I've agreed to meet Paola Trifirò at her apartment for a coffee before we head out to lunch, and my plan is to meet the photographer outside so we can go in together. I've not reckoned on the efficiency of the doorman, however; he quickly pries out of me the reason for loitering on his pavement and phones up to announce my arrival.
Salvatore was already a sailor when Paola met him. 'He was passionate about boats, and I was passionate about him, and so [put] one passion with the other and I was passionate about boats!' she explains. 'He had a small boat, a dinghy, and it was on the lake, which is dangerous. So we bought a seven-metre boat from France, called Calife. A very strong boat, not too big. I had one burner (in the galley), but always had something hot I was always organised for fantastic food.' Good galleys have been a feature of the Trifiròs' boats ever since vital for such a famously passionate cook.
They cruised as far as Capri and Corsica in this boat, while Paola learned both sailing and astro-navigation. They kept it for about three years, until 1973, before feeling it was time to upgrade. They briefly replaced _Calife _with a Swedish-built 8.5-metre yacht, before settling on something a little bigger, at 11.5 metres. The couple kept her in Saint-Tropez, France, and drove the 250 miles there and back every weekend to cruise her along the French coast. The next step up was a 14m Dufour yacht bought in 1978; the pattern of buying something a little bigger every few years had been established.
The Trifiròs were committed cruising sailors and the Dufour significantly extended their range. This time they ventured much further afield, visiting Tunisia and North Africa. A Jongert was next, found with the help of Herbert Dahm. 'It was called Black Shark; the name was not mine, but it looked like a hotel, like a first class hotel,' says Trifirò. 'But there were problems. The beds were positioned in a stupid way, so we [only] kept it a couple of years.'
At this point the Trifiròs had their first real brush with boat building. 'We were enthusiastic to have an old Italian boat, a masterpiece, and so we started looking,' recalls Trifirò. They found what they wanted in Val III, originally built by Cantieri di Pisa at their Cantieri Navale Italiano yard in Porta a Mare on the Navicelli channel. The yard only built sailboats for a few short years from 1957, and the 21m ketch was the last it produced, in 1966.
When the Trifiròs bought her they called her Kalea, and embarked on an ambitious renovation. Paola had the opportunity to exercise her design outlook. The exterior was rebuilt as original, but the interior was given a modern look with mahogany finish, red leather, a small library, a proper galley and even a dishwasher.
'It took one and a half years, very, very intense. The quality of artisan in Cantiere Valdettaro was superb,' she remembers. In Kalea, their cruising reach moved out again to include the Greek Islands, North Africa and Turkey. The Trifiròs kept Kalea for about four years, and were very pleased to see her again recently. 'And still the boat is superb. We were on board Rrose Selavy with the Commodore, sailing around Porto Cervo last year and we saw Kalea. It was like an apparition we had a look and I was so happy and so surprised, it was perfect.'
Paola would have liked to keep her for longer, but in 1990 the couple had their heads turned by a Jongert available at a particularly good price, a 26m boat called Happy Taurus II. 'It [had] a super kitchen; you can't imagine how beautiful the kitchen was, like a professional one. And with this boat we did a lot of things, it was a splendid boat, very tough. So strong, all steel.' The motivation was once again to extend their cruising range, and this time they hoped to reach their ultimate goal of sailing around the world.
The Trifiròs cruised north with Happy Taurus II, across the Bay of Biscay to Normandy, before crossing the English Channel to Southampton and heading west along the south coast, before taking in Wales and Ireland. 'Beautiful country, the south of England, and we didn't eat any longer ham or chicken, just clotted cream. Everyday. This was a fantastic holiday,' she says with a laugh. They took Happy Taurus II up the Thames to St Katherine's Dock, to Norway and Sweden, and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and then up the east coast of the US to New York and New England.
_Zefira _was built by Fitzroy Yachts in New Zealand; she's a 49.7m fast-cruising sloop and the largest Dubois Naval Architects had designed without a flybridge. It started cutting aluminium in early 2009 and Salvatore visited just once, six months later. Paola was there regularly.
The Trifiròs have also raced Zefira at the Caribbean Superyacht Regatta and Rendezvous, Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta and the Dubois Cup. Everywhere, the boat has turned heads and garnered admiring reviews. And having created such a beautiful, fêted boat, it is surprising to learn the Trifiròs are already considering replacing her; but then, change is the pattern of their yacht ownership.
Trifirò explains her philosophy: 'If you have a splendid house, a beautiful house, you don't think about changing; but even with a beautiful boat, there are things you could do in a new, different way. This is the dream.' The world's economic circumstances may be against it, however. 'The general situation is difficult, there are problems and risks. We must clarify our ideas. Everybody has ideas, but at the moment the final result is just the splendid dream of a new, mysterious creature.'
As I prepare to leave, I can't help but think that the evidence Paola Trifirò still has a powerful urge to design and create is all around me. And somehow, I doubt a little thing like the global financial crisis will stop her finding an outlet for that ambition. We'll have to wait and see whether or not that means another superyacht.
Originally published in Boat International March 2013
Photography by Carlo Borlenghi