Riviera's pleasing enclosed flybridge sportfish convertible...

Riviera Yachts has been busy this year. In the spring I reviewed the Australian builder's new 60-foot Enclosed Flybridge convertible and already a wave of new products is reaching our shores. One of the most interesting rides in this neet is the 60's smaller sister- the new 51-foot Enclosed Flybridge convertible. As I noted in my review of the 60, it is something of a trick adding an enclosed bridge to a convertible design without compromising its appearance. Riviera avoided this trap with the 60- she is a good-looking boat. Ditto with the new 51. I think the folks Down Under are definitely onto something.

I have often thought it curious that the gang at Riviera seems so adept at blending the niceties of a motoryacht design with the traditionally businesslike attributes of a convertible sportfisher. After all, their billfish run at least twice the size of ours, and when it comes to nasty seas the Bass Strait makes the Gulf Stream seem like a millpond. The boats they build are certainly capable. yet their designs seem less driven by testosterone than traditional American convertible fare. This is of interest, for while Riviera is the largest builder in the Southern Hemisphere, one of its largest markets is right here in the United States. Could they know something about us that we don't? If so, I suspect "that something" is that a healthy portion of the production convertible market enjoys cruising as much as fishing. While enclosed bridge designs make sense in this light, they are typically offered only on the largest convertible models.

Riviera 51 Enclosed Flybridge ReviewThe 51 challenges this paradigm even though her hull actually measures 54 feet 8 inches. She is small as enclosed-bridge boats go. She has interior access to her bridge, not a ladder mind you, but stairs. This is a feature designers often have difficulty sorting out on boats well over 60 feet. Her bridge is three-sided with the aft end enclosed with isinglass. This makes it possible to run the 51 from the comfort of the helm- forward bridge (say when you're cruising), or to step aft and run the boat from the balcony station (say when you're fishing). It's a convertible convertible if you will.

What's really quite amazing is that Riviera has incorporated these features cleanly, slipping them into the design without compromising the interior arrangement The staircase is tucked neatly in the corner of the saloon leaving plenty of space for a seating area with a table and a dinette area forward. Riviera even found space for a 26-inch flat-panel TV, an icemaker and chilled wine storage. The adjacent cabinetwork has fitted glass and bottle storage; glassware, tableware and linens are standard equipment. The galley is a step down from the saloon and has faux teak and holly flooring, a dishwasher and under-counter, drawer-style refrigeration. Below. the three-cabin arrangement has a midship master cabm with a queen island berth and a private head. A guest cabin with upper and lower berths and a forward cabin with a queen island berth share a head. A washer/dryer is hidden in the cabinetwork in the passageway.

As I have noted in previous reviews, Riviera's use of carpet to finish hanging lockers in the owner and guest cabins is not in keeping with the market standard. Cedar or a simple laminate would be an improvement. With that said. Riviera seems to have upgraded its interior standard in recent years and the result is pleasing and quite competitive with other convertible offerings in this class. The computer-cut interior cabinetwork on the 51 is offered in teak or cherry with a high gloss or satin finish. Customers can choose from a variety of interior soft goods.

The bridge's teak sole extends from the forward helm aft to the balcony control station. As this area is technically an open deck, the stairwell has a weathertight closure. The forward helm's pedestal seating provides a comfortable perch; the dash layout is a bit more business-like than the curvaceous affairs on some Riviera models- a plus in my book. There is room for three large displays and an assortment of other goodies. Digital engine instrumentation is overhead, which seems a bit awkward; however, I suppose one could get used to it and it does free up space on the dash. The molded overhead has a recessed grab rail and ventilation hatches-nice. An L-shaped settee with a table and a wet-bar with a refrigerator are aft of the helm. The balcony control station is positioned within the air-conditioned enclosure and the isinglass can be rolled up for an unobstructed view of the cockpit. There is space on the console for additional electronics.

The cockpit will satisfy most serious anglers. The transom has a door with a hit-gate and a molded-in livewell with a view port. There is a removable under-sole fish/stowage box as well as stowage lockers beneath the coaming. The molded-in bulkhead console has tackle stowage and a sink. A portion of the console is hinged and opens to allow access to the engineroom. It's a bit tight as you step down the ladder, but once inside service points appear accessible and the auxiliary equipment and systems are thoughtfully arranged. I was pleased to see machinery removal hatches in the overhead. This is a feature some builders no longer consider necessary. I also like Riviera's molded integral exhaust and water-lift-style muffler design. It is clean, simple and relatively quiet.

The 51's hull and superstructure are laid-up by hand in conventional female tooling. A fiberglass stringer system and resin-coated plywood bulkheads provide internal support. Exposed bilge areas are finished with gelcoat and are pleasantly smooth to the touch. A vinylester skin coat is applied below the waterline to reduce the chance of blistering. Fuel tankage is fiberglass and is molded independently of the hull- a plus compared with aluminum in my opinion. A white gelcoat finish is standard and Riviera offers a variety of colors in lmron. The 51's hull comes with a five-year structural warranty.

The standard package includes 825 hp MTUs and 875 hp Caterpillars are available as well, but I would recommend the 1,015 hp Caterpillar C18's that were fitted in our test boat- the 51 can handle the horsepower. Throttling up the C18's produced clean, even acceleration. From a dead stop she reached maximum turns in about 25 seconds. Running at 30.9 knots (2,100 rpm) the Cat electronics indicated a fuel burn of 74 gallons per hour. With the throttle down, I recorded a maximum speed of 35.2 knots. The 51 is responsive at speed and while the test conditions were not challenging, her hull form is similar to other Rivieras l have tested that were sound performers in less than perfect conditions.

This time around Riviera has not only shown that it understands convertible sportfishers, it has added something a bit different to the mix- the 51's clever layout and enclosed bridge styling are original.

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This review/article originally appeared in Yachting Magazine, February 2007 and is written by Jay Coyle. For more great yacht reviews, visit their website and subscribe at: https://yachtingmagazine.com/subscribe-to-yachting-magazine

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