In Venice, where all transport is done by water, boats are an integral part of everyday life and of the city's beautiful image. The city, which served as the backdrop for our test of the new Riva 59 Mercurius, has a lot in common with the builder-both have a long, illustrious history, and both are finding their place in the modern world.
Riva has been building boats for more than 150 years. The company started with wooden runabouts and went on to create the highly desirable Riva Aquarama.
After reaching that pinnacle of style, the company lost its way under a succession of owners that included Rolls-Royce. Now, the yard is part of the Ferretti Group, and under the leadership of Norberto Ferretti, the production line is turning out motoryachts designed to restore the Riva image.
In 2000, when Riva produced the 33-foot Aquariva, the modern version of the wooden Aquarama, the world realized Riva was on its way back. The Aquariva demonstrated the builder could produce the quality and style for which it was famous, albeit in a small package.
At the top end of Riva's line was a series of motoryachts that incorporated the same subtle magic embodied in the Aquariva. The new Riva 59 Mercurius extends that line, whose top end is the 84 Cantata. Apart from the Aquariva runabout, the Mercurius is the smallest yacht Riva builds.
Riva built its heritage on the use of quality woods. On the 59, there is a limited amount of wood on the exterior, including the trim and the handrails, but the style for which the builder is known is evident.
Riva has raised the design of handrails to an art form, linking the rich varnish of the teak with beautifully crafted metal fittings that are a pleasure to feel.
Wood is also a key feature of the interior. Just as with the handrails on deck, the interior paneling's matte finish has a sensuous feel.
Unique to Riva is the 59's cream-colored gelcoat finish. This is a rich cream, almost rich enough to eat. It is the perfect complement to the varnished wood found on the rail around the rear of the cockpit, on the handrails and the table in the cockpit, and on the surround of the forward sunpad. As you step aboard across the teak passerelle, the Mercurius welcomes you with a great feeling of quality.
Above the narrow, teak-covered swim platform, the transom is formed by a series of steps that take the line up to the cockpit. Most of the transom opens as a hinged door to reveal the tender garage, with the electric/hydraulic passerelle doubling as the tender's launching crane. The passerelle is a standard feature.
In the cockpit, the central passageway between the after sunpads leads into the social center, where nearly circular settees surround a teak dining table. A bar with a barbecue, ice maker and refrigerator is convenient.
A wide arch mast stows a cockpit awning that can be deployed at the touch of a switch for protection from the weather or the sun.
The skipper has a fully adjustable helm seat with space alongside for two passengers. The wheel is low and matched by a pair of the best electronic throttles I have come across. They are smooth yet firm, offering excellent control at speed.
Engine instruments are in a tapering silver panel that stretches across the dash, with the electronics in a separate panel that opens hydraulically. Standard electronics include a Shipmate VHF radio, and a Raymarine depth sounder, autopilot and chart plotter.
The deep windscreen has a stainless-steel frame. The curved corner glass does distort the view of the outside world, and the screen's front glass is tinted, which could reduce visibility at night.
Belowdecks, through the cleverly contrived sliding hatch, styling is simple. Here, as with its use of wood, Riva relies on quality to catch the eye.
Elm paneling has a strong, vertical grain that contrasts with the horizontal line of the silk window blinds, the tan leather settee and the teak air-conditioning grilles. Black molding and large mirrors create contrast, and the galley's silver locker fronts introduce a more practical look.
The overall image is stunning, but there are some good small touches worth noting, as well. A vertical locker alongside the galley houses a full set of specially commissioned Richard Giorno crockery. Riva supplies its own silver cutlery and a red, leather-bound logbook, and details such as the door hinges and handles all have a quality feel.
A flat-screen TV is built-in above the galley, and a stereo system and DVD player are also standard.
On a more practical note for those who plan to spend a night or two on the hook, the galley is equipped with a four-burner cooktop, a large refrigerator/freezer, a microwave and a dishwasher.
A couple of steps down from the saloon is the full-width master stateroom, an oasis of calm with an angled double bed, a desk and a good amount of locker stowage. The décor is similar to that in the saloon, but basket-weave panels create a more intimate ambience. This will be a great space to relax in private after a long day in the sun.
The head has marble tops and teak trim. The large shower has a stainless-steel screen, and there are large mirrors around the sink.
Owners who prefer to cruise with a pair of extra hands on deck can choose to turn the master's portside section into a crew cabin.
The head for the forward VIP is similar in style to the master's, and the cabin itself feels more formal. There is a padded leather surround to the bed that-combined with the basket- weave headboard, the black molding and the valances covering the portholes-makes the space feel much larger than the size of the boat would suggest is possible.
The 59's exterior has a distinctive style, with two teardrop portholes on each side. The air intake follows a similar shape and is integrated into the topsides. The effect is pleasing whether at rest or under way.
Another unique feature is the way the chine line starts nearly horizontal as it leaves the bow, then turns downward before running aft in conventional style. This line adds considerably to the sporting image and, by creating a fine entry, improves the boat's performance in waves.
Add to this the 17-degree deadrise of the deep-V hull, and you have one of the smoothest-riding hulls I have come across in a long time.
Like the 59's quality, the ride she offers is exceptional, although the slight seas we encountered off Venice did not provide a challenging sea trial environment. Based on the pedigree of the builder and our time aboard off the coast of Venice, it would be a safe bet to assume this boat will perform well in most conditions.
I would expect the pronounced chine to introduce a jarring note into the ride in bigger waves, but this is not likely to detract seriously from the pleasure of operating the 59. Her twin 1,050 hp MAN diesels are coupled to V-drive gearboxes and to propellers operating in semi-tunnels.
Top speed is about 37 knots. This is exciting performance for a boat of this style.
Cruising at 33 knots, the 59 feels like she could go on comfortably all day. The controls feel positive and precise.
If I have one complaint about the 59 Mercurius, it is that she is, in a sense, too good. At speed, the boat feels solid with no rattles or vibration, and the smooth ride takes away any feeling of speed, even with the throttles wide open.
This is a sport cruiser, but you and your guests are so well protected that you do not get the expected impression of speed that comes from sport boat performance.
The same applies to the 59's appearance. She will stand out in the marina, from the sheer understated quality she exudes.
Anyone who thought the Aquariva was a one-time attempt by Riva to recapture its pedigree need look no further than the new 59 Mercurius to see that Ferretti is serious about rekindling the brand. Her exterior, her interior and her handling all sparkle with the special touches Riva built its reputation on more than a century ago.
It is good to know the Riva reputation is being restored.