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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Riviera 45 Open Flybridge

Sometimes boat tests start problematically. Take my wring-out of Riviera's 45 Open Flybridge. The morning I was to fly down to Stuart, Florida, to jump aboard her at Riviera Yachts' facility, Brett Noble of Riviera called with bad news. "Bill, the weather's awful here, mate," he said in Aussie Speak. "There's no way the boat's goin' to make it from St. Augustine in time for the test. Can we reschedule?"

I dialed my travel agent. No dice, she said. No seats available until the following week, well beyond the time the test report on the 45 was due. So I called Noble back: "Your part of the country's way popular these days, Brett. Flights are booked solid."

Serious machinations followed, and I do mean serious. The air went blue with phone calls. Then finally, just moments before I absolutely had to leave for the airport, Noble called yet again. He'd convinced an owner who'd taken delivery of a new 45 just a week before to donate his vessel to the cause. The vessel was at Soverel Harbour Marina in North Palm Beach and, as luck would have it, needed a quick trip up the coast to Stuart for custom modifications, most notably the addition of a Steelhead crane (with Zodiac RIB) to the foredeck and replacement of some interior carpet with faux teak-and-holly Amtico flooring. The owner's name was Preston, and he wanted to join us for the ride north. "Cool!" I said.

Preston was waving from the cockpit when Noble and I pulled up. He wore a big, easygoing smile that comingled joy, anticipation, and pride of ownership. As he helped heft test gear into the cockpit, I rapidly inventoried likable details nearby. Preston's vessel was a beaut, all right. Although her LOA is 51'3", she seemed a good deal larger. The highly arched and stylized brow and side panels of the flying bridge were super-ample and plenty thick, and the hardtop was stabilized via an array of tubular stainless steel supports that were both elegant and brawny; one glance aloft told me the top was unlikely to shimmy during the trip to Stuart. And the access door to the saloon—hinged instead of a slider—looked gutsy enough to withstand a bank robbery!

As we hit a set of teak-paved steps to the flying bridge, Preston explained that he prefers steps to ladders on boats: His wife and daughter feel safer using them and find them easier to negotiate. The point made eminent sense considering the excellent ergonomics of the stairwell: wide enough to nicely accommodate my 5'11", 180-pound frame as well as Preston's slightly bulkier one. The opening in the deck above was ample enough to obviate having to duck, and the treads on the steps themselves, flanked by a sturdy handrail, ascended at an angle that was not too steep.

"How do you get her out of this slip—stick the bow in that hole across the fairway?" I asked once we'd reached the steering console. The fairway beyond the bow looked way too narrow to rotate the 45 once her swim platform was clear of the pilings. "No," replied Preston. "Believe it or not, I go straight out—there's just enough room to turn. I promise. You do it, Bill. See how she handles."

I seldom dock or undock an owner's boat, especially with the owner onboard. But in addition to an even-tempered manner, Preston seemed to have some genuine salt water in his veins. He'd worked as a deckhand on his uncle's boat in South Florida and the Bahamas as a kid and never forgot how much he'd loved the ocean during the many boatless years of med school and subsequent practice. He'd often sworn that someday he'd take his very own boat to the islands. A dreamer? Yeah, but a knowledgeable one who understood exactly what it means to hand off your helm to a stranger.

I fired up our twin 715-mhp Caterpillar C12 ACERTs and let 'em warm for a considerable period (temperatures were in the low 30s in Palm Beach at the time) while Noble, Preston, and I stowed the shore-power cord using the Glendinning Cablemaster. Then we singled up our lines, and Preston and I went back topside.

Coming out of the slip was nerve-jangling, primarily because the 45's bow pulpit wound up overhanging another across the fairway while her swim platform cleared a big ol' crusty piling astern by inches. But thanks to the 45's Twin Disc QuickShift engine control and the responsiveness it engendered in our big Veem propellers, I was able to rapidly tweak forward and reverse progress while pivoting the vessel. "Go ahead, you're too far back," advised Preston at one point—he kept tabs on the swim platform for me while I kept close tabs on the bow. "Okay, fine," he advised after just a second or two.

The trip to Stuart was uneventful and smooth. We stuck to the ICW all the way, taking a pass on the open Atlantic at Jupiter Inlet—conditions simply looked too rough out there for a brand-new 45-footer, at least one that was so obviously close to her owner's heart. On the wheel until just south of St. Lucie Inlet, I came away with two impressions: First, thanks to a set of significant prop pockets and a long, modest keel, the 45 virtually steers herself, no matter what the rpm. And second, nothing beats a tight, Strataglass top hamper on a frigid day—with the sun popping occasionally, we were warm enough on the bridge to unzip our jackets.

We sea-trialed on the St. Lucie River in Stuart. The 45's average top speed was 39.7 mph—fine, but we'd have done slightly better without the enclosure. Visibility coming out of the hole was unobscured and turning was broad, but the Teleflex hydraulic steering required muscle in the turns due to the absence of power-assist. Preston's helm seats were super: Stidds are expensive but rocking-chair comfy.

Preston began showing me around as soon as we'd docked. The 45's interior offers a three-stateroom, two-head layout that's conventional but detailed and finished to a fare-thee-well. On the lower deck there's a master forward with a shower-stall-equipped en suite head, two guest staterooms across the hall from one another, and a shower-stall-equipped day head all the way aft to starboard. On the main deck the saloon offers an L-shape dinette to starboard, an L-shape lounge to port (with nifty stainless steel swing-up window in the back bulkhead, alongside the door), and a U-shape, one-step-down galley opposite the dinette.

Drawers and lockers throughout were loaded with Riviera-branded amenities, and the cherry joinery was book-matched, finely crafted, and robotically varnished with multiple coats of sparkling, high-gloss urethane. I found even inaccessible or seldom-seen aspects had been addressed with 220-grit sandpaper and paint or varnish.

My one complaint had to do with the engine room, or rather its hatch. Because it doubles as a step for the saloon door, lifting it to enter the ER closes off traffic into and out of the interior, not handy if the crew has chores to perform while someone's below changing the oil. Otherwise I was impressed. The level of engineering in the machinery spaces was high, with oversize stainless steel Arctic Steel sea strainers, top-shelf BEP battery and emergency parallel switches, and lots of AC Delco 8D gel-type batteries in stout containers. Moreover, simplicity and expansiveness were key. Since air conditioning, Plumb Pex water manifolds, and electricals (like battery chargers and the inverter) were housed in an amidships "pump room" behind a sound-insulated door in the port guest stateroom, there was little else in the ER but engines, genset, and minor ancillaries.

Preston's wife arrived shortly after we'd returned to the cockpit. "Did you notice the extra cup holders I specified for the bridge, Bill?" she joked, adding, "And you do know about replacing the carpet with Amtico?"

The three of us stood for a while admiring the robustly built, attractively styled, solidly performing vessel underfoot. "Once the davit's on," said Preston, with a bemused, far-off look, "we're off to the Bahamas."

"Livin' the dream," I commented. "And havin' a heckuvalot of fun doing it," he added.

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

Our test boat was equipped with Twin Disc QuickShift marine gears and an attendant electronic engine control. What's great about this arrangement is that an operator can dial up the appropriate engine response for various activities. Maneuvering dockside, for example, is made considerably easier and more precise by opting out of "cruise" and selecting "express." The result? Thanks to a reduction in rpm range (and related boat speed), movement of the vessel becomes more contained, controllable, and almost instantly adjustable via the lever travel inherent in the control. No worries about forward creep while pivoting, a phenomenon that can subtly take a boat several feet ahead during the typical twin-screw maneuver and get her owner into trouble. No worries about stalling an engine or engines turning at conventional idle rpm, either. Sync and troll functions are easy to dial up as well and, of course, smooth boat operation even further.—B.P.

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

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