Nautica 41

Built for the military, this inflatable is almost bulletproof.

If the term "RIB," an acronym for rigid inflatable boat, conjures up a little outboard dinghy puttering toward shore, well, take a deep breath and read on. The Nautica 41 is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of RIBs: no-nonsense brawny and much bigger in person than you'd expect. It's also just about as versatile as the Terminator-turned-Governator.

Originally designed for U.S. Special Operations Command as a high-speed attack craft that could carry up to 35 commandos, the Nautica 41 can be fitted with a variety of deck layouts (including a cabin) and accessories to fit every need from family weekender to dive platform to America's Cup or megayacht tender.

Our test 41 was en route to Italy for use as a Riviera runner and tender to a racing sailboat, so it had been equipped with a big T-top, an immense sunpad aft marked by a rugged towing bitt, a teak sole and a forward pad for stowing people or gear.

There's triple-wide seating at the big helm and the console has uncrowded space for electronics, the SeaStar tilt wheel and the Ultraflex throttles and shifters. Forward, a hatch lifts (powered by gas, so you don't have to strain your back) to reveal a large console that has ample room for a head or storage. On this boat, it was dedicated to storage and the raised sole concealed larger fuel tanks.

While you can choose triple outboards on brackets (and thus free up a lot of deck area aft), our test boat had a pair of Yanmar 440 hp diesels driving Hamilton waterjets in a powerful but not inexpensive package.

Underway, there is an immediate feeling of security on the 41. The throttles are stiff but the shifters are buttery, and the response is immediate, especially if you're accustomed to the lag time on a typical 41-footer. Of course, you're only moving air tubes and the whole boat with diesels weighs just 13,500 pounds, but the surge of acceleration is startling.

Certainly the most notable aspect of the handling is that the 41 comes up to speed without needing trim tabs to climb over its bow wave. It simply levitates onto a plane, with no bow rise and no fuss. One moment you're idling along, the next the wind is whistling past and the spray is flung wide to each side.

And that's another feature: This is a dry, soft-riding deep-V hull that slips over waves without pounding or soaking the occupant. It's easy to see why the military and police, like Florida's Broward County Sheriffs, have adopted Nautica hulls.

Hit the button to raise the engine covers, and it's obvious that a lot of military specifications have carried over to the civilian side. The engineroom is finished in polished diamond-plate, with fuel transfer switches, fuel filters and other gear solidly bolted into place and accessible. There's room to get at the Yanmars for service too. It's difficult to insulate air, however, so our sound readings recorded the diesel rattle across the speed range.

Construction is equally husky, with a Kevlar/fiberglass mix in the hull, balsa coring and sturdy tubes of Hypalon polyester that are cold-cemented for strength. For pleasure boaters, this combination is bulletproof; if you're using the 41 in military service, well, it's just a phrase.

But if you do plan to ride into battle, whether it's in the Gulf of Iraq or the Gulf Stream, the Nautica 41 is the perfect choice.

Contact: Nautica International, www.nauticaintl.com, (954) 986-1600