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Boat Test - Riviera 50 Enclosed Flybridge — by Boating World (July/August 2015)
ADULATION, excitement, anticipation and, above all, nervous tension prevailed as Madness III, all 23 tons of her, hung suspended in mid-air as she was gently hoisted and lowered from the deck of the container ship that had carried her from Australia to Durban, South Africa.

There was total silence among those of us who were fortunate enough to be aboard another Riviera to witness this auspicious event. The moment this magnificent 56’ 8” craft slowly nestled down onto the floating crane’s large deck we all let out the breath we’d been holding in an audible rush. Resounding cheers followed soon aftewards. Madness III had finally arrived in Durban.

No adjectives can adequately describe this beautiful craft. The words “I dreamed a dream” came to mind as I tried to absorb the full extent of the Riviera 50. This would be the only time anyone would be able to see the full extent of her as she was lowered. Once she was settled, being able to walk around her to experience her immensity and to closely scrutinise her underwater hull design and propulsion system was, for me, an incredible experience.
Derrick Levy of Boating World, the importers of this craft, promised I would have an opportunity to review the Riviera 50, but the chance to do that came far sooner than I’d expected.

Following the excitement of the official launching and naming of Madness III came the official SAMSA surveys, other paperwork and final sea trials before she sailed from Durban to her port of destination, Richards Bay.
Graham Morgan, the proud owner of Madness III, was now in a position to live his dream. Everyone who know Graham will remember his roots in offshore angling with Nomads Game Fishing Club. His last ski-boat was Angler’s Taxi, then he aquired his first sportfisher, also a Riviera, which he named Madness, and another bigger Riviera named Madness II followed. Wanting an even bigger craft, Graham’s search for the craft of his dreams took him to America and Australia, and after an incredible amount of research and assessment the Riviera 50 with the enclosed fly bridge was the sportfisher destined to become Madness III.

Graham invited me to join him, his son Lloyd and long time friend and fishing companion, Anton Fourie for a day’s fishing for marlin off Richards Bay. Needless to say no arm-twisting was needed as I shuffled my diary to experience this day on the ocean on one of the best sportfishers to have come into service in South African waters.
Wednesday, 29th April 2015 was D-day and as Madness III slipped out of her moorings at Zululand Yacht Club and idled along the Tuzi Gazi canal towards the Richards Bay Harbour entrance, I felt like I was living a dream.

Comfortably ensconced in the fully enclosed helm station/fly bridge, I relished the feel of the twin Volvo IPS 950 diesel pushing a combined 1 500hp idling below me. Calmly but eagerly I awaited the command to unleash their enormous power to get this huge craft onto the plane and out to deep water to commence fishing for marlin.
Once she was up and running, so was the computer in my head, thinking about the hull design I had so carefully scrutinised and comparing that to the way she was taking on the moderate early morning chop on the open ocean. As Madness III was being lowered from the container ship in Durban, I had carefully inspected the IPS pods and propellers protruding from aft hull and I was keen to experience their performance and compare that to the many shaft-driven sportfishers I have skippered over the years.

These two aspects are probably the most important affecting the Riviera 50’s performance.
At the outset I must explain that this review was a “by-catch” of a day’s serious marlin fishing rather than a dedicated boat review per se.

Having already “blooded” Madness III with a small striped marlin, it was now time to target “the big ones”. Armed with a full array of big 80 lb outfits and a large collection of lures, this was to be the day Madness III was going to do what she was designed to do — hunt the big blue- and black marlin in the deep water off Richards Bay. This entire day provided me not only with a handsome experience of how this craft performs, but also, more importantly, how she physically fishes.

Unfortunately we failed in our mission to catch a marlin, having just one strike and no hook-up, but working the deck and skippering Madness III gave me my “day in heaven”. What I lost in photographic opportunities I made up with experiences of the full range of niceties that Madness III has to offer.

When it comes to fishability, the fishdeck is spacious and extremely user-friendly. The three of us were able to deploy the spread of 80 lb outfits and retrieve them very easily during our single strike. We were also able to quickly stow these outfits and lures, leaving a completely free deck to fight a big fish.

In the cockpit area and part of the transom configuration, three tuna tubes, a good-sized livebait well, and a prep station have been nicely located. We used all these facilities and they worked exceedingly well. Another major plus was the fitment and ease of deployment of the RUPP outriggers. They were perfectly positioned and running the lines could not have been easier, even in the roughest seas.
Graham opted for a teak deck and a South African-made Stevens fighting chair. Both looked good and were 100% functional, completely in keeping with this exquisite craft’s overall look.
The gunnels’ height and the upholstery on the inside of them is perfectly designed for the serious deckie work of leadering and releasing big marlin as well as fighting gamefish when the big outfits are stowed out of sight.

Those on marlin watch have to be careful not to fall asleep while making the most of the comfortable aft-facing couch with an over cover which allows one to sit on a specially upholstered seat above the couch’s back rest with one’s feet on the couch seat, providing a splendid view out aft.

I spent a lot of time assessing the helm station and flybridge which, in the case of the Riviera 50, is accessed via a stairway in the aft starboard side of the saloon area. To put it mildly, it is magnificent! The flybridge on Madness III is totally enclosed and encompasses a large forward helm station with all the electronic equipment and facilities one could expect on a craft this size. They all proved practical and extremely user-friendly for the craft’s skipper.
In addition, an aft console on the starboard side with full sight of the entire fishdeck is well positioned and incorporates the full range of electronics, including a joystick command control with both docking and fish-fighting applications that are instantly activated by the touch of a button. As an example, the fishing mode needed while fighting a big marlin, is activated by the mere touch of a button. When the skipper presses the button the onboard computer tells the IPS pods to splay outwards, enabling this huge craft to have the manoeuvrability of backing up and following a fish far quicker and tighter than anything I have experienced in the past.

This facility, together with the berthing mode and the ability to hold a static position via the GPS link to the IPS computer, can only be comprehended and fully appreciated when one actually experiences it on board this extremely large craft. This facility allowed Graham to berth the craft in a very tight mooring during a reasonably strong northeasterly with apparently no effort.
It’s hard to believe, but with the joystick this 23 ton 57ft craft can be made to move ever so slowly sideways then backwards into her moorings, with no shouting or using mooring lines for urgent assistance.

A look at the photograph on the previous page showing the IPS propulsion underwater unit will enable you to visualise how they work, bearing in mind that each is controlled independently via the computer. This is mind blowing technology.
One also has to remember that Riviera had to redesign the hull to maximise the use of the IPS system. This is because the craft is effectively being pulled forward instead of being pushed forward which is what we’re used to. The differences in this style of propulsion became apparent as soon as Madness III started to increase speed and get onto the plane. There is no “out-the-hole” burst of power necessary, the boat simply eases forward, gaining momentum equally as quickly, but with less heavy throttle engine exertion and no diesel smoke.

On the run straight out to sea off Richards Bay at a constant 20 knots the boat’s ride was amazingly stable and smooth. I did, however, experience a different sensation to the ride. During the time I had the craft under my command I got the feeling that the craft’s bow/planing shoulder section is held onto the water rather than with shaftdrive/outboard powered craft where one continually wants to lift this angle of approach into a bow up stance.

The Riviera 50 with its strong keel and straiked underwater hull designed produced an incredibly stable and soft ride and I admit to looking down at the GPS and being rather shattered that we were cruising at a speed of 23 knots. It felt as if we were only doing 17 or 18 knots. Her ride was extremely comfortable for everyone on board even in the reasonably big seas we experienced which were caused by the ever-increasing northeasterly wind — and the high speed at which we were cruising.

With a top speed of 33 knots which I did not attempt to achieve, this is one hell of a machine.
We did ten hours of marlin lure trolling that day, and although the sea was not that rough with a maximum of 20 knot northeasterly over a moderate swell, this big, heavy, stable craft remained laterally stable throughout, trolling at a constant speed over water (SOW) of between 6 and 8 knots. What surprised me most was the tight wake she was throwing right up to 10 knots. The prop wake seemed very deep and very tight, with the majority of white surface water emanating from the hull-through-water movement. The wake started to rise about 20 metres aft, but was still confined, thus allowing for easy deployment of lures from all positions in clean water.

Another extremely important aspect with regard to the comfort of those aboard, is that there is no fume or diesel smoke emission suck-back into the cockpit or main saloon. The entire aft section of the saloon is fitted with a glass partition which can be lifted to provide a totally open vista of the fishdeck, and to have no smoke or diesel fumes in this area is absolutely fabulous. This, together with the fact that there’s no shaft vibration, is a major reason why the IPS propulsion system has virtually taken over from shaft-driven systems for craft under 70ft in length.

Exhaust emission from the twin diesel Volvo 950 engines is routed out through the underwater IPS pods and is dispersed underwater and far enough astern so as not to belch white or black smoke when the two motors are being worked hard during fast manoeuvring
That, in a nutshell, is the working side of the Riviera 50 and the aspects which you, our readers, cannot easily evaluate from photographs, promotional brochures and the full 17 pages of details and specifications that I was given by Derrick Levy.
Giving a full break down on the internal finishes and all the facilities on board Madness III in this limited space would be impossible. Rest assured that the craft has been very well designed, is impeccably laid out and is very practical to use. She has been opulently finished off with stylish decor and hardware.

The robustness of all the internal designs is by far the best I have seen. It is such a pleasure to appreciate the aesthetics of the craft and to note that after an in depth examination of drawers, lockers, hatches and other areas where rigidity and quality can be assessed, I found the highest standard of workmanship throughout.
Some of the extraordinary things that intrigued me were the special upright rod cupboards that Graham had restyled from general stowage. You can tell this is a fisherman’s boat — even the double beds in the main and second suites open upwards at the touch of a button to expose large specialised rigged rods’ stowage.
Another nice touch is an effective dishwasher which has been fitted in the galley — no washing of dishes to interfere with fishing and relaxation.

One final aspect that really blew my mind was the array of touch-screen electronics installed on this boat. Graham chose Raymarine’s Sonar GPS instrumentation which is installed in the flybridge, the helm station and in the saloon area where a large screen display is constantly visible to everyone down below. This is a real boon to those on the fishdeck. The skipper is also able to view the inside of the enormous engine compartment via a camera positioned in that area.

On re-reading my review of the first Riviera to be imported into South Africa during 2000 (see the May/June 2001 issue of SKI-BOAT magazine), I see that some things haven’t changed — Riviera is all about quality and perfection. Is it possible to perfect perfection? Perhaps it is.

I finish this review with the stock phrase of Derrick’s late father, Arne Levy: “One word — Perfect!” It applied then to a Riviera product, the 43 Riviera Sport Fisher and, having spent some time aboard Madness III, I cannot think of a better adjective than that to define the Riviera 50 — perfect!
To Graham Morgan and all who sail with him on Madness III, I know you will relish the ride, but my hope is that the ride will be embellished with the excitement of you releasing many, many big marlin.
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