If you want an easy-to-handle performance cruiser that stands out from the crowd, have a look at the RM890, suggests David Harding
Let’s draw up a checklist of features you might want in your next boat.
It’s going to be around 9m (30ft) long – the boat, that is, not the list.
How about starting with good performance? That’s important to many people, because you can go further and have more fun on the way.
But you don’t want a racing yacht. Whatever you buy should be stiff, well-mannered, comfortable and easy to manage short-handed.
You also want it to be tough: fearing for your life or feeling compelled to check the bilges every time you nudge the bottom is not good for the nerves.
You want an interior that’s bright and airy and that lets you see the outside world, yet which isn’t too modern or trendy.
You would like a hull with a high strength-to- weight ratio but without the cost, complexity and potential drawbacks inherent in cored laminates.
If the builder were to offer a choice of fin or twin keels, even better.
Above all, you want your new boat to be practical – and if that means departing from convention in some respects, so be it.
Oh, and you don’t have a limitless budget.
All good so far? Well, whether you’re looking for such a boat or are just curious to know whether there is one, read on: it’s time to meet the RM890.
RN890: Sensible solutions
I went to France and visited the yard. Seeing the boats under construction was particularly interesting, because RMs are built in plywood.
Or, more precisely, the hulls are plywood: decks and superstructures are GRP.
That explains the chines in the hull – though chines are now de rigueur anyway – and why the superstructures feature the sort of smooth curves that would be impossible in plywood.
Another reason for moulding the top half is that decks, cockpits and coachroofs tend to have a lot of corners where water can pool.
It’s all eminently logical.
As we know, plywood is an excellent material for boatbuilding: it’s tough, light and easy to repair, as well as providing good thermal and acoustic insulation.
As a bonus, it’s fashionably green. The sort of top-grade marine ply used by RM should last for decades even without further treatment.
By the time it’s coated in epoxy and then painted with a two-pack polyurethane, chances are it’s going to outlive a run-of-the-mill GRP equivalent.
At this stage it’s worth mentioning the designer: the late Marc Lombard, who needs no introduction.
Combine a design office of this repute with a well-established yard and one of the best boatbuilding materials on the planet and, whether or not they appeal to you, RMs have to be taken seriously.
While production has increased recently, each hull takes about three weeks. This is no mass- market boat: RM are aiming for those who appreciate the functionality and practicality of the designs, which are not exactly mainstream and won’t be to everyone’s taste.
It’s no surprise that owners are often hugely experienced sailors who have owned several (in some cases many) boats before buying an RM.
Every model in the range comes with a choice of T-bulb fin keel and twin rudders or twin keels and a single rudder.
Lombard made the twin keels deeper and of higher aspect ratio than is traditional with twins.
They’re bulbed, too, and my previous tests have shown that they certainly work. The keels are bolted to the hull through a steel frame that spreads the load both laterally and fore-and-aft.
Tiller steering is another departure from modern cruising- yacht convention, though twin wheels are now offered on the larger models.
Tillers are so rarely found on anything over 30ft these days that this is a notable feature in itself.
One British owner who homed in on the RM890 is Dave King.
While there’s no such thing as a typical RM owner, he exemplifies the sort of approach, attitude and experience that will be found in many others.
For a start, he has always owned boats. He started with a GP14 as a student, then moved into Merlin Rockets and through a series of small cruisers before buying a UFO 34 with his wife, Sue.
After 12 years the UFO gave way to more modern designs: a Dehler 34 was followed by a number of Beneteau Firsts and a Dehler 36, the Dehler also providing accommodation during the working week for a couple of years.
Having spent his working life as an architect, Dave has an eye for detail and structure and he likes the approach of the RMs.
He first came across them while cruising in France.
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In fact, he looked at the earlier 880 before buying a First 31.7.
A couple of years later he saw the RM890 and chartered one – a twin-keeler, as most are – in France for a week.
That confirmed it was the right boat, if with one keel too many, and the experience made him aware of a few things he wanted changing when he placed his order.
There’s no doubt that the RM’s twin keels are highly efficient.
Nonetheless if, like Dave, you don’t need the shallower draught or the ability to dry out, why not have a fin?
That way, you benefit from the extra grip of the twin rudders – a significant factor with such a broad stern – and greater stiffness and righting moment from a centre of gravity that’s a whopping 1ft 4in (400mm) lower.
From a performance perspective, as usual when there’s a choice, a fin is the way to go.
Should you want a twin-keeler, however, you’re still likely to leave a good many larger fin-keelers in your wake.
Compared with the 880, her replacement is only a tad longer overall but significantly longer on the waterline thanks to a hint of the reverse rake in the stem now commonly seen on multihulls.
She’s a little beamier, the greater beam aft being balanced by what appear to be slightly fuller bow sections, yet with a narrow static waterline.
Draught is deeper, sail area greater and displacement almost the same.
It would be surprising if the RM890 isn’t appreciably faster than her older sibling.
There are plenty of differences on deck and down below, too.
In short, she appears to be pretty well everything an upgrade should be.
And while a good deal of development goes into any model that’s totally new, RM don’t have to factor in the time and costs of building a plug and mould for the hull.
If the shape needs tweaking along the way, it can be tweaked.
To see how the new boat shaped up, I went for a sail with Dave. The day we chose started abysmally, as had been promised.
It seemed crazy to be driving to a boat test through torrential rain with the windscreen wipers working at the double.
Our theory was that the front would have passed through by early afternoon.
Sure enough, by the time we started sailing the rain had stopped and patches of blue sky were appearing from the west.
We wanted to be out immediately post-front to catch not only the sun but also the best of the breeze.
The tack is taken to a strong point on the anchor-well bulkhead.
Rigged and ready
Apart from the provision for a staysail, there’s nothing particularly unusual about the RM’s rig.
It’s of high-fractional configuration with long, well-swept spreaders and the caps taken to outboard chainplates.
The mast is an aluminium section by Z Spars (carbon as an option) and set further aft than on many fractionally-rigged boats, the sail area being divided evenly between the mainsail and the headsail.
A short bowsprit incorporates stowage for the anchor and helps project an asymmetric spinnaker.
Most notable about the deck layout is how it lends itself to efficient short-handed sailing.
For example, the mainsheet runs from the end of the boom to a full-width traveller just forward of the transom.
Among the benefits are that it places the helm forward of the mainsheet and conveniently close to the primary winches, which are mounted well inboard.
When tacking on your own you can steer with one hand and sheet the headsail home with the other.
This mainsheet-aft arrangement works well when you have a dedicated mainsheet trimmer, too: he/she sits abaft the helmsman, well away from flying elbows and able to read the boat’s balance from the angle of the tiller.
You would have to be seriously wedded to wheel steering not to agree that a tiller really does work best on a boat like this.
You can click the Wichard tiller extension in or out to your preferred length and sit comfortably on the wide, nicely- angled coaming, leaning back against the guardwires with an excellent view forward.
Although you’re almost at the point of maximum beam out here, on a beamy boat with a cockpit that’s not particularly deep, you feel reasonably secure.
On some boats with broad sterns you’re acutely aware that it’s a long way down to the leeward side when you start heeling, often because there’s little more than a dance floor between the gunwales.
The RM890 takes a far more practical approach.
Inboard of the coamings are wide seats either side of a cockpit sole of a width that would allow most people to sit on one seat and brace their legs on the one opposite.
It’s comfortable and it works – unless your reason for owning a boat is to accommodate a dozen people around a cockpit table.
Returning to the practicalities afloat, if you want to sit inboard and further forward in heavy weather, for shelter and to minimise the extent to which you’re thrown around, you can: the tiller and the layout give you the option.
On a bright sparkly day in the Solent, with an agreeable 14-17 knots of wind, you want to sit out and enjoy the sail.
First, however, we wanted to see how the staysail worked, so we set it with the genoa rolled away and tucked a reef in the main as well.
Despite being underpowered we maintained around 5 knots on the wind.
The relatively flat water at this stage helped our speed, but the exercise showed both that the staysail worked well and that the boat is very easily driven – as she should be with a displacement/ length ratio of just 111.
Naturally Dave opted for a folding prop; anything else would be sacrilege on a boat like this.
Powering up the RM890
Having seen what the rather-too- benign conditions permitted us to see with the staysail, we rolled it away, unfurled the full headsail and shook out the reef.
Tacking the genoa around the rolled staysail takes a little longer but is no major problem, and leaving the staysail hoisted means you can switch headsails in seconds.
The staysail will give you an appreciably better sail shape than a reefed genoa, especially as the tracks are on the short side and wouldn’t allow you to move the cars far enough forward once you’ve taken more than a couple of rolls around the headfoil.
Having set all plain canvas, we didn’t think about shortening sail again.
As well as being easily driven, the RM890 proved remarkably stiff, never feeling over-pressed and rarely heeling more than 15° even in the stronger gusts.
The centre of buoyancy moves well to leeward when she’s sailing on her chine and this form stability, combined with the low-down ballast, keeps her on a comfortably even keel.
Our speeds weren’t far off those indicated by the polars. The log was reading differently on port and starboard tacks, averaging 6 knots in the slight chop.
The polars for the fin-keeler indicate 6.3 knots at 35° to the apparent wind in flat water and 15 knots of breeze.
Balance is pretty good. The helm remained light most of the time, only developing a modest tug as we reached back up the channel at around 8 knots.
It would have been fun to fly a kite and see whether the 11+ knots indicated by the polars was achievable, though we’d have needed both a kite (yet to be added) and a fair bit more wind for that.
Upwind the helm could be left alone for lengthy periods if the mainsail was trimmed with the leech slightly open.
Good balance is largely responsible for this, the other factor being the friction that’s almost inevitable with twin rudders and the associated linkage: they never give you quite the same lightness and responsiveness as a single blade.
A single keel, of course, offers the benefits we discussed earlier.
This one is of high aspect ratio and needs a minimum water-flow over it in order to work: it will inevitably stall if you lose too much speed.
Nonetheless the boat would maintain steerage way when pinched mercilessly, only going into stall mode when brought practically to a standstill.
With the bow down once again the RM890 would need a moment or two for laminar flow to be re-established, but for a boat with this much performance potential she’s very tolerant indeed.
She would heave to happily, crabbing gently and not hesitating when asked to gybe round with the sheets pinned in.
The rudders kept working well at low speeds. They also have stops about 45°.
As I found when manoeuvring under power, this is all the angle you need: the boat will spin incredibly tightly and those stops are reassuring when
you’re going astern.
Volvo’s D1 13 is the standard engine; the D1 20 is a popular upgrade.
If I have a criticism of her handling in open water, it’s that the hull will occasionally thump if you fall off a wave and land upright in a trough.
To be fair, although the layout of the plywood panels does result in relatively flat forward sections, many moulded hulls are not dissimilar in shape; they just don’t have the chines.
Like most modern hulls, this one presents more of a V once heeled.
On the whole, the RM890 was very comfortable in the Solent popple.
One would imagine that there must be hydrodynamic compromises inherent in building a boat with a material that can only be bent into a very gentle curve, but if there are any they’re hard to detect.
Aesthetically you end up with topsides that look a little slabby from certain angles; that’s about all.
On deck and down below on the RM890
There’s so much to note on the RM890 that we will have to skim over some aspects.
A large locker in the bow will swallow fenders that won’t fit into the locker right aft beneath the cockpit sole, next to the liferaft stowage.
And that big forward-facing window? Let’s say it’s just as well that the boat is designed for asymmetric spinnakers: I wouldn’t want to be the one gybing the pole.
Diving below decks – well, you will either love it or hate it.
It’s all open-plan and white-painted ply.
Neither the V-berth in the bow nor the double aft to port are in what you could call a cabin: you just climb in and pull a curtain across if you want to.
It’s privacy Gallic-style.
Instead you have the famous RM ‘utility room’ abaft the heads to starboard, giving easy access to the vital systems as well as stowage (not accessible from on deck) for things like an inflatable.
Headroom is modest – barely 6ft (1.83m) under the hatch and less further forward.
As with much else about this boat, that’s the way it is: take it or leave it.
When you’re down here, it’s lovely being able to see forward through that big window ahead of the mast.
Covering it with non-slip patches wouldn’t do much for the view.
Noteworthy features include the vented under-bunk stowage and an abundance of well-placed handholds.
PBO Verdict on the RM890
The RM890 is a Marmite boat for sure.
Forget convention, opulence and privacy: this is not a choice for mum, dad and two teenage kids all new to boating.
For seasoned sailors who like tough, functional boats that perform efficiently and are fun to sail, the RM might well find her way on to a very short list
Tough, functional boat that performs efficiently; fun to sail