WORDS + PHOTOS: ANDREW RICHARDSON
This South American RIB sachays through choppy water with runway style.
Until today I thought the main exports to come out of Venezuela were throngs of elegant, tanned ladies all fighting for the Miss World crown - but wait, there's more... Caribe Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs).
These vessels may not advocate world peace, but in true Venezuelan style the lady we judged was almost perfect.
At first glance the Caribe 14ft was similar to other RIBs, but closer inspection revealed a vessel with a different approach to performance and some well-designed features that distinguished it from the norm.
The boat's hull design is unique with an extreme wave-slicing bow section that shifts radically to a more conventional aft section. This design is new to me, so with 75 horses on the back just raring to go, I was keen to get out on the water and see what the 14-footer had to offer.
Down memory lane
The first part of the voyage was a trip down memory lane, as we cruised slowly across Port Hacking's Dolans Bay.
This was the place I spent many a long hot summer's day fishing with my mates, catching the odd bream and leather jacket from the fuel wharf and just mucking about in tin boats. The old fuel wharf and boatshed may be long gone but the memories remain.
Neil Solomon bought his boys Josh and Lochie along for the ride and they certainly enjoyed themselves, but I couldn't help thinking that they would have liked to ditch the old blokes and get down to the serious business of boys mucking about on boats. With distant supervision of course!
Eventually we made our way to the South West Arm of the Hacking River where we finished the photos. Then it was my chance to be a boy again, at the helm of a 230kg hull with a little more power than it really needed.
Neil explained that the Evinrude ETEC 75hp was a perfect match for this vessel drawing its strength from its closely related 90hp big brother. The two-stroke ETEC engine was smoke-free and delivered extremely quiet power right across the rev range.
When I nudged the throttle the Caribe's bow lifted confidently and in a snap the hull balanced out to a nice planing angle.
A dry ride at speed
At speed the hull responded positively to leg trim and in a headwind the extra lift added a bit of excitement to the ride.
The clever bow section softened the ride in chop at mid-range speeds, but created radical unexpected turns if the leg is trimmed in too much, which is perhaps the reason for the trim gauge.
So I kept the engine trimmed up and she delivered everything required of a RIB of this size including a dry ride. She was indeed a good performer.
With Neil at the helm and we three kids aboard, the boat clocked a top speed of 38 knots (43mph or 70kmh), but remember, RIB's respond well to a lightening of load, so with one up, 50mph would be possible and boy that would be exciting!
RIBs sacrifice a bit of internal volume in exchange for the extra stability the tubes provide, but even with this limitation the Caribe had comfortable seating for six. This area consists of a twin helm seat, a centre bench seat and a bow seating area with a step.
The helm had just enough legroom in the seated position, but the wheel position allows the driver to stand while leaning against the bolster seat. It's your choice and will depend on the speed and conditions being encountered.
Instrumentation was very good with gauges for speed, rpm, fuel and engine trim, which is more than ample for this vessel. There were also switches for the navigation lights and cockpit lights.
The Caribe had a few bonus creature comforts including a freshwater shower, a swim ladder stowed in the floor, concealed rod holders, pop-up stainless steel bollards and a self-draining cooler under the aft passengers seat.
There's no stowage for large items like my camera bag except for the bow locker, which would suit an anchor and wet items, but there were plenty of nooks and crannies for everything else, including a long stowage area suited to life vests under the middle bench seat.
Overall finish and attention to detail was outstanding on the Caribe CL14. The vessel was constructed from long wearing Hypalon and had protective wear pads at various traffic points on the tubes. The four separate air chambers and extra large rub-strakes were also above average.
These Caribe boats go fast and turn fast, so grab handles are a very important consideration, wary of this, I noted that there were grab holds for every seating position. There were actually 10 holds along the tubes alone.
The CL14 is clearly a well thought out vessel. Her nimble performance, dry ride and abundant creature comforts suggest that this 14-footer's $30,000 price tag, with the ETEC 75hp motor and trailer, is good value in this category. This vessel would be ideal as a standalone family runabout or as a luxury tender to a larger vessel. And if a luxury tender is her purpose this Venezuelan has 'lifting point', so she's ready to go when you are.