BRIG EAGLE 650H RIB REVIEW
The largest RIB manufacturer in Europe, Brig, has reinvented the traditional workhorse into an inflatable fun machine with its latest offering, the Eagle 650H.
We tend to think of the rigid inflatable boat (RIB) as a hard worker. Most we see are in service with maritime authorities like the Navy and Surf Life Saving Australia, or the Marine Rescue NSW in my hometown of Merimbula. But Australian Brig importer Neil Webster claims we are on the wrong track. He believes most of his customers are getting into RIBs because they are the most enjoyable boat on the market.
If you take a look around the marinas in the eastern suburbs of Sydney you might see something of a revolution taking place. Boaties in the Harbour City have lately eschewed monster cruisers, which see little use, for these smaller and more easily handled vessels, and they are clocking up serious hours on the water.
Want to go for a run to the fish markets? It's just a matter of jumping aboard the RIB, without the hassles of undocking, finding a pen, docking again and washing the boat down.
And because there's an inflated air-tube around its perimeter, this craft reacts more like a dodgem car - if you bump into someone's boat or wharf, it bounces off with no damage and no recriminations.
COLD WAR KID
Brig owes its existence to the end of the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall began to fall in 1989, the aeronautical industry in the isolated city of Kharkov, Ukraine, found it had no market for the Hypalon components it had been building. The engineers instead turned their talents and the production line into a more peaceful endeavour.
The fact the factory was a long way from any decent waterway didn't deter them from entering boat manufacturing, and the company has now survived two world economic meltdowns to outlast many older RIB builders.
In the Brig line-up, the Eagle-badged models are at the top end of a range that includes diminutive 2.75m tenders and passenger-commuter boats up to 7.8m. Contrasted against the white and light-grey models in the marina, the matte-black tubes of our 6.5m test boat really stood out and gave the boat a purposeful, almost military presence that camouflages a luxury interior.
Despite their deployment in rescue and government service, which sees them operating in extreme conditions, RIBs are not immediately considered for recreational boating and, in many ways, this is surprising.
It's hard to think of any other craft that could take the same kind of battering. They're tough, safe and just the shot for a family boat.
NO GOING DOWN
For many, the fear is that a "rubber" boat will not last the distance. While some RIB manufacturers use PVC for the tubes, Brig employs Hypalon, which is tougher and has much greater UV resistance.
As Neil Webster point outs, many surf rescue boats have seen service for more than 20 years and a well-maintained Brig kept under cover should be expected to last 30 years before the tubes need replacing. Even then, a complete replacement is $10,000 - a relatively minor expense after such time.
Added to this is the resilient nature of the tubes, which can absorb the sort of minor impacts that would see many aluminium and fibreglass boats heading to the repair shop.
Although the tubes dominate the boat's look, the fibreglass hull section is the main component of the build. The hull has box stringer sections and a Vinylester exterior, plus a composite deck to keep weight down for winching aboard a motoryacht as a tender. The tubes are bonded to the hull and constructed from five separate compartments in such a way that if one is damaged the others expand to fill the void. And if all compartments were to deflate, the boat can still float on the fibreglass hull.
This 650H is a new model and a complete rework of the popular 645 that was the best-selling Brig across the 40 countries in which they are available. Its layout is simple: a side console dominates the single-level deck, while a rear targa arch and a gradual rise to the bow add design dimensions to the low-slung hull, creating a sporty, well-proportioned image.
At the bow, a fibreglass casing houses pop-up cleats and an anchor roller and bollard, with a step to a sunpad and two storage hatches underneath. A twin seat is fitted to the front of the console and there is another lounge at the transom. Adding in the two helm seats brings the total to eight, so while the boat is rated for a maximum of 13 passengers, some will have to find seating on the tubes. Storage compartments at the bow, in the console and under seats make space for all the picnic and water toys any family could hope to use on a day out.
Settling into the helm with the bolster seat down and tucked in behind the acrylic glass screen, I noted a marked "racy" feel to the boat. The driver sits on the twin seat to the right, where a sporty steering wheel and side-mounted throttle control are well-placed for action.
Dash layout is excellent. A Garmin GPS551 colour chartplotter is set to the left and a covered glovebox holds small personal items, while a Fusion sound system has the mandatory MP3 connection.
During our test, we pulled away from the wharf surrounded by multi-million-dollar cruisers in the absolute confidence that we weren't about to wreak costly damage to the fleet. At low speed, the Brig Eagle 650H is easily manoeuvrable and vision is unrestricted.
Once clear of the marina, the throttle was buried and the boat surged forward with a slight rise of the bow, the Honda BF225 hauling us out of the hole and lifting the hull up to its running stance. This thing boogies.
Top speed is 44kts (81.4kmh) and being close to the water makes you feel the thrill of every knot, with the wind whipping around for a caffeine-free morning wakeup. Of course, it's not necessary to hoon around at flat chat - back off for a more sedate cruise at around 3500rpm and there is still 27kts (50kmh) showing on the GPS.
This impressive performance comes courtesy of the quiet achiever strapped to the transom, the 225hp Honda four-stroke. The engine ran silently at trolling speed before emitting a healthy growl from the air intake as it accelerated and settled into its stride. The Eagle 650H could cope with a power rating down to 150hp, but the RIB is so well matched to the Honda it would be a shame to lose its acceleration and drive through corners.
The Brig sits flat at all speeds, the sponsons lifting clear all the way back to the transom. As the hull dips low over waves the tubes contact the water, cushioning the ride. The RIB leans into turns until it is restrained by the inside tube pushing up to maintain a level attitude. The deep-vee of the hull bites in at the same time, tracking the boat around in the direction in which it's pointed.
Even into sharp turns at 30kts (55.5kmh), the Eagle 650H goes wherever she's aimed, and passengers need to be aware of the driver's intent because the side force is enough to eject the unwary.
OUT TO SEA
With our speed runs over, Neil prised the wheel from my grip and we headed to a secluded beach, where the boat easily took advantage of its shallow draft and gently nudged up to the sand. Disembarking over the bow was easy - we didn't even get our feet wet.
Our test took place on one of those warm spring days, making it easy to imagine anchoring close to shore in a sheltered bay over summer for a swim and a picnic. There is a skipole to tow water toys and the swimladder and freshwater shower add another dimension to the boat's versatility.
A run out through the heads and down to Bondi showed the Brig Eagle 650H is capable of offshore cruising and fishing. It can slug it out in the chop and swell with the best of fibreglass boats, showing an effortless 30kts (55.5kmh) across 1m wind waves. Over some bigger swell at speed the RIB could be lifted clear of the water, landing softly and safely each time. And it's dry throughout, not a drop of water finding its way in.
After banging on about the relative seaworthiness of fibreglass and alloy boats, it looks like it's time to throw the RIB into the mix. The Brig Eagle 650H is as soft riding as any boat of similar length and its forgiving nature makes it a sensible family cruiser. It might lack the weather protection of a cabin, but its length will accommodate a fun day out.
In Europe, the acceptance of RIBs as runabouts and for fishing is much greater than in Australia, so perception may be holding the Aussie public back. But a ride in an Eagle might just change all that.
ON THE PLANE...
· Great handling and soft ride
· Huge fun factor
· Very good water access for swimming and diving
· Easy to dock
DRAGGING THE CHAIN...
· You're exposed to the elements
· Hard to inflate if you loose the pump. Couldn't get my lips around the valve and I ran out of puff after 10 minutes - you are an idiot, John - Ed
Specifications: Brig Eagle 650H
Price as tested: $79,900 ($85,400 on trailer)
Options fitted: Engine upgrade
Priced from: $74,900 (with 150hp Honda)
Material: Fibreglass and Hypalon
Type: Rigid inflatable monohull
Weight: 685kg (1094kg on trailer)
Min. HP: 150-225
Rec. Max. HP: 225
Make/model: Honda BF225
Type: Four-stroke V6 outboard
Rated HP: 225
Gear ratio: 1.86:1
Jones Bay Wharf, Lower Deck,
Suite 70, 26-32 Pirrama Road,
Pyrmont, NSW, 2009
Tel: (02) 9552 3366; 0418 247 461
Originally published in TrailerBoat #291, January 2013.
Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.