The Rivolta 90’s mission statement at first seems contradictory: fast and simple. When it comes to large sailing yachts, “fast usually translates to “complicated, and “simple is too often another word for “slow.
Piero Rivolta, however, has built an international reputation for combining these disparate qualities. The Rivolta 90, his company’s latest build, is a modern performance cruiser that redefines high-speed, comfortable sailing.
The Rivolta 90 and Piero Rivolta are inextricably linked, so knowing about Rivolta the man may help explain Rivolta the yacht. It’s been said that Italians possess heightened design sensibilities and a passion for performance, as seen in their sports cars. In the 1960s and ’70s, Iso Rivolta sports cars, built under his aegis, challenged the speed and luxury of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other “grand touring cars. Even today, the Rivolta name is revered among automotive aficionados. While most Italian sports cars were complicated to the point of unreliability, Rivolta avoided the problem by using Corvette engines. The resulting cars were not only blindingly fast, but reliable and easy to maintain.
Fascinated with boats since childhood and now living in Florida, Piero Rivolta saw a need for a yacht that combined the trickle-down technology of America’s Cup and Round the World racing, yet offered the luxury of a long-range cruising yacht.
Working with naval architect Hakan Sodergren, Rivolta came up with a slippery canoe-style hull that draws directly from those of high-performance racers. The beam is carried well aft, with considerable buoyancy in the ends. Twin rudders are angled outboard and widely spaced for control when the boat is both heeled and maneuvering.
Most large sailing yachts have their cruising grounds dictated by their drafts, but the Rivolta 90 has a retractable fin keel that provides excellent stability at full extension (nearly 13 feet) and access to virtually any harbor in the world when retracted (less than 6 feet). The retracting mechanism can lock the keel in different positions and, like the rest of the 90, proved uncomplicated and reliable.
Racing-yacht specialists SP Systems specified her sophisticated construction materials, which include E-glass reinforced with carbon fiber, Kevlar, and foam coring. The 90 clearly benefits from these, particularly in the cage-like structure linking her keel, mast step and rigging.
From a distance, the Rivolta 90 has the same fast-even-at-rest appearance of a Ferrari, but her layout is surprisingly clean and simple. The B&R carbon spar is race-bred, with four aft-swept spreaders on the masthead rig supported by Ocean Yacht Systems rod rigging and Nautec hydraulics. When it comes to furling, the wide Park Avenue boom turns the 2,475-square-foot fully battened mainsail into a pussycat. With lazy jacks and a tailored cover, the mainsail can be stowed by one person.
Forward, the genoa and staysail have Harken electric furlers. When it comes to hoisting sail, Harken electric halyard winches are effortless, and for trimming, two-speed, electric, self-tailing Harkens in the cockpit make this an easy singlehander.
The layout of the cockpit is well conceived, with twin Whitlock wheels aft by the primary winches and wing controls on each side for the 90’s twin 315 hp Yanmar diesels. Just forward and set inboard for protection from wind are facing settees with a hinged table for alfresco dining or snacks. Because the Harken mainsheet traveler is set atop the cabinhouse, the Bimini top can shade the entire cockpit, even while the boat is under sail. The area under the cockpit provides a garage for a 13-foot RIB tender, with the foldout transom serving as a boarding platform.
The interior’s focal points are the saloon, which is under the raised coachroof, and the pilothouse, which houses a second helm. Twin L-shape settees with distressed cherry tables are on each side, providing good views through the large windows. Finished in pale birch with a cherry sole, the saloon is bright and airy.
Just forward, the helm is to starboard, with a deeply padded bolster whose electric seat bottom converts from a position comfortable for standing to one suitable for sitting, similar to those on powerboats. Opposite the helm is a navigation area with a double-wide companion seat. The inside helm is clearly intended for use while you’re powering, since visibility is limited to just the bottom of the headsails forward, and there is no way to trim them.
Forward and down from the saloon is the galley, which has been designed with offshore conditions in mind. Two stainless-steel counters brace the cook when the yacht is heeled. Also, the stove is gimbaled, and the cherry sole makes it easy to clean spills. Of note are the stylish locker doors with woven stainless-steel accents.
The trunk for the retracting keel creates a centerline bulkhead, but Rivolta arranged the interior to take advantage of it by creating a spacious master suite to starboard. The owner’s turf actually comprises four rooms, starting with a private sitting area, with an L-shape settee and a burled table just forward of the galley. Entry to the suite is via a dressing room with a built-in vanity forward and hanging lockers inlaid with woven leather. Aft is the bedroom proper with hand-painted murals lending a tropical feel, followed by an en suite head with a shower and bidet.
Farther forward are the crew quarters, with a private lounge to port and a cabin that houses a double lower and single upper berth. The crew area can be closed off to provide privacy to those in the master suite, with on-deck access for the crew through the separate head forward. When you’re cruising, though, the passageway allows for easy access fore and aft.
Just abaft the saloon and tucked under the wide cockpit coamings are twin guest cabins. On the starboard side is the VIP, which has a double berth and settee, while the portside cabin has upper-and-lower berths. Both have private heads with showers.
Though the Rivolta 90 is finished in style and cleverly arranged to take advantage of her 21-foot beam, her real strength shines through while she’s under sail. When she’s getting away from the dock, twin MaxProps and twin rudders provide the nimbleness of a powerboat. Under power, the 90 takes full advantage of her slippery hull lines. She cruises at 13 knots with both engines turning 2300 rpm. With one engine, she cruises at 81/2 knots. Best of all, using a single engine drops the fuel consumption to just 5 gallons per hour, giving the 90 a range of more than 1,300 miles, according to the builder.
The mainsail hoists at the touch of a button, and the headsails unfurl with a similar lack of fuss. Just moments after reaching open water, the 90 slides along easily under sail.
The feel of the Rivolta is that of a yacht half her size. Her helm is well balanced, and she needs just a touch of the wheel to respond to lifts. Still, she tracks well enough for the autopilot to handle her for hours.
There is a distinct pleasure to sailing with nary a winch handle in sight, and tinkering without muscle brings out the racing sailor in everyone: easing the genoa an inch, trimming in the staysail, moving the main traveler outboard to tighten the leach.
Our B&G sailing instruments were on strike for our afternoon sail, but it’s clear that the Rivolta 90 is fast and close-winded. Though the rig is set fairly far forward on the hull, there was just enough helm to work her upwind in the puffs and lifts. Once she’s off the wind, the 90 is a reaching fool, with her big mainsail and both headsails pulling like freight trains. Though we didn’t use her bowsprit-tacked, 5,900-square-foot gennaker, I can imagine the power it generates.
Even with all this sail area, the 90 was remarkably stiff, and it’s obvious that 30,000 pounds of ballast on this 100,000-pound yacht provide ample stability. The 90 also has a water ballast system that can put more than 8,000 pounds of water in tanks on the upwind side (and dump them in seconds if necessary), but we played with the system in only 10- to 12-knot breezes.
With her triumphant fusion of simplicity and speed, the Rivolta 90 is a rara avis indeed: a cruising yacht that is actually fun to sail.