Every time I board a boat, I look for an analogy: Does she have the handling of a sports car, the lines of a sculpture or the workmanship of a grand piano? Once in awhile, though, I come across a boat that so clearly stands alone, no comparison would be fair. The Rivarama 44 is such a boat, and one look is all it takes to realize she's something special.
The 44 fits nicely into Riva's lineup of express-style yachts ranging from 33 to 84 feet. At Yachting , we often say that European boating is different from boating in the United States. Express cruisers from across the pond are day-trip oriented, while U.S. models tend to offer more belowdecks. Riva has set out to blend the two styles by importing a boat with remarkable fit and finish and fulfilling the American desire for speed.
She accomplishes her builder's goals. The 44's performance numbers might leave her a little light for the go-fast crowd, but her 34-knot cruise and near 40-knot top end will certainly satisfy almost everyone else. The 44 exhibits stunning design characteristics that will leave little doubt of her Italian heritage, which dates back to 1842.
Only careful attention to detail can produce a yacht with nary a blemish. Alberto Perrone Da Zara, Riva's U.S. product manager, sees to that personally. When I arrived for my sea trial, he was inspecting and cleaning the entire boat-not to impress me, but for perfection's sake.
"We produce top-of-the-line boats for top-of-the-line people", is how he put it.
Certainly, the 44's 3/8-inch-thick teak finished with 22 coats of varnish is an indication that he means it. Above the rub rail is a track with adjustable stainless-steel fender rings and an extended lip designed to keep sea and rainwater from dripping down the hull sides. Both enhance her upscale image.
Heads turned as I idled hull number three, finished in black, through Port Everglades. I must admit that I enjoyed soaking in the attention from the centerline helm chair, a position uncommon on such designs. Technologically advanced helm chairs are de rigueur these days, but the one on the 44 stands out. It can serve as a bolster, a single seat or, if you expand the wings, a bench for three. Running and anchor lights are on a retractable mast built into the chair.
The forward windshield is a single section braced in an oversize frame. It provided uninterrupted visibility and efficiently deflected wind from the cockpit. Launching over a passing wake produced absolutely no shakes or shimmies. The helm area has suitable room for electronics and gear stowage and can be covered with a top that electrically retracts when not in use. A manually operated wing comes forward for additional cover. Thanks to wide side decks, the top does not hinder the crew. Though the dark colors of the 44 are eye-catching, they can be a tad tough on bare feet when the sun is at its apex.
The 700 hp MAN diesels delivered power via a V-drive and two-speed ZF transmission. Kudos to MAN for producing an engine display that a person can see in bright sunlight (and while wearing polarized glasses). Riva is not discussing the addition of a higher-horsepower option for future builds; the boat already achieves her mission.
The Rivarama 44 is a pleasure to drive. When the transmission bumps to high gear, she glides effortlessly, leaving a taut, flat wake. She performed as expected, though my top speed was slightly below the published figure due to stubborn Florida growth on the bottom. I pushed her hard into turns with basically no slide and enjoyed the hull's dry ride and quick recovery. For an express, the 44 has low decibel levels at the helm, and the saloon is quiet. She is clearly a sport boat for sophisticates.
The hull is reinforced with Kevlar. Within it and below the flawless teak sole is the machinery space, accessed via a large hatch and a ladder with serviceable treads. The Kohler generator and air-conditioning units have quiet underwater discharges. The 24/240-volt electric service is impeccably wired. As expected, the 44 has a black-water tank, but she also has a gray-water tank, which is hooked up to the master head. This European tradition is a smart one, as it cuts down on pollution.
Riva has set its sights high for making the owner comfortable. The 44 comes with few options, but when a wine chiller, four place settings of Richard Ginori porcelain china, Riva silver-plated cutlery, glasses for 12 and two sets of monogrammed linens are standard, there is little else one could desire. Of course, the silver has an upholstered drawer for stowage, and the china and glassware are secure in a cabinet of their own.
Mooring lines, a Riva tool set, fenders with sponge covers and chromed brass letters for the boat's name are also supplied. By now, you've probably figured out that this rig has everything you'll need to run right out of the box-apart from your bathing suit and shorts. (Yes, by the way, the company supplies monogrammed shirts.)
In the master cabin, or "night area", as Riva calls it, cutouts for personal effects, such as jewelry, are on either side of the berth. Another compartment is discreetly hidden for security. The berth is a true double island, with eight eye-level stowage compartments above and a pullout drawer below. For your travels, Riva also includes a leather suitcase. Materials used in the adjoining head are eclectic. The sink is a combination of colored glass and stainless steel, the walls are mirror and laminate, and the sole and separate stall shower are fiberglass.
Inside the saloon, the 23,000 BTU air-conditioning system made things quite comfortable, even as the sun beat down fiercely (and despite the 44's dark exterior finish). Air handlers are a striking walnut, with the returns placed unassumingly under the steps. Headroom is good, as the 6-foot, 2-inch Da Zara easily guided me about. A thick settee works well as dinette seating. The galley has everything you would expect, as well as an extractor hood that actually dumps air outside. Even my home unit doesn't do that.
Certainly, the pride and joy of the 44's Italian design is in her cockpit area. Companions may sit in the helm chair alongside the skipper or comfortably sprawl on the half-moon settee. The centerpiece of the cockpit is a folding wood table with a finish so fine that it is a shame to keep it outside.
A sunpad is abaft the settee. Beneath are electrically controlled engine hatches. A filler cushion evens the entire pad, or you may leave it open for access to the three-tier transom, which culminates at a swim platform with a hydraulic passerelle and swim ladder. Grab rails with real girth are everywhere, and not a square edge is in sight.
Behind radius doors are an ice maker, refrigerator and stowage. Beneath fiberglass lids is a wet bar and electric grill. Positive latches and first-rate hinges and hatch pistons secure everything that opens.
Abaft the cockpit is a finely finished lazarette and air-conditioned crew quarters with a head. As is often the case, especially on smaller boats, you may have a tough time convincing anyone but the kids to take up residence in this confining space.
The Rivarama 44 commands quiet respect in a class by herself. So will the lucky owner who steps up to the plate.