Rayburn 88By Capt. Richard Thiel photos by Robert C. Webster
There are a number of reasons why we test boats. Sometimes the readers demand we cover one. Sometimes the builders ask us to. And sometimes a boat just strikes someone’s fancy here. The Rayburn 88 falls into the last category. Last fall, senior editor Bill Pike, whose fancy has been struck by more than a few boats, briefly toured her at a Seattle boat show and was highly impressed. He immediately convinced me that we should test her, and when Bill’s schedule conflicted with the boat’s, I stepped up to the plate.
I didn’t know much about the 88 when I arrived at her dock in Vancouver, British Columbia. Bill had told me she’d been built by a small, family-owned Canadian yard and that she had beautiful joinery. But I hadn’t had a chance to review a spec sheet or even look at a picture until I stepped aboard on an unseasonably cold day in November.
On seeing her I was mildly surprised. Somehow I’d expected a boat that looked, well, stodgier. Instead, I found a yacht that looked purposeful yet stylish. She has big flare and bulwarks forward; broad, protected side decks; sleek, flush-mounted windows; a covered aft deck; and the generous freeboard and moderate top-hamper that bespeak seaworthiness.
I was also surprised when I stepped aboard. I’ve seen my share of fine joinery, but this was impressive, in both extent and execution. I felt like I’d stepped into a comfortable old English gentleman’s club, complete with rich, wood paneling, fluted columns, and soft leather upholstery. The predominant woods are sapelle and pomele (sapelle burl), unstained and finished with “satin gloss” varnish, making the grain deep and iridescent. The joinery is flawless. Soles are marble (heated), sapelle and holly, or carpet. Two thoughts struck me: One, this is the way a yacht should look; and two, I see why Bill was so impressed.
Yet another surprise was the eponymous Mr. Rayburn. Ron had boatbuilder written all over him. In his late 40s, I’d guess, he radiated passion, both for this yacht and for his craft. Despite a pressing appointment, he took time to give me a short biography and explain how he came to build a $5.8 million spec yacht. His history included building small runabouts and cruisers and holding a variety of positions in boatbuilding companies and brokerage houses before buying the yard in May 1998. Since then he’s built 11 boats, of which the 88 is the largest.
As to why he built the 88, Rayburn explained that for a long time he’d wanted to build a yacht with uncompromising design, quality, and finish. About two years ago a customer offered to back the project, and so work began. It all sounded impressive, but I found myself wondering what lay beneath the wood, leather, and marble, so I inquired about construction.
I discovered it’s conservative, with the emphasis on strength and durability. The hull is solid FRP, but with an internal vacuum-bagged foam layer principally for thermal and acoustical insulation. Four full-length stringers are foam-cored, with additional high-density stringers and aluminum engine beds in the engine room. Primary bulkheads are of two-inch Nidacore; secondaries are of one-inch Nidacore. Lower-deck soles have one-inch CoreCell, and the main deck is one piece, supported by aluminum caps that allow for a thinner laminate and thus more headroom (6’8”) below decks. Most impressive was the 18-foot-long bridge deck section cantilevered over the cockpit yet strong enough to carry a tender and crane. Like the entire exterior, it’s flawlessly painted in white Awlgrip.
But despite the coring, at 151,000 pounds (dry) the 88 is not particularly light for her size. Still her performance is quite acceptable: With 1,400-hp Caterpillar 3412s, she sees a top speed of better than 22 knots and cruising speed just under 18 knots at 2000 rpm. Considerably more than acceptable are her sound levels: At the helm I registered just 71 dB-A at full throttle and 67 dB-A at 2000 rpm (65 is the level of normal conversation). Credit that to the “floating” saloon floor and a Soundown insulation package.
Indeed, a lot of engineering went into this boat, all the more surprising considering she’s a spec boat. Take the electrical system. There are three Northern Lights gensets: two 25-kWs and one 8-kW. To prevent one of the 25s from running lightly loaded—a real no-no—the 8-kW is on auto start and buffered by a 10-kW inverter system. When the system senses load, the inverter picks it up. If it can’t handle it, the 8-kW genset comes online. The system reportedly works great in a blackout, too, with a nearly indistinguishable transition from shorepower to inverter/genset. It also features “selective frequency conversion,” meaning that in a foreign port, it doesn’t convert everything from 50 cycles to 60, just the frequency-sensitive equipment. Thus the transformer can be smaller, lighter, and cheaper.
The 88’s hydraulic stabilizers are powered by pumps on each main that also drive the Maxwell anchor and warping winches and the 36-hp Wesmar bow thruster. Also part of the system is a powerful reversible pump that can supply fore and aft fire monitors or draw water from any of five watertight compartments via a manifold in the engine room.
Speaking of the engine room, there are two entrances, one through a watertight transom hatch that leads through the aft crew quarters and the other from, of all places, the amidships master. You walk through a beautiful, acoustically insulated wooden door into a space between the port and starboard main fuel tanks. Here you’ll find fuel manifolds and transfer pumps (there are four tanks in all) and backlit sight gauges. Walk aft through another watertight door and you’re in a space with 360-degree engine access, 6’8” headroom, and a serious ventilation system. Separate port and starboard systems draw air in from external soffits via powerful fans and blow it into each forward end. Aft exhaust fans pull the air over each engine and out through vents on the bridge. Dampers will seal the space in the event of a fire.
Of course, it’s not only about engineering. The plan is well thought out, the main deck being on one level and the helm well forward for good sightlines. Access to the two large guest staterooms is to starboard of the helm, while directly aft of the pilothouse are port and starboard doors and a forward-facing dinette with great views. This space flows into the galley, with a marble-topped island with drawers beneath. To port is a double sink with big windows over it, while to starboard is one of two stairways to the bridge (the other is in the cockpit), evidence that Rayburn designed the 88 to be handled by a couple. The saloon and dining area occupy one big space, and the cockpit, about nine feet long, offers port and starboard steps to the swim platform, where there are port and starboard warping winches.
After spending a half-day poring over the Rayburn 88 and enjoying one pleasant surprise after another, I could easily see why Bill had been so taken with her. The truth is, by the time I walked off the yacht and into a cold Canadian dusk, the 88 had struck my fancy, too.
This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.