Here you'll find the history section, written and reproduced with permission from Pete Rowlands
The Early Years
The Early Years
Osprey RIBs started life under the parent company Northern Diver in Standish in 1988. The business was called Offshore Components but they quickly became known as Osprey and adopted a winged Osprey as the company logo which appeared on later RIBs, both moulded into consoles and bow hatch on the Viper, but also as transfers on the hard nose models.
The first RIB was built about 1988 when the then MD of Northern Diver, Mike Armitage, wanted a RIB for his own personal use. A former commercial diver, Mike set up Northern Diver in 1976 to supply wetsuits and then later dry suits to both commercial divers and sports divers. The sport diving market would take off over the next 10 years as ever increasing numbers of individuals wanted to explore underwater and his timing in launching Northern Diver was perfect to capitalise on this booming market. The first model launched was called the Osprey 18 which unsurprisingly was 18' long; it incorporated a small GRP nose cone to remove the need for a complex tube shape at the bow, and the boats were built by Mike and Ralph Williamson near Standish who specialised in bespoke GRP mouldings. The Osprey 18s were generally built in white or orange GRP with orange tubes supplied by Eurocraft just 10 miles away in Leyland. Eurocraft had at the time a great deal of experience in building white water rafts often seen in the great expeditions by Colonel Blashford Snell navigating some of the greatest rivers in Africa and South America. Eurocraft quickly established itself as one of the premier RIB tubing companies and continues to this day. Plenty of the early Osprey 18s still survive with their original tubes – sure testament to their quality. Early models had foam-filled hulls to increase their buoyancy in the event of the hull being flooded. This would be dropped in roughly 1991 since it was seen as an unnecessary extra cost and slowed the build time.
Hard nose RIBs
Hard Nose RIBs
During the winter of 1990 - 1991 Mike and Ralph worked on a new range of RIBs for Osprey: the main feature changes were a larger nose cone and a new jockey console in single or double seat lengths. For the first time, stainless steel built-in fuel tanks became available mounted through the deck and then laminated in place. Laminating over the fuel tanks ensured they were securely mounted in the boat and stopped any tendency for the stainless steel tanks to fracture though movement. These new RIBs were given the names of birds of prey and were available in the following lengths:
Sea Harrier 6.4m
In June 1991 Osprey entered the first Round Scotland RIB Race organised by Mr Richard Frere and the late Michael Alexander (who escaped from Colditz). The previous year these two gentlemen had circumnavigated the Scottish Highlands in a 4m Flatacraft and now wanted to bring tourists up to the very top of Scotland by introducing a race both against other RIBs and the terrain. The 1991 Osprey Sparrowhawk team boat was equipped with twin 25 hp Suzuki outboards for class A, which had a 50 hp limit. This RIB in orange and black would feature heavily in future advertising and became known as The Stealth Colour scheme alter the US spy plane. Despite atrocious conditions encountered by all teams at Ardnamurchan Point, the Osprey Team RIB completed the 5 day race without a problem, both the Sparrowhawk and Eagle proving themselves, and combined with a pro-active marketing campaign involving Osprey taking a fleet of their boats around the country to diving conferences and meetings, orders quickly followed. Available boat space in the Standish Business Centre which the parent company now owned became a problem in early 1991, and the solution was to move Osprey (Offshore Components) to a larger industrial estate on the other side of Standish. This gave the company room to fit out new boats and sell RIBs on brokerage. It would also provide space to manufacture later models. The 5.0m Merlin would be dropped from the model range in mid ‘91 when it became evident that the cost of manufacturing the RIB was virtually the same as that of the 5.2m Sparrowhawk. In addition the shortened but deep V of the Merlin hull produced a boat that required careful trimming or she would constantly ride bow up. The longer 5.2m Sparrowhawk although only an extra 8" was much more stable and less affected by load and balance.
The range came with either built-in fuel tanks or space in the console for red cans. Fuel tanks varied in size from 90 to 130 litres. Stainless Steel A-Frames were also an optional extra. Although most had only single compartment tubes each side, the tube support from the nose cone and transom meant that even if one tube was deflated at sea the boat remained seaworthy. Eurocraft often wrote the hull number and date of manufacture on the front end of the tubes hidden in the nose cone which provides a useful method of dating the hulls.
The Falcon Range
In addition to the four RIBs named after birds of prey, Osprey also manufactured a range of RIBs for commercial use. Not widely advertised to the leisure market, they were aimed at the commercial sector and sold widely in Ireland to the Garda and Government Agencies. This commercial range carried the name Falcon and was produced in 5.4m, 6.5m and 8.2m lengths. The original mould was produced by the British Sports Boat builder, Fletcher, who built three 6.5m RIBs, before deciding that there wasn't any future in RIBs and sold the mould and rights to Mike and Ralph. This decision would cost Fletcher dearly.
These RIBs with mainly red tubes (possibly manufactured in Germany) bolted onto the hulls were heavily constructed and included a series of extra under deck bulkheads to create a strong hull that would survive being holed. The tubes also carried all the way around the bow in a departure of the normal hard nose design for Osprey. However the extra weight involved in the lay up meant that ultimate performance suffered or smaller loads / divers had to be carried.
With the main RIB market at the time dominated by divers, Osprey chose to sell the tried and tested hard nose RIBs to divers which stood up well to the tough life of a club dive boat.
The XR Range
1991 also saw Osprey commission a naval architect to design a sport boat range of RIBs. The moulds were probably built in Penryn, Cornwall, by Damien Bloor and Peter Kidd at Vector Marine. Launched at the Feb 1992 Scottish Boat and Caravan Show in Glasgow they instantly attracted attention for their large GRP nose cones and their targeting of the sports boat market rather than divers.
Osprey named the boats XR18 and XR20. The XR 24 would follow within the month. Designed around a Delta Conic hull shape, (the name of which didn't impress Delta Inflatables down the road in Manchester) they included a completely moulded deck manufactured in a similar way to that of a yacht. The deck was re-inforced with either end grain balsa or marine ply depending on the boat’s intended purpose. An instant hit with RIB Racing Teams the XR 24 could be powered by anything from twin 60s to a single 200 hp outboard and offered stunning rough water handling at speed. Some of the XR24s (designed for a half tonne payload) also found favour in Gibraltar for smuggling activities across the straights. The early XRI8 and 20s had a flooding hull similar to the Avon 5.4m Searider RIBs, and whilst this provided good stability at rest with the tubes well into the water, the time to get the boat onto the plane and moving at speed was too long. Shortly after production the hulls were modified, the gentle curve of the Delta Conic shape at the keel replaced with a large flat planing wedge which ran for most of the length of the hulls. This made the ride slightly harder but produced very fast boats.
Sport Boat Magazine tested an XR20 in the early nineties, and, whilst they liked the modern styling and sports boat approach to a market dominated by orange dive boats, they thought the test boat with 100 hp under powered and suggested the hull could easily take 150 hp, which was considered to be a very powerful engine at the time.
For the 1992 Round Scotland RIB Race, Osprey lent several RIBs to prospective buyers to compete in. The XR 20 performed well with 100 hp (the class B limit) and topped out at 44 mph. However the determined efforts of a privately entered Osprey Eagle with an identical Suzuki V4 100 hp outboard would show that the earlier hull and ruthless driving could still prevail, and they went on to win the class. In class A, another privately owned Osprey Sparrowhawk was entered and also won, the power limit on the class having been upped to a heady 60 hp in order to increase the range of single engine options available to teams. They also allowed twin 40s in class A, which produced some closely matched boats in the Isle of Man and Solent races. Osprey now developed side by side lightweight race consoles and bucket seats; a big departure from the traditional jockey seat, but a great aid in helping to keep crews in the boat at higher speeds.
Whilst the XR 18 and 20s where produced by Osprey in Standish the XR24s were built under contract by Vector Marine in Penryn. Vector also produced a small number of their own RIBs based on the XR 24 hull with both hard GRP and tube bows. However the quality of the Vector built boats could be variable including their own company race boat! The XR 18 and 20 had built in 90 and 135 litre fuel tanks respectively, under a very complicated console moulding and early XRs were fitted with a GRP A Frames designed by Delta Inflatables in Manchester. However, the GRP A Frame cracked under hard use and was subsequently changed for either Stainless Steel or Aluminium.
A number of jet XR20s were built in 96 - 98, the hull shape with a large flat planing wedge running most of the length of the hull proving very suitable for this sort of installation.
As of January 2007 the XR18 mould was owned by Andy Carr in Bognor Regis, who has plans to put the boat back on the market. The location of the XR20 mould is unknown: possibly lost and the XR 24 mould is owned by Reiver Boats in Stanley. The XR moulds were sold off by Osprey at auction in 1998.
The Viper Range
During the summer of 1992, Osprey saw that the majority of the RIB market at this time was still made up of divers, and so it began to draw together proposals for a wider and more stable hull for this market. The answer came from Mike and Ralph who took the Falcon design to create a new range of wide bodied RIBs. Called "Viper" and originally available in 5.25m, 5.75m 6.25m and 7m lengths, later additions included the 6.5m. They featured tubes around the nose, and the Fletcher hull shape but with a raised bow. Indeed even today if you look at the Viper hull you can see the change in angle at the bow. This greatly reduced the potential for the RIB to be stuffed into a wave through poor driving skills. At the bow, a large locker was added for storage, always at a premium on a RIB but with the added bonus that it also created a large curved surface area to bond the bow tubes onto rather than simply a very thin lip similar to their competitors. Under deck the Vipers dispensed with traditional fore and aft stringers in favour of a series of bulkheads. Every 50cm a full hull to deck bulkhead was installed, constructed from GRP. At 25cm intervals between these were fitted half height bulkheads, constructed from the same material. Although these bulkheads were relatively light, the large number created a very rigid and stiff hull, whilst providing excellent support for the deck. Down the inside of the hull an “n” shaped tube was also moulded in creating a backbone effect giving additional strength. Two small stern lockers add strength to the transom and provide a useful neat solution for the under deck trunks; they are also very useful as front mounting points for twin-rail A-frames. The hull serial number can normally be found inside these lockers, which was used to identify each hull during the build process. Diver Magazine tested the Viper 5.25m and raved about it so much that the article would subsequently become part of the Osprey brochure. The Viper quickly became a fond favourite with divers because it offered a stable platform and a safe, sea kindly hull that felt planted and secure even in the poorest conditions. Quality of build was excellent and despite the large numbers built, few are available at any one time on the secondhand market.
In 1998, having manufactured a comprehensive range of RIBs for 10 years, Northern Diver the parent company of Offshore Components called time on the RIB building business. Despite a very popular range, the company hadn't made the forecasted profits in the boat building sector, compared to the drysuit and diving equipment business of the parent company. Northern Diver moved out of the Standish Centre to larger new premises at nearby Appleby Bridge and shut the boat building unit. An auction in 1998 saw the RIB manufacturing business and XR moulds sold off.
In 1998, all moulds and rights were acquired by Kris Deraedt of Brugge Marine Centre. Kris was responsible for developing the now best selling Vipermax range.
Boat and Jetski World of Willenhall, West Midlands were appointed, UK distributors however this company went into receivership in 2005 leaving the UK without a recognised dealership. This was resolved when two dedicated Osprey owners, Roy Bishop and Dave Page, took on the task of rebuilding the prestige of Osprey within the UK.
Janis Petrov controls sales in the Baltic area with many boats going to the commercial sector.
Since the 1990s, Osprey have enjoyed considerable success in racing and endurance cruising, the Lynx range dating from 1994 with “Midnight Express” and later “ROCK SCORPION” won a lot of racing events. A Lynx 28 with twin Mercury XR2 outboards set a Windermere speed record for production RIBs at 86mph. At the same time an Osprey Falcon 8.2m beat the round Britain record.
To promote the new Vipermax, a 7m with an Evinrude 225HO competed in the 24hour Endurance Race in St Petersburg and in 2005 was vice champion in the Championnat de France. The top speed of that boat was over 60kn.
In early 2007, a new overseas plant began production of a new line of stepped hulls from 7.8m to 12m. The CONDOR range (10-11-12m) with its 5 stepped hull and moulded bracket is something totally new for the RIB market - even the leisure orientated cabin cruiser will be capable of speeds in excess of 76Kn with a double outboard rig, making it one of the fastest cabin outboard powered RIBs on the market.
The Vipermax range is certainly proving to be popular in the UK with a strong and loyal customer base.