Once upon a time, not so long ago, cabin RIBs were a rarity. Those that existed in the UK were limited strictly to the commercial arena. The first leisure cabin RIB I saw, some fifteen years ago now, was an impressive Italian creation built by a company called Marchi. From that moment, my interest in the breed was captured. The very idea of coupling the inherent seakeeping qualities of a RIB to the benefits of a cabin, in theory at least, seemed to form the perfect marriage.
Nevertheless, in reality whilst the combination can undoubtedly work, achieving true functionality and good ergonomics can represent a major headache for a builder/designer. The business of creating a RIB of this type throws up a multitude of issues. For example, RIBs of course, thanks to their sponsons, tend to be relatively narrow beamed craft – internally that is - so it’s quite common for deck access to the bow to be sacrificed when a cabin is added. External deck space, and in turn passenger seating, can also become a limited commodity. Additionally, height restrictions, cooking and toilet facilities and stowage all present quite a number of conundrums for the builders of such a craft.
Because most cabin RIBs, (unlike their hard boat cousins,) are bespoke craft and don’t come rolling off a large volume production line, they often carry a price tag that has to reflect their custom build status. Further to this, there have been quite a few cabin RIB designs that have never progressed beyond being airbrush drawings or CAD images. Not unreasonably, the builders responsible for them have quickly determined that the plug making and tooling costs are too mighty an investment in both man-hours and finance. Despite this though, the number of cabin RIBs being sold into this sector of the market, and the number of manufacturers actually building them, continues to grow all the time. Which brings me onto the 8 metre Aquaflyte cabin RIB pictured here. Bill Ferguson’s Aquaflyte project has been two years in the making. After acquiring the rights to his chosen sports boat hull, this newcomer to the world of RIB building set about designing, then slowly constructing, his first prototype - a six metre model with a small forward cabin. In time, sufficient orders allowed him to progress his build operation to the point he felt ready to tackle a larger project - an 8 metre version based upon the same hull design.
It’s evident that the Aquaflyte is aimed very much at the sports boat market and so has not been designed with long distance cruising in mind. Ferguson believes his boat provides those people who would perhaps be contemplating purchasing an American import for example, (a ‘hard’ cabined sports boat) an interesting alternative. It would be an opportunity to experience the advantages of a RIB, but with a fitout more closely resembling what people coming from other spheres of the boating world would be more used to.
The quality of the vessel’s fittings and components is impressive. The Aquaflyte’s stainless steel work is some of the best I have seen - very sturdy and polished to remove all evidence of welding - it’s a joy to behold. Tek-Dek decking to the large cockpit/aft deck provides comfort underfoot, and little touches like the flush mounted deck lights give the RIB strong aesthetic appeal. A canvas cockpit canopy acts as a sunshade and rain cover, and can be extended by side panels to provide a fully enclosed camper styled enclosure for the aft deck. Whilst the full enclosure is not intended for use underway, the bimini styled top section is designed for use at speed - though a more substantial means of securing it to the frame is required. At the helm, the controls and electronics are all well laid out and though the mounting of the throttle control is perhaps a little low, the concept of its position to the starboard side bulkhead works well. The steering position is good too, and there are enough handholds/grab points for the navigator. The five-panelled screen that extends around the cabin structure provides good protection and shields one effectively from any spray that might be kicked up over the side of the boat. However, being stern raked, its leading edge could represent a hazard to those at the helm if they were thrown forward in a high-speed stuffing. Whilst we are on the subject of security, the Aquaflyte’s sponson to deck height combination results in a very low gunnel. In other words, when moving about on the aft deck there is little to prevent one from falling overboard. This is a shortcoming for a RIB intended as a family boat.
The cabin is accessed by a simple folding door which is not of the same quality as the boat’s other components. It’s lightweight and just not up to the job. Inside the cabin a deep foot well in the floor’s central section affords standing room. A table can also be sited in this position. Two small single-man berths extend the full length of the cabin’s interior down either side of its shell provide a space to get your head down. A simple sea toilet could be easily added inside the cabin as could a spirit cooker and fridge be located somewhere on the aft deck. The model submitted for test was quite bare of such facilities but it’s clear that customisation would be perfectly feasible if a client so desired.
Moving onto the vessel’s outer components, the hypalon sponsons appear well made and I like the two-colour design. The white upper blends well with the RIB’s glass fibre superstructure. One design weakness is the fact that the sponson cones extend quite a long way aft of the transom. This is, no doubt, to provide additional buoyancy in the stern of the RIB. In time though, this could result in the sponsons failing, for they cannot help but be under constant stress due to the leverage applied to them as they absorb wave impact and the movement of the boat.
The Aquaflyte’s hull is much more medium-vee than deep-vee in design. Whilst I understand the Aquaflyte to be a leisure orientated sports boat, I cannot see that the medium-vee does anything other than limit the boat’s use. For any boat to be promoted as an offshore RIB in UK waters, the most fundamental requirement is that it should possess a deep-vee hull. Sea kindliness is achieved chiefly by a combination of two elements, the angle or degree of the hull’s deadrise and the length of the hull itself. If the design of a boat’s hull is lacking in one respect, then every aspect of the boat’s anatomy above the waterline is going to be marred. Take a look at many of today’s large motor cruisers – most of them little more than marina bound gin-palaces, and they are unable to successfully endure even a force five seastate in a sensible fashion! In other words, the hull forms the very foundation of a good boat. Now, in the case of the Aquaflyte, I’m not saying that it’s a bad hull as such, for apart from a little bit of slip-out at speed on a tight port lock, it handles well. But I would suggest that it’s the wrong hull for a boat of this type. I fear also that this RIB with its very flat profile and heavy fore end will stuff its nose pretty readily. In the light of this, the access to the cabin must be made water tight, the small hatch to the cabin top must be kept closed at all times when underway, and the ball valves to the transom scuppers must be kept clear of debris.
With a Suzuki 200hp this particular 8 metre boat just topped 50mph at full throttle. The Suzuki is a superb engine with plenty of ‘get up and go’ and responds with a very smooth delivery of power right through the rpm range. Besides being well suited to a whole variety of craft, it’s also an engine which, whilst being a 4-stroke, remains perfectly well suited to sports use. It is such a clean, low noise beast, that operating at low speeds even down wind of its exhaust, presents no discomfort from fumes etc for persons aboard.
So there you have it. Draw your own conclusions from my test, and I think you’ll agree the Aquaflyte 8 metre cabin RIB combines quite a complex mix of positive and negative attributes. It will be interesting to chart the progress of the range in the months and years to come.