A navy seals tour of duty or a Greenpeace crusade would present the opportunity to experience the capabilities of a rigid inflatable boat, aka RIB, the preferred watercraft for both entities. However, for those who are less committed and less daring, Kangaroo Island Marine Tours offers a RIB adventure off the southern coast of Australia. The sight of the company’s Ocean Extreme Tour vessel—a bright yellow, Zodiac-built, 30-foot RIB named The Island Explorer—hardly will accelerate the heart rate, but, as I discovered, the boat’s appearance is deceiving.
When I first viewed the RIB from the pier, I suspected that the outfitter had perjured himself. We would be lucky to reach a speed of 20 knots in this vessel that resembled an enormous rubber ducky, negating any chance to view dolphins and other marine wildlife, as I had been promised. Then a brick-house of a man, Andrew Neighbour, a former crayfisherman who co-owns the tour company and skippers the boat, grabbed my hand and announced, “Hey, mate, time for the ride of ya life.”
Straddling one of the passenger seats as though I were a jockey riding a Thoroughbred, I wanted to believe him, but I remained skeptical until he hit the throttle and elicited a mighty roar from the twin 150 hp motors. As the boat skimmed across the water, a giddy Neighbour, wearing a harness to avoid certain ejection from the cockpit, turned the wheel hard to the left. The boat responded effortlessly, tilting at an unsettling angle that enabled me to look sideways into the depths. We reached 68 mph before Neighbour spotted a set of waves, whipped the boat around, and raced toward them. As it hit each wave dead-on, the boat soared into the air but made a soft landing. Not so much as a drop of water splashed inside. “Nothing like it, eh, mate?” Neighbour quipped rhetorically.
Indeed, there is nothing like a RIB, whether it is designed for military, commercial, or recreational use. Few vessels can run faster, and still fewer can accelerate as quickly or handle as nimbly as a RIB. The hard-shell hull is designed to cut through waves at rapid speeds, and the rubber tube makes the boat extremely light for its size. It also acts as a shock absorber that facilitates power, handling, and smoothness in conditions where traditional powerboats would leave you drenched and bruised. The tube rides just above the water line, which creates a stable platform, while the water sprays off the hull and is deflected down and away from passengers.
A RIB can be outfitted with dive compressors, equipped for deep-sea fishing, and styled with plush cabins and top-end sound and intercom systems. Depending on its size and accoutrements, a RIB can cost more than $200,000. They are extremely low-maintenance and fuel-efficient, and are perfect companions to large sailing or power yachts.
They also are ideal for spotting wildlife in the waters around Kangaroo Island. After an hour of extreme antics, Neighbour cruised up the pristine Kangaroo Island coast, where the boat’s purr attracted a school of dolphins. They gathered under the front fender, zipping in and out of the wake. When I finally did get wet, it was only because I dove into the water and joined them.
Kangaroo Island Marine Tours, www.kimarinetours.com;
Ribcraft USA, www.ribcraftusa.com