Whether Sardinia, Portofino or Cannes – wherever superyachts gather in the Mediterranean – the ship-to-shore transport of choice will inevitably be a stylish, rigid-bottom inflatable boat (RIB).
These classy inflatable craft are not only de rigueur for the superyacht set, they’re also the runabout of choice for fashion-minded European boaties. And why not – modern RIBs are a great platform for pleasure boating as they’re super stable, safe and ideal for coming alongside docks or visiting a beach.
One leading European RIB brand oozes style and luxury as respectably as any Prada handbag or Lamborghini sportscar: the Italian Nuova Jolly range, which is generally regarded as top-shelf by European boaties. And thanks to the local importer, The Boutique Boat Company, we can now sample these exotic craft firsthand in Australia. The company is the exclusive Australian agent for a variety of luxury boats, including Princess Yachts, so Nuova Jolly is a natural fit for its wealthy customer base.
The size of luxury yacht tenders has increased quite considerably in recent years and it is not uncommon for superyachts to house a massive RIB tender, or have it driven in the wake by a uniformed crew member. Nuova Jolly reflects this upward trend with RIBs from 17 to 43ft (5.2 to 13m), with the largest model running a massive 1000hp via a sterndrive or with triple-bank outboards.
Overall, Nuova Jolly’s theme is centre-console RIBs with comfortable rear lounges and forward sunpads – the emphasis is decidedly on enjoying la dolce vita over summer. And just to ensure all bases are covered, there’s a cabin range from 23ft upward for those who might want to cruise overnight.
We tested the NJ 550 and Prince 21 models, provided by Boutique Boats Sydney. The company expects these two models to be popular as tenders or sportsboats and says they will soon be joined by the NJ 530, NJ 585 GT and Prince 25.
These are quality-finished craft with an undeniably Italian style. The grey livery of the Yamaha four-stroke outboards blends superbly with the colour schemes of the boats, which feature white and light grey, or dark-grey tubing over a white interior with light-grey bottom. Nuova Jolly offers a wide range of colour choices in hull, tubing and upholstery, so the craft can be customised to suit personal tastes.
The Prince 21 also features (optional) teak trim and decking, and a targa arch, which the Italians call a ‘roll bar’ in keeping with the Italian sportscar theme. Whatever you call it, it sure is a sexy feature and makes the Prince 21 look fast even when standing still.
The NJ 550 has a reputation for providing an excellent ride in rough water and I was keen to sample this in some high-speed runs on Sydney Harbour. Even in fairly calm conditions, it’s apparent both RIBs are very soft-riding and handle beautifully at speed. We hit the watery ‘speed bumps’ of ferry wakes at speed without drama.
Top speed in the Prince 21 was 40 knots (74km/h) – with more tuning it would possibly be faster. The NJ 550 was running out at 34 knots (63km/h), which was also impressive.
In most runabouts, maintaining these speeds isn’t possible, but the Nuova Jolly RIBs do it easily thanks to their 25-degree, super-deep-vee fibreglass hulls flanked by large-volume tubes. The deep-vee does the cutting work, while the air tubes provide buoyancy to keep the craft level and steady at speed. They also provide a certain amount of air-cushioning at speed and level the craft in turns.
Compared to some other brands, the NJ 550 appears higher in the water and has a noticeable up-sweep in the bow. The bow also has a square front, which increases internal space and provides a forecastle for the mooring and anchor cleats.
Underway, you can feel the solidness of construction in these RIBs. The rigid hulls feature diagonally laid matt rovings and really nice non-skid walking surfaces.
It’s worth noting that Nuova Jolly RIBs all have self-draining cockpits with non-return valves on the transom outlets, along with seacocks on the inside drain lines for added security.
Features aboard both models abound. The lockers have draining channels and gas-spring lifters, while plenty of grabhandles on the tubes provide safety when moving about. Cushions come standard and feature a mix of press snaps and Velcro tabs to fasten them. I also like the tinted acrylic windscreen and stainless steel grabrails around the console.
Both models feature navigation lights, hydraulic steering, a full set of stainless steel deck cleats and a bow anchor fairlead and locker.
While a bit of internal volume is lost in RIBs due to the pontoons, the Nuova Jolly designers have made good use of the available space. Everything seems very comfortably arranged and there is plenty of passage room to move around the console. The smaller NJ 550 provides a double-seater helm seat, while the bigger Prince 21’s helm has a single bum-bolster and a separate lounge behind. They’re sensible solutions in both cases.
The Prince 21 also comes with a few extras befitting a larger craft, such as an electric anchor windlass, electric fridge within the helm seat, and GPS plotter navigation unit.
Both models are great for swimmers, with folding rear swimladder and walk-through access into the cockpit, along with a freshwater shower at the stern.
Their capacity to take a lot of people makes these craft a favourite for summer parties. The forward sunlounge is a very Italian feature that’s sure to be a favourite for sunbathing, but could very quickly be converted into a raised casting platform for fishing – just take out the cushions and presto, you have a spot to cast a lure to your favourite quarry. I might mention that Europeans have no qualms about fishing from inflatable boats and Nuova Jolly’s top-quality Neoprene Hypalon tubes are super tough … another string to the bow of an already multifunctional craft.
Overall, Nuova Jolly RIBs are excellent craft for the modern-day, busy boatie. The self-draining cockpits make them ideal for shorter-term berthing, while the lightweight hulls suit trailer towing, dry-stacking in a marina, or lifting onto a larger craft.
NUOVA JOLLY: NJ 550 PRINCE 21
LOA: 5.5m 6.8m
Total width: 2.34m 2.7m
Inner width: 1.26m 1.52m
Dry weight: 610kg 950kg
Power: 115hp 250hp
Power as tested: 100hp Yamaha 200hp Yamaha
Fuel capacity: 125lt 240lt
Capacity: 9 people 12 people
Price from: $59,990 $79,990
Price as tested: $64,990 $109,900
More information: The Boutique Boat Company, tel: 1300 777 879. Web: BoutiqueBoats.com.au.