When is a RIB not a RIB? That should be easy to answer because the letters R-I-B stand for ‘Rigid Inflatable Boat’, yet shortly after RIBs first started appearing on the market some 40 years ago with inflatable tubes (collars), closed-cell foam collars were also to be found on commercial craft.

Technically we should not call craft with foam collars RIBs, but over the years nobody really differentiated between the two flotation systems, and the generic term for such craft, whether it had tubes filled with air or foam, became known as RIBs.

The point is further complicated in the case of the craft that is the subject of this test, for although at first glance it appears not to be a RIB, she is actually fitted with a substantial foam collar that is shaped so as to not look like a tube, and therefore gives the appearance of a full GRP boat.

It was at the 2009 London Excel Boat Show that HMS and yours truly first laid eyes on the striking Paragon 25, and we were immediately impressed by her good looks, practical layout and superb build quality; we were further pleased to see that she also had a cleverly designed foam collar around her gunwales, offering substantial fendering/additional buoyancy, and to our way of thinking this constituted enough to qualify her as a RIB.

Whether she truly is a RIB is probably debatable but the concept of the craft is definitely within the RIB remit, which in general terms is: ‘a multi-roll seaworthy craft with the ability to stay at sea in inclement conditions when other craft have headed for shelter, and to offer stability and versatility not found in lesser vessels’.

The name ‘Paragon 25’ is a little misleading, as the overall length of the craft is nearly 27ft (8.10m), but then this does include the bathing platform; nevertheless, she really is a ‘little ship’ in that the most has been made of her compact overall dimensions to include the maximum practical space, combined with one of the most seaworthy-looking hulls we have seen on a craft this size. With an exceptionally deep V, and 26.5 degree deadrise on the hull, combined with a very high bow, the design looks spot-on, so we were a little disappointed to have one of those calm, cold, bright, late winter days in which to carry out our test.

Whilst the sea trials would only tell us how she handled on a calm sea, we did manage to jump the Isle of Wight ferry wash and there was not even a hint of the craft landing with a bang – in fact, nothing much happened: the sharp V of the hull just cleaved a way through the wash with contemptuous ease. There are a number of wheelhouse RIBs on the market and it is sometimes noticeable that there is an increase in noise from being cocooned in a kind of ‘echo chamber’. From an engine noise point of view there is obviously plenty of sound-deadening material keeping the decibels to a commendably low level but, perhaps because the engine is so unobtrusive, other noises manifest themselves and particularly various rattles. With use, an owner would probably find a way to stop items from rattling, but this otherwise warm, dry and comfortable cabin would have benefited from some ‘fettling’ to stop the various noises. The only other gripe was the inevitable vibration at tickover and low RPM from the 4-cylinder Volvo D4 300hp diesel sterndrive power unit. Yamaha, Yanmar, CMD (Mercruiser/Cummins), Steyr and other less well represented inboard diesel producers all offer 6-cylinder motors around this horsepower, and whilst there is no doubting the excellence of the latest Volvo range of diesels and their ability for getting service work carried out just about anywhere, I could not help thinking that a smoother 6-cylinder unit would be better suited to this superbly appointed vessel. Sadly the Volvo D6 is too heavy, and Paragon only fit Volvo engines so the D4 is your only choice, but it is a very good power plant, and underway at cruising RPM it is not really possible to tell the difference that two cylinders make.

This is not the sort of craft that one throws around like a sports boat, but on all points of testing I could not fault the way she steered/tracked, and despite the ultra-deep V hull, the progression from displacement to planing speed was linear, culminating in a level ride without a trace of a bows-up attitude.

Obviously beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we thought her external appearance very attractive and purposeful and the attention to detail excellent. Security around the deck is assured by upstanding bulwarks topped by waist-high stainless-steel guard rails that travel around the entire vessel, and there is a very neat sliding rail, port and starboard aft, to allow access from a pontoon, plus two opening gates giving access to the bathing  platform/bathing ladder. On top of the wheelhouse is a raked stainless-steel radar arch which carries the navigation lights, various antennae and two horns, plus there are two full-length cabin top grab handles for additional security.

Mounted right forward is a stainless-steel anchor with electric windlass, behind which is a large flush deck locker. Right aft is a seat-cum-locker for fenders etc, and a wide engine hatch giving excellent access to the very neat engine compartment. With checker plate aluminium standing plates either side of the motor, one with hot water calorifier tank, and everything neatly installed, this is one of the best engine bays I have seen on a RIB.

Whilst there is no doubting that this is a very capable craft with excellent manners, it is the external/internal layout of the vessel and quality finish that makes her stand out from the norm. Starting with the full-headroom wheelhouse, this spacious area is like the proverbial ‘Tardis’: with a functional helm position, all-round adjustable seating, a telescopic table (slides on a pole to locate on ceiling when not in use), a foldaway galley/sink unit, a refrigerator, two opening roof hatches and copious lockers, everything appears to have been catered for. With real mahogany throughout the interior, a holly/mahogany cabin sole, top-quality soft furnishings together with drawers/locker hatches that shut with their own rams, and seats that can either face forwards or each other for socialising, Paragon really have spent valuable time working out the best use of the cabin. Forward is a door that leads to a comfortable separate two-berth cabin with hanging locker, a second locker with access to the instruments, a deck hatch and a flushing toilet; four portholes ensure there is plenty of light below, plus there are four lights that illuminate the whole cabin at night.

As if this specification is not already comprehensive enough, in addition to the aft wheelhouse sliding door there are two more in the sides of the wheelhouse which make for a very airy feeling, a heated laminated windscreen with a pantograph-type wiper for guaranteed good visibility whatever the weather, Webasto diesel heating, 220V shore power, CD player, a deck shower, ACS auto trim tabs, and solid teak decks throughout. Full Raymarine navigation equipment is standard, as are mooring warps, four fenders, anti fouling, a bow thruster and full commissioning of the craft.

To sum up: if you require the protection of a wheelhouse, then this is one of the best-quality ergonomically thought-out craft I have tested. She may be only 8 metres in length but she feels much bigger when on board and gives the impression of being capable of tackling the rough and the smooth with equal aplomb. Like a top-quality watch, the Paragon 25 manages to combine the difficult art of providing something very desirable without being flashy, and at the same time deliver a smile to the face of the discerning owner who knows the difference.

Paul Lemmer

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