|Length||5.4m (17ft 7in)|
|Beam||2.28m (7ft 6in)|
|Weight||180kg (without engine)|
One of the attractions of the inflatable was that it could be deflated and folded up into a small space. Then came the rigid inflatable which could not be folded up, but by way of compensation you got a much more seaworthy and durable boat. Now the wheel has turned a complete circle and we have a rigid inflatable which can be folded up! The Espace is unique in this respect, and is the brainchild of top yacht designer Rob Humphreys.
The rigid section of the Craft Espace hull is made in three parts, each of which will float independently. The flanges between each section not only form the transverse stiffeners for the assembled hull but also form the connecting link between the sections. As the flanges are brought together they are connected by a series of stainless steel bolts which are simply fitted into drilled holes and tightened. There is no need for seals because the flange extends to deck level and prevents water entry. The hull can be assembled afloat if necessary and whilst it can be done by one person, the operation is easier with two people.
The open tops of the hull sections are covered by panels which slip into place and seal with rubber joints. These panels provide the mounting point for the range of consoles and seating which is available with the Craft Espace. The inflatable tube, a one piece fitting made from a neoprene/hypalon coated fabric fits on by sliding a shaped fabric flange into a moulded groove around the rigid section of the hull. The tube is further secured with rope lashings fore and aft.
Complete assembly of the hull can be done in half an hour, the makers claim, but this sort of time is only likely to be achieved in ideal conditions, or when the owner becomes very familiar with the assembly process. Dismantling the boat would generally be quicker. The hull is constructed from advanced composites which are required to create the necessary strength in the flange areas, but which also help to reduce the weight and make the heaviest section of the hull weigh only 60kg, a weight which can be handled by one person. The total weight of the boat, including the tube and console is 180kg, little more than half the weight of a conventional rigid inflatable.
The length of the Craft Espace is 5.4 metres and the beam is 2.28 metres. When folded down, the size of the complete package is 1.80.x 1.80 x 0.53 metres. The hull itself is a deep vee with two spray rails on each side and a pronounced chine. The tube is mounted high on the hull with a basic white colour matched to a grey rubbing strip around the outboard edge. The steering console is a simple stainless steel structure topped by a GRP moulding which creates the dash, the wheel and throttle mountings.
The recommended outboard is a 50hp unit and on the test boat a 50hp Tohatsu was installed which produced speeds around the 30 knots mark. The portable fuel tank sits on the deck in front of the engine and the open battery stowage is under the steering console with the basic layout, but with the saddle seat fitted, there is enclosed stowage underneath for these items. Self draining points are fitted in the transom and with the deck well above the waterline, no water lies in the boat when it is moored. The builders also offer an air bottle rack to fit into the boat at the stern.
Hi-tech materials have been used in the hull construction in order to keep the weight down. This is fine when the boat is being handled out of the water, but it is reflected in the performance in the water. The plus side of the light weight is that reduced power is needed to get good performance and ease of handling the boat when out of the water. The down side is that the boat is more sensitive to waves. The same applies to the price which is higher than a comparable rigid RIB, but money can be saved because a smaller motor is required for the same performance.
The air tube is mounted high on the hull and in this position, the boat has to heel over about 10 degrees before the tubes make contact with the water. This makes the boat very sensitive to weight distribution when stopped and the boat feels "tippy" when you step on board. Once underway, the dynamic stability of the hull comes into play when it gives the boat a conventional deep vee hull performance. At rest, after the boat has heeled over the initial amount, it feels very stable once the tube is touching the water.
The handling of the Craft Espace is very positive and the taut steering allows the boat to make tight turns securely. In head seas you become conscious of the full bow sections which tend to accentuate the pitching, but the following sea performance more than makes up for this, with the bow lifting cleanly over a wave. In both cases, sensitive use of the throttle produces good performance. The high tube mounting ensures a dry ride with spray coming over the tube only when there is a fresh wind on the bow.
The Craft Espace is an exciting development in RIB design. It will open up the use of RIBS in areas where fully rigid boats are not practical. This might be for users who are reluctant to tow a fully rigged boat or do not have space to stow such a boat. The ability to transport the boat on the roof or inside a car could be a boon for those who want to take their boats on long journeys. The Craft Espace is a very capable RIB in its own right and it could find a useful niche market in the RIB world.
CRAFT ESPACE LTD
Tel: +44 (0)1590 679344