BOAT TEST: RIVIERA 48 OFFSHORE EXPRESS
The Riviera 48 Offshore Express is a wonderful coastal cruiser that can equally get down and boogie as a party boat, and fish far offshore, finds DAVID LOCKWOOD.
MAY, 2008 - The Australian Builder's Plate on the hull of Riviera's new 48 Offshore Express says you can legally carry 18 aboard. Eighteen? You bet! - and without feeling like sardines in a tin. What we're looking at here is, among other applications, a party boat par excellence that's perfect for cruising for views. Take it fast or slow, in or offshore, range up the coast or hang out on your local waterway. Let me explain.
Though it reintroduces the Offshore moniker to Riviera's line-up, the 48 Offshore Express is a very different kettle of fish to old and wildly popular 4000 Offshore. Add a factory fitted tower and you have a purpose-built big gamefishing boat. And many of us familiar with the ride of Rivieras believe it to be the best-riding boat in the entire fleet.
But sans tower, you also get a wonderful coastal cruiser with the same thoroughbred performance and, with accommodation for four to six, a boat that doubles as a floating holiday house. Moreover, the abundant deck space and above-deck amenities make this a potentially dynamic entertainer. It doesn't take too much imagination to see that the big (optional teak laid) cockpit designed for fishing will excel as a stage for your soirees. And there are fridges and plenty of seats under the hardtop, a must-have $43,000 option. The boat also comes in open and soft-top versions.
Without a bulkhead, the bridgedeck extends the indoor/outdoor entertaining area on the 48 Offshore Express. It was here I found the ABP boasting an 18-person capacity.
Yet it's not pushing the envelope or over-crowding, as there is seating for more than half that along with the accommodating cockpit.
So why buy the 48 Offshore Express over a 47 Sport Yacht? Besides the utility aspect, the sweet ride and smart look, the Offshore Express wins out on floor. If you like to cruise the harbour, glam around the Gold Coast, do dinner at Docklands or swan across to Rottnest with a boatload of guests then the Offshore Express holds sway.
EVOLUTION NOT REVOLUTION
Offshore Express boats are all the rage in America, where Riviera exports about half its inventory these days. A lot of people don't find the need to take a veritable house every time they leave port. Riviera's rendition follows a popular theme and, in this sense, it's evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Although based on the Riviera 47 G2 hull, the 48 Offshore Express has more flare in the bow, higher topsides for greater freeboard and a vastly drier ride. The big difference is that the running angle is now four degrees. The difference a degree or two makes to the trim of this boat compared with the 47 G2 hull is astonishing.
Where the 47 G2 runs very flat and is inclined to push water even in calm seas when it doesn't need to, and where that boat has a tendency to bury its bow when running down sea, the 48 Offshore Express excels. Its forefoot cuts the water only when confronted by a wave, and downhill it rides with its head held high, on its aft sections, as though a surfer during take off. No nose diving.
Of course, should you want to really punch a dreadful headsea, you can simply tab the nose down. But for the most part you don't need to toy with the tabs or trim to make the 48 Offshore Express perform.
And without the usual hardtop and furniture in the flybridge, it has a low centre of gravity and therefore feels surefooted.
Just as importantly in the day and age of busy waterways and recent fatal boat crashes, the vision is excellent. You can see ahead at speed and when champagne cruising. And wipers with washers and a demister ensure views stay that way at the helm.
Riviera has followed through with its commitment to improve engineering on its boats. The engineroom on the 48 Offshore Express has a moulded liner with gelcoat finish. Access is via a day inspection hatch or by raising the cockpit sole via a hydraulic lift. A quick look reveals, if anything, that the boat's systems have been simplified.
The demonstrator was fitted with a pair of 715hp C12 Caterpillar diesels, but engine options range from twin 660hp Cummins QSM11s to MTU Series 60 825hp straight sixes with two-stage turbochargers right up to twin 1015hp C18 Caterpillars for the go-get-'em American market. A 48 Offshore Express with tower that I tested on the same day had the MTU options, but it was only a knot or so faster than this boat with Cats.
As fully electronic engines are standard these days, owner/driver maintenance won't extend much past performing a visual check on the bilge, dipping the oil, glancing at the coolant levels in the overflow bottles, sighting the odd oil leak or loose bolt or belt, and perhaps emptying the sea strainers, which are now heavy-duty stainless steel models made in-house. The twin Racor fuel filters have water-sensing alarms, I spotted an optional oil-change system and sound insulation. But where's the sight gauge for the fuel tank? An oversight, I suppose.
You now get air and fuel shutoffs as standard, a manual bilge manifold system for each of the boat's watertight compartments (the boat is built to European standard too) and the all-important fuel capacity has been increased from 2700lt on the 47 Flybridge Convertible to 3200lt on the 48 Offshore Express, with the option of an additional 1000lt long-range fuel tank, which was fitted to the boat pictured here. That will give one heck of a cruising range.
Meanwhile, the boat's 620lt of water should extend to catering for a week aboard. A 13kW Onan generator powers, among other things, the air-con that filters through to the cabins and bridgedeck. The boat also had an extra fridge and freezer. Available in three versions including Open, Targa and Enclosed (seen here), the 48 Offshore Express is otherwise a very complete boat.
On the construction front, Riviera is using more and more closed-moulds or light resin transfer moulds (RTMs) these days to produce things like the marlin door and hatches that bare a better finish and are lighter. But the hull remains unchanged in that it's fashioned from solid fibreglass below the waterline, with glass-encapsulated timber sub frames and bulkheads glassed to the hull, and cored decks to help reduce weight.
Like the 47 G2, there are prop pockets or tunnels reducing the shaft angle for greater efficiency, a ¾-keel to help with tracking, but the 48 has, as touched on, a higher bow with more flare and, on paper, 1.0cm more beam. Watch the boat running and you have to agree it really does travel in fine fettle.
DRESSED TO KILL
Those with an intimate knowledge of Riviera boats will notice subtle changes to the mouldings, decks, and hardware. Whereas most of the convertibles have above-deck cleats to assuage crew, the Offshore Express welcomes back trusty hawsepipes and under-gunwale cleats that won't foul lines. And the American market much prefers hawsepipes.
The gunwales are nice and wide, while the steps to the sidedecks have been designed so they don't impede on cockpit space of which there is plenty. And while gamefishers may delete the boarding platform, it added further to the abundant waterfront real estate.
I'm told the transom of the 48 Offshore Express is 20cm higher than the 51. This contributes to a dry boat in reverse and, as touched on, it's already a very dry boat going forward. A new scupper system is a further improvement, keeping water at bay, though the flap needs some cushioning as it bangs at times - a small detail and easily fixed.
There were freshwater and saltwater deckwashes, a new dot-pattern non-skid, scope to fit a game chair or, rather, second teak table with overhead awning. The lack of sidepockets meant there was excellent toe-under and thigh support on the coamings for leaning outboard and fishing or tending mooring lines. Of course, the marlin door is outward opening, while the livebait tank is little changed and mid-transom - it's always a great place to stow dive gear if not drinks when in party mode - and there's a big in-floor fishbox. A 240V Southern Stainless BBQ and dcutting boat completes the picture.
A BETTER BRIDGEDECK
After fuel and water, the next big consideration on any cruising boat is refrigeration. The 48 Offshore has it in spades. There is a big hold under the aft-facing crew lounge and another under the forward portside lounge that can be fitted with fridge units, which is to say nothing of the drawer-style domestic fridges and freezers below decks. The demonstrator pictured had an extra freezer drawer.
The amenities centre to starboard has a big servery, a pile of storage space, an optional icemaker and another drinks fridge. The fridge is within reach of the L-shaped lounge and dinette to port. And being under the hardtop, in air-conditioning, and with great views, it's the pick of the lunch and dinner possies.
Meanwhile, seating on the three lounges under the hardtop accommodates eight or more out of the weather and, I noted with great interest, the boat doesn't suck spray back aboard like the 47 Convertible. That's another big improvement.
The Pompanette helm seat is central, as it should be on an express boat, alongside the matching navigator seat to port, both of which are set behind a stylish windscreen. The dash is designed for a full spread of 15in electronics and, though not retractable as is de rigueur these days, the screens are well protected by the high aspect windscreen.
I found twin Raymarine E120s with radar, chartplotter and sounder (you can include CCT from the engineroom, cockpit, and saloon); autopilot, marine radios and stereo; Edson wheel; chain counter; storage for personal effects and drinkholders; plus twin CAT engine control panels and a pair of Quickshift electronic throttles and shifts with cruise, synchro, express and troll modes.
Just as importantly, the air-con doubles as a demister under the windscreen. The hardtop includes a hatch and there are side-opening windows for ventilation. Between all that, you have perfect climate control for cruising the tropics or southern winters.
Last but not least, access around the sidedecks is excellent. The bowrail, moulded toe rails and non-skid deck all help with footing. But if you want to carry a tender, it will need to go aft on snap davits or rolled up and stowed in the engineroom. You wouldn't want to compromise your visions.
As much as it's a great entertainer above, down below you'll find an exciting accommodation plan. Using bi-fold doors and partitions, you can convert the open-plan interior into a more intimate private two-cabin boat. Despite being below decks, the boat isn't poky, with high headroom, a skylight and hatches with insect and shade screen, and high-gloss cherrywood joinery.
The owners get an island bed in the bow, with upmarket en suite including big shower stall, separate TV, hanging and storage space, while guests have two single berths in the aft cabin. The pullman berths back aft will, I'm told, be changed to permanent single berths on future boats. There is carpet in the forward cabin, but hard-wearing Amtico mock timber in the living areas.
Should you have a full house, no worries, the lounge in the amidships saloon before the small dinette and 32in LCD TV can convert into two more (pullman) berths. That makes sleeping for six, plus one in the bridgedeck. A second day and communal head with toilet and handheld shower is aft near the galley.
Gourmands will welcome the abundant Corian counters and food-prep space, four fridge and freezer drawers, recessed two-burner stove with range hood, oversized sink, and convection microwave oven with grill. I was similarly impressed by the storage, which ranged from a massive subfloor hold to abundant cupboards and drawers.
RUNS ON THE BOARD
The pleasure-boat version of the 48 Offshore Express driven here, with twin 715hp Caterpillar C12 diesels and no tower, topped out at 32.7kts. Fascination with twin 825hp Series 60 MTUs, tower and tackle, touched 33kts at wide open throttle. So there's not a lot in it, though the MTUs with their two-stage turbos appeared to have more grunt out of the blocks and in the mid range.
With the Cats, the 48 Offshore is a stable party platform at 700rpm and 7.5kts for your harbour or bay tour. Plant the throttles and acceleration is impressive. At low-speed cruise of 1615rpm, the Cats give an easy and quiet 19kts for 125lt/h. A touch of the retractable QL-brand trim tab and it rides in fine fettle at 20.8kts at 1700rpm for 136lt/h.
At 1855rpm, I noted a smooth cruise of 23.8kts for 170lt/h. Leaving 10 per cent of the extraordinary 4500lt fuel capacity in reserve - the boat had an optional long-range 1000lt tank fitted - the above revs give a range of 570nm over a full 24-hour period. That's easily Sydney to the Fraser Island. What's more, the big tanks will let you buy diesel in bulk and save. Fast cruise was 27.4kts at 2025rpm for 196lt/h, with the boat topping out at almost 33kts.
The high-backed helm seats were wonderfully supportive for passage making and the motion of the boat is quite unlike most other Rivs.
There's seemingly less pitching, as the boat runs across rather than through the water, with the forefoot playing its part and sluicing the swell for a smooth ride only when needed. With less displaced water, the 48 Offshore Express is a dry boat, probably the driest in the range. All of which will appeal to cruising buffs, footloose families, fishers and, especially, the party brigade. Think of it as a moveable beach house.
(Facts & Figures)
RIVIERA 48 OFFSHORE EXPRESS
PRICE AS TESTED
$1,182,519 w/ twin Caterpillar C12 diesel engines, and options
Long-range 1000lt fuel tank, hardtop with three-sided glass and opening windows, rodholders, teak cockpit floor, side steps and bridgedeck, extra refrigeration, Raymarine electronics, and more
$1,059,807 w/ 660hp Cummins QSM11 engines
Material: GRP and foam-cored decks
Type: Moderate-vee mono
Length overall: 16.40m
Hull length: 15.19m
Weight: Approx 19,500kg dry (base motors, sans tower)
Berths: 4 + 2 + 1
Fuel: 3500lt + 1000lt
Make/model: Caterpillar C12 ACERT
Type: Turbo-charged, fully electronic, straight six-cylinder diesel engine with common rail fuel injection
Rated max. HP: 715 at 2300rpm
Weight: Approx 1174kg plus gearbox
Gearboxes (Make/ratio): Twin Disc 1.81:1
Props: Four-blade bronze
R Marine 7 Seas, d'Albora Marinas, The Spit, NSW, 2088, (02) 9960 7444, www.riviera.com.au
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