Paul Lemmer tests a flagship in the imported Piranha range on the occasion of RIBEX 2011. This is a craft squarely aimed at the leisure market and coupled to its deep-vee hull it could be a worthy addition to the plethora of RIBs suited to our North Atlantic waters.
We know from last year’s positive test results on the Piranha 6.6 that the Chinese manufacturing plant responsible for these boats are listening and learning, and, with an increased amount of input from Piranha Ribs UK in terms of quality control, design and ergonomics, that the product is moving forward at a significant pace. The latest offering from Piranha is the all-new 7.3-metre, a craft that not only looks good but that appears to have addressed some of our less favourable comments about the 6.6 while improving the rest of the dynamics by some margin.
One thing that Piranha do offer is a copious amount of accommodation allied to locker space for a given length, and on this particular craft there were also some unexpected surprises in terms of her specification.
Starting with the hull shape, this looks very modern and purposeful, with a deep V and a decent amount of topside to keep the tubes out of the water when under way. A sharp chine where the hull meets the topside is incorporated to throw water downwards and outwards away from the boat, and there is a decent amount of shear in the bow to provide lift in a following sea. The relatively large-diameter buoyancy tubes look well finished and there are unusual stainless steel grab rails running from the moulded GRP bow down either side of the forward part of the craft, affording additional security for passengers situated forward of the helm position. These rails are attached to specially made blocks which are glued to the buoyancy tubes, and I thought these not only practical and a good safety feature but they also improved the craft’s appearance.
The interior appears to be a mass of seats and cushions, with locker space galore, and on a calm day it would be easily possible to seat the maximum number of passengers recommended for this craft, together with all their kit safely stowed away in the lockers. The forward U-shaped seating arrangement has a removable table for the times when food/drinks are demanded by a ravenous crew, and there is an infill cushion that converts the seating into a large sunbed so they can sleep afterwards! A ‘suicide’ seat on the front of the console has sensible grab rails either side, and these continue up and over the console/windscreen in one continuous length. I thought this was a clever, practical and attractive feature. On the negative side, the upright face of the console has the steering mounted flat against it and not positioned on the higher angled section which would probably have been easier to use, plus the electronics were poorly placed, particularly the GPS, but on the positive side, there is a deep recess for a set of side-mount engine controls, which is a bonus, especially as some outboard manufacturers charge extra for top-mount controls!
A decent-size windscreen affords protection and there is a two-man seating/leaning position for the driver/navigator, but I found that with no footrest when seated and no reachable handhold for the navigator, this was a poorly thought-out helm/seat position. The chaps from Piranha were conscious of my comments and were quick to respond by stating that all the issues I raised would be immediately addressed.
If the dash arrangement and helm seating were in need of a rethink, the same could not be said for the rest of the seat section, for this was very cleverly utilised. Lifting a hinged GRP flap on top of the helm seat revealed a small single-ring cooker and sink unit complete with an electric freshwater tap. In addition, the designers had thought things through by providing a table that folds unobtrusively against the back of the helm seat – a simple yet eminently practical addition for food preparation, or for the aft-seated crew to have somewhere to rest their G and Ts!
Aft of the helm seat is a two/three-man bench seat/splashwell arrangement spanned by a GRP radar arch complete with built-in ‘surround sound’ speakers and mooring cleats. The rear seat has upholstered side support/grab rails that offer good security for passengers, but conversely the backrest was mounted very low and gave very little support (once again the Piranha chaps said they agreed with my observations and that the backrest issue would be resolved on future craft). Right aft are two curiously shaped bathing platforms, one with a neat built-in ladder, and there is also a freshwater shower hidden behind a flap in the splashwell to wash off itchy drying salt. I thought this was a well-thought-out area for skiers/wakeboarders to rinse/dry off without soaking the rest of the crew.
On the day of the test the weather was settled with a fairly flat sea, and the only waves we could find were from passing cruisers and the Isle of Wight ferry, but we did manage to throw the craft about to see if it had any handling foibles and we are pleased to report that it handled in a safe and secure manner. Criss-crossing the very deep and confused wash of a 60-foot motor yacht which was travelling down the Solent at around 25 knots was a particularly good test to show up any flaws in the craft’s handling, but from whatever angle we attacked the wash the Piranha just dealt with it without fuss or drama.
To sum up: no craft is without its faults, but from previous experience we know the Piranha people are quick to respond to any negative issues relating to their products. The criticisms we levelled at the craft were the driving position, the insecurity of the navigator – by way of no handholds or bracing for their feet – the low backrest of the rear seat and the very low-geared hydraulic steering, which meant a lot of twiddling of the wheel during high-speed manoeuvre. However, these issues were comfortably outweighed by the overall appearance and finish, the plethora of seating, the practical nature for a larger family, and the safe handling and ride of the craft. Considering the not inconsiderable price of a new Suzuki 250hp as fitted to the test boat (a smaller and more economical Suzuki 115 or 150 would suit many users), the pricing of the craft is very competitive, and the Piranha range is about to expand into two new areas of ribbing. Piranha are a company on the move, and if the buying public are looking for value for money, then they should put their name on their shortlist.