When I was asked to have a look at the Protector cabin RIB I was really looking forward to it, as I had heard good things about them. Would this RIB prove to be the Jonah Lomu of the boating world, able to tackle anything that the coast of Britain can throw at it by running through and battering waves flat, like her rugby-playing countryman?
She has the power in the twin Yamaha F250s sat on the stern, she has the sleek lines of an athlete, even with the cabin sat amidships, and she has the rugged look of a boat that could tame wild horses. The strapline in the advertisements reads: ‘Any water – anywhere’. So we decided to put it to the test.
The weather forecast for the day was not looking promising, so the cabin and wheelhouse were going to be welcome additions against the wind and rain squalls. The boat looked very smart wearing its dark-blue tubes with black accents in the form of wear-protection areas. The combination looks good, the cabin doesn’t overpower the remainder of the boat, and the open cockpits at either end give plenty of deck space in the open air. The Protector is definitely a handsome-looking craft.
Sat on the transom were a pair of Yamaha F250 outboards which fitted happily within the well, surrounded by a stainless-steel pushpit acting as engine-cowling protection, and a horse for a ski towline from the central mooring or towing post with its ensign staff mounting socket in the top. I like things that have more than one function. Either side of the pushpit are moulded steps for access to the water; on this boat they were teak covered. To be honest, the space between the tube overhang and the step was cramped, with the upright of the stainless rail getting in the way to a fair extent. Looking from dead astern, the balance between tubes and motors was just about perfect, the engine cowls and the tube diameters complementing each other in both symmetry and colour, but this also shows the pushpit support tube to dissect the access.
The bow is treated to a similar, internal pulpit rail and Samson post with windlass atop, again a sensible dual use of a facility aboard. The single-post arrangement at each end for mooring duties is an effective way of keeping clean lines and simplifying rope management, although there are also cleats on each quarter moulding. The bow is furnished with a raised step that is also the chain locker. Unlike many boats this is accessed, not by lifting the step as a hatch cover which can get broken and is difficult to seal, but by a bulkhead-mounted hatch in the after end with proper dogs to seal it shut, not just hasps. Also in the forward cockpit there are side steps at the base of the cabin, which provide access ashore, or along the side deck, with its nonslip wear patch running full length atop the tube. Rope lifelines are provided for the full length of the boat too. I think this is a carry-over from the more open version, but it does no harm.
The cabin is very basic and provides no more than two full-length berths and shelves. It is still a welcome feature for getting in out of the weather. The walkway through the cabin has standing headroom, and the watertight, strengthened glass door leads onto the foredeck, a much simpler and safer way of going forward than along the side deck. The layout is well thought out and practical, with accurate moulding and useful features. The tubes are slightly tapered towards the bow and sit squarely on the water at the stern, where they can provide stability. The after cockpit is spacious and equipped with just the across-the-stern bench with its split, lifting-seat bases for getting into the fully moulded space below. This could be used as a wet locker, or even as an ice tray for drinks or as a fish box for your catch. There is further stowage aft in the transom moulding, which is reached by hinging the entire seat forward. The two watertight hatch covers provide access to the batteries with their isolators and the fuel water-trap filters. For major surgery, or if you don’t need the bench seat, the entire unit is easy to lift out by simply unscrewing the hinge pins. I found it funny that a pair of wooden paddles is provided in dedicated holders. Obviously it is a requirement of the New Zealand maritime regulations, but how anyone is supposed to paddle a boat of this size in any wind or tide is beyond me!
The seating in the wheelhouse is provided by two semi-bolster seats with flip-down squabs, and two aft-facing seats on the corner mouldings. The flip-down seats double as leaning posts and there is a wooden footplate to brace against. The seat is very comfy when sat in it and the footrest is just about right for someone of my size. When stood, though, the backrest doesn’t provide a great deal of support, or if you lean back into it to the point where it does grip you snugly, it is a long reach to the wheel. Everything is nicely appointed and the general layout is as one would expect on a wheelhouse RIB, with plenty of dash area to mount electronics. On this boat there was a full complement of integrated Raymarine equipment displayed through one of their E80 screens. We fired the motors up and cast off to try the boat in our English Channel water.
Flat or sheltered water is hardly a test of any boat that is billed as a rough-water boat. In the sheltered run-out to the building breakers off Old Harry, the Protector was mild-mannered, comfortable and provided a well-protected ride. The removable side screens from the cabin tent offered just enough deflection to the airflow and prevented turbulence that can so often cause an eddy of slipstream into the wheelhouse, bringing exhaust fumes with it. The clean-burning Yamahas, rather than smoky diesels, no doubt contributed to this.
As we began to clear the harbour and found a strong breeze, four points off the starboard bow, the spray began to get blown aboard across the sternsheets. The boat felt really planted at all angles of trim with no hint of chine riding, even when trimmed right out. The low-slung tubes, whilst providing ultimate stability, did not preclude the Protector from having a great turning circle – she will spin around on a sixpence. That same low-tube position, though, does cost in drag, and the performance, I thought, was slightly down on expectation. With 500hp pressing on, I would have expected a top speed in the high 40s or closer to 50 than the 44 knots we did manage to squeeze out. There are no weight figures available for the Protector to ascertain whether she is a heavy boat, but for the benefit of the doubt one can only assume so.
Out in the rough and tumble of our common overfall situation I was, frankly, disappointed. A big RIB like this, with all-weather protection, should be able to deal with such conditions with ease. The truth is, she didn’t. The ride in the rough was very hard and we found it difficult to maintain planing speed. In comparison, the Avon Adventure 8.5, an open boat, was able to maintain an average of over 20 knots through the same water on the same day, with sprints up to 25 knots and beyond when the wave pattern allowed. The Protector couldn’t come near her, it was impossible to keep up. Furthermore, while I was shooting the Avon we set the big Kiwi adrift, so I could keep my feet, with my eye to the viewfinder, and shoot in those curlers. We actually had one sea break over the side and soak me from the top of my thigh down. Thankfully my camera bag was up high on the passenger pedestal seat. The water drained out in seconds, but I was stunned at the fact that a wave had been able to do this on a RIB. Why hadn’t she ridden over it?
With the sea on the beam the Protector handled it well and steered on the crests happily, the hull giving plenty of grip to keep her on the knife-edge when needed. With the sea astern things were better than driving into it, but again we found her wanting in comparison to the similarly priced open Avon. At one point, the bow tube was bending back and I had to be quick to ease the power, fearful of tearing the tube off the bow. This wasn’t driving hard trying to beat the waves, or jumping from the crest into the trough and the wave catching up either, this was simply maintaining steady progress and, riding the waves trimmed up and working the throttles, it was difficult to keep the bow up. I can only think that the southern ocean waters that she is built for have a longer wave length than we are used to, either that or we weren’t driving her hard enough and she needed to be thoroughly thrashed to make the hull work, but with a customer’s boat one has to be respectful and not try to break things.
Against this, one has to balance the fact that she has the cabin and is well found. She is also reasonably priced, starting at around £65,000 with twin engines. If you aren’t looking to battle big seas maybe this aspect isn’t so important to you, but knowing you have plenty in reserve to get you home across the Channel if you need it is very reassuring.
Simon Everett and HMS