Craig Belden and I were saying our goodbyes in his office at Riviera Long Beach when a man with a broad smile stepped through the open door and said hello. Was that us in the 33 he saw cruise past in the harbor? Indeed it was — "I thought I heard someone call my name," Belden said, as they shook hands. The man launched into a brief explanation as to why he was in the neighborhood, then gushed about his own Riviera, a boat he loved to spend time on with his grandchildren.
I'm beginning to find this is typical when it comes to these boats.
"Would you call up the guy who sold you a car and tell him what you did over the weekend?" Belden had asked me earlier that day while we were motoring the Riviera 33 into Alamitos Bay. "No — you wouldn't. But people call me all the time to tell me where they went on their boat. This business is just so different. It's about building relationships."
He's right about that — but it certainly doesn't hurt to have a solid product to build upon.
Not Always About the Fish
In the past, whenever I thought about sportfishers in general, I couldn't help but think about these old-school, barebones roughriders charging ahead, tackle rattling and rolling around the deck, hull getting smacked and bounced in the chop (while beating the living hell out of you). I thought of unpadded bench seats, gigantic livewells and years of fish scales ground into the deck of a well-worn cockpit. And — naturally — these were the kind of boats that came head-optional (slogan: the world is your urinal).
Though there is a definite audience for that style, we all know it is no longer an accurate portrayal of sportfishers. The Riviera 33 is a perfect example of what's available for people with diverse interests.
I've always been impressed by Rivieras, mostly because they have the ability to be anything to anyone. They're built in Australia, are known as sportfishers and are certainly tournament-ready — Riviera was a lead sponsor last year in the Zane Grey Invitational Marlin Tournament, and will continue its support for the next two years — but when you step onto the teak decks and run your hand over the soft fabrics and rich craftsmanship throughout the interior, you'd think you were aboard a fine family cruiser. (And depending upon your druthers, you may very well be.)
It's this versatility that makes Rivieras attractive no matter where you live on the West Coast. The 33, for example, has a number of ways by which she can be customized to match your cruising quarters. She has the option of an interior steering station, a feature our test boat did not have but one that Belden told me has been a hot seller on other 33s. Air conditioning is also an option of course, and there is almost no end to the ways in which you can outfit this boat for offshore fishing.
"She is a perfect family cruiser," Belden explained.
Everything in Its Place
The Riviera 33 features a nicely sized cockpit, with removable coaming pads all the way around to minimize bumps and bruises. Pop-up cleats and plenty of storage space abound. Most important, safety is a huge part of this vessel's exterior. Rather than a single drain into the bilge, Riviera built a "trough" that runs the entire perimeter of the cockpit — so should you take a wave over the back, any water would drain efficiently through this system, preventing a dangerous stern-heavy situation.
There is a transom shower in addition to a sink out here, plus a transom storage bin with a bait prep station underneath the lid; the ladder up to the flybridge is to port, and there are short steps on both the port and starboard sides leading up to the sidedecks. A door leads from the cockpit into the salon; a table on the port side can be placed in a few different configurations, including down, which allows the U-shaped settee behind it to pull out into an oversized double berth. Across from the settee, cherry cabinetry runs along the starboard side (and beneath the all-around windows), which is a perfect fit for the glassware and other dishes that come standard. (Even the bathrobe is standard.)
The 33 uses space cleverly throughout; the forward queen-size berth lifts to expose a wealth of storage space, and the closet went back farther than my memory during arguments with my boyfriend. Even the trash in the galley had a perfect hiding space, lifting straight up from inside the countertop.
One word for you: handrails. They're everywhere. Ever gone to grab for a handle and ended up grasping at slick fiberglass instead? Every time I went for that extra safety grip on the 33, it was there — in the overheads, along the bulkheads, at the top of the flybridge ladder. Riviera graciously put some thought into the Klutz Factor. Not that I would know anything about it ...
You're probably interested in hearing how the 33 performed. But before I go there, you should know this: I have only been seasick once in my life — aboard a small dive boat on a blustery, rainy day on Lake Michigan — and though this was just another "crummy," 70-degree day in Southern California (and the bay would prove relatively flat), I wondered if the flybridge would develop enough sway in its step to test my stomach again. But things never reached that point. The 33 held firm and steady under a number of conditions we tried out; I was impressed when we hit some confused bumps and chop upon entering Alamitos Bay, and she took them all in stride.
The 33 likes to cruise at about 23 knots or 3,300 rpm; at that speed, she burns 27.6 gph. She topped out around 26 knots, or 3,600 rpm, and I was surprised to find that there was little vibration and acceptable noise levels (about 76 dB inside the salon with the door shut). She gets up to speed quickly and smoothly, which speaks to the efficiency of her hull; in fact, I had a hard time determining the precise moment we were on plane because she barely noses up. Check out the sidebar for more details about her cruise capabilities and other features.
A Few of My Favorites
If I had to choose my favorite things about the Riviera 33, they would be:
1) The bench seat forward of the helm up on the flybridge. Awesome. Loved the layout up there, the comfort and positioning of the seat and the fact that the mini-fridge was half an arm's length behind me. It feels like you're on the flybridge of a 40 or 42, not a 33. This spaciousness was a theme that was repeated throughout the boat.
2) The fact that when I stood in the galley, I was eye-level with anyone who might have been sitting in the salon — and I don't mean when standing on my toes. I hate cooking, and like it even less when the only thing I have to keep me company is a bottle of wine.
3) ) The accessibility. From the engine room to the windlass, I never felt unsteady on my feet or uncomfortable traversing from one part of the boat to another. In fact, Belden offered to slow things down when I told him I was going to take some decibel readings below. However, I felt comfortable enough to remain at our spirited pace and head down the stainless steel ladder from the flybridge into the salon. (By the way, I noticed on my way through the cockpit that it was bone-dry.)
4) That I wasn't chewing on diesel fumes the entire ride. In fact, I never even smelled any. With the exhaust funneled completely underwater and away from the boat, there simply wasn't anything nasty left to inhale. This is typical for any system from Volvo Penta. Belden and I ran experiments on the 33's standard twin 310 hp D-6s, mimicking the motions the boat would take if she backed down on a fish. We shrugged at each other when we couldn't detect so much as a hint of diesel.
As for the part of the engines that sits above water, I found everything to be well marked and accessible. Dipsticks were reachable and clearly labeled; things down there just made sense, such as color-coordination that made it obvious which hose performed what function (e.g., red for fresh hot water, blue for fresh cold water, etc.). Hey, you may laugh at something that basic, but you'd be amazed at the accidents people have had on their boats because they flipped the wrong switch.
And, lest Sea's monthly Engines columnist, the "motor doctor" himself, Grid Michal, should roll his eyes and bark about tearing up decks to repair or replace an engine, let's keep his blood pressure slightly lower by letting him know that the deck above the 33's engine room is installed in three panels, designed to lift off in the event that major maintenance is required. That will save you some bucks (and some headaches) years from now when you decide to upgrade, and likely could result in a high resale value.
"Value is a good word," Belden said. "This is all the luxuries of a big boat in a small boat. You really get something for your money."
So, the next time someone quips that you can't have your cake and eat it too, tell the person to join you aboard your cruiser — and to bring a rod.
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Manufacturer Contact Information
Riviera Yachts of the Americas