There are few icons in the boating world like the baby Avon, indeed the 4m Searider is credited with being the first commercially produced RIB.
Originally they were built with a plywood hull; then in 1972 the hull shape was improved and moulded from fibreglass, in the same form in which the boat has been built ever since, and which is still a popular model from the Avon line-up. How many other models of boat can boast an uninterrupted production run of nearly half a century?
From its early days, the 4m Searider was made with side-by-side forward seats with a windscreen and a covered foredeck, just like a small sports boat. The screen was mounted on the tubes, and the foredeck was no more than a rubberised material dodger of the bow…but it worked. It keeps the wind and water off the occupants and, I suspect, reduces the drag from windage by a considerable amount. As RIBs evolved, jockey seats became the norm, and the 4m Avon was revised to fit in with modern layouts. The foredeck was removed, together with the screen, and in their place the Searider was given a centre console with integral double jockey seat. The foredeck was left uncovered, and the loose fuel tank, previously lashed in place between the seats, was brought into the console, but essentially the remainder of the boat stayed the same.
The original boat created an aura around her as being a little boat with huge seakeeping abilities. The Avon stories of rough-water passages could fill a book, such as the circumnavigation of Scotland in one by Michael Alexander and Richard Frere in 1989. This one voyage changed the way people thought about boats for ever, and the fascination with RIBs began – people could now see the possibilities these boats opened up.
The 4m Avon was originally conceived with a 50hp 2-stroke Mercury as its power plant, and this pristine example, owned by Derek Adams (seen here at the wheel), is still sporting the original one she was commissioned with. In modern times 2-strokes have given way to 4-stroke motors, which are heavier and do not pick up so fast. Derek showed just how nimble and quick the original boat was, driving very spiritedly over boats’ washes without backing off. The little boat takes anything you throw at it and just shrugs it off, that foredeck and windscreen shedding the worst of any spray and allowing the occupants to sit protected, out of any windblast.
The concept was pure runabout, built from an inflatable boat. It is a concept that works as well today as it did then, and for me is a more leisure-based layout. The weather protection from the full screen and soft foredeck is excellent, and the forward seating position, although lower, seems to provide a better balance. The old boat scoots onto the plane immediately and is more nimble than the modern set-up; this was ably demonstrated by Derek putting the old boat round in tight turns hardly greater than two boat lengths and taking his hands off the wheel. The boat remained locked on course and just went round and round on the inside tube.
Together with the weight shift aft of the seating, the new Avon handles differently to the lively and sporty Avon of yesteryear. Don’t get me wrong, it is still an incredible little boat and one I would happily cross the Channel in, or go to Ireland or undertake any other open-water passage within its fuel range; it is just that the original side-by-side seating and covered foredeck spread the weight more evenly, and with two people she seems to ride better.
For anyone who wants a small boat that is easy to tow, launch, recover, store and is cheap to run, the Avon Searider 4m is one of the best. It is a small boat and only has seating for two, but like a feisty terrier she will stand up and be counted among much bigger boats. For a little boat she can give big pleasure, and adventuring away with a tent to wild-camp in areas that others only dream about, there is nothing that can compare. The closed foredeck provides somewhere to store lightweight cargo, such as clothes and sleeping bags, and the open afterdeck is suitable for heavier items in dry bags lashed in place, but then that was the whole concept of RIBs in the first place: rough and ready to go anywhere, at an attractive price too. I saw one just like this for sale at a broker’s recently, with a Mercury 50hp motor, on a trailer, for £1975. That seems like a bargain to me and a price worth paying for a piece of ribbing history that will still be cutting it in another 20 years.