BOAT TEST: FIREFLY 7.7M RIB

By: DAVID LOCKWOOD

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It’s that time of the year when we drop the top, turn the keys, and hightail it to our favourite hangouts. The Firefly 7.7M RIB is just the ticket. Take the reins of this galloping RIB and enjoy the exceptional wet-track form, writes DAVID LOCKWOOD, after flying about the Gold Coast

BOAT TEST: FIREFLY 7.7M RIB
Firefly 7.7M RIB

 

There's a belief among the idle pleasure-boater that big rigid-hulled inflatables, RIBs or duckies if you like, are for fair-weather only. Drop the top and take off to an anchorage for the day. Slip over the side and pluck some lobsters for the barbie, as you might do after blasting across to Rottnest Island, or fudge about with a lazy lunch at an anchorage that would otherwise take half a day to reach. But in other parts of the world, big RIBs are the boats of choice for serious open-ocean transport.

Tune into Sea Patrol and you will see our Navy also favours them as fast pursuit vessels, in fact, rescue organisations the world over bank on outboard-powered RIBS as their can-do craft. Moreover, in Europe and the UK, RIBs contest serious powerboat races in the angry Atlantic, events such as The Round Britain Powerboat Race, where there's a trophy for the first big duck home.

Why the preference for a big RIB at sea? Simple, really. Thanks to the reserve buoyancy of the inflatable sponsons you can employ a narrower, deeper, knife-like hull than would otherwise be possible in a conventional hard-sided craft. And with those race-bred running surfaces, well-designed RIBS can carve a swathe through rough water in greater comfort and, thus, at higher speeds than the mainstream fleet.

Enter Watermark Marine, a relatively new RIB boatbuilder based in Xiamen, China, whose Firefly 7.7M with upgraded single OptiMax 250hp Pro XS direct-injection two-stroke outboard proved a real giant killer on the stormy waters of the Gold Coast. Running the boat as hard as we dare, we never felt a thump, a bang or a shudder, nor did we cop a lashing of spray while traversing the choppy, albeit inshore waters at speed.

Watermark has six race-bred boats in its range measuring from 7m to 12m in length with open deck and cabin configurations. Look behind the scenes and you will find plenty of experience. British director Jo Mearns is an adventurer and thrill seeker, while compatriot Gabriel Simons thrills to building the business. The boat's designer is Adam Younger, a winner of many powerboat races and championships, who hails from the Isle of Wight. His double-stepped hull with 25º of serious deadrise is something to experience.

While Australian pleasure-boaters are slow to realise the benefits of a big RIB, just maybe after driving boats like the Firefly 7.7M their views will change. After all, in the blink of an eye, you can be in great shape at a distant and desirable location, as the rest of the time-poor weekend fleet is plodding along the busy channels, harbours and bays. And you can beat the rabble back home.

 

 

BUILD QUALITY


Watermark Marine uses the Smart Pack System from High Modulus, which involves laser-cut composite panels imported to the China yard that are subsequently assembled on site. There's not a splinter of timber in the hull built to Lloyds or DNV accreditation, vinylester resin to ward against osmosis, and advanced multiaxial matting.

A French fabric par excellence called Orca 866-grade Hypalon is used for the pontoons or tubes, with a heavier grade for the seams, while top Leafield inflation and pressure-release valves ensure there's no risk of over-inflation. All the upholstery is Sunbrella, while the anchor winch is a local Muir model.

The centre console frame and fuel tank are fashioned from anodised aluminium, while 316-grade stainless steel is used for the deck fittings, including the pad-eyes for tying off fenders and the swim ladder. Deck lights are the LED types to save on amps.

Underfloor, there are two 100amp AGM no-maintenance batteries, 100lt water tank for the cold-only deck shower, and auto and manual bilge pumps. The 6kg anchor is linked to a special 30m weighted line to maximise its hold when you take that swim into shore.

On the safety front, the boat comes with an impressive kit that included optional Raymarine Lifetag MOB system, fuel overfill alarm, gimballed compass and first-aid kit. The Raymarine electronics centred on an upgraded C80 GPS chartplotter/sounder/radar and VHF radio, with a 12V outlet on the dash for recharging the mobile phone.

 

 

SUMMER DAZE


With a locally cut bimini top flying from a tee-top with rocket launcher, the Firefly 7.7M offers some reprieve from the elements and scope to carry fishing rods in case you run across a school. Back aft is a decent engine well to keep splash at bay.

A mother-in-law seat is mounted ahead of the centre console, before surround bow seating that, together, caters for four people in the sun. The cushions are an option, in need of tracks or better fixing, but the underseat storage comes gratis, including the central icebox well. The lids on future boats will be built much better using closed moulds, I'm told.

Underway, the transom passenger lounge offers a great ride if you're not already sitting in the twin helm bucket seats or standing abreast of the console. A speedo, tacho, Raymarine Tridata display, Sony sound system, switch panel and DTS fly-by-wire shifts with hydraulic steering command the skipper's attention.

Spinning a three-blade 21in Mirage Plus prop, the OptiMax 250hp Pro XS over-revved to 6150rpm, pointing to the fact that a bigger Bravo I prop with 22in diameter, which was to be fitted, would make for a yet quicker boat. As it was, I saw 53kts or roughly 100kmh on the dial, with the agent saying he has clocked 54.7kts before.

But it was the handling that appeals most and puts this getaway machine firmly in the grasp of the go-fast weekend boater. You can really rip the boat around without feeling like you are teetering on the edge. It's smooth, dry and, importantly for those who want to venture offshore, it feels like a one-piece, monocoque or unibody structure that could, well, circumnavigate Britain.

Ideal for high-speed commuting, weekend camping, daytrips to distant islands, and instant adventures, the Firefly 7.7M gives a quick and exciting wind-in-your-hair boating fix. At 40kts cruise at 4500rpm, you can beat the crowds and get a just-add-water fix.

 

 

 

Specifications- Waternark Marine Firefly 7.7M

 

 

PRICE AS TESTED


Approx $119,000 w/ single OptiMax 250hp Pro XS outboard, and options

 

 

OPTIONS FITTED


Upgraded engine, electronics including radar, MOB system, targa and bimini top, and dual-axle Dunbier trailer

 

 

PRICED FROM


$75,000 w/ single 150hp Verado outboard

 

 

GENERAL


Material: High Modulus Smart Pack System w/ foam-cored hull and deck
Type: Deep-vee monohull RIB
Length overall: 7.65m
Beam: 2.42m
Draft: 0.35m
Weight: 650kg (dry hull only)

 

 

CAPACITIES


Berths: Two on deck
Passengers: 7
Fuel: 158lt
Water: 100lt
Holding tank: n/a

 

 

ENGINE


Make/model: Single OptiMax 250hp Pro XS
Type: Direct-injection 60-degree V6 two-stroke outboard
Displacement: 3.02lt
Rated HP: 250
Max. RPM: 5500 to 6000
Gearbox: 1.75:1
Propellers: 21in Mirage Plus three-blade

 

 

SUPPLIED BY


Watermark Marine Australia,
17/8 Hopper Avenue,
Ormeau, QLD, 4208

Contact Adam Thew, phone 0410 416 916
Website: www.watermarkmarine.com


 

Find Firefly boats for sale.

 


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