RIBbed for fishing pleasure
There’s not much Darryl Hitchen hasn’t tried in boat fishing, but an opportunity to test out a Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat was a real eye-opener for the old sea dog.
WHEN Scotty Coghlan rang me asking if I could get a boat review done and have the copy to him by the following weekend, I thought he was pulling my leg. I was further convinced he was joking when we went on to explain that the test boat would be a Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat (or RIB). I politely reminded him that the Western Angler was in fact a fishing magazine and hence I should be reviewing a boat suitable for fishing and not something more at home as a tender to a luxury yacht or rescue vessel!
But with appeasing your editor one of the requirements of being a WAngler columnist, I agreed to get in touch with Mark Mawby from Sirocco Marine Perth, the WA agents for BRIG inflatable boats. Mark had recently set-up a BRIG Navigator 700 as a project fishing boat and had been using it with success along the Mid-West coast and we agreed on a mid-morning catch up to take his rig for a run.
BRIG inflatable boats are designed and built in Europe by a team headed up by a team of ex-military aeronautical engineers. BRIG is now the biggest manufacturer of inflatable boats worldwide, turning out an incredible 5000 boats last year ranging from tiny tenders up to state-of-the-art eight-metre RIBs.
Rapid Inflatable Boats are the end result of marrying a deep-vee fibreglass hull to Hypalon inflatable tubes fixed around the perimeter of the hull. The foam-filled solid glass hull is reinforced with Kevlar stringers for added strength whilst the use of UV resistant Hypalon greatly increases the durability of the tubes.
According to Mark, there are several important advantages of RIBs over more conventional power boats. Firstly, they are significantly lighter than similar-sized fibreglass or ali’ boats, making towing and launching that much easier. Secondly, the use of five separate air compartments in the Hypalon tubes makes the boats virtually unsinkable, even when all compartments are deflated!
The incredibly sharp entry of the fibreglass hull combined with the buoyancy provided by the inflatable tubes also offer unrivalled rough water performance and fantastic stability at rest. On top of this their extra buoyancy gives RIBs extremely heavy payloads compared to traditional-style hulls. But how do they stack up as a fishing boat?
While the Navigator series of the BRIG range is the workhorse of the fleet and the boats most suitable for fishing, they are still very well appointed and finished off. Our test boat, the 700 (7m in length) is the largest in the series, with BRIG also producing smaller 610,570 and 520 models. There is a wide range of hulls and configurations available.
The Navigator 700 is essentially a standard centre-console configuration, even though the console is offset to the starboard side of the boat allowing for easy access along the port side. The centre console is wide enough to protect three people standing side by side, with protection coming from the console itself and a low-profile windscreen. Overhead is a custom made Bimini top housing the radio aerials, nav lights and rod holders. Not only is the large Bimini very practical, but it also looks the part with the ali’ tube's black powdercoated finish. Because of the offset location of the console, the helm position itself is on the left side of the console, but in the middle of the boat. The all-round vision while driving is excellent, and it's comfortable either standing up or seated on the padded bolster seat. Foot wells for comfort and a pair of gloveboxes to store those fiddly items finish off the console nicely.
The big 250hp Suzuki four-stroke sits in a conventional outboard well with a retractable stainless ladder on one side of the boat. A rear lounge with storage underneath sits directly in front of the outboard well whilst above the padded backrest sits the rear fishing rail. This can be customised to suit with the addition of a bait board or extra rod holders. Big self-draining scuppers in each rear corner of the deck add to the safety features of the Navigator.
In front of the centre console is more seating cum storage, with the seat lifting up to reveal a large ice-box. Behind the backrest a lockable hatch enables entry into the console itself, which would be the perfect spot to store your safety gear out of the way.
Towards the bow of the boat there’s a step-up anchor locker that would swallow plenty of anchor rope and chain. It also provides easy access to pull the anchor, or might just be the perfect spot for fishos to cast their stickbaits from.
One of the few styles of boats I hadn’t been on was a RIB, and after reading so much about their incredible ride and performance, I was looking forward to putting one through its paces.
Leaving the marina as the morning easterly continued to build, we were confronted by a short, sharp chop which Mark assured me wouldn’t worry the boat at all. As he gently touched the throttle of the big four-stroke and we slowly accelerated, one of the Navigator’s first noticeable traits was its effortless transition from displacement speed up onto the plane, with virtually no ‘getting over the hump’ experienced at all.
The boat was up and easily planing at 11 knots and 1500RPM, while 20 knots had the tacho showing 3000RPM, and 3500 revs saw us at our very comfortable cruising speed of 25 knots. As Mark eased open the throttle we quickly hit 32 knots at 4000RPM, before he told me to “hang on” and we were quickly doing over 45 knots (in under five seconds), the quickest I’ve ever been on a boat. Zero to 40 knots in less than five second is pretty impressive!
At a cruising speed of 25 knots, the Suzuki was quietly sipping around 25 litres per hour, giving the big RIB a very impressive range of some 340 nautical miles. Handling wise, the Navigator 700 lived up to its pedigree and delivered an exceptional performance in the choppy conditions. We simply glided over the waves and went into incredibly tight turns at speed with ease, the air tubes keeping the boat almost flat during the turns.
Despite the boat being relatively open to the elements, we stayed completely dry during the sea trial despite our best efforts to do otherwise. Any spray produced by the hull simply hit the wide air tubes and was deflected downwards away from us.
Although we didn’t actually wet a line, after spending the morning aboard the Navigator 700, I’ve got no doubt that one of these boats could become an absolute fishing weapon. It could get you almost anywhere offshore safely and in comfort, and its excellent stability at rest and generous payload would allow five anglers to easily fish down one side while drifting with very little list.
There’s a reasonable amount of useable deck space and plenty of storage available for your rods and tackle. The test boat featured the latest Simrad touchscreen electronics to help find the fish, and there’s plenty of room for the popper-chucking brigade. There’s a large ice box beneath the helm seat to store your catch, and the boat’s exceptional ride and long-range capabilities would easily put you amongst them at places like the Abrolhos Islands and even the Montes.
I guess the potential downside could be the perceived vulnerability of the inflatable tubes. But as Mark pointed out, the durability of inflatable boats is well proven by their use as workboats by naval and sea rescue groups throughout the world. The fact is that the tubes are expected to last around 20 years and are claimed to be as resistant to penetration as most aluminium dinghies.
There’s no doubting the Navigator 700 is an incredible boat, in fact it’s one of the best rigs I’ve ever had the pleasure to skipper. It certainly changed my way of thinking about the virtues of RIBs as potential fishing boats. Granted it doesn’t come cheap, but then again what price do you put on an unsinkable rig that will get you out there and back quicker and more comfortably than anything else of the same size on the market ?
Sure, you might be wise to leave your gaff at home in favour of an extra-large landing net, although on the plus side you won’t ever have to worry about your snapper sinkers damaging the side of your boat again!
FACTS AND FIGURES
- Overall Length: 7 metres
- Max. beam: 2.8 metres
- Tube diameter: 58cm
- Chambers: 5
- Weight of hull: 700kg
- Horsepower range: 115-225hp
- Fuel capacity: 340 litres
- Total weight: 1350kg
- Load capacity: 1800kg
- Price: From $96,000; as tested $125,000
Review boat supplied by Sirocco Marine Perth; 309 South Terrace, South Fremantle; (08) 9467 4414; www.siroccomarineperth.com.au