November 26, 2020
People & Places

Smooth sailing

It’s been described as “a six-star hotel on water” and, for this lucky couple, luxury cruising on their $2 million motor yacht is just part of the everyday.

For most of us, it’s the stuff of daydreams — walk outside the front door and jump on board our luxury multi-million-dollar yacht, before cruising out into the crystal blue waters, following the sun.

But this luxurious lifestyle is no dream for Russell Bianco and fiancée Gabriella Gabbana. For this duo, it is their everyday life.

The couple owns a Riviera 52-Foot Flybridge Enclosed motor yacht, valued at around $2 million. They purchased the breathtaking boat three years ago and named it Majesnik, derived from the names of Russell’s three children, Nick, Jessica and Marcus.

“We have the boat parked right out the front of our house in Port Lincoln, so any time we want to go for a cruise we walk down the ramp, jump on the boat and head straight out. We can be out in five minutes,” says Russell.

“There are lots of little islands around Port Lincoln, it’s a boating paradise for South Australian boaters.” 

The couple, who both love fishing, enjoy exploring the islands off the coast of their Port Lincoln home, as well as venturing further out to sea.

Today, however, the couple is moored at Holdfast Shores, spending time in Adelaide to catch up with friends and family.

They were meant to be floating around Australian waters this winter, around the Kimberley coast, but COVID-19 put a stop to that. So, in the meantime, the couple is happy to cruise local waters at their leisure.

“We’ve just been living on the boat, travelling to Robe, then we went up to Port MacDonnell, then back to Adelaide, then up to Ceduna,” Russell says. “If we like somewhere, we just pull up and have lunch at the local pub, we did that at Marion Bay recently. We love just travelling around South Australia, meeting other people on boats, it’s such a sociable lifestyle.”

Gabriella describes the boat as “a six-star hotel on water”, and the opulence is evident as soon as you step onboard — from the glossy wooden interior to the fully-equipped kitchen, leather lounges and luxury cabins, which include the master suite, another queen cabin and a twin single.

Gabriella says her father always had boats when she was growing up and she honed her fishing skills on family holidays to the Yorke Peninsula.

Gabriella grew up boating, so is more than capable of pulling her weight when it comes to driving, manoeuvring and looking after the couple’s beloved Riviera motor yacht.

“I was the only girl with three brothers, so it was always a luxury for me to get on the boat. Because I was the girl, I usually had to stay at home,” she says. “So now I’m the one pushing Russell to take the boat out more often because I love the water and I love fishing.

“Being out at sea, it’s ever-changing, as someone once said to us you never see the same piece of water twice. We have the advantage of having this beautiful boat to be able to enjoy it all.”

One of Gabriella’s recent catches was a 58-centimetre whiting, and she says she and Russell always eat fresh fish when they are out on the boat, enjoyed with a crisp white wine, of course.

“Whether it’s King George whiting or up near Queensland the big Spanish mackerel, or trout, we love cooking them up on the boat’s barbeque or pan-frying them,” she says.

“We’ve even made seafood sausage out on the boat just for something different,” Russell adds.

It is an enviable lifestyle of freedom for the duo, who work well as a team operating their first-class craft, getting it in and out of port, and keeping it in pristine condition.

Another of the postcard-perfect photos of the Riviera anchored at Middleton Reef 400 nautical miles off the coast of New South Wales.

Russell says he bought into the “Riviera family” about 15 years ago and has never looked back, upgrading models over the years.

“Riviera is Australia’s luxury motor yacht, built in Queensland,” he says. “The finishes are just second-to-none, world class, immaculate. The service is also incredible, they do actually call it the Riviera family and the company put on events all around Australia, so you socialise and meet other boaties who also enjoy the travelling. It is a great community.

“After we purchased the boat, we spent two weeks on it in the Gold Coast just to get a feel for it, then we headed to Hamilton Island, then from there came back to the Gold Coast, before heading out on our big New Zealand trip.”

The New Zealand trip last year was a huge undertaking for the couple, even though they have vast experience out on the water. They decided to do the voyage in two sections – first to Lord Howe Island and then on to New Zealand and Opua on the east coast. All up it was 1200 nautical miles and took more than 100 hours, often through rough seas.

The couple are mindful about how fortunate they are to travel and enjoy life on their $2 million vessel, surrounded by safety and five-star comfort.

Russell and Gabriella had planned on doing six-hour shifts at the helm, but at times Russell was struck down with seasickness.

“The start of the trip was probably the worst for me because I hadn’t been on the boat for a month before we left because we were waiting for the weather to come good,” Russell says.

“In the first few hours I started getting a bit seasick so I went to lay down in bed and Gabriella drove for almost a whole day. I’d given her the ‘big talk’ before we left that we’d need to share the load and she’d need to lift her weight – and then she drove for almost 24 hours straight. So, she shut me up pretty quickly. We are very much a team when it comes to life on the boat. You have to be.”

The Majesnik boasts everything you could want in a luxury home: dishwasher, fridges, freezers, satellite television, heating and cooling, washing machine and dryer, en suite and plenty of space to lounge around. There is, of course, also state-of-the-art navigation equipment, all wrapped up in elegant finishes and trimmings.

“We also have Foxtel and the internet,” Russell says. “I’d say the only thing we can’t have is an open fire on the boat. But we have a little boat attached to the front, so we can take that to shore; on a cold night we’ll start a camp fire and cook dinner on the beach and watch the sunset.”

The couple undertook the huge challenge of sailing to New Zealand. They are pictured here in Maunganui Bay in the Bay of Islands, North Island.

But it is when they are out in the middle of the big blue together, anchored and isolated, that the reality of this idyllic life really sinks in.

“It does feel luxurious when you are sitting in the middle of the ocean, 400 nautical miles off the coast in a place such as Elizabeth Reef where only a couple of hundred people have been and there isn’t anyone there,” Russell says.

“You are by yourselves anchored in the middle of the ocean; just crystal-clear water, it’s beautiful. It’s just an amazing feeling.”

For Russell, living this luxury boating dream has been a lifelong ambition, years in the making.

The 48-year-old started his working life as a bricklayer before forming his own company, Bianco Precast. After many years, he went on to buy into the family business, Bianco Construction and Industrial Supplies, when his father Nick ran into financial difficulties.

While he still oversees facets of his business interests, Russell leaves the day-to-day running to his management team.

The couple enjoys the finer things in life onboard the Majesnik, a name derived from the names of Russell’s children. ”We love entertaining and taking our friends out,” Russell says. “We know how fortunate we are.”

“I’m very fortunate to have the right people in the right places in the company,” he says. “It’s not me, it’s the team behind you who keep making it flourish.”

Having retired five years ago, Russell estimates he and Gabriella have spent 50 per cent of their time on the Majesnik since they bought it.

“Before I retired, I spent nowhere near that amount of time on my other boats, so it’s great to have a boat like this and actually get to use it a lot,” he says. “We love entertaining and taking friends out. But we do pinch ourselves. We know how fortunate we are to be able to do this and we are always mindful of that.”

While they love swimming and snorkelling, the couple says they’re a bit hesitant to dive in too much these days.

“Since we moved to Port Lincoln a few years ago, everyone there has put the fear of the shark into us,” Russell says. “There’s always talk about the great whites and ‘Don’t jump in, you’re crazy’. I think we’ve just been brainwashed now.”

Russell says he has had boats since the age of 16 and has gradually progressed to bigger boats over the years.

“I started with a trailer boat and went bigger and bigger every five or six years, as I could afford it,” he says. “Boating is just my driving passion — I worked hard just so I could buy bigger boats.”

He admits he has now got his eye on a 64-foot Riviera and the couple will be going up to Queensland to test drive the luxurious vessel.

“Being on your own luxury motor yacht, it’s not just a boat, it’s our home,” Russell says. “You have everything you need onboard and then you can pull into a different town and you get new neighbours at the ports each time you stop. If you like the town you stay for a while and socialise; it is such a great lifestyle on a yacht.”

As she pours the Champagne and soaks up the sea views, Gabriella captures the mood perfectly: “Life on the boat is everything you would have at home but with a 360-degree, ever-changing view. We’re very lucky.” 


This story first appeared in the September 2020 issue of SALIFE magazine.


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