The Olympic Games is a very major undertaking - and not just on land but also at sea. As an island nation and a powerful player on the international sailing stage, Britain was always likely to give particular focus to the sailing events, so LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) has had a very big job to do. They needed to find a powerboat fleet that would be capable of carrying out a great many tasks in front of a global audience of four billion. As well as catering for the international press and the hoards of VIPs, it would need to be able to organise and marshal a top class sailing regatta. And with the Games just round the corner, that fleet has now been put in place, courtesy of Ribcraft and Beneteau.
The RIB fleet
While Solent RIB Charter of Lymington is supplying 24 charter RIBs, the big player on the rigid inflatable side of things is Ribcraft. Based in Yeovil, Somerset, Ribcraft was awarded the contract to manufacture 64 craft for use as platforms for jury work, umpiring, mark laying and measurement roles.
The Ribcraft fleet was built in just six months and comprises 44 of the popular 5.85 models and 20 larger 750 craft. The 5.85s come in two different layouts. The first layout consists of a single-seat jockey console with hatch, windscreen and grab rail, while the second layout features a more relaxed, side-by-side seating arrangement and a console with access hatch and stainless steel wraparound grab rail. Aside from these minor variations, the spec of the 585s have received no special modifications for Olympic duty.
These boats look like a particularly good choice. In addition to the extraordinary strength of build you would expect of Ribcraft, with its extensive commercial boat building background, the 585 is a very well proven hull length for the west country RIB builder. It has been honed over years of committed on-water action and comes with a sheer, elevated bow, a deep-V hull and full-length spray rails. The result is very soft, dry ride and that is likely to be a big plus for the Olympic skippers.
The larger Ribcraft 750 is designed to offer the recreational user serious offshore ability, with sleeker lines and more rapid performance than the Professional range. It is also designed to offer greater security to passengers, with a deck that sits lower in the boat than many comparable RIBs. In addition to the classic deep forefoot and soft ride so familiar to Ribcraft users, the internal space of the 750 is likely to be used to the utmost for the laying of buoys and markers during the Olympic sailing events, where the tighter internals of the 585s begin to become restrictive.
But it’s not just about the Olympics for this RIB fleet. After the Games are over, four of the mark laying RIBs will be donated to the RYA to help support the sport and to run more high-profile sailing events in the future. And around half the fleet will also be made available for resale, as Jason Purvey of Ribcraft explains: “All the boats will be fully serviced and in A1 condition before we sell them on after the Games. We can further customise these boats to suit the buyer’s requirements with the additions of trailers, extra seating and ‘A’ frames and they will have a complete ‘as new’ warranty.” The company has also negotiated with Suzuki, the main engine supplier, to offer the boats as complete packages with discounted engines, so interest in these famously capable RIBs is likely to be very keen.
The hard fleet
Of course, a fleet of RIBs was never going to be enough. In addition to the practical work of preparing and overseeing the race events themselves, the world’s journalists and photographers will also be in need of reliable transport and viewing platforms - as will the various VIPs and Heads of State, who are also expected to attend the Olympic Games. And LOCOG’s choice is a fleet of 23 Suzuki-powered Beneteau boats worth in the region of £3.6 million.
That fleet consists mainly of Antares models, Barracudas and Swift Trawlers and given the key qualities required, that would appear to be a very sage decision. These craft all offer plenty of deep, secure internal space, plus panoramic, uninhibited views of the action and great freedom of movement for those on board.
In total, there are eight models of boat across four product lines. From the four-strong Antares line, LOCOG selected the two largest in the form of the 7.80 and 8.80. These practical, fisher-style craft provide big aft decks and extended swim platforms to help maximise external space. Inside, the cockpit is designed to offer excellent visibility, with impressive headroom, very expansive, upright windows and additional see-through roof panels to improve natural light. With trim tabs and bow thrusters on the 8.80, plus a double berth and a separate heads compartment, these are very well appointed craft, despite their modest length.
LOCOG also chose six Barracuda 9s - five of them with the optional two-man fly and one without. And while all six are very sporting craft, with the famous Beneteau ‘Airstep’ and a powerful, boldly flaring bow, one of the key reasons the Barracuda was chosen, was its performance in a crosswind. The test days showed minimal windage and very commendable controllability at close quarters, which will be extremely handy for the Olympic skippers. They are likely to be used in unmodified condition as relay and finish line boats.
Finally, right at the top end, Beneteau’s Swift Trawler line-up is fully represented in the Olympic fleet, with a pair of 34s, four 44s and two of the flagship 52s. These distinctly traditional looking boats are designed to offer huge internal space, big cruising range and excellent stability at sea - and it is for this reason that they are to be used as press and photography platforms. They will also carry out duties as viewing platforms for VIPS, partly because their broad open layouts and flybridges offer some of the very best viewing positions, and partly because they come complete with extremely luxurious on board facilities.
There is also a single Gran Turismo 44 to add a little glamour to proceedings, but the key with this fleet is a very disciplined approach to space, light and practicality, and a very user-friendly approach to layouts and helming dynamics. And Beneteau’s UK Sales Manager, Francois Renault, is plainly confident in the sense behind LOCOG’s choice: “We’re delighted to be supporting the London 2012 Olympic Games by supplying a fleet of 23 quality Beneteau powerboats to accommodate royalty, heads of state, race officials and other VIPs. We’re confident they will provide the best possible platform from which to enjoy the sailing events at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Weymouth and Portland.”
Only the event itself will determine whether the boats chosen are really fit for purpose, but from the evidence of the test days, both the RIB and hard boat fleets have roundly justified LOCOG’s faith. For more on the Olympic Games, see London 2012. For more on the boats or engines featured here see Ribcraft or Beneteau or Suzuki.