An Italian Story: Fulvio Pacitto – the last shipwright?

Fulvio Pacitto started working at the age of 15, out of the great passion he had for boats, which was transmitted to him by his maternal grandfather, Ferdinando Carboni; his grandfather was part of the old crews of risicatori, the boys who earned their living racing to be the first to reach the merchant ships arriving at the port, gaining the right to unload the goods.

He went to work as a labourer in the Livorno district of Venice, where they pulled the famous ships on the ground. He tried to copy the work by observing with his eyes, because the old shipwrights were jealous of their knowledge and didn’t teach him anything. He worked there until 1969, when he moved into his grandfather’s cellar, working on his own and building his first boat, of only four metres.

Slowly he began to craft bigger boats  and to design fishing boats, for a total of 103 boats. He has never given up on difficulties, because of his great passion. Then, over time, fibreglass has invaded the field. The work failed, but he never stopped working with wood.

He says, “I was born with wood and I will die with wood. And even now that I’m ageing, I always start building when a boat is commissioned to me; even if there is no one who asks for them, I build them anyway. Then when it’s done, because of the great passion I have, someone will buy them, otherwise I’ll keep them“. 

He continues, with the typical accent of Livorno: “This job, my grandfather used to say, must be learned from kindergarten. Being a shipwright takes a lot of passion. You need knowledge of wood, grain, seasoning. I got the schools to come with Professor Papini, long ago; he brought high school kids here to the cellar, while I was building a boat. I told everyone that if someone had the desire, I would gladly have undertaken to teach them the job, because I would be deeply sorry if the day I retire, as I am the last one in Livorno, the job dies. Now a boy has responded to the appeal, he has a lot of passion, but unfortunately there are no buildings, there are no orders.”

The tools of the job are mostly the axe (see picture), because the very title of the profession is the axe (“Shipwright” in Italian translates to maestro d’ascia, which roughly means master of the axe). The big axe, then the axe that is used to make the knockers of the boards, the smaller axe, the chisels, the hammers, and many tools that he almost entirely inherited from the old shipwrights who stopped working and passed the tools down to him. He has always kept them jealously, and he says he loves his tools more than himself. Caulking irons, along with other tools, can no longer be found. Who knows what will happen to them in the future.

Unfortunately for Pacitto, the advent of resin and fibreglass slowed down the market a bit. A young person would have to sacrifice themself with just as much passion as he has, because he took the risk of sacrificing himself to learn a job, even if now that he has mastered his craft he gets very few orders. In Livorno resin boats are in fashion, there are maybe four or five new wooden boats, except for a few fishing boats, or work boats. Everyone mostly goes for resin boats. 

For Fulvio Pacitto, for the great passion he has, the true seafaring boat is the wooden boat: another charm, another style. Just see how many photos of his boats he’s got, some of which are proudly displayed in his cellar, together with the article from newspaper Il Tirreno, when he was appointed Cavalier of the Republic.

 

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