Used Boat Review: Riva St. Tropez

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For Steve and Mary Windom, life on Alabama’s Lake Martin revolves around boating.

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As members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, they have a fleet of vintage boats that are well suited to the 30-mile-long, man-made lake north of Montgomery. Among their vessels is a pair of classic Chris-Craft Cobras and several runabouts (two wooden) from the Italian builder Riva, along with a well-used pontoon boat.

“I got my first boat in my late 20s — a $500 fiberglass boat with a worn-out outboard — and I used it for fishing,” the 66-year-old lawyer says. “Later, I lived on a river near Mobile, had a center console.”

These days, he and his wife, Mary, enjoy cruising Lake Martin’s 750 miles of shoreline and its spectacular scenery and destinations — Horseshoe Island, Woods Island and Eagle’s Nest among them. Their biggest boat is a 31-foot 1987 Riva St. Tropez, a twin-engine dayboat with a retro look that caught Windom’s eye the moment he first saw one.

“It was at Lake Tahoe a few years ago, at an antique boat show,” he recalls. “I fell in love with it, and we started looking for one.”

It took a few months, but he found a St. Tropez closer to home. “It was advertised by the owner in Viva Riva magazine, along with a Super Florida [model],” says Windom. “The same owner had her since new, first in Florida and then for several years on a small lake near Cashiers, North Carolina. That is where we found her.”

Powered by a pair of gas engines, the boat was sound but neglected, with faded paint and crazed gelcoat. After a prolonged negotiation, Windom bought the 31-footer in 2012. The price was in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. Windom handled the sale directly with the owner but with the advice of his Riva “guru,” fellow enthusiast Allen Weinstein. “I have either purchased Rivas from Allen or through Allen, or he has advised me,” says Windom.

The St. Tropez has what car buffs call curb appeal. “It’s sort of a Don Johnson, Miami Vice kind of boat,” says Windom, referring to the popular detective show from the 1980s. “I like that retro look.”

SPECIFICATIONS LOA: 31 feet, 2 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 10 inches DRAFT: 2 feet, 4 inches WEIGHT: 6,400 pounds HULL TYPE: deep-vee PROPULSION: twin 350-hp gas engines FUEL CAPACITY: 132 gallons BUILDER: Riva Yachts (now part of Ferretti Group of America), Fort Lauderdale, Florida, (954) 462-5527. riva-yacht.com

The 350-hp Chevrolet 454s had relatively low hours when he bought the boat. The Riva cruises easily at 35 to 45 mph on the 69-square-mile lake, and its top speed is in the 50- to 55-mph range, says Windom. “It’s a heavy boat, so it doesn’t go 90 mph like a Cigarette, but it handles very well,” he says.

To get the 25-year-old fiberglass boat in shape, it was first “deep cleaned,” as Windom puts it. The hull was painted a rich red reminiscent of a Ferrari. No coincidence — Windom also has a red Testarossa. The cracked windshield also was repaired.

Windom admits that there’s something about Riva boats: Rosso Grande (Italian for big red) is one of five Rivas in his fleet. “Besides the look, I like the super-high-quality brightwork and hardware,” he says. “For the price, they are an incredible value.”

The couple’s first Riva was a 1977 Olympic, a 22-footer with a single 270-hp inboard. “We were looking at a house on Lake Martin, thinking of buying, and down in the basement was a Riva Olympic,” Windom says. “It was love at first sight.” They didn’t buy the house, he says, but they did end up buying the boat. “That’s the one that started us on the Rivas. I had always had an interest in owning a wood boat someday and had always thought about Riva.”

The St. Tropez was next, followed by an Aquarama (27 feet), a Rudy (19 feet) and most recently a Super Ariston (22 feet) — all with Italian names. “The Aquarama is Il’ Giudice, which is ‘the judge’ in Italian,” says Windom. “My wife is a judge.”

All of the Windoms’ boats are kept on the lake, with three rotating in the water at any given time. The vintage wood Rivas are on lifts in covered stalls at Kowaliga Marina. Rosso Grande also is in a covered stall.

“We added the St. Tropez because we love the retro styling and the fact that it is pretty bulletproof, being fiberglass instead of wood,” says Windom. “She is fast, fun and safe.”

WALKTHROUGH

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Sleek, sporty and sexy, the Riva St. Tropez was the embodiment of Italian styling, beginning in the 1970s. With its race-car look and 55-mph top speed, the 31-footer was a favorite of celebrities and sportsmen the world over. After building legendary wooden boats for decades, Riva Yachts went to fiberglass in 1969, first with the Bahia Mar 20 and Sport Fisherman 25, and later the St. Tropez.

The St. Tropez rides a deep-vee hull with a sharp, stiletto-like bow and a narrow entry. The hull widens to its full beam amidships, and the broad transom gives the hull stability at speed. The distinctive foredeck leads to a curving, swept-back windscreen. Behind it, the port-side helm resembles that of a race car, with its wraparound seat, automobile-style wheel and competition gauges arranged in an easy-to-read configuration.

The well-appointed cockpit has passenger seating and a sun pad. In addition, the St. Tropez boasts a small cabin below with a V-berth and head. The twin gas engines are mounted beneath the cockpit sole, with easy access for maintenance.

BACKGROUND

Riva Yachts got its start in 1842 on Italy’s Lake Iseo, making small but exquisite sport boats and race boats. Over the years, it established itself as one of the world’s premier high-end builders. When the St. Tropez debuted in the 1970s, it was one of the new-generation fiberglass Rivas, and they proved as popular as the wooden models. An unabashed sport boat, the St. Tropez was an instant hit and remained in production until 1992. Now part of the Ferretti Group, Riva builds a fleet that ranges from 26 to 164 feet.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue.