Riva SportRiva 56By Alan Harper
Even after all these years, a new Riva is an event. All that iconic imagery—so carefully cultivated by the Ferretti Group's marketing people—of the 1960's jet set aboard its classic mahogany runabouts has given the shipyard a priceless cachet, one that to this day remains unique among boatbuilders. And even though Riva has endured its share of strife over the last 20 years or so, it still has it.
Of course, such iconography also gives the current custodians of the fabled Sarnico brand a very hard act to follow. Everything they do is inevitably measured against the perfection of the past. But they have not shied away from the challenge. Since the launch of the exquisite fiberglass Aquariva in 2001, a boat that's as pretty as the old mahogany runabouts but a damn sight easier to build at a profit, the company has embraced its heritage, turning out a succession of premium-priced, retro-style craft with names like Rivale and Rivarama that manage to effortlessly eclipse their rivals by simply being so much better looking.
Inevitably, then, the unveiling of this new Riva was one of the main events of last fall's Cannes boat show, even though at first glance she looks to have more in common with the company's more cutting-edge, modern designs—the Ego and Vertigo ("Viva La Riva," May 2007)—than with the mahogany-inspired retro revolution.
According to Riva sales and marketing director Francesco Frediani, the whole idea for the SportRiva 56 came about because of demand for a hard-top version of the classically styled Rivale from customers in the Middle East and Asia (who want to stay out of the sun and turn on the air conditioning) and in northern Europe (who want to stay out of the rain and turn on the heat). If Frediani had been at an American boat show, he would have probably been talking about Seattle and Florida.
Frediani describes the SportRiva as "a fusion between a fly bridge and an open." I would describe it as gorgeous. The standard color is cream, but the show model was finished in a lustrous, shimmering "Roman bronze." The flying bridge is small but perfectly adequate, and while there is nothing retro about the look, there is something about the design philosophy—the big windows, purposeful-looking hull, and the lightweight, minimalist flying bridge—that reminded me of the old Riva-Bertram sportfishermen of the 1970's.
The "open" origins of the design are manifest in the main-deck layout, which cleverly incorporates the flyingbridge steps into the radar mast so that they hardly interrupt the flow of the spaces at all. The Rivale's aft sunbed has been transformed into a dinette on the SportRiva, raised to create space underneath for a 10'7" Avon jet RIB. And the saloon, with its recessed galley almost invisible on the starboard side, enjoys so much light from the enormous window area that you feel like you're almost outside.
Down below, the SportRiva has compact, three-cabin accommodations, with the matching guest twins side by side amidships. The port cabin is the larger of the two, with berths that slide together to create a double, and it also enjoys access to the day head.
The forepeak owner's suite has a roomy, two-part head and shower, large stowage lockers on each side, and a big double berth mounted centrally. The decor in the interior is a modern, rich, and subtle blend of blond oak veneer and leather with pale fabrics, cream linings, and plenty of natural light.
There are numerous details to remind you that you're aboard a high-end Italian yacht: the bespoke stowage for the Caligaro cutlery and Dibberu bone china, the curved drinks cabinet in the saloon with its leather lid, and the way the galley steps lift, clearing the bulkhead alongside by a carefully engineered millimeter.
Outside, flaps over the stern cleats are elegant and practical, as are the twin liferaft lockers inset into the quarters—exactly where you would want them. The little folding shade over the foredeck sunbed put me in mind of a baby stroller hood, but it will probably remind you of your 1933 Duesenberg. Our optional mini-bimini top seemed to have come from the same design school. It might struggle to provide much in the way of shade, but it looked nice. And I liked the transom "doors," too—simple molded panels that slide shut to reveal the Riva name on the transom in polished stainless steel.
While the SportRiva's hull is more than three feet longer than the open-topped Rivale's, the extra length is aft of the engine-room bulkhead to support the added weight of the flying bridge. With no need for a lower dinette, however, the SportRiva's guest cabins have been placed farther forward, to make space for a surprisingly comfortable midships crew cabin, accessed via the galley. The galley itself is spacious and practical, and although buried out of sight of the saloon, it is open to the air and not at all claustrophobic.
The SportRiva 56 is lucky with her inheritance: The hull shape she shares with the Rivale is deep-sectioned with a fine entry and 15 degrees of deadrise at the stern. Her only engines (there is no optional power) are MAN V8s of 900-hp each mated to V-drive gearboxes, with propeller tunnels to reduce the shaft angle. These compact and torquey motors, in their tightly packed but well-organized engine room, pushed our boat to a top speed of nearly 36 mph. Her captain confessed that she had been achieving 39.1 mph until the propellers came into contact with a hard bit of Sardinia during the boat's pre-show VIP launch. Oops.
The weather was kind and the waves barely a foot or two, but luckily there were enough big wakes around off Cannes to confirm that this capable hull provides a commendably soft upwind ride—noticeably better than the 63 Vertigo's which I tested last year, even allowing for the speed difference. The trim tabs provide effective attitude control, either for coping with crosswind heel or for bringing the bow down to iron out a chop. The hull is happy downwind, too, and a low planing speed of 17 mph will be useful in more challenging conditions when you want to maintain some momentum without hitting the waves too hard.
Perhaps due to the long-keel effect of the propeller tunnels, the SportRiva really doesn't like turning corners. I would estimate her turning radius at 300 to 400 yards. Together with her somewhat leisurely acceleration—maybe due to the prop damage—this is hardly the sort of driving experience you expect from a boat with the word sport in her name, especially a boat with such a competent hull.
But that was the only negative in a thoroughly enjoyable test. Whether you want a luxurious dayboat or a great-looking cruiser, the 56 will fit the bill. As a concept, the open-flying-bridge hybrid works brilliantly, and the quality and detailing are everything you would expect of a Riva. But perhaps the best thing is that this 56 is, apparently, just the first in a whole new range of SportRivas. Personally, I can't wait for the next one.
For more information on Riva, including contact information, click here.
The cockpit layout shouldn't work, but it does. The dinette is on a raised section over the tender garage, with walkways on each side. The curved flying-bridge ladder, which passes through the middle of the radar mast, descends more or less into the middle of the rear-facing seat. Under the ladder steps, set into the seat molding, is the cockpit bar with a sink and barbecue. It sounds like a mess, but it looks great, and as long as you're not the one being stepped on by people coming downstairs, it works. Bravo!—A.H.
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.