Redbay of Antrim in Northern Ireland has been building boats since 1977 - and right from the very start, their craft have been designed specifically to cope with the intimidating conditions so often seen in the local waters. Reliable build quality and user-friendly seakeeping were always key imperatives and while in the past that approach has seen Redbay develop a very robust reputation for its super-tough fishers, that same expertise is equally well suited to RIBs.
Today, the Redbay Stormforce RIB range consists of 19 boats, ranging in length from the 6.1-metre hull (available either in Open RIB or Fast Fisher configuration) to the 11-metre platform, which is used in no fewer than five differing configurations (including the Canopy, Cruising Cabin, Commercial Cabin, Touring and even Flybridge models). There is even an epic 16-metre commercial craft at the very top end of the range, designed to carry 30 passengers at speeds of up to 30 knots - but back down in the realm of realistic everyday leisure boats, the new 650-S is a craft that deserves particular attention.
The leisure-biased 650-S is essentially an enhanced version of the well-established 6.5. In the 650 guise, it benefits from a redesigned bow and sheer line plus an internally moulded deck and console arrangement, which is much cleaner to look at and very simple to wash down and maintain. The idea behind these changes is to produce a boat of 6.5 metres in length that is quicker, lighter and better finished than its predecessors - and yet the 650 retains some very attractive commercial style features…
For instance, the Hypalon collar is topped off by no fewer than six sturdy, high-friction stepping strips, plus handles and lifelines along the tube’s entire length. On the nose, you get an equally workmanlike fairlead and below that, in the apex of the foredeck, that unmistakable symbol of maritime practicality, the Samson post.
Toward the stern, things are equally robust, with a squat, four-legged A-frame, anchored in elevated deck mouldings on either side of an automatic bilge pump and a large-diameter drainage pipe. And when you look at the stats, a CE rating of Category B and the option of either single or twin engine installations suggest that this remains a very serious sea RIB. Certainly, the option of a rather plush looking ‘teak’-lined deck implies a pandering to the niceties of leisure boating, but it is plain that the important elements of strength, resilience and commercial quality have been very much retained.
Up at the helm, once you get over the peculiar mismatch between the screen and its peripheral grab rail, the dash arrangement on the 650-S is excellent. The wheel is angled slightly up, the top-mounted left-hand throttle with its thumb rocker switch is well positioned and the simple Suzuki dials are easy to use. Even the compass is properly displayed on a dedicated plinth, precisely where you would want it - visible but not obstructive.
The seating position is a little too close to the helm for me, so I struggle to extend my legs as much as I would like. But on the plus side, the positioning of the helm console quite a long way forward puts you right up close to the point of impact, making it extremely easy to judge wave shapes and drive with pace and sensitivity. It all works well, making you feel comfortable, connected and in control. And when you get underway, the ride is every bit as soft as you would expect of a boat from a stable with Redbay’s offshore heritage.
In fairness, with just 140hp on the transom, this particular boat is not being asked to deal with the scale of impacts that might arise from a 50-knot charge but, running at wide-open throttle with around 34 knots on the clock, over some lumpy wash from the Solent’s commercial traffic, the sensation from the driver’s seat is one of very great comfort.
Interestingly, the original hull upon which the unmodified 6.5-metre platform is based was the first RIB hull Redbay ever introduced. Emerging as a 6.1-metre boat in 1990, it proved itself very capable as an offshore racer but in this current guise, the driving experience is far more about composure, comfort and control than about outright aggression - and that’s an entirely positive thing. She sticks steadfastly to the surface, even over sizeable swells, never once getting out of shape or looking likely to surprise the unwary helmsman. With a baby soft ride, you simply carve across a seascape with the utmost confidence, free of clatter and entirely free of doubt. Of course, it’s not the most ferocious thrill ride you are ever likely to encounter, but if you want a boat that can take good care of you, this is tough to beat.
With Redbay’s epic build quality, allied to four jockey seats, a spacious aft deck and a user-friendly ride, the 650-S remains a genuinely capable sea RIB. Some more storage would be good, as would a more protective screen and some slightly wider walkways, but the boat’s quality is much more profound than its flaws. This is plainly a RIB that can look after you when the weather deteriorates and while the DF140 does a decent job, a CE rating of Category B and a power rating of 225hp show that this hull is capable of handling a great deal more. Talk to Edward Pedley at MRL and he will be more than happy to help find the option that best suits your needs.
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.