Rivale 52

The new Rivale 52 is sculpted to astonish.

Riva calls the color "dove," but the look is far more fabulous; Ports and windows are concealed by a smoked glass panel that imparts a racing stripe accent—and powerful lines make an irresistible (and Italian) statement about speed and beauty.

Riva calls the color "dove," but the look is far more fabulous; Ports and windows are concealed by a smoked glass panel that imparts a racing stripe accent-and powerful lines make an irresistible (and Italian) statement about speed and beauty.

OK, class, the new Riva Rivale is an Italian yacht, so let's learn an Italian expression today.

First, purse your thumb, forefinger and middle finger together as though you were trying to pick up a slippery grape. Add the other fingers if you can, so all fingers are touching.

Next, bend your elbow and bring your pursed fingers to your mouth and then quickly move them up and out, as though they bounced off your lips. As your fingers pass your mouth, make a wet kissy-tsk sound (sort of half the tsk-tsk your mother made when she saw your report cards).

It helps if you have a cashmere sport coat draped over your shoulders (Italians never put their arms in the sleeves) and are wearing Gucci loafers, but you can achieve much the same effect in polo shirt and Topsiders-as long as you're bronzed like a god.

This is an expression of absolute reverence and enchantment, used most often on leggy girls in short skirts on the Via Veneto or as a Lamborghini rushes past in a yowl of cylinders or, of course, when you first see the Riva Rivale.

The Rivale is the latest offering from this luxe Italian builder, and she is a masterful blend of ultramodern and retro styling that harkens back to classic wooden Rivas.

In the '50s and '60s, the very word 'Riva' had a legendary quality and it was the sportboat of choice for kings, emperors, and sultans, plus the international jet set like Brigitte Bardot, Prince Rainier, Richard Burton and Sean Connery. An all-mahogany Aquarama was the only way to arrive in St. Tropez for lunch and, to this day, these classics command unbelievable prices on the used market.

When an aging Carlo Riva sold the company to Whittaker Corp. in the late '60s, it marked a turning point as the company moved into fiberglass (Riva even built now-coveted Bertram sportfishers) but a succession of later owners pillaged the company. When the Ferretti Group under Norberto Ferretti acquired the company three years ago, they set off on a course to restore the luster to the Riva name and the new Rivale buffs it to a high shine.

At dockside, this is a generously proportioned 52-footer with high topsides and a powerful tumblehome onto the deck. Sculptured air intakes are carved into the topsides, and the ports and windows are concealed by a smoked glass panel that looks like a stylish accent from a distance.

And then, of course, there's the color. This particular Rivale was in 'dove,' a name that does no justice to a color that blends champagne, copper and titanium into a drop-dead metallic finish.

Underwater, the Rivale is fairly conventional with a deep-V-hull of 16-degree deadrise and an ample beam of 15 feet. The props are tucked into pockets along with the rudders to minimize the draft, and the trim tabs are recessed under the hull both to minimize drag and to clean up the stern.

Like every line on the Rivale, the transom swim platform is gently curved, and teak-planked steps on each side lead to the cockpit past clever protective panels that slide smoothly aside for entry. An immense sunpad spans the area between the two walkways and, yes, it's actually tan leather, not some tacky poly-whatever imitation. This is a Riva, after all.

The entire sunpad lifts hydraulically to expose the garage, which conceals the standard low-profile Avon inboard jet RIB that launches and retrieves effortlessly. Even more important, however, is that the garage interior is finished to the same high standard as the rest of the Rivale.

The cockpit is the alfresco living room and, with a curved settee and teak table to starboard, it's ready for entertaining, sunning or simply being seen. The cockpit has the expected wet bar with fridge and barbecue grill, plus more of that silky-smooth teak planking.

The portside helm fairly shouts Italian design, with a leather-trimmed wheel, MAN electronic throttles, and stylish rocker switches all housed in a fiberglass console. The skipper and companion have folding leather seats, but short skippers may want a box to stand on to see over that long bow through the swept-back windshield.

Towering over the cockpit is the mast, with twin stainless steel pillars supporting an airfoil wing that matches the hull color. It's truly a work of art, and it seems a travesty to clutter it up with spotlight and antennae. A Bimini top is concealed under hinged panels inside the windscreen and it deploys at the touch of a button to cover the helm area.

While the exterior is striking, it doesn't prepare you for the interior of the Rivale. It is, in a word, stunning. The bleached oak has just a hint of the champagne topsides color, and the padded white silk panel on the forward bulkhead is a masterstroke of subtle luxury. Combined with the leather settee and the brushed stainless overhead treatment, it has the cool elegance of a penthouse from the pages of Architectural Digest. As with the exterior, there are no straight lines, and even the bulkhead behind the settee curves gently with blinds to shade the windows.

The galley is compact but fully equipped and, when not in use, the stove, sinks and microwave are hidden from view. The fridge is behind a black door beneath a flat-screen plasma TV, and the same door conceals the glass and bottle storage. A full set of Riva china is tucked neatly into dedicated storage for protection.

The day head, which also serves the port guest cabin, is comfortably sized with a chrome and glass vanity, trendy wall-mounted faucet, and shower with circular sliding door.

The master stateroom is forward with an island berth on a leather-trimmed pedestal beneath a mirrored headboard and surrounded by a continuation of the brushed stainless/bleached oak trim (elm and walnut are offered as alternative woods). The en suite master bath also has the glass vanity, polished stainless basin, wall-mounted faucet and circular shower.

A guest cabin with twin bunks is aft to port with a private entry to the day head. The cabin has a large window, between-berths nightstand, and ample storage for weekending.

Two layouts are offered for the starboard cabin, which can duplicate the guest cabin with twin berths (but no direct head access) or it can be fitted as a crew cabin with a single berth and head facilities. I doubt that many American boats will be built with the crew cabin for two reasons.

First, this is a small enough yacht that it can be handled easily by a couple who probably won't want to share their quality time with a hired hand. Second, the crew cabin may be acceptable by European standards, but most American crews will mutiny when faced with a toilet under a lid and a shower grate in the sole next to the bed.

Back on deck, the foredeck has another huge sunpad, this time with drink holders and a pair of trays for necessities such as tanning lotion and sunglasses. Completely surrounding the foredeck is a flawlessly welded stainless steel rail, which is backed by a pair of handrails on the cabin top.

At the bow, the anchor roller is another sculpture in stainless steel, with a recessed windlass and twin hatches to the rode lockers. And, though I'm usually a stickler for coachroof nonslip, I'm willing to let the Rivale off the hook because the finish is simply perfect. It seems unfair to mar it with a roughened finish and, besides, anyone using the sunpads has a pair of sturdy grab rails for security.

The design and presentation of the Rivale is so integrated and polished that it's easy to forget that it actually has engines. The engine compartment is reached via a hatch in the cockpit sole and, while the engineroom doesn't have much space, it does have room for the standard pair of 900 hp V-8 MAN diesels. These are linked to V-drives that reduce the shaft angle and improve the prop efficiency, particularly when combined with the hull tunnels.

The engineroom is a bit snug, but much of it seems to be taken by the exhaust system that helps keep these engines at a quiet level. There is also a standard 13 kW Kohler genset, the air-conditioning, and all the hydraulics.

With 1,800 horses under the cockpit floor, the Rivale is no slouch. This isn't an all-show-no-go café racer designed to look fast, but weak on keeping that promise. Top speed with the standard diesels is about 38 knots but, if that isn't going to get you to Portofino (or Block Island) fast enough, you can check off the 1,050 hp V-10 MANs on the option sheet and push the speed over the 40-knot mark.

All in all, the Riva Rivale is one of those rare yachts that almost defy description, so look at the photos and try not to drool. Built to the standards that once put Riva at the top of the jet set's must-have list, the Rivale is sure to breathe life and excitement back into this old-but-new builder.

Let's learn one more thing before the end of class. Look in the mirror and watch your lips carefully as you say, 'Wow! It's a Rivale!' 100 times.

This should prepare you to read the lips of onlookers anytime you steer a Rivale into a North American marina.

Contact: Riva S.p.A., (011) 39 035910202; www.riva-yacht.com. MarineMax, (888) 71-YACHT; www.marinemax.com.