Redbay Stormforce 1650: built to create markets as well as serve them

Redbay Stormforce 1650 official launch 18 August 2012 1

The first sight we had of the new Stormforce 1650 was as Kintyre Express came alongside at the pier in Cushendall. She’s called Caledonia. The demonstrator for the Redbay Stormforce 11 metre is Corryvreckan. The cultural affinity is in the boats themselves.

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Then we had a look from the pier itself and from the shore while one of the bright water taxis for the day ferried our eminent skipper back in after he’d put KEII out on a mooring.

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Redbay Boats‘ new Stormforce 1650 had its official splash of champagne on Friday 17th August, on the pier at its home village of Cushendall on the Antrim Glens coast of Northern Ireland.

As with those destined to lead, its birth was witnessed by its family, its community and those with influence to shape its future and an interest in doing so. These included politicians, managers from Invest NI – Northern Ireland’s enterprise agency, existing clients and pilots from various ports around the UK and Ireland. The demonstrator version of the Stormforce 1650 is a Pilot boat.

Another guest was Peter – or Pietro – Giovannolli, PG to his eight crewmates on the coming attempt on the Global Circumnavigation World Record – of which more  – and exciting – news below.

Minister Watson NI Assembly

Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson spoke of the exemplary success of Redbay Boats, as a family business, employing 22 people, constantly innovating, producing quality boats to meet wide ranging needs in a worldwide market from its base in this little coastal village where it had all begun.

Oliver  Redbay Stormforce 1650 official launch 18 August 2012 12

One of the area’s MLAs, [Member of the Legislative Assembly] Oliver McMullan, welcomed the Minister’s remarks and swiftly built a powerful case for serious financial support for a company delivering at this level with so absolute a commitment to supporting the economic sustainability of its home place. Mr McMullan finished by saying what everyone echoes – that when you get a boat from Redbay, you get the family in endless support.

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Gary Fyfe, Operations Manager of Redbay Boats outlined the history of the company before this, its 35th year – from its beginnings in wooden clinker-built hulls, through fishing boats and GRP, then into its Stormforce range of RIBS (Rigid Inflatable Boats), a clear accelerator of the business. Mr Fyfe paid tribute to the importance to the company of the unstoppable energy and the total engagement of owner Tom McLaughlin in all aspects of the business, noting that he will sweep the workshop if he sees it needs it.

Speaking of the new boat, Mr Fyfe said that news of it is already attracting widespread interest, with the company being approached by and approaching relevant  markets in South America, Canada, Europe, the UK and Ireland.

Tom McLaughlin

Tom McLaughlin himself, the founder and propulsion system of Redbay Boats, a long time boating man in sail, power and lifeboats – where he has received an RNLI gallantry award – spoke next, thanking the entire workforce for their commitment and the quality of the work they do. He thanked too his patient wife Cathy, herself a sailor and about to christen the new boat on the block. The entire team obviously love what they do, with many of them bringing to the job their own experience of the sea, in lifeboats – as helmsmen and crew, in fishing and in leisure boating.

The company’s brochure, talking about its product design process, says that ‘knowledge is still the best design tool we have’.

He detailed the reality of doing what they do in Cushendall. There is no local supply chain. Almost everything they need has to come in from elsewhere. A similar business on the south coast of England would have much simpler and more cost effective manufacturing.

Tom McLaughlin finally paid tribute to the naval architect they had chosen to design the Stormforce 1650 – Joe McCollam from the McCollam Marine practice in Cork city and with extensive experience of designing pilot boats.

Neither Gary Fyfe nor Tom McLaughlin mentioned this – but it’s interesting to know as it demonstrates Redbay Boats’ market reach. A Redbay Stormforce 850 was commissioned for ‘gatekeeper patrol’ on the Thames during the Olympics. They also built a lifeboat for Napoleon’s exile island of St Helena – and their reputation is such that St Helena came to them.

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In Ireland as in Scotland, banter from the floor is unavoidable and the Redbay team clearly enjoyed it.

Colin Craig

Colin Craig – not one to be fazed – had minutes notice of the request to speak and described his own business experience with Redbay Boats in the challenge he has set himself and his team with the Kintyre Express initiative.

In the absence of any action from the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland in reinstating a vehicle and passenger ferry service between Ballycastle and Campbeltown, he said he had felt that someone had to put a boat in the water, test the market and work to build it.

Kintyre Express is that service – with a fleet exclusively of cabined Redbay Stormforce 11 metres – and he has a fourth boat due from Redbay in a couple of weeks. When it enters service, the first boat will be sold, leaving a young fleet of three, all launched within an eighteen month period.

Looking at what the new 1650 brings to service and business opportunity in the maritime market, Mr Craig said that he sees this boat with a real part to play in a variety of roles on the Clyde and on the Scottish west coast – not to mention in his own business where its offer is immediately compelling.

While the demonstrator is a Pilot boat, the Stormforce 1650 is also designed to be a Passenger boat or a Search and Rescue (SAR) craft. It can be built with a self-righting capacity. (How do they test that? Forgot to ask. Pull her over with ropes?)

To business

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After a delicious buffet lunch, also hosted by Cushendall Sailing and Boating Club, catered by Cushendall’s celebrated Harry’s Bar – a chic and friendly cafe, bar and bistro owned by Tom’s brother Paddy McLaughlin – it was down to the pier for the photos, the pop of a cork, the launch – and some test runs in the 1650.

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The queue was extensive, with everyone interested in having a good look at the 1650 at close quarters – as with Colin Craig and Peter Stogdale above.


We noticed more proof of the extended team in the Redbay Boats family. Ann – the heart of Harry’s Bar, was on a day off but was spending it at the launch of the 1650.

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The launch party climbed onto the foredeck of the boat – with Tom Mclaughlin finding a hand for one of the senior officers from enterprise agency, Invest NI – not one to drop in the drink, although Tom seems to have an alternative to hand.

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Mrs Cathy McLaughlin did the honours in christening the new addition to the Stormforce family, with happy support from  all concerned.

And the star of the show?

You could say she more than came up to expectations. She has been designed to suit the worlds in which she will operate.

She’s not really a RIB. She doesn’t have tubes but has inbuilt buoyancy in her hull construction and an ultra tough, foam filled fendering system suitable for a pilot boat coming alongside tankers and cargo ships.

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While we were talking, Tom McLaughlin showed us mobile phone footage of a run they did in her, seeking out the worst seas to test her performance. We saw for ourselves how much it took to get water across her foredeck. Her high rearing bow rides over them, with her deep V-form hull pushing them aside, throwing them clear.

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Her engine room, which many were interested to see – is in a series of three bulkheaded sections and is superb. You can walk through at head height, making it possible for the boat to be serviced in the water, only needing to be lifted out once a year for a full checkover. Her service internals are also extended, adding to her commercial proposition.

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She carries two 800 litre fuel tanks and uses 103 litres an hour. The demonstrator has twin 500hp engines – but she can take twin 1200s.

The Belfast harbour pilot boat was out of service for 10 days recently, with a problem which needed the engine to come out. Getting it out was what ate the time.

The RedBay 1650 has been designed to make it a quick and straightforward operation to get an engine out and in again. There’s a hatch above the engine. They can get it out in 90 minutes. Her downtime can be kept to an absolute minimum.

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The passenger version is in progress already, with the plug for her superstructure in the making – so immense with her upper level wheelhouse that the only meaningful photograph was close to head on.

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She is likely to be coded to run at around 27 knots with 34 passengers in a central aisle floor plan and with an instantly desirable front row of three seats with a panoramic view. As the illustration above shows, the cabin will have a lot of light and good views.

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The 1650′s seakeeping is first class. She will take heavy weather calmly, sitting down solidly in it and driving through it. We have seen her at two stages of construction and she is hugely strongly built.

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Her design cleverly marries seakeeping through her hull form, her sheer and high bow – but sweeps to a level accessible from a pontoon, with a generous stern deck, offering access to the passenger lounge. There is a lavatory by the stern door and ladder access to the wheelhouse is also from this door.

The Redbay Stormforce 1650 is a highly capable, robust and flexible boat, with a series of powerful commercial options. Redbay Boats’ great strength here is their unusually open customer service. They will go out of their way to customise a boat as best they can to make sure a client gets what they really want. The ‘one size fits all’ business philosophy is a long way from this inventive Cushendall company.

In operation the 1650 offers substantial fuel cost savings. For example, the Redbay Stormforce 11 metres are coded to carry 12 passengers. The passenger version of the 1650, using 103 litres an hour, will carry almost three times that number at the same speed for 30% less fuel than it would take in three passages of the same duration in the 11 metre. That figure makes a lot of things possible and attractive.

The passage will also be steadier. The bigger, heavier boat is less lively in the seas of the North Channel and the Sound of Sanda; and the seating level of the passengers is higher. However, from first hand experience, she does not sacrifice the sense of fun.

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There were happy faces everywhere on the test runs – as here, with Cushendall’s signature spade topped hill behind him, Gren Armstrong from Invest NI, which supported the boat’s development; and local residents with a real interest in what is being created on their doorstep.

Redbay Stormforce 1650 launch

Might the 1650 be said – to borrow a resonant phrase from Scotland’s First Minister – to be Redbay Boats’ arc of prosperity?

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Having made the Kintyre Express passage from Campbeltown and back a few times, there is an added advantage in the particular sort of travel its Stormforce 11 metres already make possible – and the Stormforce 1650 will do the same.

You feel at home in two places. You arrive not in a gargantuan high-above-the-water ferry but in a boat delivering a dozen or three rather than disgorging several hundred. You’re not an alien but a source of interest.

Dougie Martin

People talk to you because you’re accessible  – as Dougie Martin from Kintyre Express, left above, found – and they’re intrigued about your means of travel. The scale is a human one. When they realise they can take their bike or their golf clubs – free – you can see wider horizons opening in their eyes. The fast waterbus concept is very attractive (but try telling that to Dunoon).

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At Cushendall, waiting for the next 1650 trip in glorious afternoon sunshine, there were crazily wonderful ways to pass the time.

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KEII rode brightly on her mooring.

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And an eider duck went surfing on the unprotected side of the pier.

The Global Circumnavigation World Record challenge

This is a footnote to the Stormforce 1650 story but its one that might be little heard of at this stage and is hugely interesting. So back to the chance meeting with Pietro Giovannolli – PG,  and the coming attempt on the Global Circumnavigation World Record.

The skipper for the challenge is the legendary Alan Priddy, the only man to do a circumnavigation under both sail and power. Alan has also, in 1996, crossed the North Atlantic at high latitude in an open 7.5 metre RIB – the first man since the Vikings, a thousand years earlier, to do this route in an open boat.

This time, the enclosed boat Good Heart is a 90 foot long [ten foot at her widest] red aluminium arrow with a wave-cutting bow so sharp you would be wary of touching it casually. No wonder one of her ‘legacy’ uses is touted as the next James Bond film. Check her out on the project website and you’ll see what we mean.

She’s been built inland at Dudley in the Black Country – where the Titanic’s anchor was cast. She plans to knock seven bells out of the world record of just over 60 days for a powerboat circumnavigation.  The team is saying they’ll do it in ‘well under 50 days’. PG says 35. They say they’re leaving in March from Gibraltar. PG confirms Gibraltar but says they’re now going in November. We note that March and November are the two points of the year providing the best weather windows for the challenge – so PGs information looks solid.

In a world as macho as this, PG mentioned that if the boat had been ready this weekend, they were thinking of ‘taking her across the Atlantic for a few beers’.

Reincarnation gets increasingly seductive – what was it Marvell said about having ‘world enough and time’?

Job done

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As Kintyre Express II lifted her bow and revved away for home beyond the visible south end of the Mull of Kintyre, the Stormforce 1650, in pilot boat clothing, rode contentedly at her mooring against the dramatic backdrop of Garron Point. She’d earned a rest.

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Off the pier, the water swirled peacefully around a rock – home alone, the last of the visitors gone.

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We got a farewell wave from some joyful paddlers in the afternoon sun at the slipway. This has to have been an auspicious christening. Even the weather came out to play.

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