To the cast and crew of Masterchef, Top Gear, Getaway, The Biggest Loser, Australia’s Got Talent, Grand Designs, et al, I send my gushing, Logies-style gratitude and platitudes.
Love your work, guys. Love your mums.
The lot of a boat tester was tiresomely technical back in the dark days when wildlife documentaries and police shows were king. We ran through the revs to record fuel consumption, spun the wheel a few times, said “oooh” in the engineroom then handed the keys back.
In dreary bat caves, redolent with Liquid Paper fumes, we’d clack away on typewriters, transcribing shorthand notes that had Sir Isaac Pitman rolling in his grave. “The engine used 32lt/hr at WOT for 19.2 knots of boatspeed …”
So dry, when we were supposed to be getting wet. Not a bucket and spade in sight.
But now, thanks to the reality TV explosion in this lucky country, the task of testing new boats has become, in a word, unreal.
The marketing gurus are obliged to provide a five-star tropical experience or shameless publicity event to pin the test on. We writers demand tucker that is pucker, prepared by a chef (not a cook) and accompanied by either French bubbles or boutique beers. A Gold Coast meter maid must serve it.
You half expect Jamie Durie to pot a few ferns in the cockpit.
It’s all about the ‘sizzle’, you see. The sizzle of trawler-fresh seafood on the hotplate and the sizzle of the sale, for at last someone has realised that people buy boats for lifestyle, not strictly performance.
And thus it was with deliciously high expectations that I boarded a Riviera of some sort on a recent fine day at Runaway Bay, Queensland. White. Rather big. Enclosed bridge so as not to stir my bouffant.
Before I’d even put my camera bag down, a Brazilian waitress named Dolly handed me the obligatory “champagne on arrival”. Check.
The professional chef was sharpening his hunting knives and tying on his hat like Rambo. No cigarette dangling from mouth. Check.
The skipper was busily plotting a course to the local seafood market, while the PR guy counted off $100 notes in his Prada wallet. Check.
But first, the publicity stunt …
Skiing is believing, apparently, but if I hadn’t seen 12 waterskiers being hauled out simultaneously from a deep-water start by a diesel-powered sportscruiser, then I’d have had my doubts.
It wasn’t a power issue – 900-odd kilos of skiing beefcake was never going to challenge the might of twin Caterpillar 1550hp diesels. It was the 50 tonnes of fibreglass finery that should, by rights, have quelled the necessary acceleration.
The co-owners of the craft in question – which, I should probably add, was Riviera’s all-new, all-singing and all-dancing 61 Series II Enclosed Flybridge – have been avid waterskiers for almost 30 years. They had previously skied behind a Riviera M430, so they were keen to do something unique to celebrate the launch of Riviera’s latest.
“When we took delivery of this boat and realised how quick it was, I thought it would be fun to try it. We weren’t even at 40 per cent engine load with 12 skiers at the back, holding 22 knots (41km/h),” one of the owners, Rob, said.
It’s not something that sportscruiser owners should try at home because of the insurance implications. The skiers were professionals and it was done under controlled conditions, whereas the turning circle and recovery time would make it unsafe from a purely recreational perspective.
The speedboat comparisons continued when the boat ventured offshore. With 3100hp at its disposal – 1070hp more than standard – it accelerates like a Jamaican sprinter all the way to 36 knots (67km/h). Where’s The Stig when you need him?
It’s incredibly quiet upstairs and down as Riviera has done a superb job with the engineroom installation and acoustic dampening. Even when the turbos kick in, there’s little engine whine and no wind or water noise on the hull.
The handling could be likened to that of an aquatic Range Rover; strong yet stately, but at this speed it drinks fossil fuel at the rate of 600lt/hr. At 30 knots (55km/h) you’re pulling a sedate 2000rpm and the consumption has dropped to a more ecoresponsible 440lt/hr. Not even Bob Brown would complain about the fact that at 8 knots you’ll be using just 75lt/hr, though the bow does occasionally take a lick of spray at displacement speeds.
“Being based at Hamilton Island, we’ll be going to the outer reef quite often and it will be a one hour trip for us,” explained Rob. “If we can’t do 30 knots all the way, we won’t go.”
MY KITCHEN RULES
If life is more about the destination than the journey, the piece de resistance of being anchored in any secluded cove is the sound and aroma, the wisp of smoke, from a well-oiled barbecue.
Boats are a life-support system for a barbie in my book, and they don’t come much better than the Southern Stainless electric unit installed on the test boat. It resides mid-transom, using hinges and a sliding track to fold into what’s normally the livebait cavity.
For the secrets to the perfect lunch I asked the expert: “Limited space means you shouldn’t overdo the preparation. Keep it basic; three or four ingredients,” said the onboard Iron Chef.
“You don’t need too much because you have the scenery to enjoy. Lots of lemon juice and you won’t go wrong.”
From Peter’s Fish Market, next door to the Palazzo Versace hotel in Southport, he’d hand selected Atlantic salmon and red emperor, caught the day before and filleted that morning.
Accompanying them were bugs, bella rossa tomatoes (like a roma, but packed with intense flavour), plus baby capsicum and carrot.
For entrée, fresh prawns with wasabi mayo and freshly shucked oysters spiced with a hint of rice wine vinegar and ginger. Matt Preston would’ve scoffed the lot.
Our galleying gourmet was full of praise for the bench space, storage and appliances, save for one grumble about how much grog was in the underbench fridge. With no less than eight fridges and three freezers scattered throughout the boat, it could’ve been worse.
Galleys move forward and aft like the tide, but the current trend is to place them near the cockpit. The kitchen is the hub of any modern home, of course, and chefs like to be in the thick of the action. Here, they can stand in the galley and have 360-degree views.
The mezzanine dinette in the cockpit can be hand-fed directly through the rear hopper window, so it won’t be just lunch, but breakfast and dinner, too, that will get eaten in this alfresco setting, perfectly protected from the elements.
It’s obvious from the outset that this is a floating holiday house for the owners, one that will be used for months at a time in the Whitsundays then taken back to Sydney for the summer. They are social types, who enjoy entertaining.
Where owners used to tear up the coast on a Saturday morning, drop anchor, then return on Sunday afternoon, contemporary Riv owners are weekday warriors, who disappear for long stretches, taking life at a leisurely pace.
“When we ordered the boat our intention was extended cruising,” said Rob.
“The fuel load was an issue for us, as was water capacity,” he said. “And, of course, you need a lot of fridge space,” he added with a chuckle.
Because the owners only cruise as two couples they selected the three-cabin option, which affords a larger forward stateroom, with lounge seating. It gives equal space and treatment to the two main cabins, while adding light and airiness that might otherwise be closed off.
My candid camera is the best judge of internal light, and rarely did the auto flash raise its ugly head. Yet the Riv still has that aura of calm, understated luxury, via fabric panelled walls, plush carpet and soft bedding. It whispers style, doesn’t yell.
In a previous incarnation, this model used to have a single door to the master cabin and the bed ran laterally (crossways). Now the door is double width and the bed runs longitudinally, flanked by a topside window.
Add the ensuite, which is situated forward, and suddenly it enjoys similar dimensions and features to a full-beam master cabin, only it runs lengthways.
A big boat like this inevitably becomes a magnet for family and friends, a hive of activity for jet skiing, fishing, and diving. Boat number two will feature the alternative fourth cabin with pulman bunks as the owner has three children, all of whom – if they’re anything like my kids – will bring a friend along, too.
Where the saloon lounge was previously aft to port and the dinette was forward to starboard, they’ve been brought together in the Series II model. It enhances the connectivity as a crowd can sit on either side and look at each other.
The sleek hull remains faithful to the original Frank Mulder design, other than for a widening of the forward planing strakes to reduce spray.
It has undergone a Biggest Loser-style paring and redistribution of non-structural weight to enhance performance and fuel economy, and the designers split the midship fuel tank to lower the rolling momentum at sea.
A high-capacity (284lt/hr) watermaker has spared the need to cart heavy loads of fresh water, but the same can’t be said of the many other options, all of which add to the weight.
Foxtel is fully integrated in the boat, with boxes in the main staterooms and the saloon. It can pipe up to the flybridge TV or E-180 Raymarine screens on the dash. The cockpit has an individual Clarion stereo with small screen for music videos.
Big Brother camera swatchover the engineroom, saloon and cockpit. There’s even one at the bow to view the anchor coming out of the water.
Because your next boat is always your best boat, the owners have had serious input. Barely a box went unticked on the order form.
This is their 11th consecutive Riviera in 20 years. They started with a 33 Flybridge, then a 36 Flybridge and 4000 Offshore, before going back to an M290 as they moved waterways and needed a sterndrive.
That lasted six months until they upgraded to an M430, followed by an M360 and, a few months later, an M400. The M400 was two days old before they went to the Sanctuary Cove boat show and ordered a 45 Flybridge on the spot.
A 51 Enclosed was next and they concurrently owned a 43 Offshore that was kept at Hamilton Island. All sold within a month at good prices as they were kept in pristine order.
At the top end of town, buyers don’t like to compromise. They want to tweak things, so Riviera is becoming a semi-custom operation in its bigger boats.
That means you can dispense with the mezzanine table if more cockpit space is demanded for sportsfishing. An open bridge, as favoured by sun-worshipping US buyers, is available. They will also do a lower helm version with open bridge for Europe, where the boating season is so short.
In the current market there are two ways for boat builders to go. Either cut costs by using cheaper materials and labour to lower the price, or make a concerted effort to increase quality. Riviera chose the latter, as its brand heritage is about delivering the goods and it’s what their owners want.
When Riviera announced this model at last year’s Sydney boat show, five boats were sold off the plans. That’s confidence for you, especially at a time when used boats from the US are devaluing the sportscruiser market.
Riviera has attempted to create a pocket 70; a superyacht distilled into a package that two people can handle and one can afford to buy. It has lots of accommodation, lots of power, a huge flybridge, aft galley, mezzanine seating, opposing lounge and dinette, but a pricetag starting with a “2”, not a “5”.
“To me, it’s the ultimate cruising boat,” said Riviera’s Brand and Communications Manager Stephen Milne, who’s not usually one to play favourites in the Riv range.
Phil, the 55-year-old co-owner, must agree with Mr Milne because instead of going Undercover Boss, he opted for a total Sea Change and handed in his resignation upon delivery of the boat. Good show.
SPECIFICATIONS: RIVIERA 61 SERIES II ENCLOSED FLYBRIDGE
Deadrise: 12.5 degrees
Fuel: 4900lt plus 750lt auxiliary
Holding tank: 273lt
Standard engine: Caterpillar C18 1015hp
As tested: Caterpillar C32 1550hp
Genset: Onan 22.5kW
RPM Speed (knots) Fuel (lt/hr)
1000 7.6 75
1500 15.7 222
2000 27.2 404
WOT 35.2 600
For more information, visit: www.riviera.com.au.