Ready & Able
The hardest thing to believe about the Ranger Tugs R-29 CB is not that it’s so affordable, but that it’s so good.
I grew up pummeled with the aphorism, “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is,” and in the years I’ve spent in the marine industry my belief in it has been repeatedly reinforced. Indeed, the boating world has taught me that if something sounds too good to be true, you can pretty much bank on the fact that it is.
I must have repeated that mantra to myself at least a dozen times during my test of the Ranger Tugs R-29 CB. I began the day with the notion that this would be a nicely done, entry-level, relatively bare-bones cruising boat, but as the company reps pointed out each of the boat’s features, my preconception evaporated. I simply couldn’t understand how a builder could pack so many features into a boat so well designed and keep the price so low. I mean, how many 29-foot diesel-powered boats can you name that have two helms, sleep four in comfort (six in a pinch), come with standard bow and stern thrusters and cost less than $300,000? Way less than $300,000.
But it wasn’t just the 29’s price that impressed me. The boat bristles with features that make it clear she was designed and built by people who not only use boats but actually live aboard them. This is a boat designed by cruisers for cruisers.
As so often is the case with successful boats, it all starts with the hull, which features a bubble in the after sections that not only produces a little lift but, more important, allows the engine to sit lower in the boat—so low that the propshaft angle is a mere 6 degrees. (Average is around 12 to 14 degrees.) A lower propshaft angle means the propeller axis is closer to horizontal, and that means less thrust is wasted. The prop itself is protected by a keel to which a stainless steel grounding shoe is attached; that’s something you might expect from a boat built in the Pacific Northwest, where a “deadhead” is a partially submerged log and not a music nut.
The engine is not under the cabin where you might expect it but entirely beneath the cockpit, which makes access easier and allows less noise to be transmitted to the living spaces. Directly forward of the Volvo and on the centerline is a single 145-gallon poly fuel tank—no valves to turn and simple refueling. A Racor fuel-water separator is within easy reach but it has a solid bowl so you can’t visually check for contamination. Likewise, the raw-water intake strainer is down low where it’s easy to reach for cleaning, but in this position, it’s not so easy to look into its clear sides.
Because the Volvo Penta sits low in the bilge the 29’s center of gravity is also low, enhancing stability. This is particularly important when you add a bridge to a small boat, which can produce tenderness. The 29’s bridge is indeed low; drop the hinged forward mast and tip down the hinged side rails, and her air draft is a bit less than 10 feet. Looking for a boat you can occasionally tow? In the same configuration but on a trailer, vertical clearance is just 13 feet 3 inches. (A custom triple-axle trailer is available for $13,560.)
Sightlines from the bridge are good despite the fact that, as you’ve no doubt noticed in the photos, the 29’s bridge sits farther aft than is typical for boats of this size. You’ll have to get used to looking at the mast and radome, but they really don’t impair your sightlines. The same is not true looking aft, as the seat abaft you has been elevated to enhance the view for passengers, plus the entire cockpit is covered by the hardtop overhang aft. The seat and hardtop are both admirable features, but you’ll probably want to duck below when it’s time to back into your slip.
The R-29 CB offers the innovative features incorporated into the R-29 S, but adds the comfort and excitement of a flying bridge.
On the flying bridge you’ll find convenient grab- rails for safety, 12-volt power, cupholders, and weatherproof speakers.
With more than seven hull colors to choose from, customization is part of the deal.
From the lower station, you’ll find superb sightlines forward, thanks to a curved, three-panel windshield that offers a truly panoramic view; the view aft is almost as good, but if you don’t want to take any chances order the aft steering station for $4,970. Cheap insurance, I’d say. The fact that both helm seats accommodate two people is proof that Ranger knows the core market for this boat: couples. There’s also a single passenger seat below and to port for those times when you just need your space.
But the 29’s most intriguing feature is its affordability, which is partly due to factory-direct sales and partly to standardization. There are two basic packages: the Northwest and the Luxury Edition. They share many features; the main difference is that the Northwest ($264,937) comes with a diesel heating system and Force 10 propane three-burner stove and oven. The Luxury ($279,937), basically aimed at anyone who doesn’t live in the Pacific Northwest, replaces those features with a 3.5-kilowatt Next-Gen diesel generator to power a Force 10 three-burner electric stove and oven, and reverse-cycle air conditioning. There are a few options but even without them you get an anchor and chain, windlass, Garmin navigation electronics and autopilot, and of course, the aforementioned bow and stern thrusters. You also get AIS, AGM batteries, a 150-watt solar panel, underwater lights, and even a wireless remote for the thrusters. In other words, the R-29 is an honest-to-goodness sailaway package.
As for the accommodations, there’s space for six—theoretically. There’s certainly room for them in the cockpit, thanks to nifty port and starboard foldaway seats. (The equally smart transom seat flips so it can face either forward or aft.) But for sleeping that group, you’ll have to lower the dinette table to convert it to a berth. Four is a more reasonable long-term proposition, although one couple will draw the starboard berth that runs under the dinette. It doesn’t look terribly enticing, but I tried it and it’s really quite comfortable thanks to a properly firm mattress, side ports, and an aft hatch that opens onto the cockpit. But the 29 really shines as a couple’s boat, thanks to a big forepeak master and wet head.
I’d like to tell you that the 29’s seakeeping is also too good to be true, but near-flat seas on test day precluded a fair evaluation, although we did scare up a few wakes that she handled without incident. On the other hand our performance evaluation revealed a cruising boat that strikes a near-ideal balance between speed and efficiency. Full throttle gets you better than 18 knots, but more importantly, a fast cruise of 3300 rpm still generates 16 knots, where we computed 1.4 nmpg and a range of 180 nautical miles. If you’re in no hurry, 2500 rpm yields just under 10 knots, 1.67 nmpg and a range of 217 nautical miles. The 29 is comfortable with whatever speed you choose, the only real difference being that you’ll want to deploy a little tab from 2750 on upward to maximize efficiency.
In a world where more and more boats are marketed as efficient, affordable, and cruise-ready, it’s refreshing to discover one that not only qualifies but excels on all three counts. Sound too good to be true? Trust me, it’s not.
Generator: 3.5-kW Next-Gen, Warranty: 5 years
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 71ºF; humidity: 55%; seas: 1-2'; wind: 5-8 knots
Load During Boat Test
145 gal. fuel, 60 gal. water, 4 persons, 100 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 1/260-hp Volvo Penta D4-260 diesel inboard
- Transmission/Ratio: Volvo Penta HS63AE-C, 2.04:1 gear ratio
- Props: 19x21 4-blade NiBrAl
- Price as Tested: $264,937 (Northwest Edition)
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.