The Humber Sports Pro 8.5 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as Simon Everett discovers.
You have to cast your mind back to 1988 for when the first 8.5m RIB was built, and it was a Humber built for the commercial market. Back then, the concept of an 8.5m RIB was unheard of; people actively questioned who on earth could possibly need such a behemoth. The march of time tends to answer such questions, either like the Sinclair C5 where they don’t catch on and fade away, or they take off and become totally familiar and part of everyday life. This is what happened to the RIB, and now leviathans of 20m and more are built and cause little more than a raised eyebrow, such is the normality of big RIBs, their validity having been proved time and time again.
The heritage of the 8.5m Sports Pro comes from the well-proven Attack 5.3, which was originally built for the diving industry. The Attack works so well that the initial 8.5s were correctly scaled-up versions – to the nearest 1mm in all dimensions. Every facet was faithfully reproduced, but there was a slight snag – in the longer boat it didn’t quite work, so Frank had to make some fine-tuning tweaks to maintain the performance and handling. True to form, these adjustments were made on a real boat and tried before the final mould was made, when Frank was totally satisfied he had achieved what he had set out to achieve. The major difference was that the beam was increased ever so slightly, and the curves of the scalloped chines were hand-tuned to suit the new hydrodynamics. It was painstaking work and Frank reckons it probably cost him a packet in time and materials, but the end result was worth the pain. As the saying goes, ‘no pain, no gain’.
The 8.5 Sports Pro deserves more recognition than it gets. The ride is amazingly smooth – even in rough water the handling and balance of the hull are sublime. The biggest drawback is that the ability of the boat is so great, very few owners will ever come close to finding out just what the boat is capable of. I mean that in the nicest possible way. This is one of the smoothest-riding and most capable RIBs I have ever driven, and it ‘only’ had twin 200s – but it is quite capable of taming a pair of 300s without batting an eyelid.
The hull is incredibly slippery through the water in a straight line. The partial strakes are only added where they are needed and they follow different curves so as to be optimised for their placement on the warped vee hull. Again, their shape came about through trial and error, with actual on-water testing, not computer simulation. There have been slight deviations from the initial size, shape and curvature to arrive at the current hull shape, which Frank is finally happy with. It has only taken him 25 years to perfect it(!), but the ride and handling are just astounding. There is a slight tendency to porpoise with excessive trim, but there is no hint of chine-walking thanks to the table of water created below the hull, despite those small and short strakes. Because they are in the right place, they can be kept to the minimum and still do the job, just spitting water, which helps to provide the almost unbelievable fuel consumption figures, helped in no small part by the major breakthrough in the G2 motors. At 46.2 knots, the read-out said we were burning a measly 37.6 litres per hour. I was so taken aback we did it several times to check the figures. I just couldn’t believe the instruments – they had to be lying to me. How can an 8.5m boat return those figures, in real time? It is absolutely remarkable and testimony to all those hours invested in fine-tuning the Sports Pro hull. ‘That’ll do’ doesn’t figure in Frank’s vocabulary.
Put the boat into the hardest full-speed turn you dare and you will be rewarded with a perfectly executed manoeuvre, with no grip, slip, grip, slip behaviour. Those scalloped chines are presented to the water as the boat heels, creating multiple strakes with air pockets between, so the revs hardly drop, the corner speed is kept up and the waves can do their damnedest to slap you on the cheeks at the bow, but the change in the curvature is ready for them, and instead of a resounding smack that goes through from your toes to your teeth and shakes your fillings out, the boat rides the wave and just creams it. If I had the money, opportunity or need for one of these boats, I would build it in off-white and call it Ambrosia. As it was, the test boat was built for a Swedish customer and is a symphony in styling, with a monochromatic theme throughout. Even the caulked deck is black and silver and the fabric of the tubes shows its weave and comes over in the light like it is made of carbon fibre. The aesthetics are stunning and the ability to customise the engine panels to match the boat makes for an amazing visual effect, even when standing still. At 45 knots it looks even more dramatic.
The potency contained within those black and white engine covers, even in ‘the baby’ 200hp guise, is sufficient to take the 8.5m RIB from a standstill to 20 knots in under 2 seconds. It is like being kicked into touch by Jonny Wilkinson. With the 300s it must be like being tackled by Tuigamala.
The new aft seating design incorporates an across-the-transom arrangement with individually sculptured seats – not bolsters exactly, but the depth provides the lateral support for the occupant during the high G turns that are likely to occur, once the helm realises they can! I tried in vain to upset the boat, but it didn’t matter how aggressive I was at the wheel, the hull just responded and called my bluff, as if to say, ‘Is that all you’ve got? Come on, be a man.’ Seriously, I felt so in control I reckon I could have done anything and the boat would have just got on with it. I couldn’t find a flaw, other than the porpoising introduced by overtrimming. Even then the boat remained laterally stable where others start to dance from gunwale to gunwale under similar provocation.
There has to be a drawback and on the Humber Sports Pro it is found in the amount of room between the console and the tube, which is a narrow walkway you have to negotiate. A narrow hull for performance together with a wide console for protection is always going to limit the room to move forwards, but I got myself wrong-footed a couple of times with my feet tangled and wedged between rubber and fibreglass. There is also the suicide seat that hinges forward, rather than upwards. It is a comfortable seat when sat in, but by hinging it forward the access to the massive stowage space behind is damned awkward. A couple of hinges and a gas ram would solve that problem.
The Hypalon used for the tubes on the Sports Pro has a finish that makes it look like carbon weave, which is incredibly stylish, and the entire visual concept is stunning – enhanced, I think, by the criss-cross ‘carbon’ pattern of the collar. Why the Humber Sports Pro hasn’t caught the eye of serious RIB users before I can’t explain. It works really well and stands out from the crowd too. I loved the way she handled and performed.
- RPM Speed (knots) Fuel consumption (litres/hr)
- 500 idle 4.9 0.8
- 1000 5.2 1.4
- 2000 9.3 4.8
- 3000 24.0 12.3
- 4000 34.1 20.3
- 5000 42.9 31.7
- 5300 46.2 37.6
- Overall length: 8.3m
- Internal length: 7.0m
- Overall beam: 2.8m
- Internal beam: 1.75m
- Tube diameter (tapering to bow)/air chambers: .53m/7
- Number of persons: 14
- Maximum payload: 2000kg
- Boat weight (standard specification): 1450kg
- Height of boat/height of boat on trailer: 2.05m/2.6m
- Maximum engine HP (XXL) single engine: 350hp
- Maximum engine HP twin engine: 2 x 300hp
- Tube material: Orca Hypalon 1300gm
- CE category: B
- Deadrise at transom: 22 degrees
From £81,317 (inc. VAT)
As tested, with twin Evinrude GS 200hp and extras: £119,444 (inc. VAT)
Humber RIBs, 99 Wincolmlee, Hull HU2 8AH
Telephone: +44 (0) 1482 226100
Fax: +44 (0)1482 215884
- Performance and handling
- Fuel economy
- Forward folding suicide seat
- Low-placed throttle control
- Access past console