|Weight (excl. engines)||1800 kgs|
|Max Speed||62 knots|
|('Castor' as seen, with twin MerCruiser 180s, Bravo 3 leg)|
The extreme north-east of the Emerald Isle is a place of wild and illustrious beauty. Indeed, the rugged and fearinspiring nature of Northern Ireland's weathered perimeter in some ways lies in distinct contrast to the warm and hospitable nature of the people who's country it is. The Irish are famous the world over for their peculiar charm. It is every bit unique, and in addition to the effects of the Guinness, perhaps is borne out of a die-hard response to the otherwise tough environment in which they have fought to survive for centuries.
Tom McLaughlin is Redbay born and bred. Coming from a long line of lifeboatmen, today he and his family continue the tradition with pride. At his waterside yard at Cushendall, he's been building commercial fishing vessels now for over 21 years. Latterly his company, Redbay Boats Ltd, have been gaining a substantial reputation for themselves in the home and overseas RIB markets where their experience in building strong, reliable, working craft, has afforded the company considerable advantages.
Whether it's sea trialling one of his yard's hard boats or sitting behind the helm of the station's Atlantic 75, McLaughlin is a man who knows all about what's required from a boat if it's to operate safely offshore within these waters. The further north you go the quicker the conditions can change and the greater reliance you'll have on the sea-keeping ability of your vessel. It's from this type of background and upon this premise then, that McLaughlin has established his approach to the whole subject of RIB building.
I happily had the pleasure of flying out to the Glens of Antrim to visit the purpose built yard and premises of Red Bay Boats this past November, to sample for myself several craft in the range, including the largest currently in production, the Stormforce 9.1. On the morning of my arrival, a hefty low pressure front and fierce thunderstorm had provided a pretty interesting flight into Belfast. I now looked out from behind the comfort of the car window as we sped along the wet narrow roads toward the coast, with the dark clouds above us looking increasingly ominous.
Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a virtual Redbay owners' club. Everybody spoke with much pride and enthusiasm about their RIB as well as the many places they had cruised. What impressed me more than anything else though, was how they all, practically without exception, undertook this activity all year round. This was no fair weather sportsman's club by any means, and to prove it, we were soon donning our Typhoons and heaving the boats off their trailers into the steel grey sea. White horses streaked our view out to the horizon of the distant Scottish coast.
Julian Cooke and his wife first started with a Redbay 6.1 four years ago, they then moved up to a 7.4 fitted with a MerCruiser 180 diesel a season later, before discussing with Naval Architect Joe McCollam and Redbay's Paddy McCambridge, ideas for an all weather offshore cruising RIB of around 9 metres in length. The result of all that pencil pushing, head scratching, Guinness drinking enthusiasm, was what was riding the waves off the slip right before me now.
The Stormforce 9.1 is every inch a serious seagoing RIB. `Castor', owned by the Cooke's, is capable of 15 - 20 knots on one engine only, her twin 180hp MerCruiser diesels provide security offshore and a good deal of performance both on the flat or in the rough, where a sensible amount of reserve power is essential to enable a large boat like this to outrun the big seas. Joined on this day by its sister ship, `Gulf Stream', `Castor' was the first of this new range to come out of the mould.
These are good looking boats and I like the way their lines and overall appearance is unlike any other on the market at this present time. The Stormforce 9.1 is distinctly different essentially the two main reasons for this are as follows:
The wide proportions of the high flared bow have further allowed for the construction of a large hard "nose" which provides this craft with a massive forward dry stowage area. This aspect of the boat's design also tends to strengthen the structure of the craft, making it more rigid and stronger overall. It too provides the ideal location for cleats, bow roller, as well as anchor and winch. Entry to the interior of the hard nose locker is made via a large fibreglass door, whereupon in the case of Castor, besides other key items of equipment such as lines and fenders, the vessels inflatable tender can be easily accessed for deployment.
The wraparound cockpit set approximately amidships, is another distinctive design characteristic of the Stormforce 9.1. With the cockpit deck raised above the height of the main foredeck, this entire console offers a very much increased level of protection. This attribute is further enhanced by the addition of a full wraparound screen which, when the boat is being piloted from a standing position, rises to shoulder height. The console structure itself is large enough to house a total of 4 seats, 2 large under cockpit deck lockers, all the boat's wiring and circuit breakers, plus a hatch to its front face big enough to allow a fully grown man access. Needless to say, this console possesses a very large flight deck with literally stacks of room for radar screen, full GPS and chart plotter, engine instrumentation, fixed mobile phone, VHF, and more besides.
Going aft, beneath the double masted antenna arch which, in both `Castor's and `Gulf Stream's case, supports all the vital flying gear of which there is much, the next item of importance is the engine housing. This is potentially the most vulnerable item on any large RIB of this type ( not including the short-comings and dangers associated with inadequate scuppers.) Hence, in the case of the Stormforce, this structure has been designed to prevent the effects of a shipped sea flooding the engine compartment.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the single most important factor in maintaining a RIB's extraordinary degree of seaworthiness is her unique and vital use of power. If power is lost she will quickly broach or become totally given over to the mercy of the prevailing conditions. Hence, particularly with inboard powered RIBS, keeping the power-plant protected from seawater and the elements is absolutely essential. To this end, the engine bay on the Stormforce 9.1 has not only been built actually above the tubes, but it is also accessed from above as well, in fact, by a pair of watertight, sound proofed, lift up doors. The automatic fire extinguishers, plus a series of small compartments which hold spares, coolants, oils, and tools etc are located around the engine housing's inner perimeter . The batteries are located here too within special boxes that feature a change over link. Additionally, 4 x 20 litre drums of spare diesel are carried on a secure purpose made platform whereupon in the event of this reserve fuel being required, diesel can be electrically pumped from these tanks down into the boat's main underfloor tanks.
`Gulf Stream', this day for the first time, was trialling her new "soft top" cockpit canopy. It worked well in keeping the crew dry and out of the elements, though some fine tuning modifications in my opinion are in order, before it could be said the design was just right. Indeed, although its styling was seamanlike and highly complimentary to the RIB’s overall appearance, from a functional point of view its one weakness was its restriction of the helmsman's forward view when piloting the boat from a standing position.
Standard of fit-out and general finish struck me as being high, particularly so in the case of these big 9.1 metre vessels. Though I would say that in general, onboard crew security and comfort could be improved. "The bigger the boat the harder she falls," so the saying goes. This means the need for secure and comfortable seating, proper handholds, true non slip decking, and even the addition of padded bulkheads where necessary, becomes even more critical when driving or crewing aboard anything other than a typical open styled Rigid Inflatable. Redbay, no doubt, will be refining these aspects as successive 9.1 s roll off the production line.
In terms of handling, the conditions on the day allowed for the very best of tests. On our 25 mile run out to Rathlin Island onshore wind provided, what would be described in meteorological terms as "moderate conditions".
That meant in our case, 15ft foot swells and confused water that heaped up into pyramid formations of the headlands. Through it all the 9.1 handled very reassuringly, her sponsons working to correct lateral stability and her high bow refusing to dip its nose into the foot of the deep troughs. The latter surprised me as some of the steeper seas were also very short indeed and would have presented most craft with a classic stuffing opportunity. As you might expect, helming a quality offshore RIB of this size is a pleasure, even though I did succumb to the effects of Mal de Mer 3 miles off Rathlin!
As our five boat flotilla of Redbay's made it's way back through the dark to Cushendall, the phosphorescence of the breaking cold winter seas was further illuminated by a spectacular electrical storm, which appeared to rage somewhere off the Mull many leagues to the north. It lit the two lands and the sex that divided them with a glancing force so great it could be seen, so I learnt later, up to a distance of nearly fifty miles.
What can I say in conclusion then? Well, without wishing to repeat myself, I would say The Stormforce 9.1 is a boat of considerable ability and much potential waiting to be discovered by a substantial number of commercial and serious leisure operators who will quickly appreciate the attributes of an all weather Rigid Inflatable of this type.
Our trials at sea that day did reveal one other find though. I made the return journey back to Cushendall helming the 6 metre model in the Stormforce series. It was probably one of the most surefooted craft of its size I can remember handling ....but that's another story, for as you can see, this page is already very full!
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