Bob Jones knows boats, as they say, having skippered them professionally for two decades and clocking more miles each year than most mariners do in a lifetime. He’s learned the hard way what works – and what doesn’t – at the cutting edge of gamefishing.
The old salt’s sense of humour is as dry as old rope; acerbic like vinegar. He’s a tough judge and if he likes something, you listen, for Jones won’t feed you a line from the blue blazer sales manual.
We meet aboard the Riviera 51 Fascination II during a tournamentand it’s immediately apparent that this is not your archetypal skipper pressed into a white uniform and captain’s hat. Rather, he presents as a bare-footed Jimmy Buffett-type in well-worn shirt and shorts.
In such plush saloon surroundings, the juxtaposition is palpable. Indeed, of all the Rivs that Jones has run out of Cairns, this 51 is the most luxurious. It was the first of the revamped model range to feature an enclosed flybridge and internal stairs, along with prop tunnels and underwater exhausts.
Improvements over the previous 51, Fascination I, are significant, Jones claims. For a start, he no longer gets doused with spray at the helm.
“The enclosed flybridge has ruined me,” says Jones laconically. “I don’t care how good clears are, they can’t make them 100 per cent waterproof. I hate saltwater. I’m allergic to it.”
With the internal staircase, the 51’s flybridge becomes an integral part of the living area. It’s Jones’ office during the day because there’s no lower helm, and depending on who can suffer his snoring, he often sleeps on the bridge as well.
The staircase copped a little flak when first unveiled, mainly because it spirals instead of running straight as per Maritimo. Jones sees the practical benefits: “Some people, mostly our opposition, said it was too tight. But in a sea, it’s perfect. You can even walk up with a cup of coffee and brace yourself without looking to grab anything.”
As Bob and I moved upstairs to start the diesels, a torrential downpour descended on the marina. If Bob’s allergic to brine, I’m allergic to rain, so the enclosed bridge scored top marks. The stairs were no problem to climb, either.
The helm console not only looks smart, but also has a strong work ethic. Furuno screens display chart, sounder and radar, a Clarion video unit stands watch over the engine room, and MTU monitors are mounted overhead. Twin Disc Quickshift throttles are fitted, along with a bow thruster; something the wily skipper never wanted, but now “wouldn’t be without.”
There’s a second station at the rear of the flybridge for hook-ups and berthing. Jones railed against this, believing a remote would suffice, but Riviera management insisted that US buyers want this arrangement. Jones again concedes. Overhead, meanwhile, is an alloy tower built by Paul Shelby, of Black Marlin in Queensland – considered to be Australia’s best tower exponent.
The engine options in a standard Riv 51 comprise 825hp MTUs, 700hp or 800hp Cats, but since Fascination II is a Riviera/MTU test platform, it sports the latest common-rail V8 1085s.
Jones has found an appreciable jump in mid-range performance over Fascination I, which had the Series 60 825hp MTUs spinning four-blade props. The prop tunnels deliver an extra knot or two by reducing trim tab drag.
With its neck wrung and running light, Fascination II can attain 35 knots, though ‘honest’ top speed is 33 knots. The former 51 was a 30-knot boat. On coastal voyages, Jones runs the big MTUs in turbo territory between 1850 and 1950rpm, for a 22-25 knot cruise speed. “Maximum revs are 2500 so you only have 70 per cent load on the engines, and it’s using 260 to 280 litres per hour,” he says.
“At its proper cruising revs of 2100rpm I’m getting 29 knots and using 320 litres an hour, but there aren’t too many times I can run at that speed without (the hull) banging and clanging.
“When I first started, if you had a boat which did 15 knots, that was good – now they all have to do 30 knots. Knock just a 100 revs off and it starts behaving like a boat, which is why I very rarely run at over 1900.”
An economical (50 litres per hour) displacement speed comes at 1050rpm. Idling in gear sees seven knots, while troll mode in the Quickshift boxes brings it down to four knots, suitable for baits. Five-blade props give extra bite, but generate more whitewater astern. Accordingly, Jones has to troll his lines further back.
The MTUs have so much torque that the extra tonne or so of flybridge weight doesn’t affect them. There’s minimal bow rise, and even at full noise the engines remain remarkably quiet. After 1200 hours and 11,000 nautical miles, they’re still gleaming.
Jones stakes his reputation on the Riviera’s sea worthiness. “At sea, they’ve never done a thing wrong,” he says, before adding with that refreshing candour, “OK, they bang a bit into a head sea, but that’s because they’re fat in the shoulders to allow for accommodation.
“They can be a little wet, too. This one’s not bad, but the old 48 used to throw up quite a bit of spray. In a following sea, they never put a foot wrong. Last year, we had a gale up our arse and the boat stayed on pilot all day, without looking like broaching. The seas were running to four metres.”
Fascination II is stock standard, other than having extra freezers and no dishwasher or garbage compactor. Jones opted for a drink fridge in the saloon in lieu of an ice maker, and found it worth its weight in gold when doing corporate work.
The main stateroom has three single berths instead of the conventional double. “In my 20 years operating charters out of Cairns, only the Frenchmen will sleep together… the rest tell you to get stuffed,” was the sanguine explanation.
Jones doesn’t like the height of the 51’s coamings, saying that his crew have to watch themselves a bit when wiring. Nor is he a fan of the water tanks in the engine room – “I’d put them under the cockpit” – and he would prefer the fuel to be amidships, as with the new Riviera 56.
In terms of build quality, he says Riviera sets a production benchmark, especially at the value – in Fascination II’s case it is $2million, while a standard model is priced around $1.5million. Believe it or not, this, and the $1million 47-footer, are the most popular entry-level boats in Riviera’s range!
Fishing purists may frown upon Riv’s sports convertibles, but Fascination II has proven they are no slouch. “If I was light tackle record fishing or fly fishing, this is not the boat, but for 90 per cent of any gamefishing it does the job,” concludes Jones. “In the early days, Rivs had a reputation as floating caravans, but I think I’ve shot that to pieces.”