- Stylish but purposeful, capable and confidence-inspiring, the Gemini Waverider 880 is a truly great hand-built custom craft…
- To drive this boat is a pleasure… it all speaks class.
- Deck space aboard the 880 is generous and affords good access past the console – both port and starboard side.
Gemini 880 Waverider
Hugo Montgomery-Swan flies south to the mighty waters of the Cape to test a RIB that lives up to its name in more ways than one. (Photography by Pollyanna Montgomery-Swan)
There’s little point beating about the bush and keeping you in suspense. Let me say from the off, the Gemini 880 Waverider we recently tested in the waters off the South African Cape is a truly great multifunctional offshore RIB – one of the best craft in this category I’ve tested for some while, in fact. She’s a very high-quality deep-vee vessel indeed and one that reveals the builder’s insightful approach to design and construction. Such is manifested in the 880’s functionality of fit-out. Whether you’re the person behind the wheel or a passenger/crewmember, it quickly becomes clear that the boat has benefited greatly from the high degree of attention its makers have given to its internal detail – not just in terms of the quality of workmanship and the choice of materials used, but also in such things as the positioning and height of the seats in relation to handholds, accessibility and the viewability of the ‘flight deck’ instrumentation, as well as the view forward through the wind deflector screen. These latter elements relate to good ergonomics – something lacking on a good many production boats these days.
When in or aboard something that’s genuinely well designed – a car, a boat or any other object for that matter – one tends to take good design for granted. It only really becomes apparent when it’s lacking. So, as soon as you step on the teak deck of the 880, you immediately feel comfortable that you’re aboard a vessel that’s going to look after you. And this is even before the motors are fired up!
Though this particular all-black RIB has been built primarily with leisure use in mind, nonetheless you’ll find no evidence of compromise. To this end, if she had been intended for commercial/professional application, you’d expect to find no greater standard of construction or fit-out quality than that seen here. It’s very much a case, when inspecting inside stowage lockers, the hatch to the anchor recess and the quality of the powder-coated steelwork, or when probing around inside the boat’s electrics compartment, of ‘only the best will do’. Everything is high grade and beautifully executed. As you may appreciate, attention to detail is essential in the construction of an offshore craft. Minor failures can result in costly or even dangerous consequences at sea. On close scrutiny, therefore, the Waverider gives every indication of being built for serious use and being able to take her fair share of seagoing punishment.
I also like the fact that you could take this boat anywhere and not feel out of place. And while possessing a serious degree of ‘macho appeal’, at the same time she isn’t ‘bullish’ in appearance or overtly trying to make a statement of intent. Thanks to her purposeful yet refined styling, she quietly but confidently lets you know she really is the ‘real deal’. Capable of accommodating something in the region of six, maybe eight people in an offshore environment – and even more if two additional seating pods were installed – the 880 is a capable load carrier. But speaking of seats, this particular boat has been kitted with two Ullman shock mitigation seats for the cox and navigator with additional rear seating in the form of a large, well-padded, high-quality bench-styled unit with storage within. One further seat is provided to the face of the helm console, and unlike some other similar designs, this additional seat is inset deep, generously upholstered and offers a good degree of passenger security.
Deck space aboard the 880 is generous and affords good access past the console – both port and starboard side. The foredeck features a central stowable table plus a raised teak-topped forepeak, which in turn has a sturdy Samson post and mini pulpit. The Pennel Hypalon sponsons, with their striking red rubbing strake, are made in-house like all Gemini’s components. They’re of first-class quality and tailored to perfection. The manner of how they’re set to the deck of the hull provides a good gunwale height, which translates into additional security for passengers. In addition, the sponsons work well with the profile of the hull and its chines to assist in delivering an impressively dry ride.
A dominant feature of this craft, of course, is the T-top. Set on a very substantial steel framework, it also carries the radar unit and mast light. Contoured in its profile, it affords protection from the sun and, to a certain degree, inclement weather too. Coupled to the full-width windscreen, the T-top gives the helmsman and navigator an enhanced working zone behind the console with its impressive array of well-arranged electronic systems and displays. Despite its height and structure, the T-top gives no evidence of interfering with the vessel’s overall COG; if anything, I would say its additional weight adds to the seakeeping of the craft. It’s likely that the 880’s double stern arch counters the weight distribution fore ’n’ aft, while its inbuilt underdeck fuel tanks no doubt assist in this crucial area too. Indeed, the general balance of the 880, including its lateral stability in the water, is superb, and an attribute that one quickly picks up on when putting her through her paces.
Our test craft was fitted with twin Yamaha 150hp 4-stroke outboards. Yamaha, of course, is a name respected by consumers and industry professionals all around the globe for the quality and reliability of its marine engineering. A twin rig of this kind is well suited to a RIB of this type and complements the serious intent of the craft. These engines also benefit from having their own independent electrical and fuel systems, which is a must if one is to really gain the true advantage afforded by a twin-engine installation. To be honest, though, the performance was fairly sedate with this degree of horsepower, and it’s my view that an additional 100hp would bring this hull to life, giving one the chance to experience its true potential. But that said, it’s certainly not underpowered and allows the boat to operate well within its tolerances, both performance-wise and structurally.
To drive this boat is a pleasure. Its sure-footedness, the sea-kindly nature of its deep-vee hull, the manner in which it banks at speed, how the bow recovers in a following sea and yet remains planted when trimmed in to an oncoming head sea – it all speaks class. It’s no surprise, then, that this breed of boat has been so successful for so long in the professional arena and that more and more people are switching on to the idea that the Gemini Waverider has all the potential to be one of the finest offshore/all-weather cruising and exploration RIBs available on the market today.
Stylish but purposeful, capable and confidence-inspiring, the Gemini Waverider 880 is a truly great hand-built custom craft – one that without doubt will continue to uphold the company’s fine heritage, both within its home market and overseas, for some considerable time to come.
- Quality of construction
- A good blend of traditional hand-built construction and modern styling
- Seakeeping prowess and sea-kindly attributes of the deep-vee hull design
- This vessel’s performance was sedate in nature and would benefit from an additional 100hp being hung on its tail
- LOA: 8.80M
- Internal length: 7.905M
- Max. beam: 2.95M
- Internal beam: 1.70M
- Dry weight: 1200kg
- Tube diameter: 580mm
- Chambers: 7
- Tube material: ORCA Hypalon 1100 DTEX
- Fuel tank: 300L x 2
- Max. crew: 14
- Max. payload (inc. engine): 2391kg
- Max. power: 2 x 300hp
- Recommended power: 2 x 250hp
- EC standard design cat: Cat B
- From: £82,500 (inc. VAT)
- As tested: £95,000 (inc. VAT)
www.gemini-marine.co.uk for all UK enquiries
Exclusive interview with Jeff Stephens, founder of Gemini Marine
(HMS): Tell us about the history of the Gemini Waverider.
(JS): I grew up sailing from the age of 14, and one day I was rowing the inflatable tender to the yacht we owned when I thought: ‘I could make one of these.’ I think it’s referred to as a ‘light bulb moment’. As a young man, I got myself into the South African navy’s inflatable boat department for national service. A short time later, in 1979, while working in the UK at RFD in Surrey (it was April Fool’s day, in fact), I started what was to become Gemini Marine. This was at the behest of my friend Paul Lemmer, whom I had business dealings with selling Humber inflatables. Then, in 1983, while back in SA sailing out of Hout Bay, I saw a 26ft sport fisher-type boat struggling in heavy seas and it struck me how fine bows and a narrow forward section were a liability in such conditions. Following this observation, I did the concept drawings of a 5m RIB specifically designed for heavy-weather use. This boat became the 5m Gemini Waverider, which, among other things, featured a full bow to prevent bow steer when running down the face of large swells. It was a revelation and an instant success, with the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) becoming our first big customer. Testimony to its design and build, the first boat we ever built is actually still going strong today – after 33 years of constant use. It still carries its original set of tubes, in fact, although it is on its second set of engines now! The 5m Gemini Waverider soon became the standard small rescue boat for the NSRI. I was told they considered this 5m to be the first boat sure-footed enough in a difficult sea state to be driven at top speed in pitch-dark/zero visibility and yet remain dependable enough to look after the crew with total predictability. The cox merely had to maintain an accurate compass bearing while being radar-directed from the shore via VHF. Rescue crews had such confidence in the 5m Waverider that many bought them for their own private use.
1986 saw a new Waverider: the 7.3m. It was built along the same basic concept as the 5m, incorporating a full bow and a convex cross section with no protuberant chine. The 7.3m was likewise adopted by the NSRI and has been a craft that has seen much service with the organisation ever since. In 1996, the 7.3m was lengthened to an 8.5m. This again followed the same essential precepts of the original design. Then, in 2010, we lengthened the 850m to 1050m. It was a sound craft but its hull suffered from producing quite a wet ride. But we continue to develop new models and successful ideas for commercial application. The process really never stops!
Was Gemini the only inflatable boat manufacturer in SA at that time, and at what point did you design your first RIB?
We were the only manufacturers in South Africa when we did our first RIB in 1983. Inflatable boats were practically unheard of in those days. People had no conception of what I was referring to when describing what I did for a living.
In the early days, were there any other makes of craft that you particularly admired and to which you aspired, in terms of design and build quality?
Other brands available were Zodiac, Metzeler, Avon and Achilles (in extremely small numbers). The quality of these boats (all soft-bottomed) was OK. But then, in 1981, I went to meet Paul Lemmer in the UK, who owned the Inflatable Boat Centre in Croydon. He put me onto Humber inflatables. With their rigid wooden keels, they were streets ahead in the handling department. Inflatable boat racing got going big time with river racing in 1983 courtesy of a 300km race down the Orange River in the USA. In 1984, we won the Orange River race and both offshore races of the year. The racing scene back home exploded too. Rugby clubs in coastal towns were struggling to fill their second teams as all the guys were ‘rubber ducking’. The best-quality boat was either Zodiac or Achilles. The best performer, though, was the Humber – with my mods, of course!
What were your biggest challenges in establishing the business as a leading international manufacturer?
My biggest challenge was initially establishing some credibility for what was a very foreign concept to South Africans. After we gained some traction, then the challenge was to expand without the business imploding. I had a couple of close calls in those early years!
Has the political situation in SA ever been a challenge to the progression of the company?
Not really. Every time some politician opened his mouth, our boats became less expensive to foreign buyers. Nelson Mandela’s international popularity was good for us. We became the leading brand in Australia for a number of years after that.
What achievements or ‘landmarks’ along the way contributed to the Gemini name becoming widely respected and fully established?
Our teams winning most national championships in South Africa for years; my victory in the 1986 world championship river race in the USA; becoming the leading brand in Australia; the NSRI adopting Gemini as their official boat supplier in 1984 (still in force); my conception and design of the Zapcat (the original tunnel hull racing inflatable) now copied worldwide – it remains the best, toughest, tightest, biggest powerboat racing experience ever; supplying ten 7.3m RIBs to the Singapore Special Forces (we were also up against the much revered Halmatic 24 RIB design); also, winning the ‘Round the Island’ race in 2000 back in the UK was an achievement. In 2007, I designed and built production tooling for a range of 9m and 6m foam-collar RIBs for Mercury Marine (Brunswick), which were then sold to the Indian government. Also, in 2007–2008, we likewise made luxury yacht tenders for Mercury Marine in the US, which won the ‘Small Boat of the Year’ award. In 2011, we made our first cabin for the 8.5m Waverider, and then in 2014 we began work on a stepped-hull form for the new Waverider 1060.
Of what are you most proud in relation to your time and work with the company?
I’m probably most proud of our first 5m RIB as it flew in the face of convention only to become the norm. That boat has been a game-changer for the boating industry. Also inventing and designing the Zapcat – that was pleasing as it’s had a design influence on many other craft globally. In terms of special projects, though, I had the opportunity of designing and building a prototype ‘air drop’ soft-bottom inflatable for the Australian military, capable of virtually instant deployment upon landing in the water from a C-130. It was rolled up on a pallet with all systems ready to go. Within a minute of the crew landing next to the boat, they were underway. It worked perfectly when tested – much better than the next best at five minutes’ deployment time! We also made inflatable craft for submarine deployment for Special Forces insertion and recovery as well as inflatables for Australian military patrols that could be loaded with and then discharge a quad bike without deflating the tube. These projects were feathers in the Gemini ‘cap’ of which we are all proud.
What do you feel your legacy is in terms of the company as it stands today?
Since starting Gemini, from day one in fact, I’ve been responsible for all the design work, and until recently, all the tooling.
Where do you see Gemini in ten years from now?
Very corporate and efficient. Making big RIBs – 6.5m to 14m – for military, rescue, police, oil and gas, as well as an ongoing leisure range.