Rumour has it that John Lennon was once asked by an interviewer if he thought Ringo Starr was, indeed, the best drummer in the world. The legendary, now late, singer-songwriter adjusted his Harry Potter spectacles and quipped, “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles…”.
My music trivia go-to man (a rock ’n’ roll dinosaur with mutton chop sideburns) swears it’s true. And it got me thinking about the Riviera 4400 Sport Yacht, which was recently voted the 2008 Australian Marine Awards Powerboat of the Year.
Could it be, could it be, could it be, yeah, could it be … that the best boat in Australia is not even the best Riviera?
To whisper words of wisdom, my answer would be ‘yes’. Which is not a criticism of the 4400, nor the awards, but rather the highest possible praise for Riviera’s flagship flybridge convertible range.
So impressed am I with the Riv 45, that I’d happily have its baby, the 41. The 56 Enclosed is equally superb … they are, and shall rightfully remain, in my book, the foundation of Fortress Riviera.
The 4400 is an absolute gem, too, what with its sparkling Volvo IPS performance and creative layout, but somehow I’ve always perceived the Sport Yachts as being gap fillers rather than the glue binding the Gold Coast builder’s persona and presence.
Yet, like the mighty Mississippi, the awards keep flowing. Previously, it was the 4700 Sport Yacht hailed as 2007 Power Boat of the Year, while the ground-breaking 3600 took Modern Boating’s Cruiser of the Year honours in 2006. Currently on the drawing board is a 5800 SY, with triple IPS installation, so it’s perhaps a blessing that the marine awards are suspended for next year … lest there be some red faces!
Of course, awards can be a burden because expectations are – often unrealistically – inflated. History is littered with trophy-winning tunes that have tanked worse than David Hasselhoff’s rendition of Jump in My Car. By comparison, the 4400 wears its gong like Imagine because the public is digging it as well as the judges.
At a time when America is haemorrhaging, Australia is fading and Riviera is anticipating a 14 per cent plunge in income while laying-off staff, 25 4400s have been built in just 12 months.
It’s the right boat for the right time, with fuel prices rising and a few game boat owners questioning their long-term commitment. There’s an appetite once again for life spent on a pick, with a riesling, rather than a reel, in hand.
I’m no expert, but economic cycles are thus named because they perpetually cycle up and down. Right now, getting afloat and enjoying life is as smart an investment as any.
It also speaks volumes for the sweet, sweet music emanating from Riviera’s studio. A gamble the Sport Yacht series may have been – doubly so in the 44-footer’s case because it was crash test dummy for the IPS drives – but it has obviously struck a chord with baby boomers seeking a dedicated cruiser.
The 4400 hull was not only the first in Oz to be designed from the ground-up for IPS, but it also pioneered Riviera’s infusion moulding techniques, where resin is drawn through the laminate under vacuum (the boffins reckon it enhances quality and production consistency). It’s still the only Riv hull to get the full treatment.
Volvo Penta’s naval architects fine-tuned the underwater design to ensure perfect harmony with the pod drives. Advantages in handling, sound levels and internal layout more than justify the decision to go down this path and the joystick docking system makes it popular with entry-level buyers and short-handers.
The president of Volvo Penta in the US loved their work so much he promptly commissioned a 51 Flybridge as a one-off, triple-IPS project. At the Miami Boat Show, the performance apparently knocked everyone’s socks off.
So, too, does the mid-cabin on the 4400, which occupies the prime real estate normally reserved for shaft-drive engines. You enter expecting to find a berth or two so narrow that a Kenyan supermodel could barely roll over. Instead, what you find is a triumph of space utilisation, and a huge selling feature.
A single is to port, and it’s more than adequate. Beneath the saloon sole is a transverse double berth, boasting sitting headroom, natural light and ventilation. Whether this has happened by chance or design is debatable because topside and saloon height aren’t compromised. At the cabin entrance is a hanging locker plus en suite access to the bathroom.
The twin head compartments have a tasteful décor, with clear glass bowl sink, frameless shower screen and a Vacuflush toilet. Amtico flooring is standard.
The for’ard cabin evokes a strong sense of space as the front bulkhead is relatively well aft. It has lockers all around, deep under-berth drawer and easy access to the island berth.
With the bonus mid-cabin, you’d expect the 4400 to tread on the 4700’s turf. But it slots in neatly as big sister to the 3600 – which has a master cab and relatively small guest cabin – and the spacious, three-cabined 4700, which carries a $200,000 higher base price tag.
The 4400 doesn’t have a transom garage like the 47-footer, but there’s a massive storage compartment for scuba gear, fenders, outboard and a deflated tender. Many owners carry their inflatable tenders upright on a stainless steel rail on the teak-lined swim platform. There’s an option of having this platform raise and lower hydraulically.
The barbecue can be mounted on the same rail or on transom mounts. Entering the beamy cockpit, you find a wide settee aft, serviced by a pedestal-mounted table. The latter has a recess for wine bottles and glasses, plus it can be lowered to convert into a sunbed. There’s a wet bar to port with fridge, sink and ice maker.
AL FRESCO FEEL
As per the Sport Yacht concept, the cockpit and saloon merge via a large door and hinging glass bulkhead. The saloon table extends to dinette mode if you prefer to graze indoors; open the sunroof and you still get that airy, al fresco feel. Drawers beneath the leather lounge accommodate glassware etc.
A pop-up 26in TV is standard, as is an iPod interface, while a DVD/CD player is bulkhead-mounted nearby.
There’s a galley immediately to starboard, with under-benchfridge, dishwasher drawer, single sink, twin element stove and a convection microwave.
Should you want a freezer and/or washer/dryer, they can be located in a compartment adjacent to the stairs. A utility room with hot water unit, among other accessories, is accessed through the mid cabin.
The helm station has twin seats upholstered in grey leather as standard, or optionally in a matching colour to the lounge. The driver’s seat incorporates electric adjustment.
An expansive three-tiered dash gives the multifunction Raymarine E120 screen pride of place, allowing the driver to easily scan the rear-view camera (another option) as a docking aid. The IPS joystick is centrally mounted, although it can be positioned to starboard, closer to the throttles.
For engine room access, the cockpit floor hinges on a hydraulic ram, with three steps down to the centre aisle. Owners can manually open a smaller hatch for a quick check of fluids and strainers. Riv has built one hull without engines, then lowered them into place through the hatch to cover the eventuality of a repower operation.
A gelcoated fibreglass liner keeps everything spotlessly clean and the Onan genset and Cruise Air units are tucked forward, also with good servicing access.
With the saloon closed, the motors doing 3200rpm and the hull skating along at almost 30 knots, the 4400 remains eerily quiet. A slight slapping of waves on the underbody and the occasional shower-screen clink would otherwise be masked by engine noise. It’s certainly a boat you could cruise aboard for long distances without aural aggravation.
Twin IPS 500s are standard, but everyone’s going for the 435hp 600s to gain genuine 34-knot performance. Volvo Penta claims a 30 per cent fuel saving over a shaft configuration, which is borne out by results – at 7.4 knots, for 1000rpm or so, the burn rate is a mere 2.9lt per side per hour.
At optimum cruise speed, say 26 knots or 2900rpm, consumption is 53lt per side and it maxes out at 84lt per side (168 total) at 33.7 knots. Some bow-down trim at 2000 revs yields 10 knots and from then on the performance begins reaching its crescendo – 2500rpm shows 17 knots, 3300 is 30 knots.
The superchargers and turbos combine to ensure a smooth power delivery, with no mid-range lag. That said, it’s not party, party, party, as with some pod-powered boats, but poise, poise, poise. A tea party, perhaps…
There’s a little more initial bow lift than I was expecting, but once fully planing the hull rides with lovely efficiency and purpose. Conventional Bennett trim tabs work well in this format, whereas shaft boats carry QL guillotine tabs.
In a nasty southerly-driven swell off the Gold Coast, we frolicked. Ride softness was reasonable as we powered along at 25 knots. Turning and tracking were as good as you could wish for.
Ultimately, I turned the 4400’s bow back towards the Broadwater to research its lifestyle qualities. Nestling in the fridge, I happened to notice on earlier inspection, were palm-sized Coffin Bay oysters – freshly shucked, naturally – kofta meatballs, rare roast beef and succulent king prawns. The perfect accompaniment for a cold Corona or three.
The more I thought about it, the better the 4400 looked. It’s a winner by a country smile … a shining Starr.
SPECIFICATIONS: RIVIERA 4400 SPORT YACHT
Dry weight: 12,500kg
Power: Volvo Penta IPS600s
Base price: $835,980
Price as tested: $911,746
Test boat: Riviera, www.rivieraaustralia.com.