Osprey has been building boats in the UK for 25 years now and during that time, it has enjoyed considerable success both on the race circuit and in the recreational world.
Its current range is quite diverse, with the 5.5-metre Sparrowhawk, the 6.0-metre Eagle, the 6.6-metre Sea Harrier and the two Lynx RIBs (at 8.0 and 8.5 metres) all offering purposeful GRP nose cones and plenty of customising potential. There are also four Viper boats available from 5.2 to 7.0 metres in length, but the most versatile line-up in the entire fleet, with six hull lengths from 5.5 to 7.5 metres in length is the Vipermax series.
It has been the company’s most popular series for many years now and the key to that success is its flexibility. The entire range is built in the UK, so while there are a selection of standard models available to buy, you can have an enormous amount of input during the design and building stages. You can pick any combination of seating you like, along with four different consoles and, as the builder is not tied into any specific engine manufacturer, you can also mount just about anything you want on the transom. Osprey obviously has its preferences for each craft but it is not in the slightest bit precious about how you choose to customise your boat. You can take the easy route of buying a complete turnkey package or you can even just buy the bare hull and tubes and set about rigging the craft yourself.
A sporting arrangement
The test boat, however, is plainly rigged for sport. At rest, it is a pleasantly proportioned craft, with subtly tapered tubes and a simplicity that the traditional Ribster will admire. There is no pretty A-frame or extravagantly raked console and the fittings are robust rather than stylish. But with the inflatable collar significantly elevated form the water’s surface, this looks like a very able boat indeed. You know from the start that the tubes will stay well out of the way until called into service either to steady a turn or to provide buoyancy and stability under a heavy load - and both in terms of efficiency and practicality, that’s exactly what you want.
As for the engine, Evinrude’s High-Output (HO) version of the ETEC 250 promises refinement much closer to four-stroke levels than the two-strokes of yesteryear, allied to better torque at the bottom end and midrange. It’s a ferociously potent unit, so it’s good to see that the layout on board the Vipermax is appropriately arranged. There are no sunbeds or lounging pads - just reassuringly robust jockey seats with excellent lateral wings to lend support in aggressive conditions. There is also a thick metal grab rail for the navigator on the port side of the dash, plus substantial handles on the backs of the jockey seats and on the tube tops. It’s plainly rigged to keep the passengers safe and secure at pace and on a fast, sporting RIB, that is exactly what you want.
The moment you pin the throttle, the Vipermax rises onto the plane flat and fast. In fact, the transition is too quick to accurately measure, and its low speed planing manners are equally impressive. You’re on the plane from as little as 10mph, and by the time the dials reach 1,200rpm, you already have 14 mph on the clock with a fuel flow of just 14 litres per hour.
As the pace increases, it’s noticeable that the hull’s fast-running efficiency generates very little in the way of a wake, so advanced wakeboarders might find it all a bit dull, but at the helm, nothing could be further from the truth. The Vipermax is ferociously responsive and it’s about more than just throttle response. As the boat heels into a turn, you can feel the aft part of the tube and the pronounced spray rails doing their bit to arrest the heel, before supporting the turn with the utmost solidity. You can even take your hands off wheel and throttle and, as the seas wash across your beam, the boat stays planted with the same pace, the same angle of heel and the same rate of turn until you take positive action to alter it. It’s immensely impressive.
Even the forward-facing seat on the front of the helm console is a place you can sit without fear. With room for two, a framework of sturdy grabbing rails and some useful lumbar support, it’s as well appointed as you will see. Factor in the extraordinary softness of the Osprey’s ride and it makes even more sense - as in fact does the cruising performance. On a gentle run of around 40mph at 4,000rpm, you can expect a generous range of around 170 miles, which is great for the ambitious cruise boater - and yet once you’ve enjoyed the razor sharp performance as you ease closer to the 58 mph top end, it seems almost a shame to hold back…
In this form, the Osprey Vipermax 7.0 is not a complex or especially luxurious boat but its combination of poke, handling aggression and ride softness is as well judged as any recreational boat I have ever helmed. It has enormous reserves of sporting ability and yet it is much easier to drive that you might imagine, rewarding confidence at the helm with extraordinary levels of performance. It certainly offers a visceral and immediate helming experience, but you can run hard without hurting your back, chat without having to shout and cruise without spending a fortune. It’s been around for quite a while now but there are still very few boats that can match it. For details contact Liverpool Powerboats or see Osprey Ribs.
Alex Smith is an ex-Naval officer, with extensive experience as a marine journalist, boat tester and magazine editor. Having raced as a Pilot in the National Thundercat Series and as a Navigator in the inaugural Red Sea RIB Rally, he has now settled in the West Country, where he lives and works as a specialist marine writer and photographer from his narrowboat in Bath.