Into The Blue: The Rib Club

Pack the picnic and weigh anchor. Liz Henry talks stress-free boating with Rib Club Global founder, James Patterson.

One of life’s greatest adventures is to take to nature’s most exhilarating playground, below azure skies and blazing sun, to join the ranks of history’s distinguished mariners, exploring undiscovered coves of silver white sand lapped by warm, gentle waves. Ideally with considerably more chilled vino on board than might have been habitual for the likes of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

So, the vino… Shared with good friends as the boat skims crystal waters en route to a secluded beach accessible only by boat, or perhaps to a hidden gem of a restaurant – a secret well kept by those in the know. After a day spent in the fresh air, exploring breathtaking coastlines, in the company of those you love, simply moor up, find somewhere perfect for dinner, then retire to sleep the sleep of the righteous. (And the saltily squiffy).

Boat ownership is synonymous with a certain lifestyle, with luxury, leisure, glamour – a sense of being where it’s at. What’s not to love? Well, there are those lofty mooring fees for a start. Oh, and hefty maintenance costs, insurance, taxes, transport, there’s cleaning, possibly storage costs and cleaning of course. That vino’s all very well but the moment one of your guests suggests opening a fruity Bordeaux, the image of dark purple spillages that starts spreading through your horrified brain will send your blood pressure off the scale. Then there is always something to fix on a boat, a crack to mend, a broken line to splice, a bolt to tighten or oil to change. And that’s if nothing actually goes wrong.

Enter Rib Club Global, the club selling a boat ownership lifestyle – without any of the hassle. Like a timeshare for boats, members pay a yearly subscription, in return for which they receive an allocation of points. Those points are swapped for days out on the ribs, or Rigid Inflatable Boats, which are located all over the world. So, without being tied to a single marina, even within one island, such as Majorca, you can cast off from Andratx one day and Palma the next. Then next month, you touch down in Antigua or Cape Town and as if by magic, your boat has followed you there…

James Patterson, founder and managing director of the company, spent most of his adult life working as an investment banker until in 2008, with one child and another on the way, he suddenly realised, he wanted something different and if he did not change tack soon, he’d be steering the same course for the rest of his life. The ribs started as a hobby in Menorca, but it it quickly became clear there was an appetite for this service and the company was established in 2014 with four boats in Majorca.

Rib Club Global currently operates out of five different location, namely Menorca, Majorca, Tenerife, South Africa and Antigua and a total of 13 boats. As James points out, “The great thing about expansion into Antigua and South Africa means you can get summer sun all round and utilise boats much more – it opens up the world and dispenses with climate limitations.”

The company plans to expand its bases to 60 locations globally over the next three years, in identified locations, with five boats in each location. These include marinas across Greece, Italy, Croatia, South of France, Australia, New Zealand and various locations in the Caribbean and the USA. As with all aspects of the club’s development however, James is keen to stress that Rib Club Global is not scared of diverting any part of the business plan to respond to its members’ needs and if they identify areas where they would like boats to be located, then he will investigate opportunities there. “Because it is a club I’ve always asked what members want and grown it with the members, providing what they want.” He points out that another big advantage over having your own boat is that it’s not tied to that marina.

“With your own boat, inevitably you always end up going to the same beach every day. You’re not making full use of the ownership.  Even locally that makes a difference. Speak to 98% of boat owners and they say they never use them as much as they think they’re going to. People really do like having the variety of being able to go from different locations.”

James is at pains to stress that Rib Club Global is not a charter company. “We are a lifestyle club, offering the use of boats in different locations where people might not have thought of going or experiencing before.”

In terms of value, “For the ribs we have, the running costs before you even step on board are double what our highest membership fee is and yet we’re not looking for a cheap option. We are a luxury brand. Most of our members could afford their own boat, could afford 20 boats but they choose not to, because they’re getting a service that they wouldn’t get even owning their own boat. And as long as I can guarantee them a boat whenever they want it which I can, then why would they want their own boat?

“As we grow the business, we’re offering a service to introduce clients to the right hotel for them. If they want to go to Croatia or Greece and perhaps they’ve not been to that precise location before, we’ll make it familiar. We’ll partner with a top end hotel, a family day restaurant and a top end dinner restaurant, accessible by boat. We are partnering with restaurants that are nigh on impossible to get into and we can tell the member how to get there by boat and book a table and then we’ll do the same for evening restaurants. It’s a ready-made, high-end trip and members feel like they’re part of the scene without ever having been there before.”

And Rib Club Global is offering another kind of investment. The boating community presents a great networking opportunity. According to James: “The club aspect is something people really value. It sounds a bit corny but we are one big family. That’s the reason I do Rib Club days out. I’ll send an email round – who’s around where and when and then the fuel’s covered by Rib Club, we’ll all go out and have a nice lunch and split the bill. These are likeminded people, not only with the boats but they’re all in a business world and there’s a lot of networking goes on. We going to be hosting four big parties a year around the world and the club atmosphere is great because people become friends and we can do that all around the world.”

The practicalities of membership make the experience pretty seamless too. Training can be arranged by the company in all locations, so even if you’ve never stepped onto a boat before, within two days you’ll be holding your RYA certification. They use one boat manufacturer – Tiger Marine, which means there is total consistency across the fleet in terms of how everything works, so that wherever you are in the world you’ll be on a familiar boat. There are two sizes of boat – seven or nine metre and which size you book, just as where and when you book it, determines how many of your allocated points a booking will cost. The seven metre boats comfortably carry six people and the nine metre boats have a cabin and toilet and carry 12 people. Just do bear in mind that as James observes wryly, “We find when our members have access to our boats, they tend to multiply friends!”

So, are there any downsides? After all, it’s not actually your boat – can you really enjoy the flexibility of having your boat exactly when you want it, exactly where you want it, at short notice? Rib Club Global says this will never be a problem, “For instance, in Majorca, the busiest time is the last week in July, first week or two in August and even then, I can guarantee a boat next day. This year, in the entire year we only had one day when I had to put a member on to the next day and that’s the worst it’s ever been.”

As for flexibility, “as I say, we’re not a charter company, we’re a club and a lot of it is based on trust. After the first couple of times, you can choose not to be met, just book, roll up whenever suits you and the boat will be there, clean, fuelled and ready to go. At the end of the day, we just ask that you lift the engine, give the deck a spray as you would if it was your own, drop us a photo and a text to say it’s all done and away you go. We understand that plans change, so you can cancel a booking up ‘til 8am on the day without losing your points and at the end of the year, any unused points roll over to next year’s membership. We want people to be members for years, for life. We want them to get to the end of the year and the first thing they want to do is renew.”

After a year-long summer on the water all over the world, sunbathing, water skiing, watching the kids snorkelling or just chilling out with friends, if you’ve had fun, made memories, friends and valuable contacts, there’s been no stress, you’ve had insider knowledge and been in the know wherever you’ve been, why wouldn’t you renew next year? Can I just say that I’m not in the habit of buying every service I write about – that would be a singularly ineffective way of making a living. However, that is precisely what I’m planning to do with Rib Club Global. Please don’t mention this to the man in my life as I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I think I know what he’s getting for his birthday this year!

Membership costs between £3500 and £8000 depending on the level you choose

For further information, please visit the Rib Club

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Happiest in the snow, Carlton is an ex-police officer and prison governor who has migrated to the world of adventure travel via motoring journalism. Carlton drives boats and pickups with more enthusiasm than skill, and is currently working on his first novel in addition to his prison memoirs.