BOAT TEST RIVIERA 48 OFFSHORE EXPRESS
The Riviera 48 Offshore Express Freelance has a reputation for show-stopping performance. There is only one way to see if its justified. JEFF STRANG takes the helm…
It is easy to get complacent when you test so many very good craft. Seldom does a boat stir the kind of emotions I felt in those first few years in the industry. Today, however, I was in for something special. This Riviera 48 Offshore Express has had no expense spared readying it for battle with beasts from the deep that send the ill-prepared home, their tails between their legs. For the first time in years I found myself daydreaming of line-melting runs, black smoke, white water and testosterone.
AT THE DOCK
Riviera, as always, presented <I>Freelance</I> superbly. It is hard not to standout in the crowd, when you have a bright red hull, gleaming white topsides, teak decks and so much highly polished stainless steel work. The result is a subtle blend of elegance and aggression. She almost seems to be restrained by the berth rather than tied to it.
The open targa-top style is more popular in the tropics but this has been slightly modified for cooler climes. Personally, I love the look as it is so versatile. The bridge can be opened up completely on those scorching hot days offshore, giving unparalleled visibility and air-conditioning, or closed right-up for protection when needed.
The lines are clean and quite low-profile - even when the extensive stainless steel work is taken into consideration. This 48 OE looks like the strong, stable fishing platform it proved to be.
CENTRE OF OPERATIONS
You only need a glance to know this boat is owned by someone who understands the benefit of having the very best information at their fingertips. The dash is dominated by the latest and most advanced Raymarine equipment money can buy. Multiple G-150 and G-120 displays are serviced by three GPM400 processors. A vast quantity of data from onboard, around, and under the vessel can be displayed simultaneously night or day (thanks to a FLIR thermal-vision camera). Of particular note is the Furuno CH300 Searchlight sonar - a tool to give the captain an edge over the competition.
Of course the captain and mate of <I>Freelance</I> are seated in style in twin ladder-back platinum Pompanette helm chairs. The rest of the seating consists of white leather couches surrounding a table in one direction and a back-to-back full-length lounger facing aft.
Long days in pursuit of a sometimes elusive quarry will be no chore when the quantity of refrigeration within arm's reach is taken into consideration. Perhaps white is not the best choice of colour for a fishing machine but there are stainless steel handles everywhere to ensure grubby mits are kept away from the leather and the effect is of an open and airy space.
Below decks the contemporary styling almost belies the purposeful layout above. It still has a practical feel, as you would expect in a boat designed to work well away from the comfort of the coast, but Riviera clearly feels that is no reason to skimp on quality. The polished timber, granite and soft furnishings are straight from the Riviera luxury template.
All the fittings are quality and robust, with splash grooves cut into the bench tops, rails fixed around most of the flat surfaces, and double-lock catches on all of the cupboards. It is easy to believe that if everything was correctly stowed, the interior of this boat could survive a decent punishing with no more than a stray cushion on the floor.
The layout is fairly straightforward, with a queen-sized stateroom and en suite forward, and four single berths amidships that, when not being utilised by crew, convert to couches. A separate head services the galley and crew area.
The galley is large enough to comfortably cater to any hungry complement and there is refrigeration to burn.
Storage is literally everywhere you look, including at least one full-length custom rod locker. I could see no reason for anything onboard not to find a secure home out of sight.
THE BEATING HEART
The low-profile lines of this boat and the almost full-width aft-facing couch presents a few engineroom access challenges as there is no space for the usual sealed engineroom door found in flybridge models.
Instead, inspection access is dealt with by a hydraulic ram, which lifts a central section of the aft couch. It is tight but serviceable. More significant access is achieved by means of electric rams under the saloon floor. The entire sole lifts up providing full headroom and excellent ventilation for whoever is responsible for the twin C18 Caterpillars.
As well as the "big Cats", <I>Freelance'</I>s engineroom houses an Onan 13.5kVa generator, a HRO 900 "gallons per day" watermaker, a 2.2kW inverter, and several other items of hardware. It is a well-organised space, with adequate access to most of the equipment. Yes, it is reasonably tight, but raising the saloon floor makes all the difference.
Of real appeal to me personally was how well <I>Freelance</I> has been customised to follow the fish, no matter where in the Pacific they may be. She can undertake the blue-water crossing to Fiji - and has on several occasions. Once in Fiji she is more than capable of crossing to and fishing any of the South Pacific islands that have a hot bite in progress. Obviously she is no icebreaker and care must be taken to pick acceptable weather to carry out these trips.
Several modifications have been carried out or "optioned in" to ensure this blue-water crossing capability. The most important is the increase on the standard fuel carrying capacity of 3500lt to 5500lt. Others include the addition of the KVH satellite phone, the Furuno 408 weather fax, and the Zodiac six-man life raft SOLAS pack.
BORN TO FISH
As the images show, there is no shortage of fruit on this gamefishing weapon. It's the level of customisation of what is, at the end of the day, a production boat that sets Freelance apart from the pack.
The custom stainless steel tuna tower makes a statement and changes the lines of the boat dramatically. For those unfamiliar with towers or cynical of their benefits, professional captains would not be without them by choice. No technology is a substitute for great visibility.
Padded cockpit sides protect the wireman from too much of a beating on the leader and provide a place to wedge your knees when the heat comes on. The gunwales and transom are completely clear of line-catching obstructions and well-placed clamps keep all the necessary tools like hand-gaffs within reach.
Pride of place in the centre of the cockpit is an Alltackle USA Unlimited fighting chair set on reinforced plates to handle 130lb tackle should the need arise. It's a quality chair finished in varnished timber that will answer any question asked of it by a good angler in the heat of battle.
A particularly sensible addition to the cockpit is the custom-built stainless steel rodholders located in the side walls of the saloon. Their primary task is to provide an easy storage location for the spare heavy-tackle rods after a hook-up. They are a great way to protect the equipment and the boat from any accidental damage over-zealous crewmen might inflict.
The custom tackle locker is impressive and would please any fish-master. The easy-access storage ensures every tool has its place and is simple to locate in a hurry. The preparation bench is a good size, although I would be hesitant to use it as a bait-rigging station, which is my only real criticism of this boat from a fishing point of view. A removable rigging station with an inbuilt cutting board adjacent to a wash-down hose would be a sensible addition.
From a live-bait point of view this boat has all the bases covered. A huge well with a window is central to the transom. The internals look to have been customised to ensure the livey's stay in top shape. The custom stainless steel tuna tubes are as good as I have seen - four tubes in two sizes are fed by a high-volume pump with the aid of hull scoops that are efficient enough to allow the pump to be switched off when the boat is running.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
I already had some idea of what to expect on the water from this boat, having spent three days fishing earlier in the year on the hardtop version. The conditions had been challenging, with 30-knot northwesterlies blowing hard across the top of a 2.5m swell. That boat had performed admirably, proving to be noticeably dryer than the earlier generation Riviera hulls, which had a reputation for being fairly wet in heavy weather. In theory, <I>Freelance</I> should perform even better due to its extra weight and lack of transom appendages but the benign conditions on this day meant we would not find out.
However, as you would expect, this is one "helluva" quick boat in a straight line. The twin 1018hp Caterpillar C18s coupled to Twin Disc's awesome gearbox via the almost bulletproof electronic control system deliver the sort of performance you would expect in a boat painted red. For the record, cruise speed, which is rated at 80 per cent engine load, is 30kts with a maximum speed of 37.6kts. That means <I>Freelance</I> can happily sit on 30kts all day long. You can cover an awful lot of ground at that speed.
Straight-line performance is one thing but let's be honest - the only performance a diehard gamefisherman is interested in is how the boat handles on a fish and Freelance did not disappoint.
You know you are on a high performance boat when you have to hang on during tight manoeuvres. She is quick and dry in a straight line backwards, which is impressive enough on its own, but when you spin her around she throws you off your feet. That is the sort of response required to keep you in the game against the angriest fish. Of course, you need a team that can keep pace and this boat might push the envelope there. I suspect a good driver behind the wheel could make an inexperienced deckhand look pretty incompetent on a hot fish.
The cavitation that is often present when throwing a boat around backwards was minimal and I thought the Quick Shift controls delivered reasonably delay-free gear changes. I believe these inbuilt delays can be reduced even more but at your peril. The fastest we managed to get <I>Freelance</I> moving in reverse was 12.6kts but I am sure there was more available should we have been serious.
Outstanding performance in close quarters
High-level of customisation provided by supplier
Long cruising range
Nothing worth mentioning
(Facts & figures)
RIVIERA 48 OFFSHORE EXPRESS
<B>$1,017,000</B> (base model sans customisations mentioned in this story)
Raymarine G-150 and G-120 displays, Raymarine SHD 4kW open-array radar, Furuno CH300 Searchlight Sonar, Furuno SC30 Satellite Compass, FLIR thermal-vision camera, Alltackle USA Unlimited fighting chair, Wireless tower to cockpit two-way communication, Zodiac six-man Seasava liferaft (SOLAS pack), flare and first-aid packages, ACR 406 Globalfix EPIRB, 2.2kW inverter with 80amp backup charger, Onan 13.5kVa generator, and more
TYPE: Planing monohull
LENGTH OVERALL: 15.8m
MAX SPEED: 37.6kts
CRUISE SPEED: 30kts (at 80 per cent load)
MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Caterpillar C18
TYPE: Six-cylinder turbo-diesel
RATED HP: 1018 (each)
This Riviera 48 Offshore Express looks stunning and performs like a Porsche 911 set up to go hunting elephants. Not very PC I know, but you get the picture. It's a boy's boat in most respects and its ability to wander the Pacific almost at will in search of the gamefish mother-load means you will never be short of a few mates chomping at the bit to come on the next adventure. Sure, I would probably add a few minor bits and pieces to suit my own exacting requirements, but the Freelance comes as close as I have ever experienced to the boat I would buy with an open cheque book.
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 423, Feb 2012. Photos Mike Rooke.
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