The Zodiac Hurricane has set a high standard for military and professional RIBs for many years.
The new aluminium-hulled MACH II raises the bar even higher, with its air-channelled, stepped hull and surface drives, and the payload, performance and seakeeping of this craft are truly astounding. We were very privileged to be able to try her first hand when she was exhibited at Seawork this year – the stability and handling are so sweet and precise that you don’t know you are in a stepped hull.
The new Zodiac MACH II is well named. The moniker alludes to the high speed of this very special boat, but actually it stands for Military Air Channelled Hull. The Michael Peters-designed 11m aluminium hull is really rather special. The twin air inlets in each side free the hull up by introducing air to the keel line, and the step reduces the wetted area even more, increasing the performance for the given horsepower. Aluminium is also stiffer and stronger than GRP and much lighter. Years of service life of aluminium-hulled boats show that it is also a very cost-effective material which is easy to repair. The nature of use of the MACH II requires a particularly robust build, and the Zodiac has been built with plenty of beef.
The power for the MACH II comes from a pair of Volvo D6s, rated at 370hp each, with supercharging and turbocharging. The power is delivered through steerable and trimmable Arneson surface drives on this version, although a twin rig outboard version is available. The balance of the boat with the big turbodiesels is superb: they are sat well down in the hull, maintaining a low centre of gravity. The aggressive deep V slices through the water, and the very angular chines provide lift and directional stability over and above that of the keel and planing area aft.
The exhibition boat is fitted out with seating for 11, leaving the engine bay clear for landing a small inflatable on the stern, with the necessary fitments for that kind of fast extraction. Alternatively, a jet ski could be transported on the ramp. The A-frame, carrying the electronics, can be folded flat for transport, with quickly detachable lynch pins and hydraulic rams. The actual layout, of course, can be tailored to specific requirements very easily, such is the nature of aluminium construction.
The console is also very special. The windscreen is height adjustable and features a forward-facing lip along the top edge; this lip creates a build-up of air in front of it, creating a buffer and sending the main airflow over the heads of the crew more effectively than a higher screen, as air does not get covered in water or flies. The effectiveness of the air buffer is as good as a solid screen and sends much of the blast clear of the other occupants too. The console is very substantial in itself and offers, not just protection, but a vast area to install the wide range of navionics and communications required. These are separated by a solid grab handle, positioned for the navigator, running down the dash but still leaving plenty of room for a gloved hand to operate the radio and Raymarine chartplotter, fully integrated with all the systems.
The helm side of the console is laid out so as to give priority to the wheel, throttle controls and the trim buttons. The engine management gauges are in line of sight ahead of the wheel, as is the steering compass. The remainder of the switches and controls are placed for ease of use. With the console placed well forward, at about the one-third mark, there is excellent visibility for the helm even close to the bow. Grab handles are also built onto the ends of the console following the profile of the unit. It is neat, purposeful and fully functional, as you would expect.
The hull is the difference between this craft and others: the hull works well on its own, not relying on the tubes at all; the chines support the boat until she is well heeled over, and the tubes come into play only at full heel or in rough water. There is ample stability from the hull itself, and the collar simply augments this. Incorporated into the tube design is a self-inflating system and a full-length collar pressure equaliser that works on internal baffles, and their specially designed shape equalises the pressure throughout the collar run. There is the option to specify DuraRib high-density foam collars in place of the pneumatic one.
Married to the shock mitigation seating, this boat can run fully loaded at 56 knots in sea state 6 and the crew still remain in one piece. That is some pounding the equipment is taking off the fragile human bodies, and that is where the MACH II really comes into its own. It is all very well producing a boat that can run at insane speeds, but if the crew end up battered and bruised, or worse, then that defeats the object. The MACH II hull combines high-speed stability and manoeuvrability with increased performance, by as much as 15% over a non-stepped hull, with a ride that ensures the personnel are delivered fresh and in one piece, ready to do their job.
It is the hull that makes this boat so special too. Unlike many RIBs that rely on the inflatable collar for much of their stability, the MACH II is stable in its own right. The tube sits high off the water and only comes into play when the hull immerses to the point where the cushioning impact of the collar begins to take effect. The ride and stability of the hull are very much like that of a hard boat, and it means the MACH II can also be specified with a high-density foam collar, the DuraRib, for roles where this is more practical.
Driving the boat is very easy. I got the feel of her within a few minutes and, given an hour or so to explore the potential in rough water, would start to find the true performance of this incredible machine. As it was, we only had the Red Funnel wash to use as any kind of wave at all. Crossing the wash at any angle and flat out, the boat barely moved, the hull slicing the wave like a scalpel and the weight of the craft keeping her planted on the water. The shock wave seats make the ride smoother again, with the specially developed damping suspension taking all the jarring out of hard landings. This aspect makes the boat capable of superior speed in sea conditions that would either peg back other craft, or would be uncomfortable and tiring for the crew, with the possible risk of serious injury.
The trimmable surface drives are not at all finicky, and overtrimming did not destabilise the hull or cause chine walking even though we were running light. I was surprised at just how civilised the handling was, even at full speed, where I managed to coax out 54.6 knots. On smaller pitch props the engines will run a little faster and give 56 knots, which is a very fast delivery of personnel and their equipment. Surface drives have also gained a reputation for making close-quarters work difficult, but I found that by immersing them fully they steered as well as outdrives or outboards and the boat was just as directional at low speed in the area of the pontoon.
As expected, the usual fittings for air transport or davit and crane launching are built in as standard. The lifting eyes are flush mounted in the deck, and for harsh boarding operations the forward part of the collar around the bow can be specified as foam with an air bladder to withstand the hard knocks this kind of approach causes. The inflatable collar is also given a self-inflating system from an in-built electric compressor. The inboard diesel version of the boat is limited to twin 480hp motors, due to the physical constraints imposed for air transportation, but there is also the option of a triple rig of 300hp outboards, which is reputed to give close to 60 knots operational speed with the same seakeeping qualities. The bad guys had better watch out!