On board with Raffaele Costa, owner of superyacht Sea Force One
The year is 2002 and a young Raffaele Costa has just picked up the keys to a stunning new 13.4 metre Riva Rivarama. He and his friends pile on board and blast down from Genoa to the Aeolian Islands off Sicily. They tie up to a buoy off the small island of Panarea and go ashore.
That evening, one of the biggest storms the islands have ever seen blows in. Almost every boat in the harbour sinks, but not his.
“The temperature dropped from 33 degrees to eight in a few minutes,” remembers Costa. “It was like the apocalypse because you could just about see these huge waves, and it was midnight, so the only boats we could see were the ones crashing onto the rocks.”
If this was a stand-alone moment you’d call him lucky but Costa, owner of the spectacular 54 metre Admiral Sea Force One, is positively charmed.
It’s 1999. Costa, at home from university, is working in his father’s pizzeria in Venice, wondering how to engage companies and secure an internship. A well-dressed couple come in and sit down. Disaster strikes when the restaurant’s Pepsi fountain breaks. The well-dressed man stands and offers to fix it. He and Costa strike up a conversation and the older gentleman hands him a business card: chairman of PepsiCo, Washington DC. “Call me,” he says, and Costa becomes the first ever intern at the company without a degree.
It’s a few years later at university in London and Costa is wondering what to do on completion of his business degree. He’s living on Baker Street with some friends, one of whom is boasting about becoming a great banker. The friendly badinage becomes bitter when his friend jokes that Costa will “never be able to make it”. Defiant, Costa asks him which is the world’s greatest bank, to which the reply comes: “Goldman Sachs”. Costa sends out a single application letter – to Goldman – and 22 gruelling interviews later lands a job. His friend? Nope.
His career takes off in the bank’s private client services department, but he leaves Goldman in 1995 to build hedge fund GLG Partners, where he stays for 15 years, helping it become one of the largest hedge funds in the world. The fund is acquired by the Man Group in 2010 for $1.6 billion in what is billed “the deal of the century” for the company. Costa stays for a year, heading up the firm’s client advisory group and managing strategy for Europe and North America, before branching out on his own and founding Tyndaris, a new investment firm with interests in real estate finance and tech start-ups.
Click, click… Click. And that’s just his professional life. He got rid of the Riva not long after that storm because another piece slipped into place: a relationship with Admiral, a brand now owned by The Italian Sea Group. His Riva didn’t sink, but it was torn from its mooring buoy and collected the next morning by a canny sailor who thought to salvage the yacht and claim ownership. Costa took up a helicopter to look for her, eventually spotting the Riva under tow. They landed on a nearby beach and convinced a fisherman with a tiny dinghy to motor out to the catamaran. “I mean, imagine it,” says Costa, “landing a helicopter on a beach next to this 65-year-old man with a fishing rod.”
He contested the sailor’s salvage claim – and took the boat back. His lawyer in the case had an existing relationship with Admiral, and introduced him to the boatyard that would build his next two yachts – a 26 metre made in aluminium, and then, in 2008, Sea Force One. “Life comes to you as much as you look for it,” Costa says.
Sitting in his impeccable home in London’s exclusive Holland Park, it’s hard to argue. Stunning works of art cover the walls and like many collectors, it’s one part investment, two parts love. “If the art doesn’t deliver a message I just won’t buy it,” he says, pointing at a huge painting by Spanish artist Antoni Tapies. “As it happens this piece delivers me a message and at the same time I see an opportunity to make a profit if on one day it will be re-rated by the market. It might be here for 10 years, it could be here for two. For as long as it gives me energy I will have it.”
This concept of being energised by art also applies to his boat, which is now for sale. “This is a boat that does 11 weeks of charter every summer. To me this is the best testament that it’s still one of the best boats on the market in this size range,” he says.
Designed by Luca Dini, Costa is obviously immensely proud of Sea Force One. “I think Dini produced the most beautiful 54 metre boat in the world, winning the prize for most innovative yacht at the 2008 World Superyacht Awards. As a judge of the awards for six years, I still haven’t seen anything that is comparable to it. I’m obviously biased, but you show me a 54 metre boat that better unifies a Zen approach to onboard living with the lounge atmosphere of the best summer Med hotspots.”
Here’s the “but”: “She has exhausted the energy that I wanted from her,” Costa confides. “And I’m a little more sophisticated than I was [when she was delivered in 2008]. Sophisticated is probably the wrong word, but it gives you an idea.” However, this isn’t the end of superyachting for Costa, who’s as addicted to the life as ever. “There are three types of people: people who like looking at the sea, people who like to swim in the sea and people who like floating. I like floating.”
His next project, though, will offer something quite different to the experience of Sea Force One. “I cannot overtake Sea Force One in terms of how cool she is. It is impossible. I’ve visited many big boats in the last six years but frankly I haven’t seen anything really “wow” other than a very good ability to use space in a better way, just because it’s more. So the only way to surpass myself is to go backwards in history. My next boat will be going backwards.”
The ambition of the boat will be quite different too: “It has to be a world cruiser,” says Costa. “And I wouldn’t do anything between 54 metres and 85 metres, for the reason that anything in between wouldn’t be able to deliver what is required to beat Sea Force One. So super big. After all, what am I getting with a 70 metre boat? Another deck? I don’t just need more space, I need more interesting space.
"I’m selling the boat so I can start projecting, which is going to take 12 to 18 months, and then I’ll be in a position to say, ‘This is exactly what I want’ and start selecting the shipyard.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but a life spent growing up in a restaurant – and later on a noisy trading floor – set him up for a life at sea. “My father introduced pizza to northern Italy in 1947!” Costa boasts. “It’s a romantic story because on top of being a very successful restaurateur, he was incredibly happy with having whatever he had. I grew up in the restaurant and am used to living in a small space with people, since I was zero. Literally zero and a few days. Being on a trading floor was like being in the restaurant – the same noise, same movement.
“And the boat, frankly, is the same thing. You end up in a big family whether it’s friends, whether it’s business, whether it’s parties, it’s always a number of people and I always try to recreate that environment because that’s what I was accustomed to.”
His brother now runs that restaurant in Venice and Costa grew up dreaming of making the perfect pizza – and actually does, he says, his girlfriend nodding in agreement. He never entertained thoughts of being a businessmen, hedge fundie or superyacht owner, but a massive ambition was always there – life just helped crystallise it.
“My parents always understood that I wanted to do great things, whatever that great thing was,” he says. On most people’s scorecards, he has already achieved this, but then Costa is one superyacht owner who doesn’t know how to stop – and when the stars are aligned, why would you?
Amerlia Troubrige, Mark Sims, Peter Seyfferth, Bugsy Gedlek