- The cruising efficiency is very acceptable.
- Ballistic built their reputation on rough-water handling, and certainly the hull coped well with the waves we had …
- The dash is expansive and has space for electronic goodies galore, which the boat comes with as standard.
- One of the joys of the Ballistic 7.8m is her changeable character.
Simon Everett gets airborne with the 7.8m Ballistic RIB …
The waters off the south coast of South Africa can be pretty tumultuous, especially when the South Easter blows, which it does for about three months of the year. This prevailing trade wind, at an average of 30 knots, whips the sea into a fury. Massive South Sea swells pound the coast and it takes a sound boat to deal with these conditions on a constant basis.
Ballistic RIBs were conceived in Britain and seriously put to the test in 2003 in the tortuous 1000km Trans Agulhas race and came through with flying colours, taking three out of the top five places. The boats are now built in a suburb of Cape Town, which is situated right on the boundary of two great oceanic currents. From the east, the Agulhas Current sweeps along the coast, bringing the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. From the north and west comes the Benguela Current; this is a totally different animal – it is deep, cold water upwelling from the southern Atlantic.
The Benguela hits the west coast of Africa and comes south along the infamous Skeleton Coast to sweep into Cape Bay and then meets the warm water of the east roughly off Cape Point. The two currents intermingle and provide the vast richness of wildlife that the Cape enjoys. It is interesting that in just a couple of boat lengths you can go from water that is 26°C to 10°C, and then in a few metres more it can drop to only 6°C. The temperature fluctuations are patchy and ill-defined as the currents eddy off the coast.
It is hard charging against this backdrop of wild water where Ballistic RIBs carved their worldwide reputation. They are built to cope with adverse conditions and provide a fast conveyance for a variety of end-users, from pleasure owners to professional and military use. Built without any timber in the construction, the hull is stiffened and the deck supported on a massively strong, moulded ladder chassis of foam and fibreglass.
The 7.8m version is the largest in the trio of models on offer, starting with the 5.5m, through the 6.5m and currently topping out with the 7.8m. But that is soon to change as there is a 10m Ballistic in development. Ballistic have found their own unique style epitomised by the multiple reverse-scalloped chines that are an immediately recognisable hallmark on the warped vee hull – the idea being that the scallops help to aerate the water below the immersed section of hull, both reducing drag and providing chine edges to grip the water when heeled into a turn. The angle of presentation of each chine to the water is different, in order to help avoid the slap and bang often prevalent when hitting a wave while turning.
Although we had a very calm day for the test, we did go chasing other craft to find some lumpy water. The Trinity House pilot launch throws up a worthwhile wash, so I ran that at various angles, and with the GPS reading 50 knots we could cross at all angles. The boat lifted, of course, but she didn’t point her bow to the sky. The boat flew level, prop clear of the surface by several feet, before settling back in the water with a satisfyingly soft landing born out of the high deadrise, narrow beam and the progressive cushioning of the scallops.
With so little beneath you there is a danger of overhelming, so the best approach to such antics is in a straight line. Turning at high speed coming off a steep wave is a manoeuvre best avoided, unless you fancy an early flight, followed by a cold bath. Speed without control is a very dangerous thing, and I am pleased to report that the Ballistic maintained her composure, helped no doubt by the minimal weight of the Yamaha V6 F300 on the transom.
One of the joys of the Ballistic 7.8m is her changeable character. Forward of the console the seating can convert to a cushioned altar for sun worshippers. With the infills removed there are two long, slim bench seats that lift inwards to access the stowage below, which is long enough to accommodate skis. On the forward end of the console a two-man jump seat serves as a picnic table, which stows inside the console, where there is plenty of room for other baggage. While the main emphasis of the Ballistic is as a fast conveyance, it is also recognised that people like to relax in comfort, so the picnic table can be shipped in the forward cockpit for socialising to the sounds emanating from the built-in iPod stereo and, from dusk onwards, lit by the low-level LED deck lighting.
The bow features a highly polished stainless Samson post and a compact anchor locker ahead of it, which will hold a suitable amount of ground tackle and warp. A nice touch is the cutaway section to allow the hatch lid to close over the rope. A further deep locker is available under the deck forward; the plastic hatch cover kind of spoils the teak deck effect, though.
Astern the console there is seating for many, with four individual jockey seats, each with a comfortable and firm backrest with a grab handle on the back for the people behind to use. Each seat has enough volume inside for individual gear – and having forward-hinging tops alleviates the need to fasten them down. Jockey seats look a bit dated now, but they keep the weight down, allow more seats in the same space than other types and provide stowage. A bit more padding would be nice.
Across the stern is the usual box-top seating arrangement with tubular stainless back- and armrests covered with some padded sections. I would like the padding to be extended so that it fills in the gaps more, especially on the armrests, but the stainless is smart throughout and it matches the double A-frame. The locker volume is enough for small gear, but it is only the box and doesn’t extend out under the engine well. There is a bilge well between with a high-capacity pump installed.
The console itself is kept in proportion and low profile, with barely an excuse for a screen and a wrap-around grab rail backed by hooped grab handles. It does mean you get that wind-in-your-hair feeling, but it lacks the cocoon effect that a taller screen would provide. The dash is expansive and has space for electronic goodies galore, which the boat comes with as standard. The retail price includes a Garmin GPS/sonar and VHF sets, a Fusion iPod stereo, a Danforth compass and Yamaha digital gauges. For those wanting to code the boat, there is space for a second GPS/sonar screen alongside. I couldn’t see much sense in the retaining bar on the passenger side – it is neither a handhold nor does it retain much. An inlet glovebox would be much more useful in its place.
The thinking behind this layout – and you can understand the logic – is that while traversing the open water there is plenty of secure seating aft of the console. Then, once at your hidden cove, there is the room up front to laze around and partake of the provender provided. Of course, should you want different seating, that can be arranged, but I found the blend both traditional and practical.
Ballistic built their reputation on rough-water handling, and certainly the hull coped well with the waves we had, but they were unidirectional, and it is in confused water, where currents eddy and the uneven bottom causes surface disturbance, that the true performance of a hull is discovered. We didn’t have any of that and I haven’t had the opportunity to try the boat in those conditions, but what I did find was a lively and efficient planing hull – although I think the outboard was slightly overpropped as she topped out, even with plenty of trim, at 5600rpm. That is within the wide open throttle range for the engine, but an inch off the pitch should give an extra 200rpm at the top end, without losing out on the hole shot, and still remain below the red line of 6000rpm. With enough wind on the water to break the surface nicely, we managed to squeeze 51.6 knots out of her, so with a bit of load she is still a 50-knot boat.
The cruising efficiency is very acceptable. She rose onto the plane effortlessly at just 12 knots and by 3000rpm was just about touching 25 knots – 24.8 to be precise – and burning a meagre 30.26 litres/hour. Throughout the mid range she just didn’t quite reach the 1 litre/mile mark, but wasn’t far short, which puts the cruising range from her 220-litre fuel tank somewhere in the region of 160 miles. That should be enough for a day blasting about.
When you consider that the Ballistic comes fully loaded ready for deployment, and furthermore, JBT include a pair of life jackets, mooring lines and training to RYA Powerboat Level 2, for those that do not already possess it, in the standard price, you can understand why it is such an appealing package – one that has graced Richard Branson’s Necker Island flotilla for the last 10 years: he has three of them, and more are destined for their new resort on Mosquito island. That is some recommendation.
- RPM Speed (knots) Fuel (galls/hr)
- 600 3.7 0.6
- 1000 5.2 1.3
- 2000 plane 11.7 3.6
- 3000 24.8 6.8
- 3500 30.1 8.9
- 4000 35.2 12.8
- 5000 45.9 21.2
- 5600 51.6 26.2
From £62,577 (inc. VAT) with Yamaha F250
£69,995 as tested with Yamaha F300, including electronics, covers and boating inventory
|Number of chambers:||5|
|Fuel tank:||250 litres|
|Max. seating capacity:||15|
- Comes fully loaded
- Good handling and turn of speed
- Strength of build
- Seats could do with more padding
- Aft arm- and backrests too open
- Forward deck hatch spoils the teak decking
Portsmouth PO6 4PX
Tel: 0870 908 9336