Riviera 37

Tested by Erwin Bursik (September/October 2007)


IN the early morning light a new Riviera 37 was proudly working her way through the maelstrom of water at the entrance to Richard’s Bay harbour. An outgoing tide meeting the north-easterly swell and a strong north-north-easterly wind combined to make this area “very interesting”, to put it mildly. As one of her owners, Martin van Rooyen, powered the craft through this washing machine, I couldn’t help but admire her regal appearance as she held a proud stance, heading out to sea on a north-easterly bearing. She truly was a beautiful sight.
I was aboard a 20ft ski-boat skippered by Trevor Harvey from Nell’s Marine of Richard’s Bay who kindly provided the photography boat to run alongside Martin’s Sitatunga.

They say bigger is better — well, that morning it certainly was. It was heavy going for Trevor and I as we rocked and rolled, pitched and tossed our way out to sea, trying to stay with the Riviera 37. Fortunately, as we worked our way further north, the sea improved marginally. It still had the big north-easterly swell, however, and the protection I had hoped for from the strong gusting north wind did not materialise as it veered between north and north-east and continued to blow at about 20 knots.

Taking photographs in these conditions was not easy, but with such a beautiful “model” to work with, I just had to hope that I would get enough usable pictures to portray the Riviera 37 in her true colours in line with what I was witnessing as I watched Martin putting her through her paces.

During photo-shoots like this, when I get up close and personal to a big craft such as Sitatunga, it never ceases to amaze me just how much the craft’s hull has to work the water, especially in a sea like the one we were working with. The power and energy, the sound of the hull moving over the water and the spray of the water as it is cleaved and flung aside as the hull moves forward, is fascinating. It’s totally mesmerising for me, personally.

Martin van Rooyen is a Zululander who I have known for nigh on 30 years. Martin’s father, “Moon” van Rooyen, was very involved with the Mapelane Trophy Competition in the 1970s when I fished it every year and enjoyed the Van Rooyen’s hospitality in their camp on many occasions.

As an avid ski-boater, it was the lure of marlin fishing off this section of the Zululand coast that persuaded Martin and his partner Les Johnston to acquire a sportfisher to fully explore their chosen pursuit. Richard’s Bay is the only port on this stretch of coast that can support a fleet of sportfishers, and fortunately it is situated in an area that has proved itself as a prime hunting ground for marlin and big yellowfin tuna.

With Martin’s knowledge of the Mapelane area, as well as his ability and experience as a marlin fisherman — and now with the right craft — he should be on the right path to some incredible big gamefishing action.

Once aboard the Riviera 37 — after a difficult boat-to-boat crossing in the prevailing sea — I was able to climb the steps to the flybridge and nestle myself behind the helm on a comfortable seat. There I could enjoy the protection of the surrounding clears while getting to know the instrumentation and controls that would allow me to put this craft through her paces.

Martin was more than eager to run through the necessary pre-flight checks with me — no doubt to ensure that Sitatunga would be treated with the love and care that such a craft deserved. I, on the other hand, had to make sure that with the continual forward shift in innovation in respect of modern sportfishers, I was fully conversant with all her controls to be able to take command of a craft of this size and sophistication.

Taking command of such a craft is both a privilege and a thrill, and as I edged the twin electronic throttle levers forward and felt the move from neutral into forward gear as the big props took their grip on the waters of the Indian Ocean, I experienced great happiness. To feel the ease with which the twin 370hp Volvo D6 turbo diesel motors supplied the necessary power to get this craft to perform the way she does, throughout the power curve, was in itself an experience to be remembered.

Emotion aside, I had work to do and swung her bow from the side-on lie to the wind to face the oncoming sea. Not wanting to face the full might of the ocean to begin with, I spent my first getting-to-know-you period running further north with the wind on her forward quarter. This enabled me to adjust her trims to my liking, hopefully optimising her ride so that those aboard would have a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

After a few kilometres, having pushed her up to speeds of 17 to 20 knots, I was confident to take on anything that this ocean could throw at me.

As the wind had veered more into the north-east and was pushing the swell with white horses, I had a serious sea into which I intended running the Riviera 37. Running on a bearing that I know will be one of Martin’s favourite destinations — Mapelane lighthouse — I edged the throttles forward to attain a speed and degree of comfort that would enable the boat to cover the 30-odd kilometres without doing damage to either the craft or the crew. I adjusted her trim slightly, bringing her bow down a fraction, and settled at a cruising speed of 17 knots, aiming for where Mapelane lighthouse should be in the haze ahead of us.

Watching and feeling the Riviera’s hull working the ocean from my perch on the flybridge, I had time to appreciate the complexity of design and manufacture that has to be incorporated in a craft such as this to allow her to traverse a rough sea — and still enable those onboard to enjoy the ride.

After a good few kilometres maintaining this course and speed, both Martin and I agreed that if we really needed to get to those distant fishing grounds under the prevailing conditions, it could indeed be achieved. What’s more, it could be achieved with reasonable comfort.

One of the benefits of big sportfishers is that during long runs at sea one can relax and chat, not like on a ski-boat where we’re more concerned with ducking windswept spray than talking. Marlin and I spent much of the time reminiscing about the good old days while I went about my task of throwing his boat around on the sea.

With the major task of assessing her ability to take on a head sea for a prolonged length of time over, the remaining trials were a walk in the park. The next aspect I wanted to try was to troll at marlin lure dragging speeds of 7/8 knots through 360° of the ocean surface that was wild, but still fishable. In a sea like this, the effects of the boat’s hull in the water — and the buffeting of the wind and swell — influence not only her forward momentum that transfers back to the lures’ forward momentum, but also the craft’s lateral stability which is felt especially by the crew on the flybridge.

I found that the Riviera 37 trolled at a constant speed-over-water while spreading a tight, even wake that would allow a skipper to pull his spread of lures in a manner that should optimise his strike rate. Whilst my pet hate of lateral seesawing was experienced at times, she regained her composure very quickly, without too much alteration to the set course.

While still on the track of marlin fishing, I put her through a few backing-up trials which she passed with flying colours. What’s more, I did not even try the bow thruster within these manoeuvres. It’s hard enough working the two throttle levers — even if they are electronic — to keep in contact with a rampant marlin, never mind the added dexterity needed to simultaneously play with the bow thruster. The latter is of far more use when it comes to manoeuvring a craft of this size into her mooring which, by the way, Martin had mastered well within the few weeks he’d had Sitatunga.

After a lot of ancillary trials to satisfy my curiosity as well as my desire to have extra time playing with this lovely craft, it was time to return to port. With the wind and sea virtually on her transom, I trimmed up her bow a tad and eased the throttles forward, getting her onto the plane. I set the autopilot to take us to the harbour entrance and then sat back in the helm chair to enjoy the ride.

And enjoy the ride I certainly did, because the Riviera 37 loves a following sea. Over the years, during competitions out of this port, I have watched a number of Rivieras running the sea back home and marvelled at how they adopt a certain stance that enables them to almost glide home under a good deal of power and speed.

Sitatunga felt as if she was gliding over the water. No doubt, the inspiration for the name of Martin’s new craft stemmed from the sitatunga, an aquatic antelope found in the swamps and marshes of central Africa, and visions of it racing through the swamps of central Africa and their beautiful, graceful, even bounds.

Over the years I have written a lot about the layout and finishes of these magnificent craft, and the Riviera 37 is certainly no exception. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a number of modifications and finishes that the Riviera factory has introduced in their continual motivation towards perfection have taken this craft into the realm of super-sumptuousness.

The Riviera 37 has an effective length of 43ft which puts her into the arena of the big sportsfishers, and as such, the levels of expectation are extremely high. Riviera’s strong push into the lucrative North American market has had spin-offs on a number of areas, all resulting in better and better craft.

Whilst cruising is always one of the primary areas of focus when these craft are designed, Riviera has not forgotten that its roots lie in offshore big gamefishing. The overall layout of the fishing deck and design of the flybridge area tend to imply that she’s 100% sportfisher. Once you go through the doors into the saloon and cabin accommodation, though, her cruising values become obvious, with levels of opulence and comfort that are way beyond the needs of the simple fisherman.

It is this aspect that encourages the family and non-angling friends of the owners to enjoy new-found pleasures in boating on the ocean, and might even convince them to take up a rod and reel to catch a fish themselves.

When I reviewed Sitatunga, her fish deck was, at that stage, unemcumbered by a fighting chair, thus providing an extremely large working area for general gamefishing or standup big gamefishing. With its teak deck, transom-mounted large livebait well, tackle and bait station, as well as a big freezer, there is scant reason for any ardent gamefisherman to wish for more.

As I said, the flybridge area on the latest Riviera 37 has been redesigned. This was done to increase the lounging area ahead of the helm station to accommodate extra visitors “up top” and provide them with comfortable lounging facilities. The helm station itself is, in my opinion, nigh perfect, providing the captain with an uninterrupted view both forward and aft.

With the increase in size of the flybridge, the saloon area has also been enlarged, and even though Martin has sensibly opted for a helm station to be included in the saloon, there’s definitely a more spacious feel to the interior sections. The downstairs area of the main cabin, including a second cabin and good-sized bathroom with a full shower, basin and toilet, is extremely well appointed and has sufficient space for people to live comfortably in its luxury.

I once again scrutinised the Aussie workmanship that impressed me when I reviewed the first Riviera that landed in South Africa, and I was delighted to find that its looks are far more than skin deep. The entire finish of this craft is superb, not only aesthetically, but also in the robust materials that are incorporated into the workmanship that any master craftsman would be extremely proud of.

Yes, the Riviera 37 is an extra special craft and one that many anglers —including myself — can only dream of owning.

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