Tough and capable, this new middleweight craft is a class leader. Greg Copp reports on the latest offering from the Stingher stable, the 650 GT …
MRL’s new Stingher 650 GT is a boat aimed at bringing both new clientele to the brand and new boaters to the water. Better known for its large rigid inflatables, this company has recognised the need to fill a void in the middleweight sector of the RIB market. This addition to the range, like its bigger siblings, features a hull built in Italy, which is then rigged and ‘fettled’ in the UK by Southampton-based MRL Marine.
Generally, one of the first questions I ask when testing a new RIB is ‘how much?’. Over the last decade, rising RIB prices have made a good case for buying a hard boat, especially in the first-time-buyer sector. However, priced at a pinch under 60K on the water with a credible electronics package, the 650 GT is likely to prove popular, and not just with those buying their first boat. MRL have a realistic approach to how their boats are fitted and specified, and the construction of all their models has always been ‘sensibly solid’. Just like the bigger Stinghers, the stainless work and the GRP finish are of a high standard.
The design focuses well on all-round deck access.
For a 6.5m RIB, deck space is pretty good, with easy access either side of its double console. Boarding is all the easier via the aft-quarter side decks that wrap around the GRP arch, also enabling water sporters and bathers to access the bathing platforms without clambering over the bench seat. The port-side platform houses a concealed bathing ladder, as well as a small underfoot locker for warps. The 650 GT is clearly a multifunctional sports boat, with a clear focus on sunbathing. It has no less than two double sunbeds: one that you will likely keep laid out in the bow section, covering a cavernous front locker, and a second that is constructed from an infill section that is located between the aft bench seat and the back-facing console seat.
Side decks on the aft-quarter coamings.
The deck height in relation to the sponsons is slightly lower than you might expect, which you notice once you step into the boat. This enhances the feeling of security, especially for those sitting on the aft bench seat with the raised side decks around it, as well as the fact that the GRP arch is padded on the inside. One aspect I did find slightly out of keeping was the double padded leaning post-type helm seat. As I will shortly allude to, it has its merits, but it could benefit from padded lateral supports, or alternatively the option of conventional seating, if you want to comfortably drive this boat to its full potential. Fortunately, it is complemented by an angled footboard enabling you to press your rear end into the padded leaning post, without which you could feel somewhat ‘footloose’ on a lively day.
A double sunbed courtesy of an infill section.
Secure enclosed aft seating.
A large forward sunbed is unusual in a boat this size.
The decking is synthetic SeaDek in a carbon grey colour, which is a perfect match for the lighter grey Hypalon sponsons. Storage is generous, notably under the aft bench seat, which opens up to provide access to all the boat’s service items, like the battery, bilge pump, electrics, cut-off switch and fuel filter. Deck drainage is dealt with by two scuppers, one on either side of the bench, which run through to the transom. In the forepeak, the anchor locker sits just short of the bow, which is topped off with a GRP SeaDek-covered platform providing an elevated step-off point for disembarking onto docksides or mother ships.
Sensibly sized bathing platforms sit on either side of the engine.
Easy forward-deck movement.
Behind the wheel
This straightforward helm works well.
Every now and again you find a small boat that thrives when being driven hard in choppy seas, and this is one of them. It may look like the generic family RIB with a twist of luxury on top, but the 24-degree deadrise hull is something else. I have owned several capable offshore RIBs in this size bracket, most recently a 6.5m Ribtec, and before that several Avon Seariders, and without a doubt, the Stingher 650 GT shares the same DNA. Having literally clambered aboard from the Stingher 840 I was expecting a bit of a comedown, but I was very wrong. Driving at wide open throttle into sharpening chop produced a soft and composed ride, leaving me in no doubt as to the strength and sharpness of the hull. Running through some of the confused sea off Calshot, the 650 GT was in its element. It flew off the wave crests and landed with level reassurance that inspired me to keep the power on. It is a driver’s boat, pure and simple; in car terms, it would be a middleweight roadster like a manual BMW Z4. It engages you, as the feedback is spot on. The low-down pickup from the 150hp Mercury is very good, though you tend to yearn for a bit more top-end power (you could opt for a 175hp Mercury). In terms of engine trim, it wants not much more than 25% over 30 knots, and being naturally well composed, it was happy to plane at as little as 13 knots.
All system components are accessed under the stern seating.
It tracks round tight turns with a dogged grip on the water, and having hydraulic steering without any power assist there is little chance of things unexpectedly getting out of hand. Powering hard out of the turns does not produce any cavitation – you just need to compose yourself for how lively this boat can be when you want it. When turning fast to port, you may feel the need to push your left foot out against the GRP moulding upon which the tubes are mounted, giving yourself stability. When turning hard to starboard, your right leg will have to make do with the angled footrest. This is where lateral support in the form of armrests would be a bonus, as although the elevated standing position provides that perfect view over the bow, you could find yourself sliding about the leaning post seat unexpectedly. Alternatively drive slower. The helm design is simple and effective with a centrally located throttle, a carbon-fibre dash, a lockable compartment for valuables and a standard electronics fitment of a Garmin 65cv MFD and Garmin 115i VHF.
A deep forward locker.
The obligatory forward seat hides more storage.
This may be the junior member of the MRL Stingher club, but it lacks nothing in terms of brand build quality. Though it is keenly priced, it does not look it, and it drives superbly. It is at the top of the middleweight category, which has always been popular among beginners and experienced RIB enthusiasts, which no doubt has had a bearing on the design of an effective seagoing hull. In its present ‘as tested’ form, it represents a great package, but its hull is clearly capable of taking more horsepower, which someone looking to stretch its offshore credentials may consider. In terms of helm seating, a double conventional seating set-up is an option, I understand, as could be jockey seats.
What we thought
- Great handling – responsive, steadying steering
- Very soft-riding hull
- Solid build quality
- Attention to detail – even behind the scenes
- Storage and sunbathing space
- Could benefit from conventional helm seating, though this is subjective
- LOA: 6.5m
- Beam: 2.7m
- Draught: 0.37m
- Hull: Non-stepped deep-vee planing
- Transom deadrise angle: 24 degrees
- Power options: Single 115hp to 175hp Mercury
- Fuel capacity: 200L
- RCD category: C for 10
- Test engine: Single 150hp Mercury
- 37 knots (2-way average), sea conditions moderate, crew 2, fuel 50%
- As tested: £59,995 (inc. VAT)
- MRL, Millbank Street, Southampton, Hampshire. SO14 5QN