Tide turning in Riviera's favour

After a lean few years, the Gold Coast boat builder has a shiny new 50 model, writes David Lockwood.

After a lean few years, the Gold Coast boat builder has a shiny new 50 model, writes David Lockwood.

It's been a rocky few years for Riviera but Australia's most awarded boat builder has found its mojo again.

After several years in receivership, the iconic cruiser brand has emerged with a new owner and fresh can-do attitude.

Rodney Longhurst, 48, has stamped his mark on the motor-yacht marque he bought 15 months ago.

"It's no longer acceptable to build a boat and wait until the 10th model to get it right - we have to get it right from the beginning," says Longhurst, who grew up on the shores of Yowie Bay, Port Hacking. What he is referring to is the new Riviera 50 model that's been more than a year in the making.

This is his first pet project and when we visited the Gold Coast factory last week the hull and deck had just been joined. Shipwrights are now working around the clock to get the boat finished for its debut at next month's Sydney International Boat Show.

Although a mere mock-up of the interior is on show, it's clear the new 50 will flaunt new levels of luxury and, thanks to Longhurst, great attention to detail. To get it right from the start, Riviera built a life-size walk-through interior mock-up of its new 50-footer.

In another first, the moulds for the hull and deck were made in Taiwan and shipped to the factory.

Wes Moxey, the returning chief executive of Riviera, says the 50 marks a whole new direction for the company. After departing when Riviera was burdened in debt, Moxey teamed up with well-known Sydney boating retailer Lee Dillon to create a whole new brand of boat called Belize. They have since sold the brand to Riviera.

The Belize models are built in Taiwan at the same factory that created the moulds for the new Riviera 50.

Moxey called on Italian-born Giorgia Drudi, who was responsible for the Belize interiors, to weave her magic with the new 50.

The boat certainly has a more European flavour and a higher level of finish than the more utilitarian flybridge Rivieras that preceded it.

"We want to change it up and the new 50 has a very different interior," Moxey said in May. "It's the first complete boat built by Rodney and I. Our greatest competitor is ourselves and we need to move forward. There will be more new stuff to come ... we're looking at bigger stuff and entry-level stuff."

Another shot in the arm came last month when Longhurst announced that his family had bought the 14-hectare riverfront Riviera site from the banks and that his new boat-building venture was debt-free. Of course, as with any savvy businessman, he's looking for a return on his investment. But Longhurst believes in the principle that if you build it - and make it the best you can - then they buyers will come.

Such self-belief and principle is instilled in Rodney - and his brother Tony, an Australian water-ski champion and successful V8 touring-car driver - by his father John, who built Dreamworld at Coomera after working 12-hour days with a digger for two years.

"I remember people used to say my dad is crazy and he'll never succeed," says Longhurst, adding that he's hearing the same kind of whispers about his venture now.

The big challenge ahead is returning Riviera to its former glory at a time when pleasure boating is off many people's radar. Evidently, the hundreds of boats sold each year are a thing of the past, with Riviera building just 45 boats and five Belize in the 2012-13 financial year.

It's now all about building the best boats and boosting exports. Moxey says Riviera is planning for growth and hiring again.

The new Riviera 50 Enclosed will be the centrepiece of an eight-boat display at the Sydney International Boat Show, which runs from August 1-5.

The boat has been carefully considered and the deeper level of design is sure to spark interest with Sydney's brand-loyal cruiser set. You just need a cool $1.35 million-$1.5 million, or a boat-show ticket, to get aboard.


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