The Rivamare proves that going back to the basics can be a smart move.
All brands have to reinvent themselves every now and then, and none more so than brands whose value lies in their heritage. It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s hard to imagine a world without Riva, but we came pretty close: For a number of years the company was producing boxy white fiberglass cruising boats with model names like Portofino and Summertime, which don’t make much of an appearance these days in the official company history. They weren’t too different from anyone else’s boxy white fiberglass cruising boats, except for the Riva badge and the eye-watering price. They lacked the old luster.
It took a while, but eventually someone dusted off the shipyard’s fabled back catalogue—full of beautiful mahogany runabouts with evocative names: the Triton, the Florida, and the sainted Aquarama—and realized not only that this was the image of Riva that people recognised, but the image that people still wanted. The world didn’t need boxy white Rivas—it needed its Rivas to be beautiful.
The result of this Damascene conversion was the Aquariva. Fast, sleek, sensuous, powerful, and 33 feet long, it had twin shafts just like those old wooden Rivas, and although it was built in fiberglass, nobody cared because it wasn’t just beautiful, it was absolutely bloody gorgeous.
The company has not forgotten the lesson. Ever since, whenever a new model has come to the drawing board, old-school Riva style has been top of the brief. Following the Aquariva, which 15 years later happily remains in production, the shipyard chased the money upmarket, and with the honorable exception of the diminutive single-engine Iseo runabout, came out with a succession of ever-larger new models, which now top out at 122 feet. There is even a 160-footer in the offing.
The Rivamare represents a return to the company’s roots. Not just in size, although it’s the first sub-40-foot Riva for more than ten years, but in its styling. Much more so than the comparatively delicate-looking Aquariva, the new model revisits the original Aquarama from the 1960s, with its dramatically flared bow and considerable beam in those broad shoulders, which tapers back to an alluring and curvaceous stern.
But the new model is far more than an exercise in nostalgia. Its modern, vee-bottom hull, with a fine entry flattening out aft to a deadrise of 15 degrees at the transom, shows considerably more refinement than the flat-sectioned, hard-chine designs of the old boats. Root around under the hatches and you’ll find a generator, air-conditioning, and a Seakeeper gyro stabilizer.
The accommodation is also a good deal more luxurious than anything those old runabouts could aspire to. Along with its Corian counter, sink, single-ring cooktop, and microwave, the neatly installed galley on the starboard side has numerous clever stowage solutions with hand-stitched leather locker fronts. The head and shower compartment to port, though small, is surprisingly usable. Twin vee-berths turn into a 6-foot 3-inch double bed with the aid of an elegant little sliding shelf and infill cushion. Height recedes as you go forward, from a comfortable 6 feet 3 inches at the galley to a still-generous 3 feet 9 inches of sitting headroom over the berth. Meanwhile, an electric blind above the bed admits the sunshine, causing the flawless, varnished mahogany to gleam so fervently it seems to be lit from within.
There is real depth to the quality of the fit-out, from the custom-made, chromed-aluminum jackstaff on the bow to the stainless steel engine room vents down the sides. The folding mahogany table is like a work of art, and numerous bespoke drawers and lockers reveal themselves in the cockpit—our test boat even featured a tailor-made locker for storing a SeaBob. The machinery space is floored with aluminum treadplate as if it were on a superyacht, while the entire transom folds out to create a swimming platform—decked with non-slip varnished mahogany, naturally.
The other crucial difference between Riva’s latest model and its predecessors, including the fiberglass Aquariva, is the engine installation. Riva has always built powerful boats, and the Rivamare certainly doesn’t lack for grunt, but after the Iseo this is only the second stern drive boat that the shipyard has ever built—and the first with twin engines.
We took it to sea at the recent Cannes boat show, on a bright, sunny morning of light airs, limitless visibility, and just a light chop to make things interesting.
Volvo’s D6-400 diesels were a good match for the Rivamare’s easily driven hull—indeed, they are the only engines offered—and with Duoprop drives acceleration was every bit as lively as you would wish. Throttle response was instantaneous throughout the rev range, and the hull’s reaction to extreme helm inputs was precise and reassuring—although, as with any outdrive boat, deliberate ham-fistedness was best avoided.
Willing and responsive, the boat actually felt smaller than its 39 feet, but in a good way—it was great to drive. This impression was perhaps heightened by the compact and tightly furnished cockpit, which groups everyone close together. It is sociable, but also very secure.
Both the Humphree tabs and the Volvo Penta drive trim were set to ‘auto’ during our sea trial, and I felt no particular need to meddle with them. In fact you get the distinct impression that having set up the software, Riva’s engineers would prefer it if you didn’t meddle at all, because there are no gauges or switches on the dash and if you want to make any adjustments you have to dig down through several menu layers on the screen to find the proper display. It’s more fun just to enjoy the drive. The hull’s fine forefoot ironed out the chop with barely a murmur.
We recorded an average top speed of just under 37 knots with a fair load of fuel and water on board, and the engines running about 100 rpm shy of their rated maximum. Fitting finer-pitched props might set this right, and might also bring Riva’s desired top speed of 40 knots within reach. But although this is an area which clearly needs some attention, there was nothing about the Rivamare’s performance or handling which felt at all amiss. It was fast, sure-footed, and fun.
But then, ever since those original runabouts in the 1950s, that’s exactly what all Rivas have been about. Well, most of them. Some models might have been airbrushed out of the official history, but this latest model should have no problem getting a mention. Riva’s reinvention continues.
Noteworthy Options: Seakeeper gyro stabilizer; telescopic passerelle; hull paint; gloss mahogany interior finish; mahogany and maple cockpit sole; bow thruster; air conditioning w/ generator upgrade; 16-in helm monitor; automatic trim system. All option prices available upon request.
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 73°F; humidity: 63%; seas: 2'
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/400-hp Volvo Penta D6 DPH stern drives
- Transmission/Ratio: Volvo Penta, 1.59:1 gear ratio
- Props: Volvo Penta G5 NiBrAl Duoprop
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.