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Offshore adventures aboard a Riviera 525 SUV in California

by Riviera Australia 6 May 10:28 UTC

Pinning down Lance Merker for a chat is no mean feat. The Merker family's Riviera 525 SUV gives them the offshore capability to be conveniently out of phone range for the better part of each week.

Based in Ventura, California, the nearby Channel Islands provide a marine playground for Lance, his wife Caroline and their son Kyle.

In the year-and-a-half since the family took possession of Caroline 2.0 they have clocked nearly 3,500 nautical miles (nm), 1,500 hours on the generator and 400 engine hours.

"I recently retired, which has helped to get those numbers up," says Lance. "We go to the islands nearly every week for several days. In winter we're lobster diving and in summer we're spearfishing - white sea bass, yellowtail kingfish, snapper - and we have some beautiful surf breaks out on the islands. They're hard to get to so it's uncrowded and spectacular."

The eight-island archipelago boasts a rich marine ecosystem extending over 225nm north from Santa Barbara to southern Los Angeles. A marine sanctuary encompasses five of the Channel Islands, which are also a haven for an array of seabirds and endemic land-dwelling fauna including the Island Fox that's found nowhere else on Earth. Back in the blue, Pacific grey whales, blue whales, humpbacks and sea lions breed and feed around the islands, finding refuge in giant kelp forests. All this, and less than 30nm away from Ventura, which is why two years ago the family decided to upgrade from the 26-foot cabin cruiser they'd enjoyed for two decades, Caroline 1.0.

Watch the Merkers' video of their exploration of the Channel Islands

“I knew I’d be retiring and I’d be able to spend more time with my wife and son,” says Lance. “So, we looked for a larger class motor yacht, something more substantial that my wife and son could enjoy with friends, and something that would give us more range so we could spend longer at sea.”

“What really attracted us to the Riviera SUV is that it had all the capabilities we were after: the speed and range to be able to visit all the Channel Islands comfortably, and the ability to fish, dive and surf.”

When Experience magazine finally managed to catch up with Lance, he’d just returned from a five-day trip covering five islands and 300nm.

We love the speed and the ability to cruise comfortably at 25 knots,” says Lance. “We have the Volvo Penta IPS2-950 drives, which are super manageable and fuel-efficient. The 925-gallon diesel tank gives us a range of around 350nm at that speed – we could slow down and do more miles, but we like to get there fast and enjoy our destination.”

This offshore performance is ideal to access the islands, but it’s the large boarding platform and especially the cockpit that the Merkers love most: it’s their living-working-playing area and where they spend most of their time.

“Riviera is one of the few boats in its class, perhaps the only one, to offer the kind of cockpit we needed to accommodate our aquatic lifestyle. Our diving, spearfishing, fishing and surfing activities are all made possible by the water-level deck and submersible swim platform that together make up a monster-size cockpit.”

“The centre storage locker holds all our dive gear and our spearguns stow perfectly under the forward-facing rear lounge seat. We ice and store fish in the two massive fish boxes, enjoy meals alfresco at the teak dining table, which beautifully matches the teak deck and swim platform, shower at the transom when we come out of the water from a dive, and keep the double transom doors open to extend the cockpit workspace to the full extent of the swim platform.”

“Riviera’s SUV cockpits are unique from all other boats we looked at and were one of the biggest selling points for our family.”

Lance says Caroline 2.0 has surpassed the family’s expectations and what has really taken them by surprise is how much they relish preparing exotic meals.

“We enjoy fresh sea urchin and fresh mussels; we barbecue kelp and add it to salads or pickle it and add it to sandwiches for a crunchy alternative. We’ve tried all sorts of interesting ways to cook seafood and love spending time on the boat preparing it.”

“The galley’s back window opens up the mezzanine area and the barbecue is just there…we cook for hours on the boat! We just jump in the water to get something that we’ve forgotten – it’s incredible to be able to do that. We never thought of doing any of this before, but now we can really slow down and enjoy time at the islands as if we lived there, on a luxurious yacht that makes it all the more comfortable.”

The liveability of the Caroline 2.0 is enhanced by featuring a slightly wider beam than most of the other boats the family looked at. It brings more volume to the ‘beautifully appointed’ interior and extra stability at sea.

“We spend a lot of time in the open ocean at anchorage and surfing breaks around the island. So, we love the additional stability of the Seakeeper, which we leave on 24 hours a day. With the Seakeeper running we can make a gourmet meal, sit at dinner and the wine doesn’t even move inside the glass!”

Also, with the generator running 24/7 there is the added perk of having more fresh water than they can shake a stick at.

“In southern California fresh water is scarce and is actually in crisis. On the boat though we use it like it’s free! It’s a fantastic luxury to have the ability to make fresh water all the time. We keep the tanks topped up and the water tastes fantastic.”

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