Riviera 51 Review

Issue: March 2004
Manufacturer: Riviera

The people at Riviera need to take a breather. The rush of new models has continued for 12 months, culminating in the release of this 51 at Sydney Boat Show. This new-model rush began with the 58, which was released at Sanctuary Cove in 2002; in the next year and a bit came the 47 and the 42 and now the 51.

The boat shown here was the first of its kind, rushed to make the Sydney Show where it was sold. It must have jumped the queue in Riviera production and got a bit ahead of the system; there was to be a short delay before number two made its appearance. The 51 marks a departure from previous Riviera policy in that a number of features usually considered as options are standard equipment, including bow thruster, autopilot, flybridge clears and hardtop. The stereo and DVD system is standard; so, most important, is the wine cooler cabinet in the saloon. Aircon on the flybridge is optional; downstairs it is standard.

I have no idea how often people use aircon on the flybridge: “it is really useful as a demister on cold mornings”, said Sydney dealer LDM’s Peter Devery. There are no forward-facing windows in the saloon so the flybridge is where you have to be if you want a 360-degree view. The flybridge is a nice place to be. It has been set up for entertaining – this boat is big enough for a party on the flybridge, but the flybridge itself is not disproportionately large. The companionway hatch is standard, and does a lot both for your sense of security and for noise levels.

The flybridge lacks nothing -12V fridge, wet area with hot and cold, glasses storage. There is a settee on the port side, and larger settee to starboard adjacent to the table, which lowers to form a double berth. Peter Devery says the jury is still out on the attractiveness of the brushed aluminium steering wheel. Brushed alloy is big news in car interiors, getting bigger all the time. The owner of this magazine once complained that describing a boat interior is a waste of time because that is what the photographs are for. You cannot argue with that, but you have to say something about the interior – the atmosphere of the interior is as vital to a boat’s personality as the size of the engines. And each craft has unique details worth mentioning – some are silly, some clever, all are worth discussion.

“The designers probably intended the starboard-side cabin as the owner’s cabin”, says Peter Devery. There is strong evidence to support this; the en suite bathroom is exclusive to this starboard cabin while the bathroom attached to the bow cabin – traditional habitat of the owner and driver – has two doors, showing it is also intended to be the day head. However, the owner has only to lock the door in the corridor to make it exclusive if he/she fancies the bow cabin. The third cabin, portside, has bunk beds for guests of lesser status, single people or kids. The washer/drier is behind a door in the passageway. On the options list you can find separate washer and drier units.

The galley has a three-burner electric stove hidden beneath Corian lids, which lift and stow out of the way when you lose the toss and get stuck with the job of whipping up the bacon and eggs and burning the toast and boiling coffee.

The main saloon has two features, which stand out – the wine cooler cabinet, and the fishing rod storage locker in the saloon ceiling. Gas struts control the door, which swings down to reveal a cavernous space. “This is important for people who don’t like the clutter of rods in the cockpit or the saloon, or in the cabins where people sometimes put them to get them out of the way”, says Peter. “It’s also very important in partnerships, where one group of owners may love fishing while another group hates it”.

This boat has cherry wood trim, quite ornate in grain and glossily-finished. Of the three people on board, two said they would prefer teak. I was the odd one; I like ornamental wood. When you push open the electronic throttles (Twin Disc with synchronisation) on the twin 700hp Cats there is no drama – the big hull increases speed without perceptible nose lift. It accelerates through the transition zone – in fact there is no transition zone – until it is cruising at whatever speed you wish. We took her out to sea and she behaved perfectly, but it was a quiet day with easy 2m swells spaced well apart.

The Riviera 51 handled fine, up-sea and down, coming off the plane and going back up, but this was hardly a severe test. The shortcoming of all boat trials is that you have no choice of weather. You book the outing and you do it and accept whatever weather chooses to deliver on the day. The only thing I could fault was that the steering needed muscle as it approached full lock. At the time we tried this boat the Riviera team was still experimenting with five-blade props to counter a slight harshness up near top speed. The day before our run the 51 had clocked 30.8 knots. We saw more than 30 downwind, and a tenth or two under 30 into the stiffish breeze. 30 knots means 2320rpm and fuel consumption of 137lt/hour per engine, but top speeds in these boats are meaningless. 

More important are figures like 1900 revs, 22 knots and 84lt/hr/engine. 1800 revs and 20 knots is a natural cruising speed, says Peter Devery. The reasons for owning a boat like this Riviera are as varied as the personalities who write the cheques. Some people buy them for status, some buy them because they are genuine enthusiasts for boating. The most obvious reason is often overlooked. When you steer such a boat out into the open ocean, on a fine day with a low swell and open the throttles and get up to cruising speed – not so fast that the motion on the flybridge becomes tiring – something happens to everyone on board. As the coastline rolls past and the boat settles into its stride, you enjoy a surge of euphoria. This euphoria has many facets.

Even for non-petrol heads the act of opening the tap on 1400hp cannot fail to kick in the adrenalin. But out in the open ocean when the diesels settle to a 20-knot cruise the spirits soar, because you realise that you are at the helm of a very serious piece of machinery, you are in the open ocean and free of the shackles of the daily grind and when you look around the horizon no one else is in sight, except perhaps for that workboat coming up from the south. This is heady stuff and, to quote an old mate of mine, if you get tired of doing things like this you might as well be dead. If the fuel tanks were full, if there was slab of beer in the fridge and a couple of packets of peanuts for sustenance, you would keep heading north. Or south, or east. In an era when daily urban life has become so circumscribed, out here you are always free to feel, well, free! Until the inevitable happens and you run short of diesel, anyway.

That’s enough sermonising. It is easy to philosophise about something you cannot afford. The world of the rich can be very generous to scruffy hangers-on like journalists because we get to ride on lovely things like this Riviera, then we give them back and go home, no cares, no obligations. Price (as of Jan 1, 2004). Base boat – with C12 Cats) $1,136,446. A well-optioned boat should coast around $1.2 million.

Words : Barry Tranter