Northern Ireland-based RIB builder Redbay Boats is celebrating its 40th anniversary in style with expanded building facilities and new models. The company, led by Tom McLaughlin started off in a small rented shed building small open wooden boats and then moved into building small GRP angling and sports boats.

RIB building started 23 years ago and today Redbay is one of the premier UK RIB building yards with its wide range of seaworthy designs.

That first Stormforce 6.1 metre RIB was an instant hit and proved to be a regular podium finisher on the UK RIB racing circuit. The development of the Stormforce range was rapid and by 1999 the humble Stormforce 6.1 metre had grown in length to 11 metres and was being sold throughout the UK. Not content with building open RIBs, Tom and his team branched into cabin RIBs and found a niche building strong reliable offshore RIBs capable of tackling all weathers. The commercial sector quickly realised that Redbay Boats was the ‘go to’ company for commercial work RIBs and a unique catalogue of bespoke designs followed. Redbay now build a range of boats from 5.1 to 16.5 metres which are exported internationally. Not bad for one man’s dream and a borrowed workshop in Cushendall!

Today the yard at Cushendall in Northern Ireland extends to 40,000 square feet and the latest addition to the yard is a construction hall that is 12 metres high allowing the largest RIBs in the range to be fully completed under cover. Two beam cranes in this hall have a combined lifting capability of 20 tonnes and the design of the building has been modelled on the RNLI RIB construction facility at Poole.

The design of the Stormforce RIBs that form the backbone of the Redbay portfolio is unique with a raised bow that is constructed from composites with just a fine inflatable tube at the bow, and then enlarging as it extends down each side. “We developed this concept from experience operating RIBs in the wild waters of the North Channel that is close by the Redbay yard. These waters have been our testing ground since we started making our designs, which are some of the most seaworthy and safe on the market,” commented McLaughlin. That fine raised bow is matched to a very deep vee hull with a 24 degree deadrise to give a soft ride.

Initially the RIBs built by Redbay were open RIBs but as larger designs were developed cabin RIBs were introduced and the size has steadily expanded upwards. Three years ago Redbay took a major step forward when they built the prototype Stormforce 1650, a very capable cabin RIB designed for operating in extreme conditions with added protection for the crew. This design was aimed at the pilot boat and patrol boat markets and this prototype demonstrator has now been sold to the Port of Liverpool for use as a pilot boat. A second is in operation at Belfast, again as a pilot boat and the success of this design has led to a second one being ordered for this port.

The latest design to emerge from the yard is the 1250, designed as a smaller sister to the 1650. Conceived to have most of the features of the 1650, this 1250 has been designed as the basis for a wide variety of applications. It has been sold for operation as passenger ferries with one being delivered to the Kintyre Express team who already operate 4 Redbay RIBs. Kintyre Express V is powered by a pair of MDS 400 diesels coupled to Konrad stern drives. “I simply cannot believe how good this boat is in all weather conditions, especially in head seas,” said Haydn Chambers of Kintyre Express. “We are totally delighted and plan to order a second in the very near future”.

Two more of the 1250 RIBs are currently under construction for delivery this year. Last year the number of RIBs delivered from Redbay was down in numbers from previous years but the average size has increased considerably reflecting the increased demand for cabin RIBs. Seventeen RIBs were sold in 2016 and amongst these was a 12 metre for operation on the River Thames as a thrill ride boat. Blue Quest is a Redbay Stormforce 12 and was commissioned by London City Cruises Ltd. It is powered by twin Hamilton HJ274 water jets which are coupled to the ultra-reliable Yanmar 6LY-440 which together produce 880hp to give a top speed of 44 knots. Like every Redbay RIB this one was fully customised for the application and this is one of the strengths of the company in that they have the experience and knowledge to develop designs that are perfect for the job they have to do.

Last year several commercial passenger boats were delivered to a wide and varied customer base including a new 11 metre workboat for the National Watersports Centre in Cumbrae, Scotland, a second boat to Jersey Sea Safaris and a second boat to Better Moments, the Svalbard tour operator who operate their RIBs well inside the Arctic Circle.

There is no doubt that this development experience comes both from the location of the yard and from the experience of the people running it. Both Tom McLaughlin and Gary Fyfe from the yard are qualified as coxswains on the new Trent Class lifeboat that has been established at the Redbay Lifeboat station and several of the yard staff are in the crew. The local sea conditions in the North Channel where strong tides and gales force winds sweeping in from the Atlantic often generate turbulent seas and testing conditions for the RIBs.

At this stage there are no plans to develop any more new models. The range on offer is extensive, from small open RIBs developed in the early days of Redbay right up to the 16.50 metre which is one of the largest production RIBs on offer in the marketplace.

By Dag Pike