One of the world’s leading RIB brands, Cougar, is now being built under licence in New Zealand. Barry Thompson checked out the first models produced locally. The name Cougar may not mean a lot to some, but if your are a performance boating enthusiast you will have certainly heard the Cougar name. From the company’s beginnings in 1969 the Cougar name has been synonymous with cutting edge technology and winning mono and multihull powerboat designs for commercial, military, racing and leisure purposes.
The first catamaran to win an offshore powerboat race was a Cougar and this revolutionary design heralded an era of dominance, which is still today echoed by the company’s involvement with Honda’s one class race series, currently the largest in the world and Pro Vee a class for the original Thunderboats.
Lessons learned and technology researched and developed in racing have been directly used in the design and production of Cougar’s entire range of boats, even down to the inflatable boat range.
Tauranga based Cougar Marine New Zealand Ltd launched their first boats in late January, the Cougar R8 and R9 centre console models and these will soon be followed by the R10 twin outboard centre console and the all new Cougar R11 cabin.
Developed in New Zealand by Cougar Marine NZ, the first Cougar R11 cabin will be shipped back to Cougar UK for evaluation for the UK and European markets. The R11 is also available in centre console.
Brothers Chris and Adrian Hanley, along with Wellington businessman and offshore racer, Grant Smith set up Cougar Marine New Zealand Ltd, in response to demand for the boats from parent company Cougar Marine UK.
”The company was looking to expand its production using an overseas builder and after some disussions with Cougar Marine UK director, Steve Curtis, we did a deal and within less than six months we produced our first two boats”, said Chris.
”While we see the majority of our boats will probably end up overseas, we feel there is a niche market in New Zealand and will be keen to get as many sales as we can locally”.
Cougar Marine NZ have set up a new factory in Tauranga and have scheduled production for about 50 boats a year.
He sees the Cougar range being ideally suited to everyone from the superyacht owner looking for a fast tender, to local buyers looking for a sleek sexy sport RIB. “I can just see one of these moored at the bottom of a canal property in Pauanui or Sanctuary Cove”.
The smallest in the range, the R8 is based on an 8m x 2.44m RIB stepped grp 24 deg hull. This is the same hull as used for the Formula Honda 225 class but has had some alterations made to the positioning of the strakes to improve the handling. The second local Cougar to be launched is the R9, which has basically identical dimensions to the R8 but is just over ½ a metre longer overall. Big difference is the R8 is for single outboard installations only and the slightly larger R9 for inboard stern drives. Other than that everything forward of the rear seat is identical.
Both boats are fitted with hypalon tubes with a .480m fendering diameter. The tubes are tapered and add to the aerodynamic profile of these boats. A variety of colour choices are available also. The twin stepped hull design of both the R8 and R9 hails from a racing pedigree and gives an exceptionally level ride in the most challenging of seas. Construction is a grp composite with foam stringers and a lot of Kevlar through the hull for extra strength.
Stable and fast. That’s the easiest way to describe the R8 that I took for a blast the morning of the Gulf Harbour offshore powerboat race. Cougar Marine have generously provided an R8 as the start boat and an R9 as the dedicated medic boat for the 2008 offshore season. Because of this the R8 was fitted with a set of flashing lights on a stainless radar arch, something that is obviously not standard on the normal boat. However everything else was just as anyone would buy it.
Powered by a single Mercury Verado 250, the R8 is a rocketship, with a top speed when I ran it of 67mph @ 6400rpm. Unfortunately we were not quite propped right to get to the magic 70mph, but Cougar Marine NZ are working on that. Interestingly the 300hp Mercruiser 350 Mag also topped out at 67mph.
The R8 is rated for outboards 150hp to 300hp, but with the recent release of the Mercury Verado 350, I’m sure that will soon be changed. Currently the R8 is only available with a 20” transom, which eliminates some of the larger engines from some brands.
With the help of the supercharged Verado, acceleration from a standing start to maximum speed is ultra quick and you certainly have to let your passengers know what you’re doing. The boat literally leaps onto the plane instantly, with no hesitation or bump spots. By working the trim as we accelerated I found the boat very responsive and easy to control. Cruising across a very confused sea messed about by a 25 knot breeze, the R8 was a pleasure to drive. It’s predictable and surprisingly comfortable.
Having had the experience of driving a lot of monohulls at high speed I was particularly impressed with the balance of the boat and the way it ran fast and softly across the sea. No slamming, no hard knocks. Even for someone not familiar with driving this style of boat at speed, it would be hard to get into too much trouble.
I say surprisingly not because I didn’t think the hull could handle it, but on first impressions I didn’t like the look of the sculptured saddle seats. However after over 30 minutes of hard running I was pleasantly surprised and even my passenger commented on how comfortable the seats really were.
Cougar’s standard layout is a set of twin saddle seats and while they work okay I think I would personally prefer a traditional double bolster arrangement forward. This is in fact an option that Cougar Marine NZ are looking at offering. You still have the aft bench seat, but the advantage is a lot more space in the rear of the cockpit.
Despite a strong breeze the boat remained totally dry inside and we never took a drop of water on the screen. The driving position is a good one and all controls and instruments are easily at hand or in view. I particularly liked the large screen displays.
Both boats are centre console with plenty of cockpit seating both behind the helm and forward. The standard seating layout allows for six behind the console and two ahead. In the R8, when the rear bench seat is raised – on airstays – there is a massive storage area, which on the standard boat will be complete with a cooler and water tank with transom shower. Options include dive racks for bottles.
In the R9, this void is obviously taken up with the engine and while the hull is the same, the deck is longer and overhangs the sterndrive. A cost effective way to produce two different size models from the same hull.
The console provides excellent storage as do floor lockers and under the straddle seats. Stainless steel handholds that double as back rests for the seats are securely bolted to the deck for maximum strength.
The console features a carbon fibre dash facing with ample space for the electronics. Cougar Marine NZ offer Raymarine packages as an option so you can really add what you like. In our test boats that included a Raymarine C120 , gps, plotter, sounder and Raymarine 218 VHF. Instrumentation is all Smartcraft.
Ahead of the console is a moulded bench seat with a storage bin beneath. There is also a large floor storage locker to stow even more gear, big enough for a couple of dive bottles and your dive bag. There is a moulded anchor locker in the forepeak and large stainless steel Sampson post, with the option of a windlass. Although not fitted to our test boats, there will be a dedicated anchoring fairlead arrangement over the bow as an option in future models.
Also available is a u-shaped lounger in the forepeak with cushions and a central table on airstays that drops down to transform the whole area into one giant sunpad. It’s a reasonable large and workable cockpit that has the benefit of being self draining. In the R9 it was also finished with Flexiteak on the sole that certain gives the boat an up-market look.
There’s no doubt the new R8 and R9 Cougar RIBs are the hottest looking RIBs on the market. While they were never designed for the commercial market, overseas they have found their way there anyway. They are essentially a versatile inflatable with stylish lines and an exceptionally smart finish. The bonus is they not only look good, they perform even better. For their first efforts Cougar Marine New Zealand have done a great job and the finish is to be praised. Although the first boats had imported tubes, the plan is to supply the boats with locally made tubes in the near future.
It’s certainly a boat that falls into the niche market category, but then if you are looking for an RIB with that extra panache then you would go a long way to find anything to outclass a Cougar RIB.
- Model: Cougar R8 / R9
- Price as Tested: R8$106,000 (incl motor/trailer) R9$110,000
- Designer : Cougar Marine UK
- Builder : Cougar Marine NZ
- Material: gpr/ Kevlar/ Hypalon
- Type: RIB Centr Console
- LOA: 8.4m(8m) 9.00m(9m)
- Beam: 2.44m
- Deadrise: 24 degree
- Hull Configuration: Deep vee stepped mono
- Trailerable Weight: R8:2040kg R9:2280kg
- Height on Trailer: 2.1m
- R8 Outboards 150-300hp
- R9 Inboard diesels to 315hp/ Inboard petrol to 350hp
- Fuel Capacity: 240L