|Humber is one of the longest established RIB companies in the business. Their Attaque hull, originally named the Apple, was responsible for the company branching out of the pure inflatable boat market back in the early 1970s and embarking on a program of new builds involving what became known as, ‘the rigid inflatable boat’. In time, this new product became responsible for the launch of an entire range - one that would become inextricably linked with dive clubs and divers the nation over. Tough, workmanlike and attractively priced, Humber built a reputation based on value for money boats that could carry heavy loads, take a few knocks and bangs and get their passengers home safely if the weather turned. In a desire to keep the range moving forward, the company utilised several different hull designs over the years, with the result that the Attaque design, though never dropped completely, was not pushed to the fore. Until, that is, it experienced something of a rebirth in 2002 when it resurfaced in a modified form as the Ocean Pro.|
When Paul Lemmer, one of the key men responsible for the launch of the original Attaque hull, (see yellow box) met up with Frank Roffee, Humber’s MD, at RIBEX 2002, they found themselves reminiscing over the old days and specifically about the attributes of the company’s first RIB hull. “You know Paul”, said Frank, in his husky northern accent, “that hull, after all this time, is still the best hull we did ą we’ve never really bettered it!” Both men laughed about the irony of it, about the first still being the best, and how improvement doesn’t necessarily follow age. Sure, what stands above the waterline may have come on along way, but the design of the essential ‘undercarriage’ has, it seems, not been bettered. Little wonder then that the company chose to reintroduce this successful design for the launch of the (then) new Ocean Pro range, and have recently made strides toward launching a special Attaque Classic model in recognition of its undying popularity.
I was then interested to learn that at their UK launch, Suzuki were demonstrating the all new 4-stroke engines on the transom of a 7 metre Humber Ocean Pro. A RIB that featured a 21st century version of the original Attaque hull.
The Humber 7 metre Ocean Pro is a serious looking beast with definite commercial leanings. These are reflected in the high bow, tough fender straking, heavy-duty arch mast, large diameter scuppers and its quintessential sit-astride jockey seats. Nevertheless, this is a model which has been given something of a reworking, thus extending its appeal to the more serious minded private owner who may wish to extend his ribbing horizons to foreign shores. The Ocean Pro may not be a pretty boat, but it certainly wouldn’t go unnoticed in the confines of a busy marina.
The item that dominates this RIB, both visually and from a sheer space point of view is, without question, the helm console. The internal length of the boat totals 5.7 metres and the full depth of the console measures just under 1 metre; this unit therefore takes up about 1/6th of the boat’s overall internal length. Being 1.2 metres in width, the room available to pass either side of the unit makes for a bit of squeeze with less than 50mm to spare. This latest console design from Humber possesses something of a 1970’s retro look in my view. It’s probably one of the most substantial of its kind on the market at present and allows a truly huge amount of room for all manner of electronic wizardry to be fitted. Its design would likely prove highly beneficial to commercial operators involved with underwater survey work or wreck divers who often require multiple large screen electronic instrumentation to carry out their work. For most peoples’ needs though, its design strikes me as being perhaps unnecessarily large. It has clearly been styled to provide a ‘racy’ edge to the boat’s otherwise traditional appearance, and in many respects it achieves this aim. Importantly, it does provide a comfortable and ergonomically sound wheel and throttle position - one that allows the helmsman to feel in command of the boat even in adverse conditions. Due to the console’s design, the screen is set a little too far forward for the maximum protection benefit, and perhaps its wind shielding properties are reduced as a consequence.
The RIB’s jockey pods are sculptured in the sense their seat sections are hollow shaped and contoured to provide a seat well suited to rough water or extended journeying. The only criticism I have is that they could be much more generously padded. Twice as much padding would be about the amount required I reckon ą and what a difference to the RIB’s overall comfort such a relatively small improvement would make. Coupled to foot straps on deck, the seat backs are of a suitable height to help provide the necessary support by which one can stand if a change of position is preferred. The stainless steel frames on the backs of seats in turn make good handholds for the crewmembers sat/stood behind.
Up in the forepeak, you’ll find a samson post, an anchor locker accessed via a hatch with internal drain, and even a detachable bow cushion for lounging in the sun!
In the stern of the vessel there is approximately half a metre or so of room between the rear seats and the transom. Of course, if the boat were fitted out with just two seating pods, much more deck space could be made available. This might be a requirement if the RIB was going to be used as a dive boat where bottle storage and room for kitting up is usually essential.
The deck to this boat is finished with sprayed flowcoat over marine ply - very smooth indeed. This allows for easy customisation on the part of the owner although when drilling a deck of this type, it is always prudent to seal all screw holes with Sikaflex to stop any water getting into the core of the deck material. The scuppering is handled through elephant trunks which are fed via a deck port just ahead of the transom. This can be accessed internally by simply lifting the deck panel which protects the electric bilge pumps located within. It’s all quite neat and appears to make for a system capable of shifting moderate amounts of green water reasonably quickly.
The stern arch is fashioned out of 51mm rolled stainless steel and rounded in design to provide an element of finesse. Like the remaining 25mm stainless throughout the rest of the vessel’s fittings, it’s certainly strongly made with the stern arch being more than able to provide a secure mounting for storage canisters, aerials, searchlights and the suchlike. Like a lot of RIBs of this sort, the addition of this stern arch provides the obligatory finishing touch to the traditional marine 4x4.
Stowage aboard this particular model is not that extensive, but nonetheless can be found within the seat pods and within the main console. Besides the various wet lockers in the seat modules, only the main console affords true dry storage (NB. waterproof as opposed to watertight) but if one wanted more, then as in the case of any specific customer requirements, Humber do have the ability to customise accordingly. The popular alternative of course for many people on a boat of this type is to simply use dry bags that can be lashed down in the forepeak.
The standard of build appears sound, well executed and the grade of materials, including the hypalon tubes, are all of good quality. It’s clear even though this brand of boat remains one of the most keenly priced on the market; the company are trying hard to move away from being simply seen as a producer of dive boats.
The Suzuki 250hp is a very, very nice engine indeed. Almost silent on idle, it then transforms into a throaty beast when the revs are cranked up. At full bore it has a touch of TVR about it with a very smooth but sure power delivery that guarantees immediate acceleration from any throttle position. This is state of the art 4-stroke outboard engineering at its best. Being the most powerful outboard of its type in the world, it is of course beautifully suited to the 7m+ RIB bracket where power, fuel economy, reliability and now in recent years, clean burning characteristics, have become the watch words both the industry and the public have come to expect. With 4 persons up and 200 litres of fuel swishing about her removable (sound idea) and heavily reinforced underdeck s/s tank, trimmed out with the throttle on the stops, she pulled 300/400 revs just short of full and showed just under 60mph on the GPS.
The RIB ran as straight as a die down the flat and remained stable even when pushed on the limit of speed and trim. The hull gripped the water impeccably, enabling great cornering which further added to the thoroughly wind-in-the-hair sports experience. However, though the boat performed without fault on flat water, when taken out across the shingle bank into the rough, the ride was less impressive. The balance of the boat was wrong resulting in her feeling stern heavy/bow light. When pointing her head to sea, even when fully trimmed in, she flew her nose wildly which meant, at best, the boat could only be nursed through the seas. Let me state that I know for a fact that there is nothing wrong with this hull, it is excellent - no question of it. The fault here lay in the rigging of the boat. To be fair to the builder, I suspect that the boat was prepared with an untried outboard, hurriedly, for the purpose of Southampton Boat Show and the subsequent Suzuki launch. What was needed was for the console to be shifted forward by a good margin and perhaps consideration given to having the transom rake increased. This latter point would then allow the engine leg to be trimmed in further. Other items such as the fuel tank etc could then also be moved forward. It just goes to show how sensitive a comparatively small boat can be to weight distribution and how important it is when trialing a craft, to do so in a variety of sea-states if at all possible.
Back in 1978, two of my closest friends, Tony and Bella Coville, won the prestigious Rouen 24 hour powerboat race in a single seater sportsboat powered by a 75hp OBM. This particular race was memorable for the fact that it was the roughest in its long history, with gale force winds funnelling up the Seine creating almost ‘offshore’ conditions for the competitors. Against all the odds, Tony and Bella, in their 15ft wooden sportsboat and a ‘never say die’ attitude, beat the World’s top teams.
The boat was a ‘one off’ wooden craft called a Bluefin. It was designed and built in a tiny ‘back street’ workshop in the Midlands by Ron Wolbold, who had built a number of ‘one off’ race boats for different classes of racing.
At the time, I was selling quantities of Humber’s pure inflatable boats from a business in Croydon and was actively looking around for a ’hard’ hull to ‘mate’ to a set of tubes, so providing a fast and comfortable ‘offshore’ runabout. When my friends won the French race, I was so impressed with the incredible handling of their craft that I approached Ron Wolbold to see if he was interested in supplying me with a similar design. To my surprise, Ron immediately offered to flop a ‘thin hull’ from the bottom of the race boat hull and gave us permission to produce as many RIBs as we wanted from this design.
Prior to this, I had spoken to Frank Roffee of Humber Inflatables, to see if he was interested in producing the tubes, and between us we set about developing the first Humber RIB in the form of a very narrow yet brilliant 17ft RIB which I nicknamed ‘The Apple’! Frank spent some considerable time forming pieces of timber to make the hull wider, creating flanges to accept the inflatable tubes and generally fettling the flimsy hull bottom until it was ready to act as a plug for the mould. Some months later, on one of my many visits to the factory, Frank showed me the first hull to be taken from the mould and it looked terrific. The orange hypalon tubes and bow spray cover together with a dashboard were fitted and we installed a Yamaha 90hp OBM with simple cable steering with the Yamaha controls fixed to the starboard tube; that was it, no seats, no interior, just an open boat with an engine, steering/controls, a battery and a couple of 5 gallon fuel tanks. We towed the ‘Apple’ to Withernsea on the Yorkshire coast and went for a play - it was as simple as that.
We had absolutely no idea how she would behave but we were quickly rewarded with handling and performance that was way beyond our expectations, and we enjoyed an hour’s exhilaration with Frank’s white knuckles confirming the limits to which I was going to find any handling flaws - there were none!
Humber Inflatables built a total of six Apples before deciding that the craft should be further improved and modified to make it suitable for mass production. Frank spent months deliberating on how the craft should finally go into production and I assisted, with ideas when I could, until the final finished design was agreed. Throughout the early seventies, I had been racing inflatable boats and the most successful of these was a French catamaran manufactured by Aerozure and called an Attaque. Both Frank and I liked the name and we decided to call the first production Humber RIB ‘The Attaque’.
Since then, there have been any number of derivatives based on the Attaque shape. It is a testament to the excellence of the original Ron Wolbold design and Franks creative skills, that these highly respected craft are still Britain’s most popular RIBs, with over 300 produced every year. Having started life as a race winning single seater race boat, the metamorphosis has crossed the Atlantic unaided, circumnavigated the UK with ease, undertaken countless professional roles in North Sea oil fields (and other testing areas) and is still, ‘winning’ business for Humber Inflatables throughout the world some 25 years on.