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Riviera's new convertible pushes the lofty reputation of the Australian boatbuilder further skywards, writes DAVID LOCKWOOD.

Riviera 51 Platinum

OCTOBER, 2003 - We are told that Riviera's big new convertible, which costs more than $1 million with twin 700hp Caterpillars, accounted for 15 sales and negotiations on another nine boats during its auspicious debut at the 2003 Sydney International Boat Show. Clearly, the boat-buying public identifies with the first new boat from Australia's biggest pleasureboat builder since its management buy-out earlier this year.

The 51 Platinum challenges the burgeoning express and motoryacht market. The biggest Riviera with clears around its flybridge, it is a capsule of clever design - a lifestyle accoutrement and comfortable floating home. But the big attraction is unquestionably the magic carpet in the sky.

If the sportscruiser's deck is a balcony, the Riviera 51's flybridge is a rooftop terrace with views as far as the eye can see. It's a lifestyle centre that looks down on the open-deckers at water level. With five-star amenities you can cruise, muse and enjoy the views from the top storey.

A boat to look up to, the 51 can carry, say, three to four couples on its big bridge. It therefore lays to rest the argument about flybridge boats being disconnected. Tell them the party is upstairs on the lounges in front of the skipper, around a big table, beside the bar fridge. And that's for starters.

Below the flybridge is a second lifestyle centre - a backyard of sorts: the cockpit. Here you can swing a game chair (there should be room for crew between the footrest and the transom) or assemble a trendy aluminium outdoor setting for lunches under the half-length canvas overhang.

After sundown, the natural progression will be indoors, where the party is only just hotting up. The 51's saloon has big picture windows that leave the below-decks living space on most sports or express cruisers looking, well, out of sorts. The sophisticated interior is perfect for soirees, dinner parties, cocktails, coffee and cake, or business powwows.

Indoors the 51 feels open, inviting and liveable, thanks in part to the new cherrywood joinery. This is the first Riviera with cherrywood, and the high-gloss finish gives big-ticket imports a run for their money in terms of finish.

Compared with the Riv 48, the 51 is bigger, brighter and better equipped in every department.



With every new model, Riviera's build quality becomes more of a highlight. And if this 51 is anything to go by, then the production line is getting smarter. The hand-laid GRP hull and decks looked as fair as ever, but details such as double-moulded locker doors and generous use of gas struts better reflect the pricetag.

Other details such as the grabrail in the boarding platform, rebated joinery, timber air-conditioning vents and recessed handrail down the saloon roof (so you don't hit your noggin), make this a user-friendly and stylish boat. I also like the new heavy duty, non-rattling swim ladder, removable in-floor fish boxes and sumptuous Navigator helm chairs.

A lot of effort has gone into making this Riviera a better fishing boat, too. Aside from the generous amount of floor space and
raised coaming height, the cockpit is positioned at a desirable distance from the water. The helm station is well aft for a big view when fighting fish, while the marlin door has a new outward-opening design with much-improved seal when backing up.

Engineering is world class, as one might expect from a company exporting at least half of its production to foreign markets like the USA. It begins with improved access to the watertight engine room, thanks to a gas strut to hold the foldaway sink open. Automatic lights at the entrance reveal the battery control panel.

Descend the ladder and you will find a big, clean, white engine bay bathed in the glow of three AC and five DC lights. On the test boat this is home to twin Caterpillar straight-six 700hp motors with electronic controls as standard. The motors are mounted on soft, vibration-dampening mounts and these, combined with the Aqualift exhausts, sound-deadening material and five-blade props, help make this a smooth boat.

I spied dual Racor filters for each motor (in other words, there is a redundant filter in case of fouling), dripless PSS shaft seals, a big 17kVa Onan generator with gas/water separator for the three Cruisair air-con units - one of which is an optional set for the flybridge - and a Seafire auto/manual fire-suppression system. The battery charger is a 70amp model and there is a parallel system for emergency starts, circuit breakers, and fully coded and numbered wiring.

The standard 51 Platinum comes with 2700lt of fuel. The test boat - the first 51 off the floor - was fitted with an extra long-range tank in the bow, carrying another 1000lt.

Below the waterline, all through-hull fittings are double-clipped and bronze with ball valves. There are emergency fuel shutoffs in the cockpit.

Engine options currently range up to twin 825hp MTU Series 60s, though many anticipate new 1000hp models. There's room for them.

Long-range cruising or fishing types can also order a factory-fitted desalinator and other options such as davits, Zodiac RIB, central vacuum system, and fishing options such as Quickshift cockpit engine controls.

As standard, however, the 51 is the most highly-specified boat to leave the factory since the $2 million 58ft flagship. It includes the clears, 8hp 24V bowthruster, electronics such as depthsounder and autopilot, wine cooler, icemaker, dishwasher and air conditioning. Even the washer/dryer is provided in a built-in linen press. Maid extra.



Dedicated gamefishers can delete the boarding platform and save $995, but family cruisers/fishers should take it, as it improves access to the boat, provides somewhere to dive into your swim, and with cut-outs it doesn't seem to dig in too much when reversing.

As mentioned, there is a new and improved stainless-steel swim ladder, a grabrail recessed in the boarding platform, and a sealed marlin door swinging on heavy duty hardware to answer anglers' concerns.

Mounted mid-transom is a livebait tank with cutting board lid that is plumbed to a bilge pump and aerator. The tank doubles as an icebox when entertaining.

Sub-floor is a removable transverse fishbox linked to a Gulp pump, accessed via two hatches and of sufficient size to stow a big tuna, wahoo, dorado, swim gear, water toys and more. Two adjoining hatches on gas struts lead into the lazarette. A backing plate for mounting a game chair is built in.

Six additional storage lockers are dotted about the cockpit and future boats will include a built-in garbage bin. Recessed cleats instead of cleats below hawsepipes make tending the mooring lines safe for new and old deckhands (though anglers won't be too keen on them). Included are pop-up cleats for swinging fenders, a spotlight and courtesy lights.

You get a freshwater washdown above deck and in the engine room, a hot/cold hand-held shower and fore and aft saltwater washdowns. The cockpit amenities centre behind the sliding rear saloon window includes a sink, fridge/freezer and a tackle locker.

As with all Rivieras, access to the foredeck (which is extra big on the 51) is aided by moulded cockpit steps, handrails around the cabin structure, wide side decks backed by a raked bowrail, and moulded toe rails. There is room for the RIB up front without blocking hatches, and also for a deck-mounted crane, without having to fit its base into a cabin like the Riv 48. Anchoring tackle comes standard.



The new-and-improved aluminium saloon door opens outwards, which has the effect of widening the companionway and improving access. A magnetic catch and trendy teardrop door knob add to the style and practicality. The door improves access to the AC/DC panel, too.

The starboard side of the saloon features cherrywood cabinetry including a big wetbar with U-line wine fridge - this being more your chardonnay or champagne kind of cruiser - plus icemaker and bottle/glass cupboards.

Opposite is a six-person L-shaped lounge covered in buff-coloured Alcantara, set around a cherrywood coffee table, with scatter cushions bearing a Versace-style print. Statues, air-con and big views of the world outside add to the hotel lobby feel. The lounge converts into a sofa bed or can be used as a daybed.

Storage space is plentiful, and includes a hidden rod locker in the ceiling that opens at the push of a button. Full marks for the recessed handrail also mounted in the ceiling.

A separate dinette opposite the galley, within arm's reach of the wine fridge, also enjoys great views. There is room here for four guests around the cherrywood table, plus another couple on loose chairs. Riviera could consider including a couple of stools recessed into a base for this very purpose.

The entertainment centre behind the windscreen includes a Bose stereo system (also linked to cockpit speakers) with Sony flat-screen TV, surround-sound and DVD player.

The interior feels modern compared with Riviera's previous furnishing choices. Even the clock, barometer and ship's badge are made from cool stainless steel instead of brass. There is also an at-a-glance monitoring system for the boat's pumps and lights.



On the mezzanine level, down two steps with a cherrywood handrail, is a galley considerably bigger than the Riviera 48 version. The servery isn't so high that you can't converse with guests while assembling the antipasto plates. And at last, cool Corian has been used for the counters - with a fiddle rail built in - instead of the cheaper-looking Granicoat.

Details include fluoro lighting, an intercom to the bridge and engine room, a square sink with Grohe fittings, concealed top-loading garbage bin, and visible water gauge. Hatches and drawers reside under the countertops, along with a dishwasher with cherrywood facia. Pantry space is generous.

Cooking amenities include an LG convection microwave mounted on the galley's opposing side, a three-burner recessed electric hob that will contain spills and stop pots launching, an extractor fan, and a half-height fridge/freezer.

Under the hard-wearing Amtico floor is a massive storeroom with space for a year's worth of provisions, golf clubs, tennis racquets, vacuum cleaner, spares, you name it. A little further forward is the linen press with washer/dryer. The cherrywood makes the companionway look bigger than if it were lined with dark-hued teak.



From an owner's perspective, I believe the 51 has the best accommodation of any Riviera. For guests, the boat also has a whole lot more room, and bigger bunks than you will find in other models. The accommodation plan has basically grown in size.

The master cabin is on the port side, roughly amidships, away from the slap of water on the chines to where the boat is at its most stable and quiet. An island king-sized bed is surrounded by a dresser, three storage hatches, bedside lockers, a flat-screen TV with DVD, CD player, air-con control panel and a giant hanging locker with automatic internal light.

There is an air of refinement derived from the mirror-backed bedhead and recessed speakers, stylish lighting, Italian door handles (with non-rattle catches) and the gold and platinum-coloured bedspread, complemented by matching scatter and roll cushions.

I like the fact that the ensuite to the master cabin doesn't have a separate door, which discourages guests from using your bathroom. There's a dedicated shower stall, Vacuflush loo, Corian counter, Grohe fittings, extractor fan and good floor space.

The VIP guests' cabin in the bow also features an island bed and an ensuite, although there is a second door so it can double as a dayhead. The cabin has hanging lockers, separate air-con control panel and flatscreen television, and privacy from the owners.

I was no less impressed by the third cabin to port. Its bunks are of such generous proportions that it can't be deemed a kids' or crew cabin, but rates as another full-blown guests' room in which you could do some serious sleeping. There is a lot of hanging space, drawers and lockers, and room to pull on your clobber. A step helps your access to the top bunk.



But the piece de resistance is the flybridge. A ladder to port leads up to this rooftop terrace and there is a safety cover that seals the bridge so guests don't fall through.

The up-market helm chairs with flip-up footrests before a wraparound dash will appeal to gamefishers. There is scope for split throttles, a standard-issue anodised alloy wheel, Twin Disc electronic controls, Sidepower thruster, Muir windlass and room for at least two 10in electronic screens.

Key contributors to the comfort of the bridge are the Strataglass clears, which are thicker than normal and so taut and terrific - and waterproof and clear - that they provide a sense of permanent enclosure to the bridge. While cruising offshore in strong winds, there wasn't the slightest hint of a flapping clear. Brilliant.

Optional air conditioning was fitted, and overhead is a groovy moulded-fibreglass hardtop with hatch for fresh air, spotlight, radio storage and lots of handy stainless-steel handrails.

I also love the big moulded recesses in the helm console for storing personals like keys and phones, and the three shelves below for binoculars, charts and so on. The carbon dash was also nice and simple thanks to the electronic Caterpillar control panels. There is a lighting plan showing what is on and off.

But the amenities and seating for guests is the drawcard. A big moulded console to port includes a sink, handrails, 12V drinks fridge, storage for glasses and a rubbish bin. There appears to be provision for a second icemaker, too, and shorepower outlets are nearby so a skipper could sleep up top and have a separate breakfast from owners or charterers.

Forward of the console and amenities centre is a big entertaining and cruising area with surround lounges and a Corian table with drinkholders. The lounges can collectively seat, say, three couples or convert into a daybed. With the skipper and copilot, the boat can easily accommodate eight people up top.

This 51 was rushed for the Sydney Boat Show, but it is hoped that with more time, the factory will improve the angle of the backrest on the lounges. These ones provided very little back support.



Keyless ignition and the bowthruster, albeit a mere 8hp model, make the 51 a user-friendly drive. The extended bridge offers good views back aft, though short people may struggle to see the bow when driving seated. The five-blade props offered plenty of bite, though some fine-tuning was needed to rid the boat of a mid-range vibration.

Acceleration from the C12 Cats was excellent, however, and the Riviera 51 hull is a lot more efficient and drier than its 48ft stablemate, which has huge shoulders and a full bow. The new hull from the Riviera design team has some likeness to the flagship 58, which was designed by Frank Mulder - a well-respected name in megayacht circles and an expert in hydrodynamics.

Offshore, a 1.5m swell was running, with a stiff southerly breeze. These were the kind of conditions many recreational boaters might pass up in favour of swinging at anchor back inside the harbour. However the 51 proved more than capable of cruising into the jaws of a blow.

At 1850rpm, the boat holds 23.5kt and the 700hp Cats consume 170lt/h in total. At 26.5kt at 2050rpm the motors are burning 190lt/h. Safe cruising range with the optional 1000lt tank is in the vicinity of 460nm over 19.5 hours of constant steaming. Our top speed was 30.5kt inside the harbour.

During the boat's delivery from the Gold Coast to Sydney, Capt Bob Jones experienced everything from flat seas to 30kt on the nose as he rounded Seal Rocks. He says they didn't travel below 15-16kt at 1500rpm, and mostly maintained a useful 18kt at 1700rpm.

The Riviera 51 is a huge boat inside and out. It's a 48 that has grown in stature to become a serious liveaboard gamefishing boat and a wonderful entertaining platform with a bridge that hits new heights. And history has proven that Riviera buyers typically get their money back in three years - yet another reason for the scramble to get aboard.



(Facts & Figures)



Approx $1.13 million



$1.18 million w/ twin Caterpillar C12 700hp diesel motors and options



Long-range fuel tank, flybridge air-conditioning, teak cockpit floor, LCD TVs in cabins, outriggers, tackle locker drawer and Raymarine electronics package



Material: GRP with composite superstructure
Type: Deep-vee planing hull
Hull length: 15.54m
Beam: 4.90m
Draft: 1.40m
Deadrise: 14.6°
Weight: About 20,500kg dry



Berths: Six + two
Fuel: 2700lt + 1000lt
Water: 860lt



Make/model: Twin Caterpillar C12 700hp
Type: Turbo-charged, fully electronic, ISO-compliant inline six
Rated HP: 700 @ 2300rpm
Displacement: 12lt
Weight: about 1174kg each
Gearboxes (make/ratio): Twin Disc / 2:1
Props: Five-blades



Riviera Sales Sydney, Rushcutters Bay, NSW, tel (02) 9363 0000

Source: Trade-a-Boat, Oct 2003


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