DELIVERIES - Sydney-to-Melbourne Express

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JOHN ZAMMIT joins in a three-day delivery run from Sydney to Melbourne onboard a classic Riviera 48, dodging whales along the way

DELIVERIES - Sydney-to-Melbourne Express
DELIVERIES - Sydney-to-Melbourne Express

In 1998, David Lockwood (current editor of Trade-a-Boat), writing about the Riviera Platinum Series 48, said: "It's their best model yet, with five-star comforts and speed to burn." Riviera’s then flagship had recently undergone an update and pricing was around $690K with twin 470hp Volvo’s. Powerplant choices included Caterpillar, MTU, and MAN to 800hp and a host of other options that often pushed the price over $1m.

In total, 169 were built from ’93 to 2004, of which 159 were fully enclosed. These days, you’ll find good examples advertised within these pages priced anywhere between $500K and $720K depending on age, options and condition. In fact, we reckon the Riviera 48 is one of the best preloved buys in today’s Trade-a-boat and a huge amount of boat for your buck.

I recently jumped aboard one of these fine boats for a Sydney to Melbourne delivery run, joining new owner David Murphy and experienced boater Frank Wilkes on Duchess III — hull no. 137, built in 2002.

This is David’s first venture into big boats having previously owned skiboats. "The idea of a big boat always appealed, but I was hesitant about Melbourne’s weather," David says. At 45 years of age, he felt that now was time to act before, well, he missed the boat.

We arrived at Sydney City Marine late in the afternoon, soon after Duchess III had been lifted back into the water following an antifoul and her props repaired. The rest of the day was spent familiarising ourselves with the boat and the onboard systems, engines, anchor, lights, electronics, etc.

Up early next morning, we’d booked the fuel barge for 8am and took on 2375lt of diesel (she holds 2500lt). It was then off to the chandlery for an EPIRB, spare fuel filters, waterpump impeller, engine oil, and bits and pieces. A stop-off at the supermarket on the way back and then time to stow, fasten and batten down everything in preparation for our trip.

By late afternoon, we were yet to obtain the boat keys. Ignition was on and the boat unlocked, but the broker who’d sold David the boat was "too busy with customers" to bring us the keys that were still with the previous owner. (The service from this broker, part of a national franchised chain of yachtbrokers, was underwhelming, but that’s a whole other story). We finished up contacting the previous owner ourselves and paying for a taxi to deliver the keys to the marina.

We’d been keeping an eye on the weather and after a final check of the forecast, aimed to leave early the next morning, for Bermagui. Options en route included Port Hacking, Wollongong, and Ulladulla, dependant on conditions once underway, of course.

Even by today’s standards, the Riviera 48 is luxuriously fitted out — a three-cabin two-bathroom boat, with a great galley and a fully enclosed flybridge. Perfect for David, partner Kim and three teenage children. The accommodation was one of the attractions, the other was that Riviera is a well-known and trusted brand with good resale value. That was an important consideration for David in selecting his first big boat.

Dawn was just breaking while travelling under the Harbour Bridge to start of our voyage. Ramping up the twin 660hp Caterpillar 3196 electronic engines, we felt some vibration and a quick check revealed a loose engine mount. This meant idling into Rushcutters Bay, dodging the morning commuter ferries, to make some running repairs. Good thing we’d brought along a decent set of tools! Take note.

By 0655, we were up and running and heading out through Sydney Heads on an overcast day with a 2m swell and a slight sea. Cruising at 19kts and 1750rpm, Duchess III’s fuel burn was 125lt/h. By 0915, off Port Kembla and going past the Five Islands, we spotted the first of many whales that we would see along the way.

Two-and-a-half hours later, we idled into Jervis Bay for a break and a quick lunch. There’s a naval base located in the Commonwealth Waters of the bay and you often see warships in its vicinity. This day, though, we were treated to the spectacular sight of a submarine, on the surface, less than 500m away.

A quick sandwich for lunch and within an hour we were off again. The sea had increased and it was getting bumpy, but the fully enclosed flybridge — with twin helm seats aft, a roomy dash and more seating and a table forward — was warm and comfortable. With the added luxury of a fridge and a sink, we had all the comforts of home.

By 1800, we reached the entrance to Bermagui but in our path was a pod of, this time, breaching whales. We waited for them to pass, but they had come to play. For the next 15 minutes they treated us to an awesome display of might and power, repeatedly launching themselves out of the water, only metres from our boat. We made an effort to move away but decided it was safer for us, and them, if we stayed put. Finally, they glided off but it was too late to get fuel. Instead, a berth was secured and it was off for a walk up the hill to the Bermagui Hotel for a stretch of the legs and dinner. The area was also made famous by Zane Grey.

It was still dark when we made our way out of the harbour at 0500 the next morning but at least the sea was calm and, travelling at 15kts, our CATs were ticking over at 1500rpm using 90lt/h.

Phoning ahead, the fuel tanker was waiting on the wharf when we arrived at Eden at 0830. Taking on 1531lt of fuel, it was also a chance to grab some breakfast and by 0915 we were on our way again, this time bound for Lakes Entrance, the next planned fuel stop.

Soon, we were passing Green Cape Light, an impressive lighthouse with beautiful white colonial-style outbuildings that’s a stunning sight from the water. At 1040, we crossed the Victorian border at Cape Howe. Seas by now were chopping up, with the sun occasionally peeping through the clouds.

Duchess III made good time getting to Lakes Entrance at 1600 but we couldn’t contact the Fish Co-Op by phone to get fuel. After a brief discussion and some quick calculations, it was decided there was enough fuel to get to Port Welshpool.

Passing through the Bass Strait gas and oil fields, the huge platforms were clearly visible four miles off, and at 2115 we were tying up at the fuel dock at Port Welshpool. There’s quite a tidal-height range here and coming in on the ebb tide meant that getting on and off the boat to secure lines wasn’t all that easy.

Early next morning, after taking on 1500lt, we were now in the home stretch. With a northeasterly blowing it was decidedly lumpy cruising down the eastern side of Wilson Promontory and around South East Cape, its impressive lighthouse sitting atop a soaring, rocky cliff. Estimates had the wind gusting 35kts as the spray blasted the foredeck and our flybridge windscreen, the wipers working overtime.

At one stage, it looked like we might lose our dinghy cover. With me at the wheel and Frank downstairs, David drew the short straw and out he went into a Water World foredeck to retrieve the cover. By 1615, things had calmed down considerably passing through the Rip at Port Phillip Heads.

Now, only 20nm from home, it was decided to wind up the big CATs to see what they’d do. We hadn’t been game to run her up to WOT earlier, concerned that with the engine mount being loose, the shafts may not be precisely aligned. The tacho hit 1900 for 22.5kts, 2000rpm saw 24.4kts, 2100rpm 26kts and 2300rpm 29kts. I’m sure there was a bit more left, but quickly easing back, the cruise home to Williamstown was sedate. We arrived just after 1800.

This was certainly the quickest Sydney to Melbourne trip I’ve done by boat and a sensational shakedown cruise for new owner David. While putting in some long days there’s no question we did it in style and comfort. It’s no wonder the Riviera 48 has such a deserved reputation and such good resale value.

Riviera 48

Expect to pay now: $500,000 to $790,000
Material: GRP
Type: Moderate-vee monohull
Length: 15m
Beam: 5m
Draft: 1.1m
Weight: 22,000kg
Engines: 2 x 800hp MAN turbo-diesels

It was the biggest boat in its day, even Tom and Nicole Kidman owned one. Although overshadowed by 50- to 60-footers, she’s still an awful lot of boat for your buck today and actually measures way bigger than her model designation. Hey, we’ll go so far as to say she’s the best-value big preloved cruiser you can buy. And 48s without the black cabin stripe still look pretty good.

Photos: The evergreen Riviera 48 has been around for almost 20 years, and the 2002-built Duchess III is hull no. 137; Breaching whales held up the crew coming into Bermagui, but no one complained; John Zammit takes his turn at the helm; Early morning Sydney Harbour as the Duchess III crew prepfor the big trip south; Which was subsequently delayed by a loose engine mount on one of the 660hp Caterpillar motors; The Green Cape
lighthouse was built in 1883 and is said to be the first cast-concrete lighthouse tower in Australia, and
at 29m,
NSW's second tallest; Galley chores; Sub at Jervis Bay; Planning ahead; Waiting at the
Eden wharf for the fuel tanker; The unmistakeable Wilson Promontory light atop its massive tor; The
Gabo Island lighthouse is renowned for its striking
red granite tower; Port Welshpool, last fuel stop before home.


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