Riviera 51 Convertible

This rugged, australian-built convertible delivers the goods.

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All the big names in custom and production sport fishing boats were represented at the Pelican Yacht Club's 24th annual Invitational Tournament, and this year Riviera Yachts entered its new 51-foot convertible. The boat proved worthy to share the roster with the other big-name fish-raisers at the event.I was invited by Riviera to observe a day's fishing aboard the Golden Girl, the factory 51 skippered by Captain Paul DeWolfe. It was day three of the tournament, and the 20-knot winds and three- to five-footers off Ft. Pierce, Florida, gave us a true test of what the new Australian convertible could deliver. In my opinion she passed with good grades.

Our crew was a large one - ten in total - and it was no picnic as we headed out the inlet. Even the larger boats were holding their macho in check. DeWolfe nudged the throttles and we hit the substantial head sea at 23 knots. King-sized sheets of green and white water blasted by as I sat atop the cockpit freezer, talking with mate Tim Bailey. I scanned the horizon and saw spray everywhere, on every boat. There were no dry rides on this day. Soon our speed dropped to a more palatable 17 knots, and while we did not overtake anyone, no one seemed in a hurry to pass us either.

Among the 51's best attributes is her flying bridge, which easily accommodated nine burly guys. A few were standing, although most were seated on either the straight portside setee or L-shape starboard settee. From here, the crew was able to spread the 'riggers, position and fine-tune the baits, spot fish, direct the action in the cockpit, monitor the electronics and observe the fleet. The flying bridge provided clean lines of sight and room to move about.

The efficient console is offset to starboard. This placement does, however, obscure the port transom corner slightly from view. The electronics flats handle multiple large displays and the engine displays are smartly placed for easy data retrieval. The Twin Disc controls are outboard and allow the skipper to smoothly dial in the intended rpm. The console has a textured surface on the forward face that reduces glare. The bundling and routing of wiring is satisfactory, although slightly disorganized under the helm. The space can be cooled with an optional 24,000 BTUs of air conditioning.

I found the 51 responsive in most every way. The beam is modest at a smidge over 16 feet, which helped us slice through the tall, early-morning head sea. There was minimal pounding at a sensible speed, and landings were shudder-less.

We trolled with ease, mostly in the trough, and when the first sailfish accepted the drop the captain's eyes twinkled as he juiced the throttle. The moment of truth had arrived. The boat's stern rose slightly into the sea as we followed the high-visibility mono tethered to the sail. The cockpit remained as dry as a bone, and the boat pivoted without prejudice.

With the 825-hp MTU Series 60 (the horsepower I recommend), the 51's sweet spot is 2030 rpm, which produced a 25-knot cruise at 60 gph, although she'll hit 30.6 knots at a top-end 2350 rpm. At this speed, during our break-for-the-barn, she handled the following sea with minimal attention to the helm. Once inside, the standard eight-hp bow thruster made docking effortless.

The 118-square-foot cockpit offers plenty of the expected fishing amenities, although an owner who requires an unlimited-size fighting chair will find that the area shrinks quickly. The gunwales are fishing-friendly - comfortably low - and have six storage compartments beneath. The in-sole fishboxes are large and the lazarette has separate access. A bait well is set into the transom, as is a large tuna door.

Against the house is a large top-loading freezer. A nice touch is the sink, which is set into the door that leads to the engine room. There is a bank of toggle switches for the cockpit amenities, such as the bait well that juts out on the starboard side, shoulder-height to a crewmember sitting on the ledge. In rough seas, these switches might be accidentally thrown, our worse, broken off. A simple solution might be rocker-type switches. The salon door is wide and hinged with strong, matte-finished hardware.

Riviera took a chapter from other players in this category by finishing the salon with handsome cherry joinerwork. The dinette will accommodate an entire fishing crew, and entertainment is provided by a Bose sound system. Upholstered accents lend a look of refinement, and there is an overhead rod-storage compartment with an electrically opening door.

¿ SPECIFICATIONS LOA: 58' 6" Beam: 16' 1" Draft: 4' 7" Transom deadrise: 15 ¿ Displacement: 45,200 lbs. Fuel: 713 gals. Water: 258 gals. Standard power: twin 700-hp CAT C12 Optional power: twin 825-hp MTU Series 60 Base price: $886,714 Price as tested w/ twin 825-hp MTUs: $1,175,000

The galley is outfitted with drawer-style refrigerators, a separate freezer, Corian counters with raised fiddles and an Amtico sole. The three-stateroom, two-head convertible has a two-foot-wide companionway with lighted steps and stacked washer and dryer units.

Each stateroom exhibits the builder's attention to interior detail, and all offer 6' 7" of headroom. Storage space is available under the berths, and multiple hatches let in ambient light and fresh air. The master and VIP staterooms have island berths, while the second guest cabin has wide upper and lower berths.

Riviera uses a solid bottom and cores the topsides, deck and house. A watertight crash bulkhead is forward, and the engine room is protected by watertight bulkheads as well. There is two feet of space between the engines and soft patches for easy service. All service items are readily accessible.

After seven hours of tournament fishing, the Rivera 51 proved more than able to hold her own when it came to raising fish, handling adverse conditions and accommodating a large crew. Don't be surprised to see more convertibles from the land down under fishing at a canyon near you.

Riviera Yachts, (561) 721-4100, www.rivieramarine.com.