Anyone taking time to look at all the exhibits at this year’s RIBEX RIB show, particularly if they had an eye for innovative quality, would probably have seen two very distinctive sports-orientated RIBs in the form of the X-Craft 8m and 9m.
Both immaculately turned-out craft were beautifully finished in unusual liveries – one all black with contrasting bright-orange upholstery, the other in unusual beige GRP with grey tubes – but what really made these two craft stand out were their unique and attractive suspension seats.
Despite the size of the craft there has been no attempt by the builders to provide copious amounts of seating, and with only four individual suspension seats, plus a wide one-person calm-water-only ‘suicide’ seat set into the front of the streamlined console, that was it!
Created in the Netherlands by Dutch specialist engineer/designer (some say perfectionist) Niels Deen, the X-Craft are built to the highest standards, utilising only the best materials and technology in an attempt to provide the ultimate in bespoke RIB design/construction. From the high-tech vacuum-infused composite vinyl ester hull construction and 833 Hypalon buoyancy tubes, through to the exquisitely fabricated 316 stainless-steel fittings, these craft exude quality at the highest level, yet it was the superstylish innovative suspension seats that initially caught one’s attention.
Sitting on conventional-looking GRP seat pods, at first glance these ultramodern aluminium-framed seats look like something from a sci-fi movie; some people looking at them commented that they were overfancy and that there was no place for such ‘design for design sake’ in a utilitarian vessel such as a RIB, but I say, ‘Don’t knock it, until you’ve tried it’! Not only were they ultramodern/stylish, they really were state-of-the-art in terms of technical ability and comfort, as we discovered when we tested the craft at sea.
Because the seats were so distinctive some ribsters may have overlooked other excellent features of the craft, and it was here that the X-Craft really showed its class. Apart from the excellent execution of the seats and superb finish of the GRP mouldings and tubes, it was in the detail finishing that the X-Craft really scored: fittings like the quality Southco hinges, the Monitor locker catches and the breathable upholstery in expensive Sunbrella or skai fabrics, all showed that this was a craft aimed at a discerning owner who puts quality over quantity.
Because all X-Craft are custom (bespoke) built to a client’s individual requirements, these two craft were purely examples of what can be offered, and layout, colours and types of upholstery used are flexible, even to the point where some superyacht owners somewhat bizarrely specify leather-covered seating!
The two craft at RIBEX were an 8m fitted with a Mercury Pro 250hp OptiMax and a Volvo D6 370hp-powered 9m, and on both, the engine installation was professional and tidy, with superb access to the console electrics through a hinged front section of the console. Looking at the wiring within the console further confirmed the company’s attention to detail, with everything neatly secured and labelled, making fault-finding a relatively painless exercise.
Both craft had similar layouts consisting of a forward anchor locker ahead of a spacious storage locker, the whole area accessed through watertight hatches and covered by a 2m-long thickly upholstered sunbed cushion. A deeply recessed ‘suicide’ seat offered secure spacious seating for a large adult or two children in settled sea conditions on the front part of the console, and on the dashboard side there was a simple uncluttered array of instruments and controls that were both easy to read and correctly positioned for ease of operation. There was nothing remarkable about the console: it just worked exactly as one would expect, although for my short frame I could have done with having the seats slightly closer to the steering wheel (adjustable sliding seat cushions are being considered as an option).
The inboard 9m was fitted with a full-width engine box, on top of which was a thick cushion, but no attempt had been made to make this additional seating and, apart from the occasional console seat, the only all-weather seating was provided by the four unique suspension seats and these deserve a special mention all on their own!
With lightweight powder-coated aluminium frames and thickly upholstered seat cushions encompassing top-quality non-absorbent foams and previously mentioned expensive coverings, these incredibly comfortable seats provide driver and crew with the ultimate in offshore back protection. Offered with two types of damping adjustment (standard seat has spanner adjustment whilst ‘plus’ seat has hydraulic/rotary knob adjustment), the amount of damping can be easily adjusted to suit an individual’s weight and preferences to establish the ideal set-up for each crewmember.
So much for the specifications, but how did these new hulls stack up against established brands, and is the extra expense of sophisticated materials and attention to detail transferred to any beneficial advantage on the water? Perhaps in our short test run the benefits are not so easy to establish, but what was immediately apparent was that the handling was of the ‘pin sharp’ variety, the general performance fast, comfortable and safe, and the ride sublime. With a deep-V 24-degree deadrise and strong yet light construction, these craft felt like smaller sports boats rather than comparatively large RIBs, and both HMS and I came away from the test commenting on how good they felt in all aspects of handling/performance, but particularly in tight, fast turns.
To sum up: X-Craft are an emerging company on a mission, and that mission is to provide an exclusive product to an exclusive clientele – a product that is manufactured without compromise to the highest standards of materials and workmanship, with the emphasis on bespoke layout to suit a client’s individual requirements. The show/test boats were purposely chosen by X-Craft to emphasise the minimum seating arrangements, but people carriers, commercial craft, load carriers and military versions are all offered by the company, and their superb suspension seats also come in a variety of guises, including wrap-around sides, different height backrests and alternative seat cushions.
With their elegant tapered tubes, distinctive seating, simplistic layout and quality feel, the show/test craft reminded me of certain exclusive sports cars in that they made no attempt to cram as much as possible into a given package, they just provided their occupants with a feeling of exclusivity, security and the promise of something rather special that lesser examples find hard to emulate, let alone match.