The Camuffo tradition

Venice-Istanbul, indeed Constantinople, and we are not talking about the Orient-Express, but rather the oldest shipyard in the world, as certified by countless commercial and notarial documents which are kept in numerous State archives and libraries, and confirmed by a Harvard Business School study where the shipyard figured at 10th place amongst the oldest of plurigenerational family businesses, with its 19 uninterrupted generations of shipwrights, ship owners, "proto-maistri" and builders of all types of wooden vessels. The Camuffo family has been jealously handing on its different construction methodologies and the secrets derived from experienced practices deduced from the activity of building vessels and work undertaken in the Venice Arsenal since the XY century.

History takes us to Candia (Crete) in 1483, a fundamental Venetian port which gains its name from the island, which represents the base of all commercial traffic with the Serenissima in the Mediterranean towards the East and the Black Sea, where our forefathers, known as the Camuffi, who in reality were the El Ham-Mufti (from the Arabic: the voice of the overseer) worked as "magister stadii" or rather as ship's gaugers. A follower, just like his descendants, of the Greek-Byzantine shipbuilding tradition, given his renowned ability, he was encharged with establishing the load capacity of different ships, the practice which was the basis of the application of customs taxes to be paid to the State. After the fall of Constantinople the situation in the Aegean became difficult for those Venetian subjects who, like Petrus Cristianus qundam Camuffi, the son of a ship's gauger, had converted to Christianity; thus, different families living in Candia moved to Chioggia which was the major centre of mercantile ship and trawler building in the Adriatic.

Well integrated into the Venice community, we find them working as caulkers, working in the Venice Arsenal and being shipbuilders in their own right, due to a permit granted in perpetuity on land with a shipyard and slipway, where the family built vessels. The Camuffo family actively continued as shipyard workers and caulkers broadening their activities with the most widespread ramifications and working for themselves at all times, also in different shipyards, confirming themselves as ship owners, as is documented by countless documents of the time, until they obtained permission, under the first Napoleonic government, to drain some land and establish another shipyard, where all the mercantile and trawler vessels were built at the time. Between the XV and XIX centuries, all wooden vessels, such as traditional Venetian load bearing "burchi", barges, typical Venetian/Chioggian "bragagne", " bragozzetti" fishing boats, mercantile ships like "marciliane", "caorline" lagoon boats, traditional Venetian rowing boats known as "sandoli", double-oared "pupparini" pleasure boats, "tartane" fishing boats, flat-bottomed lagoon and coastal "topi", " trabaccoli" transport boats, and "pieleghi" fishing boats, were built and equipped at Chioggia, by Camuffo "proto-maistri", shipyard workers, caulkers, ship owners or part-owners (parcenevoli); these vessels plied the Adriatic sailing as far as Odessa, on the Black Sea.

In 1840, Francesco Luigi Camuffo, the third son of Fortunato Camuffo, who was a skilled worker but blocked in terms of succession rights to gaining ownership of the family shipyard decided to transfer to where vessels were in demand, with the help of his father, as witnessed by the ship owning investments of the latter with Captains from Trieste and San Giorgio di Nogaro, in Portogruaro, the location of the ex-customs house of the Venetian State, and the starting point for business activities on dry land, which reached the sea via the river Lèmene. He established a solid shipbuilding business producing classic traditional vessels from the Chioggia area, which were adapted to the requirements of the region, characterised by canals and lagoons, he created a flotilla of working vessels for hire, and in practice invented a nautical recreation centre, creating and hiring gondolini, sandoli, and pupparini, for trips out on Sunday. Thus, the Camuffo family, known as "that lot with the boats", also became the exclusive suppliers of all the land drainage consortiums over the course of two centuries working in the southern part of the Veneto region and in Fruili for the construction of the famous Litoranea Veneta waterway, which enables goods and passengers to sail internally from the river Po to punta Sdobba in Fruili.

In 1912, Luigi Camuffo, who was called to carry out military service in Venice with the Lagunari Corps, was invited to work in various Venetian shipyards, until he arrived at the SVAN, Società Veneziana Automobili Navali, shipyard; he was then able to gain his first working experience on MUS boats. On these motorboats, the weight/power ratio was still scarce and indeed had trouble gliding, but at this point the young Camuffo began to understand and feel the hull bottom under his feet. These first fundamental experiences were based on intuition and testing on the water in the light of learning by making mistakes, but proved to be seminal in bringing about a turning point in the work of the shipyard.

While continuing with the traditional activity of the shipyard, in 1927, the first Camuffo motorboat was created, it was 9 meters long, motorised with a Fiat 18BL, 24Hp motor, and tested on the occasion of the construction of the first seaside resort infrastructure at Lignano Sabbiadoro. After the II World War, the shipyard was moved from Borgo S.Agnese to the present headquarters in via Zambaldi, abandoning the construction of working ships to become exclusively dedicated to building recreational vessels.

Luigi's sons, Marco and Giacomo who are the present-day directors of the shipyard, came into the business, Marco being the shipbuilder and Giacomo overseeing the administration and business. In the 50s, they started producing the first double diagonal solid wood Mahogany planking motorboats, petrol-powered motorised, both inboard and outboard; before moving on to having a cruise cabin and in 1972, becoming part of the motorisation era with the use of inboard diesel turbo. Thanks to new technology and the experience of two generations of gliding hull motorboat builders, Marco has been able to create magical Camuffo hull bottoms which have reached a perfection which has been widely-recognised by all the operators in the sector and witnessed by the performance and unreachable consumption levels for vessels of comparable dimensions, equipped with any motorisation.

Read more