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Riviera 38 Open Flybridge

It was a spectacular morning. The sun was sparkling like diamonds on the Pacific, and a cobalt sky vaulted over the Gold Coast of Australia. Denby Browning, marketing honcho for Riviera Yachts, sat beside me on the flying bridge of our 38 Open Flybridge as she purred along quietly in slow-mo mode (70 dB-A at 1500 rpm and a speed of 10.5 knots).

"All the varnish you saw below decks is robotically done," he was saying. "We apply at least six coats of polyurethane with our new Italian system, all sprayed and baked by the new machine so there are no..."

Whooff! Browning was just about to finish up with Italian robotics and how they're making Riviera more environmentally and worker-friendly, when straight ahead, at a range of approximately 100 yards, a huge humpback whale leapt clear of the water, did a quarter turn, hung there for a magic moment, and then dropped like a boulder. Kasploosh!

"Holy mackerel!" yelled Browning.

"Holy mackerel and a half!" I yelled. "I've seen sportfishin' boats raise fish...but whales!"

Browning quickly took the con (as well as my camera), and I headed for the foredeck on a dead run, or close to it. The journey was safe and expeditious thanks to several groovy facets of the 38's exterior design. These include long, highly polished handrails above the side windows to hold onto, a grippy nonslip texture underfoot, and an ample bow pulpit with a level surface to stand on and hip-high protective rails as well.

While I watched, the humpback proceeded to put on a Sea World-like half-hour show, jumping clear ten or 15 more times before zooming off. Of course, there are scads of good, scientific reasons why an animal might indulge in such seemingly playful behavior. But my interpretation at the time was as unscientific as it was infectious: The high-jumpin' humpback was simply having fun. So once I'd taken the helm back from Browning, I set out to have a little fun of my own.

And what a venue for it. The sea's surface displayed little more than faint ripples, and whatever swell existed was so long and modest its effects were beyond noticing. "Hang on, Denby," I said, leaning forward to dial up two-thirds throttle. Having fully retracted our Volvo Penta QL interceptor-type trim tabs, I wanted to see how the boat would plane without them.

I found out quick. It took the 38 just 15 seconds to come smoothly out of the hole, and she made an average top speed of 34.2 mph in 30 seconds flat with a maximum bow rise of six degrees. I swung a hard-over turn to port, and we came 'round with a tight inboard bank and a turning radius of three, maybe four boat lengths. I swung a hard-over turn the other way, and the boat performed similarly. Then, after swooping some delightful figure eights, I zeroed out the Teleflex steering, backed off on the throttles, and headed toward the sparkling horizon, a grand exercise that gave me time to reflect.

Riviera's been building flying-bridge-style inboards for decades. Indeed, such vessels are the Aussie builder's bread and butter. So it's no surprise then that a midranger like the 38 performs with such poise and verve. And it's no surprise, either, that the rest of the package is sensibly designed and solidly put together.

The layout, for example, is both conventional and cruise-capable. The master stateroom is forward, with lofty 6'3" headroom, an island-type pedestal berth (topped with an eight-inch-thick innerspring mattress), and a couple of hanging lockers sheathed with solid cedar, not veneer. The saloon is aft, with two L-shape New Zealand leather lounges, a liquor cabinet in the aft-starboard corner, and an expansive cockpit (with all the fish-fighting essentials) just out the back door. In between there's a guest stateroom to port (with bunks and a hanging locker) and a galley-down to starboard just abaft a head with a separate shower stall and electric VacuFlush MSD. Again, the whole setup is conventional, but there's a nifty, residential quality to it, particularly when you factor in kitchen-esque cabinets and drawers in the galley, expertly joined cherry woodwork throughout, and wraparound tinted windows.

Construction methods are backed by a five-year, transferable hull warranty. The bottom (including a modest keel) is 'glass with an osmosis-resistant vinylester outer layer and top-notch isophtahlic gelcoat. Deck, superstructure, and hull sides are cored with Divinycell, and the hull-to-deck joint is bolted, chemically bonded, and double fiberglassed from inside. Stringers and transversals are of foam-cored fiberglass and, like everything else within the hull, painted out with white gelcoat. Lift the hatch in the galley sole, and you'll immediately see how this finish imparts a crisp look to the ancillary installations underneath.

Engineering? Access to the 38's machinery spaces is typical of the sportfishing genre: A cockpit console molding opens down into a 42-inch-high crawlspace between the engines. Standards include simplex Racors, battery firepower galore, gorgeous, stainless steel Arctic Steel seawater strainers, and against the forward firewall between the mains, a 9-kW Onan genset. Items are secured with the same attention to detail as the ancillaries beneath the galley.

But danged if there isn't one big-time glitch worth reporting. While oil and fuel filters were conveniently fitted on the inboard side of our starboard main, the same components were inconveniently fitted on the outboard side. Moreover, while the starboard main's dipstick was inboard, the port's wasn't. A Riviera oversight? Not according to Browning. The company's been trying (so far unsuccessfully) to get Volvo Penta to address it, he says. And Riviera can't reposition components because it would void engine warranty.

Truth to tell, even with this glitch I slipped into a deeply cheery reverie about boats, whales, and mellifluous sea conditions while purring back to our marina. Then, I hate to admit, I did a pretty ragged job of backing our Riviera 38 Open Flybridge into her slip, despite the fact that there was no wind or apparent current.

"This baby's maneuverable as heck, Denby, but I've botched the darn approach," I lamented while hammering the optional Side-Power bow thruster.

"Yes, but maybe our Australian whale's made you just a little distracted," suggested Browning. "I'm sure that's it."

For more information on Riviera Yachts of the Americas, including contact information, click here.

There are several reasons why I'm impressed with this Whale Gulper 320 shower-sump pump installation—none, incidentally, having to do with the whale we saw during our sea trial. For starters, the pump itself is a beaut. It's robustly built, has a rousing capacity of 5.3 gpm and nonchoke valves, and can run dry for long periods of time without frying the impeller. This last point's important, particularly for a shower-sump pump that tends to run dry for short periods of time on a regular basis. Moreover, electrical wires to the Gulper are not just casually attached and left to flounder but schematically laid out with fire-retardant, split-loom and immobilizing nylon cable clamps. And check out how the pump itself is secured with a big, rubber-cushioned seating strap to keep it solidly in place. A nice piece of work.—B.P.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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