Rebel 8.5 Wheelhouse Review

Issue: June 2002

Remember the scene from the movie the Life of Brian when the multitudes are asked “who is an individual” and they all answer in one voice, “I am!” But then a tiny single voice pipes up and says, “I’m not.” Perhaps the Rebel 8.5 Wheelhouse at 8.5m and weighing 3 tonnes, can hardly be called a small tinnie, but it is a rare vessel among today’s world of mass produced “pea in a pod” boats.

It’s a vessel that does its own thing, its own way and plainly says “here I am, this is me, take it or leave it.” There will almost certainly never be another boat remotely similar to this Rebel, because this big tinnie is one man’s idea of how he wants his boat to be. You can call it a custom-build craft and it is, but that description is somewhat pretentious. However, if there’s one thing this boat isn’t, it’s pretentious.

Not even when the owner names the boat after himself Red Beard. Richard Carr named his boat this, but there’s no vanity in that either, let alone pretension. It’s more a case of a “here I am, take me or leave me” statement of fact. Which is the impression you get when you first meet him. That’s if you can manage to draw your attention away from the pulp he’s just made of your right hand long enough to find that Richard does have a red beard.

He’s a man who looks like he just walked off a job site, which he probably has, because Richard operates his own business in the building industry. On the day we were aboard Red Beard he wore elastic-sided work boots, which says something about the man’s straightforward ways and the kind of boat he likes.

You need to spend a little time with Richard to discover his wicked, dry wit – not a lot longer, just a little – and a little longer aboard Red Beard to work out that there’s more to this man and his boat, than first meets the eye.

This is an exceptionally well thought out boat that’s built for a specific purpose – reef fishing. To be more specific, multi-day reef fishing trips a long way from home port. By his own admission Richard has been there and done that with a number of boats including a period slumming it in a flash 35′ fibreglass flybridge cruiser. But he quickly out grew that phase.

For a new craft he decided to get a boat built how he wanted it, without the unnecessary frilly bits. So Richard commissioned Brisbane-based aluminium boat builder Warren Cameron to build Red Beard, from a design by Naval Architect Paul Stanyon. The Rebel tag comes from Warren’s business name Rebel Boats.

She’s – no, I’m not letting my weird sense of humour loose given the tradition of giving boats feminine names when this boat is called Red Beard – 8.5m long and built from plate aluminium. The bottom sheets are 6mm and the sides 4mm. The hull is a no-nonsense conventional moderate-vee mono design with a 16-degree deadrise at the transom. She’s powered by twin 200hp EFI Mercury outboards, which are mounted on a full-width pod that is an extension of the bottom sheets. She carries more than 500lt of fuel and 190lt of fresh water.

The wheelhouse is big, the cockpit is big, the V-berth in the bow is big. In fact, everything about this boat is big. But there’s only the one twin V-berth and no dinette. Instead there’s a full-size shower and toilet set to port at the aft end of the wheelhouse.

Red Beard is very much one man’s boat, so we can’t conduct a boat test in the usual sense of the word, otherwise we’d be giving her a cross in the box for having no dining facilities or extra bunks. Perhaps it’s best to take a tour in more detail and tell it as it comes.

The wheelhouse is bright and airy with plenty of air circulating through ample windows. A large door leads out to the cockpit and there’s a pair of big hatches above the helm and passenger seats. That word “big” seems to keep popping up here, but that’s the way it is, there’s nothing small or delicate about Red Beard.

Stepping aboard from the pontoon mooring behind Richard’s place is easy enough, simply hop over the side. But if agility is a problem you can opt to step onto the boarding platform beside the motor pod and open the – you guessed it – big transom door. Richard describes Warren’s work on the transom door as a work of art in itself and on inspection we can see what he means.

The transom door swings out of a recess and comes complete with built-in storage. There’s also a bait station that perches centrally above the transom. The forward end of the cockpit is – yes – big! There’s a shower/toilet to port and a sink unit to starboard. House batteries, to run the lighting and refrigeration inside the cabin, are stowed beneath this. These house batteries are kept charged by a sophisticated automated system from power generated by twin 120 watt solar panels on the wheelhouse roof. The outboards run off a separate set of batteries stowed inside the transom.

Entering the wheelhouse the shower cubicle forms a blank wall to port. Between this and a double Reelax arm chair seat for the passengers there’s a sink unit. There’s also grab bars and foot rests in front of both the helm and navigator’s seats. With twin motors out back, their instrumentation forms an impressive cluster on the painted aluminium dash. A JRC FF50 colour sounder and Lorenz Excalibur colour GPS unit feature prominently behind the steering wheel.

The helm seat is a single Reelax arm chair. Behind this is a 95lt electric 12v refrigerator/freezer next to a four burner gas stove and oven. Inside the cabin is a blend of painted metal, carpeted floor, carpeted walls and an upholstered ceiling. The decor is comfortable, there are plenty of big windows, but there’s no frills. The windows slide open or closed to allow the breeze in, or to keep the spray out.

There is also plenty of storage covered with waterproof hatches. Overall the standard of finish, while well done, is workman-like, straightforward and practical.

Red Beard is one of those boats where you step up from the cockpit onto the side decks when going forward to the anchor. There’s also a grab bar along the wheelhouse roof to help you get there safely.

It’s late in the afternoon and there’s a 15-20 knot sou’ easter blasting through the gap between Green Island and Wellington Point, as we run the boat out to Moreton Bay’s historic St Helena Island for the photo shoot. It’s going to give Red Beard’s quarter quite a bashing until we come into the lee of Green Island.

For a moderate-vee plate aluminium hull, this Rebel performs as expected. She bumps and bangs like any plate boat and having no deflection rails on the bow shoulders, throws enough spray to force us to keep the cabin roof hatches closed.

But there is no denying this 8.5m, 3-tonne boat treats the more than a metre of wind chop with contempt.

Perhaps you’d have to be as keen a reef fisherman as Richard to truly appreciate the beauty in this boat. The team also likes her very much, although we would have done quite a few things differently, which is more or less how it is when boats are built for individuals.

The final word for anyone looking to have an aluminium boat built to encompass their own ideas of how a boat should be, is to give Warren Cameron at Rebel Boats a call. As tested, Red Beard costs $157,000, but you can buy a basic 8.5m wheelhouse hull for $32,400. 

Engine Room
On the performance side of the house, with 400hp pushing her, the Rebel 8.5 is certainly capable of getting on with the job. Spinning a pair of 17″ three-blade Mercury Vengeance stainless steel props, Red Beard needs only 2400rpm and 13.5 knots to easily climb out of the hole and plane.

At 3000rpm the big Rebel was cruising effortlessly along at 17 knots. More pressure on the lever changes this dramatically and she lifts her skirts – regardless of the wind chop – and cruises comfortably at 28 knots pulling 4000rpm.

Flat out at 5600rpm the pair of Mercs on the back are really barking. Our GPS records a speed over the water of 37.7 knots. That’s a lot of speed for a lot of boat, a lot more than would normally be used on the way out to the wide reefs.

Story by Warren Steptoe