- This is a very capable boat built by a company with a lot of experience in big luxury RIBs.
- It is good to see that the Cobra has not lost its bite, as it does a very good job of being both a hard-core offshore powerboat and a superyacht tender.
- Helm ergonomics are good, with the adjustable wheel and throttle coming perfectly to hand.
- Any ‘big-sea boat’ worth its salt needs to be built to take a beating and this boat can take it without complaint.
Greg Copp heads out into a turbulent Solent to test-drive the newly launched Cobra 9.5m Nautique …
It makes no sense that we Brits have such a passion for RIBs. Surely we should all be driving around in wheelhouse boats like Sargos and Botnia Targas, reassuringly warm and dry. The fact is that nothing quite drives like a RIB, as a good RIB can soon turn a novice into a white-knuckle helmsman over a season. This concept has not been lost on yards like Cobra, who have learnt to mix the ingredients of a hard-core inflatable with a well-balanced sports boat, and then top it off with a good sprinkle of luxury.
Their newly launched 9.5m Nautique is a perfect example of this recipe. Offered purely in sterndrive form, this Grand Turismo presents a degree of luxury normally reserved for the superyacht tender brigade, but still with a purist sports boat feel. Built on their Evolution hull, which is a development of the original Picton 7.5m hull, it has a sharp transom deadrise angle of 26 degrees, and a twin-chine set-up. The lower chine produces a similar effect to a Petestep hull (issue 139 – Boat Tech), which channels water aft beneath the boat, improving performance and ride. This chine is downturned slightly towards its edge rather than horizontal, which has the effect of tucking the water downwards and under the boat. Cobra claim that as well as providing a drier ride it also increases efficiency by around 5%, and gives the hull better stability and grip in tight turns.
The first thing that strikes you about driving this boat is the virtual absence of any transition from displacement to planing. You have to look carefully at the bow to see it creep over a gentle hump before the boat settles into planing mode at an incredible 13.5 knots. This makes two things redundant – firstly trim tabs, which this boat did not have and does not need, and secondly dabbing at the leg trim switch to get the perfect poise. All you need to do to drive this boat at any speed is to trim the sterndrive leg out about 25% and then leave it. You do not even need to trim it in to punch up onto the plane. It shows no tendency to heel into the wind, so having no trim tabs was not an issue in this department either.
Though built as a Grand Turismo, it has the heart of a sports boat. This is evident the moment you start nailing the throttle, as the torque of the big 6.2L V8 does not waste a microsecond in hurling this boat forward. While creeping out of Lymington I wondered why Cobra had not opted for a big outboard, or a twin rig, for the 9.5m Nautique, but the moment I drove on the open water I understood why. The motor is so responsive you can noticeably feel the boat pick up from 1500rpm – and bear in mind there is close to 2.7 tonnes with crew and fuel to push. At 2500rpm – an engine speed that has most petrol-powered 3-tonners still floundering in semi-displacement mode – the Cobra is comfortably planing at 16 knots. With the tide then behind us, we were hitting 20 knots at this engine pace, and at 2.9mpg – a consumption rate that the boat held up to 30 knots.
The engine tone is subdued and barely heard over the noise of the sea unless you are piling on the power, and then it gives little impression that it is working hard. The 6.2L MerCruiser is Mercury’s latest purpose-built marine engine, and not a marinised automotive engine block like its predecessors. This was my first experience of one and I was impressed, as apart from its massive power spread up to 5300rpm, much like an outboard engine, it is also exceedingly smooth. Running through some tight turns threw up another aspect of the engine and drive system, and that is its grip and pickup. The twin-prop Bravo 3 outdrive has remarkable hold on the water, and this is felt coming out of the turns. This is where it differs from a big single-prop outboard, as aside from the torque of a 6.2L V8, twin counterrotating propellers are unbeatable when it comes to transmitting mid-range power. You have to be a bit careful, because if you expect it to exit a turn like an outboard boat you will find yourself cutting an exceedingly tight curve. The hull has no tendency to slip any more than the prop, and this engine picks up fiercely from low engine speeds. Spirited driving will have you bracing your feet against the console, while the inside tube digs into the water – submerging the rubbing strake. Certainly not family-style driving, but once you have come to terms with it this is an exciting aspect of the boat.
There are also diesel engine options in the forms of the 370hp 4.2L V8 Mercury TDI with Bravo 3 XR sterndrive, or the 4.46L 370hp V8 Yanmar 8LV with ZT370 sterndrive. Both these power plants have twin-prop sterndrives, and both produce more torque, especially lower down the power spectrum, than the petrol MerCruiser. Either engine would certainly make this boat even more exciting to drive, and likely to push it to around 50 knots, but I wonder whether you really need it. The extra £30k cost of one of these heavier engines buys a lot of petrol, and they do not have that whisper-smooth petrol power delivery that complements the Cobra’s character so well.
The sea on our test day was a mixed bag. South of the Needles it was a very short, sharp sea, which kept you focused on each wave. The Nautique was built for this sort of heavy weather, and having a 9.5m hull is a clear bonus, especially a hull with such natural balance. Breaching the wave troughs is something this boat does very well, and it is sharp enough to cut a decent path without too much abuse of your spinal cord. There is also plenty of forward buoyancy, making it great for running with the weather. It does not show any tendency to stuff the nose with the sea behind you, even if you misjudge slightly and run into the back of the next wave, and that was with the sterndrive left on 25% trim out. The steering has just the right balance of response for driving with one hand on the wheel in poor weather. Inside the Solent, running through the confused chop at 40 knots off Hurst Castle would have been a rough ride for a smaller boat, but the long Evolution hull just loves this sort of work.
Any ‘big-sea boat’ worth its salt needs to be built to take a beating and this boat can take it without complaint. This is helped by the discreet shock absorbers built into the back of the helm seats, which, if you are seated, make life a lot comfier in the rough. The rear U-shaped seating arrangement is of a different nature, but then this boat has been built to also have a social and more sedate dimension around its hidden fold-out table. If you want, you could have another pair of Cobra’s excellent enclosed luxury offshore bolster seats, which I have always been a fan of, especially as they provoke fewer grunts and groans than basic jockey seats. Helm ergonomics are good, with the adjustable wheel and throttle coming perfectly to hand. I like the flip-up bolster seats, enabling you to stand with your feet locked against the console looking over the windscreen. I will say that for me, being seated was not ideal as the stainless bar above the windscreen was in my line of sight. Driving in calm water I would not have minded. If the seat height was lowered slightly it would cure this, but this is a subjective point.
This particular boat, like many Cobras, is hugely bespoke. However, one theme that runs common is the abundance of internally moulded lockers – large and small – that make stashing essential supplies easy. This boat had the optional fridge/wine cooler built into the back of the helm seat, a ski rack in the engine bay, LED-lit cup holders and a pair of splendid, huge drop-down stern cleats on the extended bathing platform. Surprisingly, this particular boat did not have the optional toilet inside the cubicle on the front of the extended console, which is a key selling point for any big RIB. There is a wide range of electronics on offer, or alternatively the waterproof iPad case that this boat had fitted. This I would not advise, as it is not as bright or well defined as a chartplotter display. Also, you can’t interface your engine data to it and therefore have to rely on the pokey little engine gauge, which is not ideal.
This is a very capable boat built by a company with a lot of experience in big luxury RIBs. It is good to see that the Cobra has not lost its bite, as it does a very good job of being both a hard-core offshore powerboat and a superyacht tender. I was also pleased to see that this boat had been bought by a petrolhead intending to use it as a luxury family RIB for sunnier waters, which is what Cobras are really all about.
Petrol 350hp V8 MerCruiser 6.2L with Bravo 3 sterndrive (twin counterrotating propellers)
Diesel 370hp V8 Mercury 4.2L TDI with Bravo 3 XR sterndrive (twin counterrotating propellers)
Diesel 370hp V8 Yanmar 4.46L with ZT370 sterndrive (twin counterrotating propellers)
Engine speed Knots MPG
2000rpm 9.6 1.4
2500rpm 15.6 2.2
3000rpm 21.1 2.9
3500rpm 27.0 2.9
4000rpm 31.7 2.5
4500rpm 36.9 2.3
5000rpm 41.6 2.0
5300rpm (wot) 44.9 1.7
All fuel figures were from the factory-fitted fuel flow meter.
- LOA: 9.50m
- Beam: 2.55m
- Transom deadrise angle: 26 degrees
- Displacement: 2400kg (dry)
- Power options: 350hp to 370hp
- Fuel capacity: 85 gallons (380 litres)
- RCD category: B for 11
- Test engine: Petrol 350hp V8 MerCruiser with Bravo 3 sterndrive
44.9 knots (2-way average), 50% fuel, 2 crew
From (350hp V8 MerCruiser): £106,932 (inc. VAT)
As tested: £123,390 (inc. VAT)
Cobra Ribs UK, 12 Priory Industrial Park, Airspeed Rd, Christchurch, Dorset BH23 4HD
Photo credits: Graeme Main