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SportRiva 56

The new SportRiva 56 is full of Italian lust for life.

July 15, 2010
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SportRiva 56

Riva’s SportRiva 56 is a dangerous yacht. It will blur your eyesight, disturb your emotions, mess with your mind. It is that older woman with the sultry eyes sitting alone at the bar. Walking down the pier toward the SportRiva, your mind says, “Run! Run for your life!” But you are powerless, drawn inexorably like metal filings to a magnet.

Get close enough to touch the SportRiva, and it’s all over. It only seems to be fiberglass: It’s actually carved from a solid block of lust.

Okay, I admit it. I was prepared to dislike this yacht. Perhaps “dislike” is too strong: disdain might be a better word. This is no longrange expedition yacht, loaded with charts to faraway places, nor is it an ocean-racing thoroughbred for serious sailors. Rivas have always had a (well-deserved) reputation for being chick magnets. They build boats for collecting crumpets in Monaco, preferably in itsy-bitsy bikinis, and transporting them to St. Tropez for a lazy soufflé and a bottle of Donny P, followed by a nap on the sunpad.

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I was wrong. Oh. So. Wrong.

The SportRiva bears as much resemblance to an ordinary yacht as a 2002 Sassicaia Super Tuscan does to a screw-top jug of Red Mountain. This is not like buying a Ferrari: It’s more like taking Sophia Loren home to meet your folks. The SportRiva was as delightfully unexpected as a diamond ring in a glass of champagne.

The SportRiva is a new design concept for Riva, but it draws on a DNA chain that dates back to when Carlo Riva was building sexy wooden runabouts on the shores of Lake Sarnico. The SportRiva blurs the distinction between express cruiser and flybridge motoryacht: It has the lines of an express, but with a well-concealed bridge. This isn’t, emphasized Enrico Della Casa, Riva’s American manager, “an American flying bridge.”

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Instead, it draws on European sensibilities of privacy, creating essentially a raised lounge area that just happens to have a helm. If you want to sprawl in the sun, you can have your privacy up top as the skipper runs the yacht from the lower helm. Want the cabin to yourself? The skipper gets the bridge. There is still a sunpad on the foredeck (a Riva without a foredeck sunpad would be heresy), but those usually found in the Riva cockpit have been moved to the bridge.

In their place, however, is a most civilized cockpit, with a pair of supple settees facing each other across a cocktail table that expands for dining. This area is raised to provide space for the garage underneath (with its 10-foot Avon jet tender). Just forward, tucked under the bridge overhang, is a sleek console for the wet bar and outdoor kitchen equipped with a Gaggenau grill, sink, and fridge.

Carrying the express-to-flybridge morph further, the large window overlooking the cockpit from the saloon hinges up and, combined with the sliding door, blends the two areas into one alfresco living space.

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Step into the saloon, but remember to keep breathing. If you ever watched “Under the Tuscan Sun” and dreamt of an Italian villa, this is it—without the bad plumbing. The décor is both subtle and soothing: fine elm wood, anthracite fiberglass, and leather that’s as soft as gelato. A settee curves around a table to port and, if the saloon seems slightly off-center, well, it is. The galley is down to starboard but it only takes a moment to get used to the offset and realize how well it works. It turns the settee into perfect seating to watch the television to starboard, it puts the helm in a niche forward, and it allows the galley to be close to both saloon and cockpit but out of sight.

The divider separating the galley isn’t wasted space. It boasts a liquor cabinet with a flip-top like a pack of Marlboros, but it is crafted of gorgeous stitched suede and fitted with Lucite holders for bottles and glasses.

Forward, the windshield sweeps aft at a rakish angle to create a wonderful skylight effect throughout the saloon, and these are cleaned by a pair of windshield wipers the size of pool sweeps.

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The helm is a tidy affair with a bench seat, leather-rimmed wheel, ZF electric shifters, and a control panel that cradles the skipper’s elbow, all neatly labeled with backlit rocker switches. Riva craftsmen haven’t missed a chance to show off, though: The dashboard is trimmed with leather bearing the subtle pattern of carbon fiber.

If you thought the saloon was impressive, step down to the cabins. In the owner’s stateroom forward, the bulkheads and the frame around the queen-sized berth are finished in a leather as buttery as the softest Brioni loafers. The raised stitching is set off by polished stainless steel trim and pale elm. You’ll want to hug it.

The en suite owner’s head is equally stylish, with a stainless steel sink set in a frosted-glass vanity, a Euro-style spigot from the bulkhead, and a large shower with a tower of spray nozzles.

Just aft, two guest cabins are separated by the stairs. Both have twins but, in the port cabin, the nightstand can be moved and the inner berth slides over to create a queen-sized berth. This cabin has a private door into the day-head, creating a second en suite stateroom. Particularly notable about the two aft cabins are their opening ports that flank a large rectangular window, allowing in both light and air.

The galleys on most sport yachts fairly scream, “Take me ashore for dinner!” with their toy stoves and mini-fridges. But the SportRiva is fully equipped for Mario Batali to prepare osso bucco, from the Bosch four-burner cooktop to the Miele dishwasher for après-meal cleanup. Adding encouragement to dining aboard are the gorgeous sets of bone china and cutlery, all neatly fitted into the pantry.

An exemplary feature is the crew cabin tucked under the saloon. Unlike some European crew cabins that require descending vertical stairs from the cockpit into the lazarette, this full-headroom cabin is entered via the galley. Best of all, it isn’t designed for masochist dwarfs with contortionist tendencies. This one would even serve nicely for a teenager, although it is perhaps a bit close to the Cokes and Oreos. It features a single berth against the port hull, an enclosed head with teak-grated shower, and still has room for a stacked washer/dryer. This isn’t to say that the SportRiva is without, um, quirks. It is, after all, a yacht from a country that celebrates exquisitely detailed door handles that don’t work, and Ferraris that don’t start. Still, I have a few minor quibbles.

The ladder to the flying bridge is not just steep, but dead center in the cockpit settee. “Pardon me for climbing over you and spilling the Beluga…I’m just going up to the bridge.” It couldn’t be more inconvenient. On the other hand, this is a striking design element, all sculpted stainless steel and curves.

Once up on the bridge, it’s just as Della Casa said: It’s not your father’s flying bridge. Rather than the deep enclosure found on American yachts, this is a fairly shallow pan with the adjustable sunpads on each side and a triple-wide helm seat, so the skipper can entice companions to keep him company. The venturi windscreen does a yeoman’s job of deflecting the breeze so you can stand without ruffling your hair—although you may wind up with an inadvertent brain scan from the eye-level radar arch that was too close for my comfort.

My only other quibbles were found in the galley where, in an effort to make everything look sleek, the designers complicated the chef ’s work unnecessarily. Because they hid the refrigerator/freezer behind a door, getting the marinara sauce means opening a door and blocking the counter, then opening the fridge door, grabbing the marinara, closing the fridge door, and—finally—closing the door over the fridge. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply put a stylish fascia on the fridge door? Si. Same with the microwave. Besides, the galley is already hidden from sight. Why hide the appliances? So Italian.

But, lest anyone think I’m picking on Riva designers, they did many things oh-so-right. The cockpit has twin liferaft lockers (for six-man rafts), out of sight but perfectly situated for a quick departure. Unsightly things, like dock lines, are tucked under lids on each after quarter, which also hide the warping winches and cleats. Forward, the sunpad has a little sun canopy, something like the folding top on a vintage Lancia, so you can get bronzed without acquiring those nasty little wrinkles around your eyes.

And the color, ahhh, the color. Lesser yachts are white, like plain vanilla. This SportRiva was a color so delicious I wanted to lick it: Roman Bronze. If you happen to have a few rare coins in your change pocket from ancient Rome, you’ll see the SportRiva is the exact color of a denarius from, say, about 22 centuries ago—and just as rare.

But, though I spoke lovingly of Italian loafers earlier, this isn’t one of them. With the hammer down on the pair of 900-horsepower MAN CRM diesels, we topped out at 30.5 knots without effort. Want different engines? Sorry, these are the engines you just never knew you always wanted. There are no optional engines.

The engineroom is snug, but everything is accessible, including the standard twin Kohler 15.5 kW gensets. In fact, the SportRiva is well-equipped from the get-go, with such niceties as a bow thruster, passerelle, seawater firefighting pumps and hoses, and a lot more.

With her 15-degree transom deadrise, she had a soft ride in the choppy Gulf Stream off Florida, and she took just a touch of trim tabs to run fl at and fast. There is, in fact, a computer-driven trim-tab indicator that analyzes speed, rpm, and running angle, and suggests an appropriate trim-tab setting. It was amusing to see how close the computer came to what I thought “felt” right. Okay, so I wasn’t right as often as the computer when speeds were compared. Big deal.

Believe me, the SportRiva 56 is just plain spectacular. Own this yacht, and you’ll start saying ciao, and double-kissing your friends in greeting, your Armani blazer draped over your shoulders. This may be the most lusted-after Italian since Gina Lollabrigida.

LOA: 52’8″
LWL: 46’7″
Beam: 15’3″
Draft: 4’7″
Displ.: 57,100 lb. (dry)
Fuel: 600 gal.
Water: 145 gal.
Deadrise: 15 degrees
Engines: 2 x 900-hp MAN CRM diesels
Price as Tested: $2,994,613

Riva Yachts, (954) 462-5527; www.riva-yacht.com

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