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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Riviera 51 Sportfisherman

Aussies, by and large, are a tough lot, so it comes as no surprise that the yachts they build are just as tough. A day aboard the new Riviera 51 confirmed that expectation for me. Inside and out, she’s built to take the punishment of hard-core fishing or venturing to distant shores. But she’s far from Spartan. Quite the opposite, in fact, as she boasts a spacious saloon, fully equipped galley, three comfortable staterooms, and two heads, all catering to her owner’s comfort and relaxation. What did come as a nice surprise, however, was learning that so many of the features on our test boat were standard.

Take the engine room, a well-laid-out space dominated by twin 825-hp MTU diesels crouched on either side of the centerline. Mounted near the forward bulkhead astride the centerline was the standard 17.5-kW Onan genset and hushbox, flanked by a holding tank and macerator pumps to port and two standard Cruisair A/C units on the starboard side.

Though at first the engine room felt cramped (with barely kneeling headroom for my 6'2" frame and just an inch or two of clearance between the top of the engines and the overhead), I quickly found that I could easily reach all necessary access points. Dipsticks for both engines were inboard, and the engine-mounted fuel filters were on the aft ends of the blocks, where they’re easier to get to. From here, I could also reach the dual Racors on the aft bulkhead as well as the cooling-water inlets and strainers that flank the centerline. There was even room to snake around in front of the engines and access the outboard sides if necessary. For major engine work, removable panels above each engine provide access from the saloon.

In contrast to the engine room’s close quarters, the Riviera’s 12'x9' cockpit seemed big as all outdoors. Along the forward bulkhead is a top-loading refrigerated cooler to port and a sink on centerline. Both are concealed beneath gas-assisted lids that lower to form a smooth countertop and are handy to the built-in tackle locker in the bulkhead above. I also noticed the transom livewell, a 2'8"x1'4" aquarium with a clear panel facing into the cockpit. Not as visible, but equally impressive, was the 1'10"x4'9"x1'6" removable fishbox beneath two gas-assisted hatches in the sole.

To keep gear neat, dry, and secure, Riviera rims the cockpit with six built-in locking cabinets beneath the coaming. For bulkier stuff, like fenders, there’s a pair of 2'x2' gas-assisted hatches in the sole (outboard of the fishbox) that afford access to a stowage area in the lazarette. This space also allows access to the steering gear, which I was pleased to see mounted on a platform separate from the stowage area to minimize the chance of anything getting tangled in the mechanism. The rudders are equipped with locking pins, a signature Riviera feature. In the event of a steering gear failure, both rudders can be manually locked in the straight-ahead position, allowing the boat to be steered home on engines alone. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s an example of the seagoing savvy built into the 51.

Riviera Yachts’ vice president, Scott Lizza, pointed out a host of other construction features that lend support to the yacht’s reputation for toughness. For starters, there’s a collision bulkhead in the bow to protect the hull’s watertight integrity. In addition, if the hull should strike a submerged object, the lower forward portion is filled with closed-cell foam to help it stay afloat.

Of course, it would take a sizeable impact to breach the solid-fiberglass laminates that extend up from her keel to the waterline. And to keep the hull and deck firmly joined, that critical joint is triply secure: bonded with epoxy adhesive, through-bolted, and then tabbed with fiberglass. Internally, the yacht’s backbone is a quartet of deep, foam-cored longitudinal stringers, with steel-capped engine beds. As for transverse strength, several watertight partial bulkheads run athwartship to support her bottom.

In counterpoint to her hard-core construction features, the 51 offers a spacious, comfortable, and well-appointed interior. But even though she’s fully endowed with first-rate amenities and finished with premium joinery and upholstery, her interior is not fussy. She’s built to be enjoyed, not fretted over. Let me explain.

The saloon and dinette blend seamlessly into a single, large, open space, with settees on opposing sides that define each area but still allow guests to converse and maintain eye contact. Because leather is so plentiful in Australia, customers can choose between Ultraleather and real leather at no extra cost. Both are durable and care-free, but the real leather on our test boat looked to be as indestructible as the yacht itself.

Across from the saloon’s L-shape settee is a cherry cabinet fitted with a U-Line wine rack, ice maker, and pull-out drawers for bottle and glass stowage, all standard. The high-gloss finish on the standard cherry joinery and the inlaid cocktail table alongside the settee was second to none, but beautiful as it was, it was not a finish that I was hesitant to touch. On the contrary, it almost invited you to set down an icy glass and fix a cold drink. The galley, fully equipped with four U-Line under-counter refrigerator drawers, a Sub-Zero freezer, Corian countertops, and Amtico flooring, seemed to also say, “go ahead and use me.”

To be sure, the Riviera’s interior was not the only part of the yacht that beckoned for use. Beneath a cloudless blue Florida sky, we climbed to the flying bridge and brought the MTUs to life. As our captain, Dave Crews, eased the yacht out of her slip, I surveyed the layout of the bridge deck. The helm seat is all the way aft, affording the captain an unobstructed view of action in the cockpit without compromising sightlines forward. And with its roomy settee forward, a full wet bar, and an air-conditioned enclosure, this space is bound to be a favorite with guests while underway. My only complaint is the lack of handholds in the forward seating area and on the underside of the hardtop in the forward area of the bridge.

Handholds (or lack thereof) were not an issue in the flat-calm waters that prevailed during our speed trials on Lake Worth, where we recorded a top speed that was just shy of 32 knots. What impressed me more was her balance: The 51 planed effortlessly at around 1400 rpm and rode steadily at near constant trim all the way up to WOT. At 2000 rpm her Frank Mulder-designed hull form makes better than half a nautical mile per gallon, delivering an impressive 500-NM range from her optional 1,000-gallon fuel capacity.

Outside the Palm Beach inlet, we ran a series of tight high-speed turns in two-foot swells, and I found her handling to be stable and predictable. At lower speeds I felt a tendency to oversteer, probably due to the yacht’s deep forefoot. But maneuverability in tight quarters was superb, thanks to the standard 8-hp bow thruster and control offered by the Twin Disc Power Commander electronic controls, which offer an innovative trolling mode that can reduce propeller rpm almost to zero while holding the engine at idle speed.

While sea conditions on our test day didn’t put the Riviera to the ultimate test, my inspection convinced me that her reputation for toughness is well deserved. Among world-class sportfishing yachts, she sets a high standard.

Riviera Yachts USA
(561) 721-4100

Handholds (or lack thereof) were not an issue in the flat-calm waters that prevailed during our speed trials on Lake Worth, where we recorded a top speed that was just shy of 32 knots. What impressed me more was her balance: The 51 planed effortlessly at around 1400 rpm and rode steadily at near constant trim all the way up to WOT. At 2000 rpm her Frank Mulder-designed hull form makes better than half a nautical mile per gallon, delivering an impressive 500-NM range from her optional 1,000-gallon fuel capacity.

Outside the Palm Beach inlet, we ran a series of tight high-speed turns in two-foot swells, and I found her handling to be stable and predictable. At lower speeds I felt a tendency to oversteer, probably due to the yacht’s deep forefoot. But maneuverability in tight quarters was superb, thanks to the standard 8-hp bow thruster and control offered by the Twin Disc Power Commander electronic controls, which offer an innovative trolling mode that can reduce propeller rpm almost to zero while holding the engine at idle speed.

While sea conditions on our test day didn’t put the Riviera to the ultimate test, my inspection convinced me that her reputation for toughness is well deserved. Among world-class sportfishing yachts, she sets a high standard.

Riviera Yachts USA
(561) 721-4100

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.