The throttles are pinned, 36"-by-45" five-bladed props are swinging at 2360 rpm, the front curtain is open, and my hair is plastered back in the 46.1-mph wind tunnel of love called a Riviera 56 Flybridge. What's that you say? Rivieras are cruisers, not fishers, and they're relatively slow boats with small powerplants? Think again. Not only does this boat have the power and speed to run with today's tournament-level pelagic fish hawks, it has a take-no-prisoners attitude that's among the best. Here's why.
Rivieras have long been a low-cost alternative in the luxury, high-performance, big-dollar rides of the flying bridge boat world. They're built in Australia and had an eye more toward efficiency and cruising than speed and voracity. Their interiors looked more hoi polloi than hoity-toity, and the fishing features spoke snapper instead of swordfish. No more. The 56 Flybridge marks a watershed departure for this builder with one caveat: Riviera still beats competitors big-time on bang for the buck. Bertram's 570, despite its model designation, is more than 2' shorter and has 5" less beam than the Riviera, yet starts at about $2 million. Ocean Yacht's 54 SS is 5'2" shorter, has 6" less beam, and when rigged with 584 fewer horses, it starts at about $1.5 million, which is about the same as the Riviera. All of these boats offer three-stateroom/three-head layouts, and all have the glitzy interiors you'd expect of a big-bucks battlewagon.
Remember, glitz is one category in which the Riveras used to trail. Emphasis added on "used to." The 56 Flybridge has the gleaming, multicoat varnish woodwork, the pop-up flat-screen TV, the additional flat-screens in the staterooms, and the under-counter refrigerators and freezers with aircraft-style locks that you expect to find on big leaguers. The dinette table is a cut above the norm, with sliding leaves built in so it can be extended from a four-seater to a six-seater. And the master stateroom has a dedicated rodlocker, so you can sleep with the ones you love. The engine room is dressed up, too, with great attention to detail - there's even an intercom to the bridge - and a pair of removable deck panels over the shafts that make for easy access all around the powerplants. I was irritated by an entry door that didn't secure open; nevertheless, I saw several other high points down there, including a fuel manifold and filters, which are centered and combined for easy access.
Another first for Riviera is that the fishing features are treated as serious design elements in the 56 Flybridge rather than afterthoughts. The transom sports a lighted, rounded livewell with a clear viewing port and an overflow valve instead of the cheaper standpipe arrangement. Twin insulated fishboxes in the deck are big enough to handle a pair of 100-pounders, and their hatches swing up on gas-assist struts. To make the final transition to serious fishboat, however, Riviera will have to upgrade the cheesy plastic liners to fiberglass like those aboard the Ocean Yacht and Bertram. A rigging station houses four big tackleboxes over a sink to starboard, plus there's a bait freezer to port, and a drinkbox under the step. A centered forward deck hatch provides access to a large bulk stowage area. Spreader lights are molded into the hardtop overhang, eight rocket launchers grace the bridgedeck rail, and there's an overhead rodbox that tilts down out of the salon overhead.
The bow deck is one area in which Riviera not only meets the bar but hops right over it. In an uncommon display of common sense, there's a bowrail that complements the curved handrail accenting the side windows. You'll have two firm stainless-steel grips for the entire trip forward and back, a welcome change from the stylish - and idiotic - practice of omitting grab- and bowrails to make a boat look sleek. A premolded and reinforced flat is prepared should you decide to add a davit and dinghy up front. And the anchor locker hatch is wide enough to fit two shoulders through when it's time to unsnarl a tangle in the rode. Not only is the access great, the locker is deep enough to hold 1,000' of line, and there's a washdown under the hatch so you can rinse off bottom mud. There's not enough room between the helm seat and the bridgedeck rail to scoot through to the passenger's chair - a problem that's all too common on flying bridge boats - but you'll love the helm station and its electric tilt-away electronics panel. There's an aft-facing bait-watcher's seat to port, a sink and refrigerator, and enough settee seating for 10 guests. The real fun, of course, begins when you flatten those throttles. Trust me, when that salty breeze slams you in the face, you'll be grinning ear-to-ear, mostly because you're having such a good time, but also because you paid a whole lot less than some other people to do exactly the same thing, with the same level of comfort and amenities. Extra point: The Riviera has a standard inverter hard-wired into the entertainment area and refrigeration systems so you don't have to listen to the gensets run if you're entertaining in a remote anchorage or while offshore.