When Willk told me that I needed to be in Easdale at 09:30 on Saturday I was confused. Further enquiry revealed it was to unveil the offspring of my last visit to meet him. (Admin Team have a Day Off
). I was concerned. Just what had I done in Harry’s Bar that lunch time that I had blanked from my memory?
However it turned out that the stork had brought a new style of cabin RIB to Redbay and Willk and Donegaldan had been tasked with taking it for a “shakedown cruise” to make sure that any snags or niggles were ironed out before its proud new owner officially took delivery. Willk has largely told you the rest above, but of course we all know that Willk is under some sort of spell from the witches of Cushendall that has made him besotted by anything from the world of Redbay Boats – so I thought for those of you that didn’t see her in person it might be interesting to get a “more independent” view point.
First impressions are that she doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen from Redbay. Indeed some people have suggested that parts of her appearance were more in common with a “south coast RIB” than the traditional function first approach that seems to come out of Northern Ireland. She is however based on the hull mould from the 1050 (‘the Beast’ for regular readers).
Arriving late I threw my stuff aboard which was quickly moved into the cavernous console/cabin whilst I made my apologies and then received my safety briefing. She was big! But unlike the 11m Redbay I had the luck to travel on a few years before, this felt more like a ‘normal’ rib than a small ferry! My late arrival meant we were last to leave, but we had soon caught up with rest of the pack. This was Scotland in May on an open boat so I had donned my flotation suit which normally does a good job of keeping off the spray and wind. It was soon clear though that the massive console does a very good job of protecting the crew and perhaps most astonishing you could actually have a conversation with your shipmates at 30 knots relatively easily, over the wind and engine noise. We were following a course down the West side of Jura plotted out on the twin plotters which Donegaldan had been faffing around with when I arrived.
Soon after the Corrywreckan, Willk handed me the controls and we were amongst the pack of RIBs of all shapes, sizes and colours heading for West Loch Tarbet. She was stable and comfortable in the multiple wakes of the various boats around us, but I hadn’t got used to the effortless throttle control yet so after a little while I cut a little further from the coast to clear water and I felt Willk relax that he was now less likely to go back and explain to Tom that he had let me drive and done something terrible to the boat! We picked our way into Loch Tarbet around some rocks and followed the leading lines that were reassuringly matching up with the chart plotter and the marks on the hillside. I handed her back to Willk as we got towards the really tricky bit and even he decided it wasn’t worth the risk as we watched Tony Hill trim up his outboards to pass through what another boat reported to be less than 5 ft of water. There was it seems a downside to a big diesel rib - draft.
The passage continued towards Craighouse when we got caught in brief but heavy rain shower. The lads produced Geckos from storage in the cabin and these were duly put on – and whilst they kept the head warm and dry when seated on the five jockey seats you were protected enough from the wind that the real problem of rain on an rib – the stinging in the face at 30 knots was not there anyway. When finished the boat will have a canopy that pulls down from the a-frame and clips to the top of the screen. That should make the Geckos totally unnecessary, and I can imagine will open up the cruising opportunities, to people who don’t have dry suit and helmet fetishes!
By the time we arrived at Craighouse for lunch the sun had come out. Preparing to tie up alongside was my first attempt at getting to the bow, and what had looked like it might be a treacherous balancing act over the tubes and round the console was actually fine – helped by uncluttered tubes and numerous solid and well thought out handholds.
As the rest of the fleet caught up it was clear that the boat was attracting attention, and ever the unofficial Redbay marketing machine Willk was offering tours of the boat! Many people were interested in the cabin, and what secrets it held. The answer was simple – not much! But there was space for two people to lie down (over 6ft long) and when complete would carry a chemical toilet for those who don’t like to perch over the side! This may be just as well because with the engine bay at the back and the voluminous tubes at the side it could be precarious! The cabin was fully lined/carpeted on the walls and fake-teaked on the floor so it didn’t feel like you had just got lost in a giant console. There was however still access to the back of all the electronics through a hatch/removable panel which should make it easy for the Redbay team when they get round to finishing the wiring off! A hatch forward provides light and ventilation, whilst the neat little door (“fuller figured” buyers may want to spec something different) seemed to be a practical but effective approach. In hot weather with both open there should be a cooling breeze, and prevent the build up of nasty smells!
All in all, the cabin is practical rather than luxurious. It basically will give about as much room as a family sized "3 man" tent. I doubt many people spending that sort of money are actually going to spend many nights in there - but if you happened to find yourself in a port with no room for the night or anchored in a remote bay it would certainly be easier than pitching a tent.
Eventually it was time to leave Craighouse and the new owner had asked for some pictures that could be used on their website (the boat is to be commercially coded) and so Donegaldan was left on Scottish Diver’s rib with the Camera and Willk and I set off. The sun was definitely out and Willk donned his sunglasses and sunscreen, and we decided not to bother with the flotation suits. It says something for the shelter behind the console when you can comfortably wear just a t-shirt behind it at 38 knots.
Now more confident with the fly-by-wire throttle I opened her up and was impressed not only with the hole shot for such a big boat but also the feeling that you were still ‘in touch’ with what was going on. I found the throttle wasn't quite the perfect height for me when standing - but I'm guessing Redbay would make it made to measure for me if I was paying! She handled cornering well – although not as sharply as my usual 3.9m craft! Some tuition from Willk in how to use the Trim Tabs and when I turned back to go and get the rest of the field she was turning nicely with the inside tube griping the water firmly. This was a pretty calm day and the only real waves were wakes from other boats but she felt reassuring and sure footed. She’s not as beamy as some of the other big Redbay’s and so inevitably rolls around from side to side a little bit more – but that is a trade off for manoeuvrability, and the power that it takes to shove it through the water.
We followed Scottish Diver into Crinan to pick up Donegaldan, and were treated to a drink at the hotel before our return to Easdale. We tied up alongside Redbay 10, a very similar length wheelhouse cabin rib with twin diesels. The contrast between the boats was interesting. Although they both come from the same stable the 950-E is clearly an attempt at something a bit different – perhaps more targeted at the consumer market? For very long distance relaxed cruising Redbay 10 was clearly the ideal boat, after all, a couple could quite comfortably live aboard her for a week or more but Endurance was trying to offer the compromise between sporty open boat and sure footed comfort.
Having retrieved Donegaldan and heading back to Easdale I pondered whether they have got it right, or if she was a compromise too far. Redbay’s marketing slogan is “for when you must go to sea” and for that market their fully enclosed cabins are going to be hard to beat, but for most RIBnet-ers we don’t go out that often in horrendous weather. However for many of the Redbay typical customers around Ireland and Scotland, and even the rest of the UK, the conditions can change quickly and some shelter and protection is certainly reassuring. Knowing that this boat would get you back from the Scottish Islands or over to Ireland in almost any conditions would be a great reassurance and open up wider cruising grounds. Knowing that it could do it in relative comfort could make the difference between using the boat occasionally and doing it regularly.
The comfort of not needing to don a dry suit to go for a blast up the coast and a nice lunch either at anchor or a rural hostelry must also appeal to many a potential customer – especially as we age a little or bring along less rugged partners. Yet in a standing position the wind is in your hair and you have that open and exposed cockpit feeling that blasts away the worries (or your hangover). The seating would work well with families and the extended sides of the console provide reassuring enclosure as well as protection from the elements. Inevitably as with its butcher brother the engine bay takes up a lot of space, but you could fit a small tender there and given its “Beast pedigree” an outboard option would be possible for those not worried about the fuel bill or availability of dockside petrol. One key advantage of this boat over it cousin though is that it is road legal for towing. For many people that might be the deciding factor.
It certainly opens up another interesting option on the Redbay menu. Whether it is sufficiently different or has enough brand following to compete with the console-cabin offerings available on the south coast will remain to be seen, but I’m interested to see what Willk is bringing to Easdale 2015!