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Riva 63 Virtus

Less is More(Beautiful)

Riva’s stylish 63 Virtus retains the positive traits of her older sister—the 63 Vertigo—and combines them with some slick features.

Boatbuilders are like helmsmen—in tough conditions they sometimes have to be creative. Just as challenging seas can bring the best out of an experienced skipper, a difficult market can inspire a shipyard to respond in unexpected ways. It takes time and money to develop a new motoryacht from scratch, and when pressure to innovate isn’t backed up by the balance sheet, designers and engineers have to think laterally.

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So there is more to the new 63 Virtus than meets the eye, and at the same time there is less. The biggest open Riva in the model range—in fact the biggest open Riva ever—she represents everything that this august Italian yard has come to stand for after more than a century of boatbuilding. She’s stylish, fast, and beautifully engineered. She’s elegantly put together, reassuringly expensive, and able to hold her head high in the most exclusive harbors in the world.

And yet she’s not new, or at least, not entirely. She shares her hull design, engineering, and power train, as well as her lower-deck layout, with another model—the Riva 63 Vertigo, which was first introduced six years ago and has proved something of a success, with more than 25 built so far.

As those sales figures suggest, the hardtop Vertigo has much to recommend it. So, much of the success of this new Virtus will depend not on what’s new, but on what has been retained—developing the new model has not simply been a matter of taking off the hardtop and putting a new badge on the side. The Vertigo’s cockpit layout, for example, has a unique and innovative feature with its ingenious, sliding sofa that can either be placed flush against the cockpit side or adjacent to the table for dining. In either position—and this is the clever bit—it doesn’t impede the walkway along the starboard side.

Sensibly, behind the sleek new windscreen and reprofiled guardrails, the Virtus’s cockpit also features that smart movable sofa. But elsewhere the layout sees some major changes. The new, curved mast divides what used to be an aft bench seat into two smaller seats—not ideal, perhaps, and it could have been avoided if the designers had opted for a more conventional radar arch, but hey, this is a Riva. That mast is gorgeous. More significant is the new arrangement on the port side, where the settee now sweeps around the forward edge of the table to provide a lot more seating, while the single helm seat has morphed into a much more sociable three-seater bench. Also, up on the foredeck, the sunpad has been further civilized with a pram-hood-style sunshade.

But the most far-reaching change in the new Virtus is the folding bimini, which replaces the Vertigo’s hardtop. If you had been in any doubt that you were aboard an Italian motoryacht—a stretch, I know—you would be reassured once you saw this remarkable canopy deployed. It is stowed under hinged covers that follow the inner curve of the windscreen. As you lift the side covers manually, an electric motor slides the front one forward. The massive stainless steel hoops of the bimini then slide backwards to clear the windscreen, and then the whole structure hoists itself upright, unfolding the fabric as it goes. It is engineering in action—very cool, exceptionally solid, and rather expensive-looking, though perhaps not a lot lighter than the Vertigo’s entire hardtop.

Down below, apart from some changes to the décor and color scheme, the Virtus will seem familiar to aficionados of the older model. Fitted out with real quality in light-oak veneers with contrasting dark stain, luxurious fabrics, and thick leather upholstery, it is an interior that is both attractive and easy to live with. The steps down are rather steep, but once below you’ll find a spacious lower saloon with a comfortable settee and dining table suitable for six to eight guests, plus a small but practical galley along the port side, which has plenty of counter space and a fair volume of stowage, as well as a fridge, freezer, microwave, ceramic cooktop, and dishwasher all fitted as standard. Headroom is a generous 6 feet 8 inches, reducing to 6 feet 4 inches in the cabins.

As with the Vertigo, the Virtus’s master suite lies amidships, with the berth placed under the port hull windows and flanked by the familiar and faintly unsettling floor-to-ceiling mirrors on each bulkhead, which offer multiple reflections and may remind you, every time you collapse into bed, to join a gym. The impressively roomy head is along the starboard side, with its own portholes and a big shower compartment.

Lacking the master’s giant mirrors, the VIP suite in the bow feels a lot smaller, but it’s actually well proportioned, with reasonable floor space and an excellent berth, which is not only mounted at the correct height but is the same size as the owner’s—6 feet 4 inches by 5 feet. Guests in here might find they’re a little light on stowage space, however, with just the one hanging locker and one under-berth drawer, and the head is also a little on the small side.

A third cabin, with twin bunks set at right angles and a limited floor area, is pretty compact and clearly intended for children—although you’ll find more generous stowage lockers in here than in the VIP. It has no head of its own, but the excellent dayhead and shower on the starboard side is just a few steps across the saloon. 

With the accommodation areas taking the lion’s share of the Virtus’s hull volume, the engines are squeezed in aft, on V-drive gearboxes to increase interior space, and with the fuel tanks mounted across the forward bulkhead to provide sound insulation. The tender garage—big enough for a custom-made, Riva-branded 10-foot 6-inch Avon Jet RIB—restricts headroom over the big MAN V12s, but does at least provide for convenient launch and recovery on a simple roller system. The small crew cabin in the stern is fitted as standard.

With the same hull and machinery as the existing Vertigo, the Virtus displayed very similar performance characteristics during our test off Cannes—although with a season’s worth of growth on the bottom, her top speed was slightly down on the advertised 40 knots. We also had a fair amount of fuel and water onboard, a tender, and no fewer than 12 people.  

Quick to accelerate and responsive on the helm, the Virtus is a delight to drive, with the lack of a hardtop only adding to the excellence of the driving experience. Ours was a pristine day of sunshine with a three-foot swell and a chop on top, which soon reminded me of my test of the Vertigo a few years back, when I found myself wishing for finer forward sections and a slightly deeper vee. Like her older sister, the Virtus has all the power and performance you could ask of such a refined motoryacht, and hitting head seas at 35 knots or more with such comparatively flat bottom sections can produce some impressive impacts. Quarter those seas, though, and the hull copes well; there is also a useful range of fore and aft trim available from big, effective trim tabs, to help the helmsman fine-tune the ride. It helps too that the helm response is so positive and precise—much better than the Vertigo’s was in our test.

Flat sections do have their uses, of course. Acceleration is one, low planing speed another—even loaded as we were the Virtus proved perfectly happy remaining on plane down to between 18 and 20 knots, which adds great flexibility to her performance envelope and could prove useful when plugging along in rough weather. 

Riva’s 63 Virtus is a truly surprising yacht. Behind the scenes it’s based on the tried and tested Vertigo chassis, but with a svelte new profile and sexy mast, her high-tech bimini and rethought cockpit, she is, for all practical purposes, a new boat—and a terrific one. It’s a prime example of less being more. Lateral thinking has never looked so good.

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This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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