Rolls-Royce has been planning another venture into luxury yachts. Last time it got into a deal with Riva, bought by its then-owner Vickers for £9.1 million but it didn’t survive the 1998 change in proprietorship. Then last November Rolls-Royce announced the 62metre Crystal Blue with hybrid propulsion using LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) and battery power. This is planned to have a composite or aluminium hull and Rolls-Royce’s hybrid LNG/battery SAVe-CUBE system. This has twin 16V4000 MTU M65-N generator sets working in parallel with a battery bank providing 1MWh of genset-free power in port. Two light-weight carbon Azipull thrusters provide a maximum service speed of 20 knots.
LNG apparently is fine for commercial vessels but big fuel tanks and a shortage of gas filling stations at sea makes it problematic for yachts. Henrik Alpo Sjöblom, project manager for Rolls-Royce Blue Ocean explained: “Burning LNG has advantages over marine diesel oil for yachts. There is no smoke, it doesn’t emit unpleasant odours or fumes and meets emissions regulations allowing yachts to enter prohibited ecologically sensitive waters.”
SUNDAY TIMES: 26 August 1990
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has not taken to the boats, but its parent, Vickers, has. The Italian boatbuilder Riva was "aligned" with the car maker in January, "To provide the best in both motoring and boating," and build what are called Grand Yachts at a new boatyard in Savona, near Genoa. Cantieri Riva S.p.A. made 65 luxury motor boats last year to what Rolls-Royce calls qualities of craftsmanship and design similar to its own. Unfortunately its boatyard, founded in 1842 is at Sarnico on Lake Iseo 50 miles north of Milan, so it can only build vessels that fit under motorway bridges between there and the coast.
Driving a Riva Coral 46ft (14.15m) with two 425hp Cummins diesels turned out not unlike driving a Rolls-Royce except it was not easy to be unobtrusive. Clear of the harbour the deep exhaust noise of the engines must have been audible a long way off.
The Riva planes across water at a lusty 30 knots and gulps about a gallon of low-tax marine diesel every mile. Fuel capacity is 286 gallons, good for some 10 hours' cruising at 2,600rpm, about 400 revs short of top speed.
Still, fuel consumption is unlikely to be important for an owner paying 1,030,000,000 Lire, around £468,182 for the basic glass fibre hull and only standard equipment. This includes everything from a stainless steel anchor and chain to Riva tee-shirts. It does not include air conditioning at 30,000,000 Lire (£13,636), or a sofa convertible into a double bed with pillows, bed sheets, and pillow cases at 5,000,000 (£2,273).
"The difference between a Mediterranean boat like a Riva and the kind you see in the Hamble," explained the man from Rolls-Royce, "Is that people don't expect to live on a Riva." What was the double bed for then? "Our owners might like an afternoon nap," he explained.
Rolls-Royce has liason engineers at Riva now, looking at a range of boats that extends from the traditional hand-made 29ft mahogany Aquarama Special capable of 44 knots, to the 60ft Corsaro built in glass fibre, with luxurious accommodation. Prices vary from £175,000 to £1,500,000.
The Coral has an impressive list of extras; everything from Riva crystal glasses and monogrammed fitted cutlery to a speedometer repeater on the flying bridge. It was fun up there, sending salt spray soaring in the turbulent wake and discovering how even a big boat like this leans over obediently on corners like a motorcycle.
It was easy to become boisterous on the wide open Solent, almost within sight of Sir Henry Royce's old West Wittering home, where he lived and worked with engineers up to his death in April 1933. While I was enjoying the open-air flying bridge the ascetic Royce would have liked the discreet way the professional ship master remained in the glazed cockpit below. Fully in control at his own wheel, like a driving instructor in a dual control car, he could ensure the safety and well-being of yachties racing in Cowes Week.