despite all of the structural improvements, one of Robillard’s favorite outcomes of the restoration is purely superficial. “We discovered during the restoration that the side windows in the passenger cabin were constructed in such a way that allowed them to be rolled down like automotive windows,” he says. All that was missing was the mechanism to move them, which led Snediker and Robillard to believe that the adjustable windows were an option from Chia. So, they installed the motors and switches. “People just love when you hit the little button and the window goes down,” Robillard says. The windows fit perfectly with the armchairs upholstered in red leatherette and white piping.
Today, Robillard keeps Intermezzo on a lift in his boathouse in Oxford, Maryland. She has a deep-V entry that flattens out pretty fast, so she does well in a chop and performs almost like a displacement hull at low speeds. Robillard doesn’t take her into open water, though. Instead, he uses her for cocktail cruises through the creeks and rivers on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake, where she commands the spotlight.
“It really is one of those boats that everyone looks at when you go through town,” he says. “It’s just mesmerizing with the sun on the varnish and the curves.” That’s what drew him to Intermezzo in the first place—her beauty and overall harmony of design. Now, she is an important fixture in his fleet, and he intends to keep her forever.
Intermezzo may have originated as a workboat, but she has earned a happy retirement where her craftsmanship can be admired. Though a rare sight on the Bay, this Venetian water taxi contributes an element of high design to the waterway that is impossible to replicate. “The thing about Italian design, whether it’s Ferrari or Prada, is that is has that snap,” Robillard says. “Everyone tries to make a beautiful boat, but not everyone succeeds. This one is one of those beautiful pieces of art that got it just right.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue.