- I’m sure any boat manufacturer would be proud to have such a great performer in their current stable.
- It most certainly is not a boat that will break!
- It benefits from having one of the best hulls ever designed for a craft of this size and type.
- Its pedigree cannot be contested.
The Flight of the Osprey
HMS recounts the history of one of the most influential designs in the history of British RIB building and gets the chance to sea-trial the current incarnation bearing the classic name Vipermax by Osprey.
I believe it’s important to begin by providing some insight into the pedigree of this classic name, which rightly takes its place within the history of modern boatbuilding. Osprey RIBs have held a respected position within the RIB market for some 20 years now. But at the same time, it’s also true to say that all too soon after the company established itself as a market leader back in the 1990s, its prominence and influence dwindled considerably. This was due in no small measure to the company, along with all its design rights, being sold off by its founder, Mike Armitage – an astute businessman who was, and continues to be, behind the commercial success story that is Northern Diver.
This change in the life history of Osprey was a real shame because the ongoing changes of ownership in the years that followed resulted, I believe, in the brand losing momentum – not to mention vital funding for investment in terms of design and development. But under Armitage’s tenure back in the mid-to-late 90s, here in the UK, Osprey championed not only a cause but also many great design ideas. These included such innovations as fibreglass nose cones, tapered tubes, rally car-styled seating modules, moulded cockpits, the use of bold hull and tube colour combinations and even wing mirrors – design initiatives rarely seen on other craft of the time. To keep this in context, this was well before Scorpion emerged on the scene and when, other than perhaps the likes of Avon and Picton, most UK RIB builders were building chiefly orange-tubed ‘tufty’ boats for the dive market.
In the 90s, Osprey were unquestionably known as a make with a flair for offshore performance. These RIBs won many title honours on the race and endurance scene and, as a result, propelled themselves into the limelight at a time when the British boating press was showing a real interest in racing. I likewise recall clearly those early ‘Highlands & Islands’ races, run by RIB adventuring pioneer and great friend Michael Alexander. They were the live forum for the debuting of many exciting innovations. Indeed, these were great times, when a new and exciting market was beginning to become known and publicised and, as a consequence, people were being introduced to RIBs for the very first time. And there is no denying that it was a market that Osprey, particularly with their hard-nosed ‘Lynx’ model designed by the revered British marine architect John Moxham, proved to be at the very heart of – playing a key role in helping to propel this new form of boating to unexpected heights.
As already mentioned, since Armitage’s tenure, the UK company has changed hands several times, with each new custodian seeking to make their mark and set the brand on a successful course. Each, as you can imagine, had varying resources and brought something different to the mix. But it’s probably fair to say that throughout this time, Kris Deraedt of the Brugge Marine Centre, the licence holder for Osprey on the Continent, was the person most responsible for ensuring that build quality, and above all innovation, remained associated with the Osprey name. When Kris brought over his customised Ospreys to the RIBEX shows here in the UK between the years 1998 and 2012, his RIBs were always among the most exciting and well presented on display. So though the brand had become more ‘niche’ in the eyes of some, the commitment and knowledge that Brugge extended to Osprey ensured that the name retained the respect of the industry and European media alike.
Wind the clock forward now to 2012 and who do we see next taking the helm of Osprey here in the UK, following Mike Armitage, Gary Mirley and the late Roy Bishop, but a certain Mr Chris Stevens, along with business partner Guy Goring – the latter an expert in professional steel fabrication. Both these men, like many before and since no doubt, entered the marine business from the perspective of being enthusiasts, keen boaters and, importantly in their case, existing Osprey owners. But with a passion for the product and an already successful business track record, the two men set to work on making Osprey very much their own. The plan? To build to order, sell direct at manageable volumes and keep the costs and overheads from spiralling to the point that large and potentially loss-making investment was required to fund the operation. It could be said that they’ve opted for the ‘organic’ approach to building a business, so how has it been working out in practice? Chris confirms: ‘Keeping our expectations realistic and not being tempted to overstretch our abilities or production process means we are not only turning a profit but we are also able to keep a close eye on build quality.’
But what of the product itself? How does the Osprey RIB of today rate in the light of the foregoing? PBR had the opportunity to sea-trial the 6.8 Vipermax complete with the stunning new 200hp G2 Evinrude out of a busy Salcombe harbour during the town’s regatta week. The water was a bustling summer scene playing host to every type of craft imaginable. Klaxon blasts bellowing out the start of each new race saw dinghies spin, sails gybe and paddles, courtesy of the novelty raft race, well and truly brandished! If we wanted entertainment, then we’d certainly picked our day. But our minds were more intent on weaving our way through the festivities out to the mouth of the harbour and the south-westerly swells beyond.
It had been some years since I’d set foot on the deck of an Osprey, but it quickly felt familiar territory. Fully coming up onto the plain beyond the infamous Salcombe Bar, the water peeled away cleanly from the vessel’s hull, its chines and rails keeping the spray at bay despite the chop. There was enough sea running out here to get a proper feel of the craft performing in what was becoming quite a testing environment – ideal conditions for understanding the boat’s worth and character. With no trim tabs fitted, it was solely engine trim at my disposal as I opened the throttle, to be greeted head on by the first set of big waves. In this most demanding angle to the seas, the Vipermax performed in a very reassuring fashion: her overall good balance along with the G2’s excellent power reserves immediately gave confidence at the helm. The boat gave every impression that it was operating well within its capabilities. Steaming along, beam on to the seas, the Osprey’s lateral stability was noticeable and the ride continued to be dry on deck too. Though the boat’s forward profile doesn’t feature a particularly noticeable sheer, the hull shape nonetheless is not too fine at the bow and as a consequence it possesses a good degree of forward buoyancy. Running before the seas, even when pushed hard, the Vipermax recovered well each time it negotiated a deep trough.
The hull’s pedigree was apparent and it was abundantly clear that its design was as relevant today as it was when it was first brought to market. In fact, I’m sure any boat manufacturer would be proud to have such a great performer in their current stable. No doubt about it, this 6.8m hull still ‘cuts the mustard’ in all areas of performance and is equally happy cruising at moderate speeds as it is blistering along at speeds approaching 60mph.
Earlier we mentioned some of Osprey’s design initiatives, many of which were ahead of their time. This 2015 Vipermax, however, is very traditional fare in terms of its fit-out. Although it does sport a new console design that is highly practical, at the same time it appears dated in its styling due to its flat faces. Of course, it’s very much simpler and less expensive to construct a mould that has no curves or rounded sections to its surfaces. In days gone by, it was often only the biggest companies with the deepest pockets that could afford to ‘tool up’ in order to develop their GRP styling beyond a variation on a ‘box’. Modified instrumentation positioning, along with the resiting of the helm control to prevent a finger getting trapped in the wheel, were among the observations I made in this area. Importantly, however, the combined ergonomics of the helm console and the seat caused one to feel secure, comfortable and fully in control of the vessel at all times. The console’s forward locker, which also houses the boat’s electrics, had yet to have its rearward, bulkhead panel liner installed – but no matter, it’s a great space, and this one detail yet to be addressed didn’t detract from the overall practical benefits of the unit. At least it was evident that the electrical installation was first class.
I have to say, though, that to my mind, the boat’s interior looked dated in comparison to where the market is today, and while it will still appeal to offshore types who perhaps are happy to put functionality above styling, I doubt its appeal will be broad in terms of the true leisure market. This critique applies to the crew jockey pods as well, I’m afraid – functional and sturdy, but typically traditional/‘commercial RIB operator’ in terms of their design. An optional, removable rear beach seat for this model is available and Osprey are also well used to fitting Ullman suspension seating for those owners who wish to upgrade from the standard jockey seat option.
As for the boat’s other chief components, including its stainless steel work, its electrics/wiring, the transom moulding and the quality of the Hypalon sponsons, these are all sound and well executed.
In summary, I would say that this 6.8 Vipermax is a highly capable seagoing vessel. It most certainly is not a boat that will break! It benefits from having one of the best hulls ever designed for a craft of this size and type. Its pedigree cannot be contested. The fit-out, though, looks dated, but then again, in its favour, it’s functional and built for hard use at sea. If aesthetics or the latest in styling aren’t a massive priority for you, and you would prefer a sound boat that will take you anywhere and back again, then the Vipermax should feature on your shortlist. Furthermore, in the hands of Messrs Stevens and Goring, ardent RIB enthusiasts themselves, as a potential customer you know you’re going to be dealing with people who really understand what they’re talking about and moreover have an operation set up to deliver a customised, one-to-one service. It’s good to see the Osprey name continuing and no doubt gaining further ground in the months and years to come.
Specification & Info
- Overall length: 6.8m
- Overall beam: 2.6m
- Internal beam: 1.65m
- Dry weight: 1200kg
- Capacity: 14 persons/1600kg
- Engine options: 1 or 2 outboard engines or single inboard
- Max HP: 225hp or 2 x 115hp
- Tube chambers: 5
- Tube material: Hypalon
- 5600rpm – 52 knots
- 5000rpm – 46 knots
- 4500rpm – 40 knots
- 4000rpm – 35 knots
- 3000rpm – 25 knots
- 2000rpm – 15 knots
- 1750rpm – 9 knots (planing)
- 30 knots – 0.9 litres per nm
- 40 knots – 1.0 litres per nm
- 50 knots – 1.3 litres per nm
- Sturdy seagoing build
- Good power to weight
- Standout hull
- Excellent seakeeping
- Dated styling to helm console
- Colour scheme more suited to semi-commercial role
- Improvements/refinements needed, particularly to the positioning of the wheel and throttle
Price As Tested
- (including 2 x Ullman Biscaya seats) £51,280 (inc. VAT)
- (excluding Ullman seats) £45,050 (inc. VAT)
Tel: 0044 (0) 1453 839103