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Riviera's popular 51 Enclosed Flybridge makes up for its previous sins using Volvo Penta's IPS pod-drive system and triple-engine installation. JOHN ZAMMIT reports.

Riviera 51 Enclosed Flybridge

APRIL, 2010 - A wolf in sheep's clothing - that's the thought that came to mind as we threw the big Riv 51 into a full-lock turn travelling at just under 30kts. At that speed, I was expecting this near-22-tonne luxury cruiser to dig in early into the turn, for the props to cavitate, and the boat to lose momentum. Not so! Not only did she maintain speed and momentum but she went into the tightest turn I could have imagined for a boat of this not inconsiderable size.

As happens with our tests, we were off the Gold Coast in the Riviera 51 Enclosed Flybridge - a sea trial I'd been looking forward to. The Riviera 51 Series II has been around since 2008 and she's a lot of boat (three cabins, two bathrooms, big saloon, and nicely kitted flybridge), a beautiful luxury cruiser and a home-away-from-home.

But this was no ordinary 51, this one was fitted with the new Volvo Penta triple IPS pod-drive option. This new engine/propulsion offering has a number of advantages, not the least of which is improved performance, but that's by no means it. The fully integrated pod drives sit well aft under the cockpit floor, opening up a whole new space amidships where the engines would normally be on a shaft-drive boat. In standard layout, this space is set aside for storage, and there is an option to convert it to crew quarters by incorporating a bunk and a fully equipped bathroom.



It's been nearly five years since Volvo Penta released IPS. Pod-drive technology, originally developed for cruise liners and then tugs, is now well established in the recreational market. The system is integrated with fly-by-wire steering and independently articulating pods, thereby eliminating shafts or rudders. Each drive has twin forward-facing counter-rotating props, so they operate in undisturbed water.

But it's no wonder the system has proved popular, as there's lots of upside. The advertised claims include a marked reduction in fuel consumption, higher top speed, lower noise levels, less emissions, an increase in performance, and less physical space. Add to that the joystick docking, making handling at close quarters a breeze, and you get an idea of what all the excitement is about. Oh, and boatbuilders can install pod drives at a saving, too.



With this system it's truly a case of less is more - smaller engines, bigger performance. We had three Volvo IPS600 D6 engines at our beck and call, each rated at just 435hp. These engines rev out to 3500rpm and will run continuously at 3300rpm all day in pleasureboat mode. There was plenty of power on hand as we moved the sticks forward. The forward-facing props pulled us straight out of the hole, surprisingly fast, too, and more like a sportsboat rather than the big cruiser that she is.

On test day, I noted 3200rpm produced 27kts and 2450rpm gave 16kts. Impressive performance! If anything, the Riviera 51 ran slightly nose up, but I'm assuming that's probably because there didn't appear to be too much weight up front. Generally, with these types of boats, there are tender and davit on the foredeck, the weight helping to bring the nose down a bit. Yet it was easily fixed by dropping the tabs slightly. After all, isn't that what tabs are for?

The Riviera 51 performed above expectations as her agility was put to the test with a number of high-speed runs and much darting and weaving around the camera boat. With about 1.5m of swell and a slight sea during the test, she was surefooted and predictable.



While performance was exceptional, driving from the enclosed flybridge wasn't exactly a hardship either. Accessed via an internal staircase, the flybridge surroundings are luxurious.

Two fully adjustable helm and companion chairs face an expansive dash with stacks of room for an array of screens and instrumentation, while a large, semicircular lounge to port continues forward and finishes beside the skipper's chair.

I liked the layout because it means anyone seated on the lounge can still be a part of the conversation with the skipper and navigator. There's also a foldout table facing the lounge, which, while perfect for food and drinks, also serves as a chart table.

Aft in the flybridge, behind the lounge, is a wetbar with sink and fridge to port and another helm station to starboard. This rear helm gives a clear view of the cockpit, over the transom and beyond, for backing into a berth or up to that big fish. Speaking of which, there was an option on this station called Sportsfish mode, which cuts out the middle engine so only the two outboard engines operate while facing outboard for maximum purchase.

Testing this option, we found the 51 to be highly manouevrable and responsive going astern, even when we got very aggressive and backed her up hard, filling the cockpit with water a number of times. I can imagine a gameboat skipper backing up on a big fish would find this option heaven sent and, well, even a newbie can chase down fish like a pro.

While the water in the cockpit drained away quickly, we decided to go down and check it hadn't found its way into the engineroom. There are lift-up hatches in the cockpit floor for a quick check of the pods, and the main access to the engines is by way of the hinged cockpit floor that lifts via an electric actuator. A little bit of water had managed to find its way into the engineroom, but not too much to worry about, and Riviera later showed me a new seal that solves the problem.



The storage space amidships - the old engineroom - is accessed from the cockpit by a swing-out moulded sink, much the same way you'd access the engines on the shaft-drive version. But you can also head inside and take the ladder from a hatch in the saloon floor.

This area houses the 17.5kW Onan generator, fuel filters, air-conditioners, refrigeration unit, batteries, 12V and 24V battery chargers, watermaker, and everything else you would expect to find in an engineroom. It is all located around the perimeter, all easy to get to and leaves a large, central open area. The fuel tank is located forward and behind the accommodation bulkhead, offering sound protection to the sleeping areas when the generator is running.

As the engine vents are in their usual position, outboard of the old engineroom, there are forward "breathing" panels for air to access the engines and for servicing.

Some of the water that entered the engineroom earlier had made it into this room through drains in the bulk-head, dampening a small portion of carpet - another reason to ensure the hatch seals are improved. But as touched on, such things should only concern the gameboat skipper preoccupied with chasing fish in reverse.



Back on deck, I decided to have a look inside. It's typical Riviera and I mean that in a good way. The quality and attention to detail is so consistently good, the high-gloss cherrywood joinery in the saloon looks superb, as does the gloss timber surround to the recessed grabrail in the headliner.

I also like it when, as on this boat, the windscreen is left clear and not covered over with cabinetry, as it lets in light to the saloon and it's pleasant to be able to look out forward, as well as through the large side windows. This boat was also fitted with (what is now a common theme throughout the whole Riviera range these days) a large lift-up awning window and stainless steel door aft to the cockpit, merging interior and outdoors as one.

The galley, down a step and separated from the saloon by a raised servery, is fitted out with a solid-surface bench top incorporating a sink and recessed garbage bin with cover, three refrigerator drawers and separate freezer, twin-burner electric cooktop, convection microwave, and even the standard water purifier. Below decks are two staterooms, both with en suites, and a third two-bunk cabin. You get to the accommodation by a long companionway that also houses a laundry with Miele washer/dryer and linen storage. The starboardside master stateroom is amidships and boasts a queen-sized island bed with storage beneath. Bedside tables, drawers and hanging space assists with extended cruising.

The en suite has a vanity, wash basin and shower, and the second bathroom is of a similar standard, but with two-door access serving as an en suite to the VIP stateroom forward and as a communal bathroom with access from the companionway.



Idling back into the marina, I was keen to see how the boat handled at close quarters and how it worked with the joystick. The triple IPS with three engines operate off only two engine-control levers. The levers control the outside engines and a computer operates the centre donk, which only kicks in when both engines are engaged and go beyond 1500rpm. If you were to push only the port lever forward then only the port engine will engage at low speeds and vice versa for starboard.

I found driving the boat at slow speed, without the joystick, handled more like a sterndrive - it helps if you turn the wheel rather than just using the levers. As for docking with the joystick? Well, what can I say, for a boat that's a shade over 58ft long, docking really was a cinch.

The Riviera 51 fitted with the IPS option is a different hull shape than the shaft-driven model, and was developed in consultation with Volvo Penta's senior design engineers. There are no tunnels, no pronounced keel and deadrise at the transom is 15°.

Fitted out to a high standard, the Riviera 51 has a lot going for it. For those wanting to cruise in comfort she is a great home-away-from-home. But with IPS she's more refined. And with the Sportfish mode, you can release her wild side. A great example of technology extending a proven boat's appeal.



(Facts & Figures)






Sportfish mode on aft docking station, dual fuel filters and water separators, extra 30m of anchor chain, rodholders in cockpit coamings, teak cockpit and swim platform, transom livebait tank, single-boom davit, Miele dishwasher, half rear-awning, upgraded upholstery package, galleyware package, and Raymarine electronics package



$1,542,779 w/ triple Volvo Penta IPS600 diesels



Material: Handlaid moulded fibreglass hull
Type: Monohull
Length overall: 17.73m
Beam: 4.93m
Draft: 1.2m
Weight 21,500kg (dry)



Berths: 6 + 2
Fuel: 3300lt
Water: 710lt
Holding tank: 151lt



Make/model: 3 x Volvo Penta IPS600s
Type: Six-cylinder four-stroke common rail diesel
Rated HP: 435
Displacement: 5.5lt
Drives: IPS



The Riviera Group, 50 Waterway Drive, Coomera, Qld, 4209, (07) 5501 0000,

Source: Trade-a-Boat, Apr 2010

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