We test three large rigid hull in­flat­a­bles and find th­ese sporty boats han­dle a chop while offering com­fort for week­end ad­ven­tures.

Soundings - - Contents - By Gary Re­ich

When it comes to boats th­ese days, “su­per­size me” seems to be the trend. This year saw in­tro­duc­tions of a 53-foot cen­ter con­sole with quadru­ple 557-hp en­gines strapped to the stern, a 31-foot pon­toon boat with triple 300-hp out­boards and a few big sport­fish­ing yachts pow­ered by as many as 5,200 ponies.

Even rigid hull in­flat­a­bles seem to be get­ting in on the “big­ger is bet­ter” ac­tion. A Google search shows 24- to 46-foot cen­ter con­sole and en­closed pi­lot­house RIBs with as much as 1,200 hp and top speeds near 70 mph. Im­pres­sive, but can th­ese big-boy RIBs per­form as well as tra­di­tional fiber­glass boats?

That’s what we aimed to find out by run­ning three mod­els from 30 to 36 feet — two pi­lot­house boats and a cen­ter con­sole. But be­fore we get ahead of our­selves, let’s look at the rea­sons you might want to con­sider a RIB over a tra­di­tional fiber­glass hull.

First and fore­most, all that air in the tubes (also known as spon­sons) makes for an in­nately stable craft with lots of re­serve buoy­ancy. That not only means less rolling in a sea or when folks hop aboard, but the buoy­ancy also pro­vides en­hanced cor­ner­ing per­for­mance. Force a big RIB hard into a turn, and those tubes “push back” and en­gage, al­low-

ing tighter, more ag­gres­sive cor­ner­ing at higher speeds. They also help to de­flect spray, keep­ing pas­sen­gers dry. Safety is an­other fac­tor worth con­sid­er­ing. Even a RIB that has taken on wa­ter from hull dam­age or swamped be­cause of me­chan­i­cal fail­ure can re­main afloat, thanks again to those in­flat­able tubes.

The spon­sons also per­mit de­sign­ers to cre­ate hull shapes with steeper dead­rises and nar­rower beams that can cut through a nasty chop with a smoother ride. “When run­ning in rough con­di­tions, the hull hits the wa­ter first, and the higher the dead­rise, the smoother your en­try,” says Pro­tec­tor rep An­drew Car­leton. “The prob­lem is that at some point you need the boat to stop go­ing down and come back up. That is where jar­ring and bang­ing can oc­cur on tra­di­tional fiber­glass boats. With a RIB the hull en­ters the choppy wa­ter in the same fash­ion, but the air-filled col­lar flexes up­ward and pro­vides a soft, con­trolled tran­si­tion.”

Per­haps the most rec­og­niz­able ben­e­fit of own­ing a RIB is the for­giv­ing na­ture of the tubes. Bump­ing into a dock, other boats — any­thing, for that mat­ter — is much less of a prob­lem when you’re deal­ing with a boat that’s sur­rounded by air-filled tubes. Still, most folks have at least a few con­cerns about over­all dura­bil­ity.

Tubes made of mod­ern ma­te­ri­als, such as Hy­palon or PVC, can last al­most in­def­i­nitely with proper care and main­te­nance. Spon­sons are much more dif­fi­cult to punc­ture than you’d think, and since they are gen­er­ally mul­ti­cham­bered, one punc­ture won’t de­flate the en­tire tub­ing sys­tem.

To see how th­ese at­tributes work in the real world, we put three RIBs through their paces — pi­lot­house mod­els from Pro­tec­tor and Ribcraft, and a cen­ter con­sole from Fluid Wa­ter­craft.

Pro­tec­tor Targa 30

Pro­tec­tor makes no qualms about its pri­mary mis­sion: to de­sign and build rugged RIBs that can take own­ers any­where, in any con­di­tions. That’s not sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing Pro­tec­tor builder Ray­glass orig­i­nally cre­ated the craft for the New Zealand Coast Guard’s search- and- res­cue mis­sions. Pro­tec­tor starts with a 3/ 4- inch, solid, hand- laid fiber­glass hull with a beefy stringer sys­tem. The decks are also solid fiber­glass, as is the tran­som — an area that is cored in many of to­day’s boats. The Targa 30’s tubes are made of Hy­palon and hand-glued to the hull. Pro­tec­tor be­lieves that glu­ing the tubes creates a more ro­bust at­tach­ment and helps tran­si­tion en­ergy from the tubes evenly along the hull.

In­side the pi­lot­house and on deck are very un­fussy ac­com­mo­da­tions, but she’s out­fit­ted for a mis­sion that’s more about get­ting you there than en­ter­tain­ing guests. Still, the Targa 30 is comfy enough, with twin shock- mit­i­gat­ing Stidd seats be­hind the pi­lot­house wind­shield — each with a small bench seat be­hind — and a large, cushy bench seat at the tran­som. In the cozy but nicely trimmed cabin are two set­tees that can be ex­panded into a sleep­ing area with filler cush­ions. The head is clev­erly con­cealed be­neath one of the set­tees. At the for­ward end of the cabin is a large watertight hatch pro­vid­ing ac­cess to the fore­deck.

The Targa 30 we ran on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay was out­fit­ted with twin 300-hp Mer­cury Ver­a­dos, though Pro­tec­tor says she can safely use Ver­ado 350s. Trimmed out with the throttles down, the boat eas­ily reached 54 mph over a 1- to 2-foot chop, with a fuel burn just un­der 60 gph. Most folks will likely cruise this boat in the 35-mph range; this is where fuel burn set­tles down to about 22 gph. I was im­pressed by how quiet and se­cure it felt in­side the Targa pi­lot­house as we blasted across the waves.

And al­though all of this per­for­mance is great, the Targa 30’ s ride is what really sets her apart. The wa­ter wasn’t as stirred up as Car­leton had hoped, but the 2- foot chop gave some de­cent clues as to how well the RIB might per­form in nas­tier seas. Trimmed out at 50 mph, the ride was ex­tremely smooth, with the white­capped waves pass­ing un­der the hull al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly. Cor­ner­ing per­for­mance was im­pres­sive, mea­sured against any type of boat. With the helm hard over, the Targa 30 lit­er­ally bal-

an­ced on her in­ner tube, spin­ning eas­ily within a boat length. The boat never felt a bit out of con­trol.

Car­leton says Pro­tec­tor has cus­tomers all over the United States, but there are pock­ets of pop­u­lar­ity you might ex­pect for a boat such as this — for in­stance, the At­lantic off New Eng­land and the ex­posed pas­sages of the Pa­cific North­west. Based on our short time with the Pro­tec­tor Targa 30, its rough-wa­ter ap­peal was ob­vi­ous, and it seemed a tough, fast and fun boat for a mul­ti­tude of coastal ar­eas. — G.R.

Fluid Wa­ter­craft 360CC

You might not have heard of South Africa’s Gem­ini Marine, but the builder has been turn­ing out rugged RIBs — un­der the Fluid Wa­ter­craft name in the United States — for com­mer­cial and recre­ational use for 30 years. We took the 36-foot cen­ter con­sole 360CC for a spin on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

Fluid Wa­ter­craft’s RIBs fea­ture tubes con­structed of high­qual­ity, durable Hy­palon. The deep-vee hull is a sin­gle skin that’s hand- laid us­ing mul­ti­di­rec­tional cloths and polyester resin. A struc­tural fiber­glass grid is at­tached to the hull be­fore the solid, one- piece fiber­glass deck is in­stalled. There’s not a splin­ter of wood in the 360CC. High-den­sity, closed-cell PVC foam is used for cor­ing, pri­mar­ily at the tran­som. The re­sult is a struc­ture that’s solid, stiff and durable. And that’s just what you feel when you hop down from the dock onto the 360CC’s deck.

It feels roomier than ex­pected, which makes mov­ing around a breeze. At the helm is a solid lean­ing post with an aft-fac­ing seat mod­ule. There’s a bench at the stern and ad­di­tional seat­ing just for­ward of the con­sole. The con­sole unit is cer­tainly sturdy, but it seems to lack enough space for the 15-inch mul­ti­func­tion dis­plays that most own­ers will want on a boat such as this. Still, ev­ery­thing is nicely at hand, and the en­gine gauges are easy to read.

Stan­dard power on the 360CC is a pair of 300-hp Yamaha F300 4-strokes. Our test boat was pow­ered by twin F350s — the max­i­mum power rat­ing for this model. And boy, is it fast. The Fluid Wa­ter­craft rep­re­sen­ta­tive who was aboard says the top end at wide- open throt­tle is 68 mph. Fully trimmed with the throt­tle mashed into the dash, we hit 63 mph. At this speed the two big V- 8s con­sume about 52 gph. How­ever, the 360CC cruises com­fort­ably at about 40 mph, where fuel burn set­tles into the high teens to about 20 gph.

All that power and a stable hull with 23 de­grees of tran­som dead­rise equates to some thrilling han­dling. Press­ing into a turn, we spun around as if on rails, and the boat never lost her foot­ing. The harder we pressed the helm over, and the more power ap­plied, the bet­ter the 360CC stuck to the wa­ter. On a river with a light chop, there was no chine walk­ing, even at 60 mph, and with the en­gines trimmed way up there was still plenty of con­trol.

Al­though the 360CC may not ap­peal to hard-core an­glers look­ing for a ded­i­cated fish­ing boat, it’s a good can­di­date for folks pok­ing around the cen­ter con­sole mar­ket in gen­eral. With a fast top end and in­cred­i­bly good han­dling — as well as a roomy deck with plenty of space for fam­ily and friends — the 360CC should ap­peal to a wide range of folks with var­ied boat­ing in­ter­ests. — G.R.

Ribcraft Ex­press 32

Ribcraft USA’s new Ex­press 32 is the largest model the 14-yearold com­pany of­fers. Ribcraft says its boats are built to “ex­actly the same stan­dards” whether they’re for com­mer­cial or recre­ational use.

That starts with a vinylester-in­fused hull with two lon­gi­tu­di­nal and five trans­verse stringers. Like other top RIBs, there is no wood in its con­struc­tion.

The heavy-duty tube has seven air cham­bers, each with its own pres­sure-re­lief valve. Ribcraft says the Ex­press 32 will float even if all of the air is re­moved from the tube — a skip­per could limp home on the fiber­glass hull, which is at­tached by a slide-on dou­ble-bolt rope.

Step­ping aboard for a sea trial near Ribcraft’s plant in Mar­ble­head, Mas­sachusetts, I was struck by the clean, spa­cious deck and the size of the pi­lot­house. It felt more like a tra­di­tional boat than a

RIB. The in­te­rior is steered to­ward com­fort, with ad­justable port/ star­board seats at the er­gonomic helm; 6 feet, 5 inches of head­room; a fully en­closed cabin with 6 feet, 2 inches of head­room; twin 6-plus­foot bunks; and a fully en­closed stand-up head with sink, mir­ror, hang­ing locker and stor­age.

The 32 Ex­press has op­tional heat/air con­di­tion­ing, and with drop- down can­vas or an op­tional full fiber­glass en­clo­sure, it’s de­signed for all-weather out­ings. The helm is sim­ple and clean with space for a 12-inch Garmin mul­ti­func­tion dis­play, as well as room for sev­eral small gauges. A cus­tom wrap­around wind­shield with a frame and sliding side win­dows of­fer nearly 360-de­gree vis­i­bil­ity. The wind­shield has a wiper and fresh­wa­ter wash.

The rem­nants of Hur­ri­cane Pa­tri­cia had just passed through the day be­fore my sea trial, leav­ing be­hind 10 to 15 knots of wind and a steady chop with 4-foot rollers on Mas­sachusetts Bay.

The boat was rigged with twin 300-hp Mer­cury Ver­a­dos and op­tional joy­stick steer­ing (with Sky­hook tech­nol­ogy) for a top speed of about 50 knots. In flat calm con­di­tions fuel burn is about 22 gph at a cruis­ing speed of about 30 knots.

We were the only boat out, and there was no anx­i­ety as the Ribcraft’s deep-vee hull with full-length lifting strakes han­dled the bay re­gard­less of our speed, which topped out in the up­per 30s. The 7,000-pound boat is ex­tremely for­giv­ing, with the tubes min­i­miz­ing roll at a va­ri­ety of an­gles. There was lit­tle pound­ing or launch­ing, and the ride was dry, with no spray on the wind­shield as we ap­proached the up­per 20-knot range.

It’s easy to see why Ribcraft expects the 32 Ex­press to ap­peal to fam­i­lies, who will enjoy its steady ride and for­giv­ing “fend­ers.” Ribcraft also of­fers semi­cus­tomiza­tion, or “per­son­al­iza­tion” of its boats with choices for colors, seat­ing op­tions and en­gine brands. An op­tional gal­ley ar­range­ment with a propane cook­top, re­frig­er­a­tor and sink, and op­tional bow thrusters will make it even more fam­i­lyfriendly. — Rich Arm­strong

So what’s the con­sen­sus? If the in­tended end use is right, large RIBs are ev­ery bit as ca­pa­ble as their hard-sided fiber­glass brethren. And in some cases they’re down­right su­pe­rior — es­pe­cially when it comes to rough wa­ter. Of course, there are trade­offs, par­tic­u­larly if fish­ing or longer-range cruis­ing are what you have in mind. But if a boat with a fast, stable, com­fort­able ride in a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions is what you’re af­ter, a big RIB may be your kind of boat.

The Pro­tec­tor Targa 30 takes a hard turn with grace.

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