Round Ireland swim inspired 'unsinkable' Donegal boat

A hair-raising swim around Ireland was the inspiration for one man's new boat-building venture in Donegal, writes Tom Prendeville

ATLANTIC COMPOSITES: 'We looked at the best features of other Ribs and put them in ours.'

Tom Prendeville

Mechanical engineering fitter Timmy Boyle was involved in the 2006 Round Ireland Swim and it was during this endurance swim that he realised that there was a huge gap in the market for purpose-built rigid inflatable boats.

Better known as a rib, a rigid-inflatable boat is a rigid hull boat with inflatable tubes affixed to the exterior. A very sturdy craft due to its structural reinforcing, it is ideal for the high seas.

Timmy Boyle and a colleague decided to do some research and quickly realised that there were precious few boats being made in Ireland and not enough being made elsewhere to cope with demand.

The following year they hired renowned South African naval architect Kobus Potgeiter to design a prototype vessel which could cope with very rough Atlantic conditions off the north-west coast.

The trials were a success and in 2008 Atlantic Composites - which is based in Gweedore, Co Donegal - opened for business. It was a high-water mark year to start a new company, as the economy had reached its zenith in terms of boom-time potential, but a tempest was fast approaching over the horizon. Despite the storm the RIB company started attracting steady orders.

Timmy Boyle explains the nature of his maritime business and how he developed a practically unsinkable boat: "We manufacture to order, we also do boat repairs on all types of fibreglass vessels.

"The Atlantic Composites Rib has a rigid hull hold like any other boat. On the outside it has inflatable tubes that go around it. The tube has a minimum of five independent air chambers; so if you lost two you still have three to keep you afloat.

"We enlisted the services of naval architect Kobus Potgeiter to design the craft. Kobus is a renowned naval architect with many years experience - and his design was the result of strenuous sea trials.

"We incorporated the best features of all the other ribs that were available on the market and put them all into ours. It is a fantastic boat to go out on - and it is very comfortable and dry," he says.

During the sea trials all the inflatable tubes were completely deflated and, with 10 people on board, the Atlantic Composites Rib not only remained afloat, but made it back to shore safe and sound.

Timmy Boyle spent most of his working life in the marine business. As well as being a qualified mechanical engineering fitter, he also holds a degree in industrial electronics and is a diving instructor. He can now add boat designer to his CV.

The building of boats is one of the oldest handcrafts in the world. Atlantic Composites decided early on - while holding on to the best of traditional naval methods - to embrace a new technology, vacuum infusion, as their construction method.

Fibreglass boats have been traditionally done by hand, with coats of resin being painted onto a fibreglass mat. Resin, by its nature, is very brittle - excess coating of the material will therefore actually weaken the finished boat. Due to patchy absorption - or, more often than not, to too much resin being applied - the finished vessel can be fragile and in time prone to surface peeling, which gives rise to osmosis - whereby seawater can seep its way into the boat via microscopic pores on the weather-beaten surface.

Mr Boyle says vacuum infusion gives the best possible resin-to-fabric ratio, resulting in a lighter, stronger structure that is more resistant to maritime perils such as structural fatigue. "This technology drags traditional fibreglass composite manufacturing into the 21st century - the manufacture is now a process as opposed to a skill. Our ribs were designed using computer-aided design, and the moulds are manufactured using milling machines for the plug from which our moulds are cast. This design process is unique to Atlantic Composites' range of ribs."

To buy a basic 7.5 metre long rib costs around €45,000. However, Atlantic Composites are able to build and retail the same vessel for about €36,000.