Riva 92 DuchessaBy Alan Harper
When you live in a relatively northern European latitude, as I do in the U.K., it’s often tempting to assume that the grass is browner on the shores of the Mediterranean. But while that might be true in summer, winter is another matter. Italy’s Riviera di Levante is not Florida. The marble peaks that stand sentinel just inland can be thick with ice and snow, lending a dramatic backdrop to Riva’s shipyard and maintenance facility in the busy industrial port of La Spezia.
Yet for all the Alpine scenery in the middle distance on the day of our test, the January air was as warm and the sea as calm as if it had been a spring morning. Bright, low sunlight glinted off the 92’s glossy topsides, while her chrome brightwork seemed intent on concealing those fine lines and proportions behind a barrage of dazzling reflections.
In fact, although nearer in length to Riva’s 24-meter (78'7") Opera Super, the newly unveiled Duchessa is closer in beam to the company flagship, the 35-meter (114'8") Athena. This tells us a lot about the latest addition to the range, which Riva, with hyperbolic but understandable pride, describes as a megayacht.
The Duchessa certainly plays the part of the mini-superyacht. She wouldn’t be a Riva if she didn’t boast distinctive looks, with a dramatic black hull and contrasting superstructure beautifully set off by the warmth of teak. And the 92 wouldn’t be a true Riva if she didn’t display some radical new thinking, which in this case takes the form of the optional “sea lounge,” a large sunbed that replaces the PWC in the garage and can be rolled out onto the fold-down bathing platform, allowing guests to relax right down at the water’s edge.
The other external living areas are perhaps more conventional, but no less comfortable. These include the flying bridge, with a full-size bar and a big, eight-seat dining table, the cockpit, which is completely shaded by the overhead, and the foredeck, which has a private table and seating area protected by its own bimini top.
On a main deck that is clearly designed to impress, the most impressive thing, perhaps, is the simplicity of the layout. You can walk in a straight line down the port side of the interior, from the cockpit to the wheelhouse bulkhead, passing the saloon seating (three sofas), the dining table (which seats ten, and can be pulled out into the center), those huge windows that let in the daylight that accentuates the yacht’s largely white color scheme, and the day head. A huge mirror on the longitudinal bulkhead behind the wheelhouse intensifies the daylight, but also has a far more creative effect: making the helm station look like some kind of science fiction flight deck. Very simple. Very cool.
The level of detailing inside is everything you would expect from Riva—particularly the use of white leather in the saloon for the coffee table, drawer handles, and even the Venetian blinds. Stainless steel door thresholds and chrome door handles bear the Riva logo. The floor in the saloon is oak painted white, which provides a subtle contrast to the glossy, marble-resin mix of the dining area.
Down below, the Duchessa’s accommodations arrangement is conventional enough, but with the crew quarters in the bow, as on the 115-foot Athena, the guest areas feel unusually roomy. The four-cabin layout is thus set further aft than usual, and takes advantage of the widest part of the hull. The chief beneficiary of this is the forepeak VIP, which enjoys virtually the same beam as the master suite amidships, with a generous expanse of flat floor area. The two twin-berth guest cabins are also a good size, with comfortably proportioned en suite heads compartments to rival that of the VIP—especially the one to port.
The master suite itself is the yacht’s centerpiece: bright, roomy, and modern, with a dressing room and bathroom across the aft bulkhead to insulate the sleeping space from the machinery space and a walk-through shower compartment between them. There’s a couch on the starboard side from which to enjoy the view, a dressing table to port, and big bulkhead mirrors that make the best of the light. Throughout the accommodations, the use of leather adds a discreet and tactile feeling of luxury. Bulkheads are clad in a satin-varnish black American walnut, known as Canaletto because of its stripes, which contrasts well in both tone and detailing with the pale carpets, white flooring, and high-gloss, lacquered deckheads.
The crew accommodations consist of a captain’s and two double cabins that share a central head compartment in the bow. Along with the wheelhouse and galley, this section is entirely separate from the guest areas so the crew can come and go without disturbing anyone. It’s accessed down a short companionway on the starboard side, which links the dining table with the galley. Once again, a huge mirror maximizes the feeling of space. Side doors allow the crew access to all areas.
The galley is well proportioned, and a practical size for one or two people to work in, and although it does lack stowage space, there is useful extra volume in the utility area under the helm.
With more than 4,400 hp courtesy of MTU, the 82-ton Duchessa promised to be no slouch at sea, and indeed, Riva estimates a maximum speed of 28 knots. Hull No. 1, which was going through the development processes common to all prototypes, didn’t quite manage that. Although, with well over five tons of fuel and water onboard, 27.5 knots (31 mph) seemed perfectly respectable to me, and the boat’s acceleration was actually quite impressive. The engines were running a few revs off their rated maximum of 2450 rpm, and the day after our own test, the second boat off the line was due to run propeller trials to see if a slightly finer pitch would help.
Given the unseasonably fine weather the only waves out in the bay were the ones we made ourselves. All that can be said of the hull’s upwind performance is that it pounded forcefully through them, having taken perhaps slightly longer than would be strictly necessary to turn in and meet the challenge—although no one can sensibly expect ski-boat handling on a vessel of this size and displacement. Interestingly, the Duchessa remained very flat in turns, even though the twin ARG gyro stabilizers were not engaged.
One thing I ought to mention—although it wasn’t an issue with the excellent visibility of our test day—is that a tinted windscreen, in general, is not a great idea.
Another point I noted were the sound levels in the saloon at high-engine speeds. The space wasn’t noisy—81 dB-A at 2250 rpm is fine, really—but something in the engine frequencies emanating from the area of the port sideboard nevertheless felt intrusive. Behind the sideboard is the crew companionway that leads down from the cockpit, which although outside of the actual machinery space, could probably still benefit from a bit of extra soundproofing. Riva’s project manager assured me that he’d be looking into it.
In general though, the Duchessa lives up to her builder’s billing as a mini-megayacht. Half a knot, a little missing sound proofing, and some unwisely tinted glass hardly constitute a meaningful list of shortcomings. Yachting at this elevated level is all about comfort, style, and luxury, and the famous Italian yard has once again produced a machine that is pure pleasure to be aboard.
It’s a sofa! On the sea! What’s not to like? Okay, it does take up the space that would house a PWC in the tender garage, but a PWC is maybe fun for half an hour; sitting on a cushy sofa like this with an expanse of water spread out under your feet and all around you, like a big, turquoise carpet—now that would be fun all afternoon. And it’s absolutely the best place aboard from which to enjoy that sundowner cocktail.
Allied Marine, (954) 462-5527.
This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.