Those lads at the Atlantic College really started something when they put their plywood bottom on the inflatable boat. John Caulcott’s entry in the Round Britain Race of 1969 was another early experiment into making solid-bottomed inflatables which had begun with Tony Lee-Elliot’s messing about.
With RIBs having developed over the years everyone is now getting in on the act, with all the hard work having been done. The Italians and French saw the forerunner of the Flatacraft at a race and went away with the idea in their heads, and then bettered it. Consequently the leisure market is now awash with something like 120 different RIB makers around the world, but remember it all started here, in good old Blighty!
Turkey has been knocking on the door of European membership for a few years now. Almost as a prelude to them becoming fully fledged members, they are manufacturing products that will appeal to a mass European market. Northstar is a boatbuilder that has come up with a range of supposedly purpose-designed hulls on pleasure RIBs, but they look remarkably like early Zodiac hulls with a few tweaks to me. The forward strake angle differs from the norm in that it curves downwards slightly towards the keel line, rather than sweeping upwards towards the stern; it is also stepped and fairs into the hull short of the bow. Nevertheless, these Turkish-built, Italian-designed RIBs work quite well. We tried two models and majored our interest on the 205WRT, powered by a Suzuki 200hp, with just a quick foray into the rough stuff aboard her smaller sister, the 195RT, powered by a 140hp motor.
The Northstar looks good on the water and appears bigger due to the high freeboard and large-diameter tubes, a typically Italian approach. The colour scheme of blue on bright white helps this illusion, as lighter shades look larger than darker ones. The layout is very open and minimalist with just the double helm seat and aft bench for seating as the bow is given over to a large, flat area that has infill cushions to create a sunbathing area which will be right at home on the Italian or French Rivieras. An umbrella would be more at home in our climate, and the Northstar can provide this too, with an all-over bimini which can be used at speed. Hoorah! This is a simple boat that addresses the urge to go boating from a minimalist perspective, but then adds some neat touches.
The helm seat is a tad on the narrow side but it is tucked in nicely behind the console. The back of the helm seat folds flat to form another sunbed with the aft seat. Other than the helm console it is possible to turn the boat into a self-propelled sunbed with a parasol. Over the whole of the aft cockpit section the bimini cover can be used to provide shade or to ward off one of those sudden summer downpours. The bimini folds against the nicely proportioned ‘A’ frame and hinges forward to provide tensioning struts for the canvass so that it should be possible to run with it up at planing speed.
The fixtures and fittings are very much as you would expect. There are fabric loops for handholds along the forward section of the tubes, saving weight and cost. The cut of the tubes was very accurate but the gluing was a bit messy in places, with blisters and other minor flaws, but the cut of the panels was superb, with each edge being rounded rather than square, and the application was very neatly done other than those few blemishes. I am sure these things will be addressed as the factory is made aware of them. Simplicity is also a cost-saving feature by making the boat easier to produce, so by utilising the aft seat and engine-well moulding as support for the tubes at the after end, together with the hull flange, the construction is actually pretty rigid. Of course, the tubes are only part of the equation. The hull is the working element and the Northstar hull does work surprisingly well.
The profile of the hull is very much like the Zodiac Hurricane, one of the earliest designs for a RIB hull, but one which has stood the test of time. The strakes and the after end have noticeable differences, though. There is just the one strake on the hull and it has a downturn to its leading end. The chine is reduced forward and fairs out from about the helm station, where the hull breaks the water at planing speed. From there it flares outward to create a supportive chine. The tubes are of constant large diameter around the boat and made of Hypalon-covered material. The set of the tubes is spot on, with the after third just touching the water at rest and riding clear of the water once on the plane.
I have to say that the boat went really well. We had her out in some quite snotty water, and she performed the function of giving a dry, comfortable ride without showing up any nasty foibles. The big tubes held her well up out of the water and kept any thrown water overside. The following day the weather was really awful, and we went out over the notorious Salcombe Bar, just for the sake of it. There were some very large rollers breaking as they met the shallower water; there were some steep, 10-foot cresters making the sea look like a set from a Hollywood film, yet the boat rode them quite happily. Putting the sea astern made life interesting and one had to be on one’s toes.
The 195 was taking on the sea at high speed, and although she showed us her prop a few times she stayed level and landed better than expected. The larger, heavier 205 took more provocation, but we did manage to aerialise the prop and landed comfortably and under control. Putting the boat into fast turns proved little, other than the fact that she would heel to the tube and then no more. The hull stayed on the line of the arc chosen and the prop remained buried, regardless of how tight you put her into a turn, and we had, swinging around, some very tight radii indeed.
On the less turbulent water in the partly sheltered area of the bay, with a more normal wave pattern, we could maintain sporting speeds in comfort. They have kept things simple, and the concept works and offers some creature comforts along with it. The Northstar is very similar in many respects to many other RIBs, but with one major difference: the price. Building them in Turkey gives an economic advantage that will put a smile on many a happy face.