It’s funny how some days it’s a struggle to remember what you had for lunch, yet others remain etched in your memory forever. Some of my most memorable days have been spent on boats. In fact, my earliest childhood memory relates to my very first boat trip, and it’s as clear as yesterday.
I was about five years old. My father hired a dinghy at Clontarf on Brisbane’s bayside to take my sister and I fishing. We were having the time of our lives, reeling in tiny bream and whiting, when out of nowhere a nasty squall blew up. Whipped up by the wind, huge whitecaps dwarfed us in the tiny tinny and Dad had no option other than to punch our way back to shore. Oblivious to the danger, my sister and I chomped our way through a whole packet of chocolate biscuits, squealing with delight as the waves splashed over the bow and drenched our clothes. My sister and I still laugh about that day.
The decades have slipped by in a blur and there have been myriad boat trips since the first, some more memorable than others. My most recent nautical jaunt, however, has earned a ranking equal to my early adventure. No danger involved this time; far from it. But on a scale of one to 10, the thrill factor was at least 11. And this boat looked nothing like that tiny tinny.
It all began with a phone call about a writing assignment. “To where?” I asked.
“Noumea,” editor, Chris Beattie, said, “to write a story about the new Riviera 70. I’d like a woman’s perspective on what it would be like to spend some time on this boat.”
Before Chris had a chance to say “Au revoir”, my passport was in hand and suitcase packed. I assured him I was just the person for the job.
Within a matter of days, I was strolling along the cosmopolitan Port Moselle marina. Here, hundreds of boats, old and new, pristine and forlorn, rubbed shoulders, and their equally eclectic mix of skippers and sailors from around the world shared coffees and tales from their bows.
At the far end of the marina, the latest Riviera was waiting for me – 70 gleaming white feet of sheer excitement that out-classed and out-sized everything else in sight. Heart pumping, I boarded my very own superyacht for the day – well, two days actually – and found there was nothing even the most fastidious female could want for on this sensational boat. Immediately, I realised two days would not be long enough to experience everything it had to offer and I was struck by a pang of envy for those lucky enough to own one.
Once on board, Stephen Milne, from Riviera, introduced me to the crew: Tim Edwards, a qualified, capable and like able young engineer and skipper from Riviera on the Gold Coast and Dick and Donald, two quietly confident sailors from Vanuatu, who had travelled to Australia to deliver the Riv 70 across the ocean to Noumea.
Our skipper was local Frenchman, Bruno Escari, whom the crew had already dubbed Jacques Cousteau before I came aboard. Although his English was a little hard to decipher at times, Bruno’s sparkling blue eyes danced when he spoke, especially about his childhood in Bordeaux and his years of working as a photo journalist in Africa and South America, before being beaten by technology and taking up residence on New Caledonia, which he calls his “Island of peace and love”.
Bruno was a competent skipper, who knew his island (and its 23,000 square km of lagoon and 8000 square km of coral reef) like the back of his hand. Many times, he skilfully navigated through narrow channels and coral reefs to position us in a ‘magnifique’ spot for brunch and a swim.
Bruno said he loved skippering the boat and looked right at home behind the massive control panel.
He took us to some of the most picturesque places imaginable – Amédée Island, with its 56m-high, bright white lighthouse jutting out of an aqua oasis; Ilot Maitre, with its rim of luxurious five-star bures built atop a sparkling lagoon; and the Baie du Prony, a huge, deep bay dotted with tiny islands. And everywhere we went, we owned it! Every beach was ours. Every island seemed uninhabited. Every day onboard was a dream.
I realised it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why many who own these boats spend their lives gallivanting from one turquoise paradise to the next. And as I heard the top pop off yet another bottle of champers – French, of course – I realised, given half a chance, I could readily adapt to this lifestyle in a heartbeat. With the range of on board inclusions, facilities and living space on the big 70, there is absolutely no reason why I wouldn’t jump on for the long haul.
From stem to stern, it’s superyacht luxury. No expense has been spared on high gloss cabinetry, glamorous furniture and fittings and state-of-the-art light and sound technology, which includes Bose sound throughout, plasma TVs in every cabin and the penthouse flybridge, and a super-size HD plasma in the saloon.
Satellite phone handsets adorn every nook and cranny of the boat, so no one suffers the debilitating symptoms of mobile phone withdrawal, which, from my own experience, sometimes catch passengers unawares on offshore boating holidays.
The large galley is equipped for the serious entertainer. As well as Miele appliances, including a four-burner cooktop, convection oven and dishwasher, there is ample drawer-style fridge and freezer space, an ice-maker and built-in wine cooler to store supplies at optimal temperature year-round, even in the tropics. Centre stage on the huge granite-topped bench is the galley’spièce de résistance: a built-in, fully automatic coffee machine, which made the best coffee I have ever been served at sea.
Like most of the Riviera fleet, this boat is designed to travel safely, comfortably and fuel efficiently at around 10 knots (18km/h), but if there’s a need for speed, there are more than 3000 horses down below, champing at the bit to get you there sooner.
One day we tested its mettle as we raced back to the marina to drop off some fellow passengers, who were running late to catch a flight. While we sat at the dining table and enjoyed a seafood feast and sipped champagne, we barely knew we were running at around 35 knots (65km/h). Not a drop was spilled!
I found the outdoor area equally inviting. The spacious cockpit has a huge electric barbeque and comfortable covered seating area. The fisher-woman in the family is catered for with a built-in tackle storage cupboard, sink and cutting board and loads of rod holders.
The master stateroom is fit for a queen, with king-size bed, walk-in robe, full-length mirrors, writing bureau, leather sofa, bedside controls that operate everything, from blinds to lighting, and a large ensuite, with gleaming fittings and quality finishes.
The VIP stateroom is equally impressive and spacious, with queen-size bed, bedside controls and ensuite.
The two forepeak cabins are twin-bunk rooms, designed to give the skipper and crew their own comfortable space, as well as direct access to the helm and flybridge. These quarters can be closed off from the rest of the boat, if necessary, to allow privacy for them and other passengers.
Despite the size, extent and sophistication of the technology and controls found in the flybridge, it would be comforting for some who are considering buying a boat like this to know that even a novice like me could take the controls and keep the Riv 70 on track. Under Bruno’s watchful eye, I found driving this boat to be quite liberating. I’d liken it to driving a ‘floating Porsche’.
I know there are lots of women who love spending time on the water and I also know that every one of them loves spending time in it. Showers. Long, luxurious, steamy showers, with shampoo, conditioner, creamy foaming facial cleanser, loofah and exfoliator.
On boats I’ve sailed, water has always been a precious commodity and unfortunately, any shower that lasted longer than a minute or so has been met with fierce disapproval and wall slapping by fellow crew. So you will understand why it was so intensely pleasing for me to discover that not only does the Riviera 70 carry enough fuel to take its passengers to all sorts of exotic destinations, it also has an onboard desalination unit capable of producing 280 litres of fresh water an hour – more than enough for an utterly decadent shower every time, without fear of reprisal. And there is enough left over to run the washing machine, which is neatly tucked away in a cupboard.
The Riviera 70 can accommodate a large family, along with all their toys – and as Stephen Milne was wont to say: “The family that boats together, stays together”. With a 40hp tender, kayaks, inflatable toys and plenty of room for dive equipment and a wind surfer, the album will soon be filled with photos of sundrenched faces enjoying gourmet barbeques on the deck, the annual family fishing tournament or the regular weekend away.
Travelling on the Riviera 70, because of its sheer size and stability, you can’t help but feel safe, and that’s an important consideration when you head to sea with the kids or grandkids.
My experience on this boat was exhilarating, and certainly memorable. There were no waves crashing over the bow and drenching my clothes, and never once did I spill a drop of that good French champagne. But as I stepped off, I looked back and couldn’t help but wonder how many more great memories will be made on her over the coming years. Many, I’d imagine.