- … this latest Redbay 650 package is faster and more versatile than the one I enjoyed back in 2010.
- … this new, furniture-laden RIB achieves results out of all proportion to its pared-back predecessor …
- … whether you perch at the helm, sit on the aft bench or stand on the deck behind the helm seats, this family RIB feels supremely safe and comfortable.
- From the moment you vault into position on that fixed jockey seat and put the power down, it is plain that nothing about this boat is difficult or highly strung.
Alex Smith examines the latest MRL-inspired gentrification of the Redbay Stormforce 650.
Redbay have been building boats in Northern Ireland for nearly 40 years – and with the Scottish west coast just across the water and Atlantic swells sweeping past to the north, their ethos has always been much the same. Whether for commercial or recreational applications, a Redbay boat has always been designed to offer the strength of build and the softness of ride demanded by challenging seas. However, if it was a range of supertough fishermen that originally won the brand a sterling reputation for seaworthiness, its latest line of RIBs enjoys much the same fame.
Redbay now build RIBs from 20 to 54 feet, in a variety of configurations from canopy models to hardtops, flybridges, expedition vessels, cabin boats and pilot craft. Even a brief look at that line-up is enough to confirm that the commercial underpinnings of the fleet remain alive and well, but down at MRL in Southampton, the emphasis is on presenting those strengths in a much more convincing and palatable leisure form. To that end, MRL stock seven of the modern Redbay craft, and while they all exhibit elements of recreational sophistication, none of them has done as much as the revamped 650 to make the transition so complete …
From Lean to Lavish
I tested an early version of the 650 shortly after its arrival at MRL in 2010 – and while it was a notable step up in stylistic appeal over Redbay’s harder-edged commercial platforms, its simplistic arrangement of jockey seats and open deck made it feel very much like a special ops conveyance for tough guys. Here, however, the forward console has gone and the jockey seats have been replaced by a single console/seat unit that is fully integrated into the deck moulding. Not only does this increase storage space, clean up the aesthetics and improve ease of maintenance, but it also helps increase the boat’s structural rigidity.
Back aft, in place of an open deck terminated by a simple transom, you get another extra piece of deck furniture in the form of a stern bench. It really is a fine example of its type – low down, deep-set and securely framed inside the tubes and the lateral mouldings. It is also equipped with plenty of firm, comfy lumbar support and it comes with ample legroom, plus useful bracing points for your feet where the deck and jockey units meet. The metal grabbing points are also perfectly positioned, enabling you to take one in hand without a frantic search and without having to crane forward or bend your back.
Best of all, however, is the fact that this new furniture helps alleviate the old boat’s major Achilles heel (and a difficulty endemic to most traditional RIBs) by increasing the cockpit seating from four to seven and by generating a big rectangular storage space where before there was none. On the 650, this can be accessed without having to remove the cushions – and once you’re in, there is some useful rubberised lining to prevent your gear slipping underway. However, it’s not yet perfect. I would like to see the matting supplemented with a structural division to help separate and protect the battery from any stowed baggage. The bench could also do with a ram or two to aid the heavy-lifting process. And a slight narrowing of the top cushion would help it avoid collision with the inside of the A-frame when the lid is swung upwards.
Elsewhere, however, there are enough attractive commercial-style features to remind you that this is a boat from a very practical builder. For instance, both the deck and the Hypalon collar are topped off with plenty of sturdy, high-friction ‘Treadmaster’ stepping strips. There are also handles and lifelines along the tube’s entire length, plus a workmanlike fairlead with Samson post in the bow. Look further aft and the squat, four-legged A-frame comes with integrated cleats, nav lights and aerial – and when you look at the stats, a CE rating of Category B and the option of either single- or twin-engine installations continue to suggest that the 650 is a very serious sea RIB.
Faster Than You Think
When the 650 was designed, it used a modified version of the long-standing 6.5m hull, which itself was based on the first RIB Redbay ever produced, way back in 1990. This latest incarnation may be much lighter-footed than that original, but it certainly retains the DNA of the Redbay helming experience – namely grip, ride softness and security.
From the moment you vault into position on that fixed jockey seat and put the power down, it is plain that nothing about this boat is difficult or highly strung. And if that’s largely to be expected, then the real surprise comes in terms of outright pace. With the latest Suzuki DF150 Lean Burn outboard on the transom, the 650 sees us zipping flat onto the plane in 3 seconds and pushing through to a top end in excess of 42 knots. In fairness, our maximum of 43 was flattered a touch by the prevailing wind and tide, but if we take the true (averaged) figure as 41.5 knots, that’s still much more impressive than the 34 knots the old 650 achieved with a DF140 on the transom.
Despite being a boat of modest length, that lofty top end also feels remarkably relaxed and sedentary. More often than not, that’s a good illustration of a quality build, a well-sorted rig and a pliant ride – and that certainly rings true here. In the turn, there’s plenty of grip, both from the hull and the prop, but despite the flatness of the boat’s attitude and the arresting of the heel by the buoyancy of the inside tube, you never feel like you’re in danger of tripping out. On the contrary, the helm station seems to contain you securely inside the boat by means of its sheer structural generosity – and like the deck layout and the ride, it feels very cosseting indeed. In fact, whether you perch at the helm, sit on the aft bench or stand on the deck behind the helm seats, this family RIB feels supremely safe and comfortable.
Of course, particularly large men might find the fixed shape of the helm set-up restrictive, and small men might find the need to cock a leg and mount the seat ‘cowboy-style’ a bit wearing after a while. Passengers might also get a bit aggravated by the virtual absence of walkways on either side of the beamy console, as access to the bow deck tends to involve sliding your bum along the tube. But in truth, there’s no reason to head up to the compact bow other than for rope or anchor work. There is no seating up here and only minimal storage, so you’re best off staying in that expansive and expertly arranged cockpit and leaving the seamanship duties to someone else.
Suzuki v Suzuki
Here’s an interesting technical quandary. While the spec sheet of the DF140 suggests it is significantly lighter than the newer, higher-output DF150, a comparison of the old 650 with the new suggests that the DF140 lags behind the DF150 to a quite radical degree. While the older 2-litre unit achieved 34 knots on the more lightly spec’d 650, the 2.9-litre DF150 appears to beat that by 8 knots (or around 25%) – and that’s despite giving away nearly 50kg in weight and being required to propel a heavier boat. Of course, with that substantial one-piece console putting a fair bit of the weight forward, it’s possible that the extra mass of the stern bench and the 2.9-litre engine play a useful role in improving this boat’s balance. Either way, the answer here is simple. Equipped with the DF150, this new, furniture-laden RIB achieves results out of all proportion to its pared-back predecessor, so ignore the smaller engine (and indeed the larger ones) and stick with the overachieving DF150 package.
Despite substantial extra deck furniture, a more exhaustive features list and a fresh application of recreational polish, this latest Redbay 650 package is faster and more versatile than the one I enjoyed back in 2010. While the grip, stoicism and softness of the driving experience are much the same, a more vigorous plane, a rangier top end, far greater storage capacity and seating for seven rather than four make this not just a more dynamic and playful boat, but also a more accommodating and user-friendly one. At around £4,500 more than the 2010 model, it’s a very convincing package indeed.
- Plenty of accessible pace
- Generous low-speed plane
- Soft, secure ride
- Integrated deck and console moulding
- Comfy and supportive aft bench
- Competitive price
- Aft bench hinges into the A-frame
- Heading fore and aft is a ‘bum-on-the-tube’ affair
- RPM Fuel flow (l/h)* Speed Range
- 1000 3.5 3.2 172.8
- 1500 5.3 4.5 160.5
- 2000 10.0 5.5 104.0
- 2500 15.9 7.4 88.0
- 3000 (plane) 18.7 14.2 143.5
- 3500 (cruise) 25.9 19.9 145.2
- 4000 35.3 25.9 138.7
- 4500 40.8 29.5 136.7
- 5000 53.0 33.2 118.4
- 5500 75.1 39.4 99.2
- 6000 88.2 42.3 90.6
- 6100 (WOT) 92.0 43.0 88.3
- *The fuel flow figures recorded here exceed manufacturer figures (and my own expected averages) by as much as 30% in the mid range and 50% at wide-open throttle. Having investigated with both Suzuki and MRL, it appears that the most likely explanation for this is a faulty gauge.
- Time to plane: 3.0 seconds
- LOA: 6.5m
- Beam overall: 2.7m
- Internal length: 5.46m
- Internal beam: 1.6m
- Hull weight: 710kg
- Tube diameter: 460/560 mm
- Tube material: Hypalon
- Max. load: 1000kg
- Max. people: 8
- Max. power: 225hp
- Fuel tank: 210 litres
- Design category: B
- Price (with Suzuki DF175): £39,550
N. Ireland: www.redbayboats.com