If you happen to take a trip to north Wales this summer – and please do, because it’s lovely – take a moment to look out to sea. You’ll certainly see lots of birds. You might spot dolphins and seals. You may also catch a fleeting glimpse of the world’s fastest RIB (rigid inflatable boat) as it streaks along the azure waters off Anglesey.
That’ll be Rib Ride Velocity, the latest addition to a fleet of hi-tech RIBs that operate out of Menai Bridge. Rib Ride adventures come in three flavours, explains company cofounder Phil Scott: “We already do trips that are branded ‘Adventure’ and ‘Explorer’. The Adventure boats are fantastic for seeing the near-coast of Anglesey and the Menai Strait, while the Explorer uses a bigger boat that we bought from [TV adventurer] Bear Grylls. We take that from Holyhead Marina to offshore islands and remote cliffs and caves on the north of Anglesey.
“The really interesting things happen when the boats stop and we talk to people. What people expect is to go fast, but we exceed expectations by stopping and illustrating the journey. It’s a really fun way to have a history or nature tour, in effect.”
But what some passengers want, undeniably, is the seat-of-your-pants thrill of racing across the water at high-speed (and in complete safety, it’s worth adding). That’s where Velocity comes in.
Phil says: “There’s no point doing it half-measure, so we decided to build the world’s fastest commercial RIB experience. This time we’re unapologetically taking people out there for the pure experience of being on an adrenaline-fuelled fast boat.”
And so in 2018, Rib Ride Velocity joins a roll-call of north Wales adventures that includes inland surfing, top-class mountain-biking, underground trampolining, and the world’s fastest zip wires.
Phil believes that there’s no better place in the UK for adventure tourism: “For a start, the landscape and coast provide such a strong context for adventure,” he says. “Secondly, there’s been lots of historic investment in national centres like Plas y Brenin (the National Mountain Sports Centre) and Plas Menai (National Outdoor Centre).
“The number of people who came to north Wales to work in the outdoors industry has created a hotbed of professionalism that you can both work with and draw on. On top of that, you have the Welsh Government’s willingness to support development in adventure tourism.”
Originally from northeast England, Phil went to Bangor University and worked at Plas Menai as its head of windsurfing. “I’ve sailed and windsurfed all my life,” he says. “I ended up skippering yachts in the Caribbean. I lived in the Virgin Islands for eight years, and that exposed me to the potential of what could be done. So I came back to Wales and started investing.”
Phil co-founded Rib Ride with business partner Tom Ashwell 12 years ago. The pair also run a consultancy firm, Synergy Yachting, which has worked on large catamaran projects with the likes of Richard Branson.
Their latest venture – Velocity – is, quite simply, a phenomenon. A shade over 11 metres long, it’s powered by three giant outboards that produce up to 900hp, propelling 12 passengers across the sea at a speed of … well, that’s currently a secret. But it’ll be the fastest of its kind in the world.
It’s no coincidence that the name ‘Velocity’ is shared by the world’s fastest zip wire, which soars for a mile over the nearby Penrhyn Quarry. It was created by ex Royal Marine Sean Taylor, whose Zip World empire has grown from its north Wales roots to locations around the world.
“We’re very friendly with the guys who operate Zip World,” says Phil. “So in order to develop a more cohesive draw to north Wales, we asked Sean’s permission to use the word ‘Velocity’ and he very generously said, ‘Yes, let’s make north Wales a stronger destination.”
Rib Ride has also joined forces with a group of likeminded operators to form AdventureMap. It’s a joint marketing initiative, set up with grant assistance, that promotes north Wales adventure tourism in all its myriad forms. They run a website – adventuremap.co.uk – and work together to promote each other’s businesses and the region as a whole.
Phil believes that that this sense of ‘doing good things together’ is a vital part of the region’s success: “I’d like to think that we got Welsh Government funding not just because we’re trying to do something innovative, but we’re doing it in a collaborative way. We hope to create a larger draw to the region, but also – importantly – we want to expand.
“We are using Welsh expertise and innovation, and using Wales as the proving ground. We’re creating a reason to visit, but also the idea of exporting the values of Wales further afield. We can take Welsh innovation to the world.”
Rib Ride has already won plenty of national awards, but the one it’s most proud of is the Blue Flag it received in 2017 for their environmental record.
“We became the first UK marine operator to achieve Blue Flag status, one of only 12 in the world,” says Phil. The company also works with organisations like Keep Wales Tidy and Surfers Against Sewage to help protect the beautiful waters in which they operate.
“As an operator we need to make sure that when we interact with the environment we protect it as much as possible,” says Phil. “It’s about our credentials, and earning people’s trust. It’s important to aspire beyond just driving a boat quickly. That’s what we do, fundamentally: we aspire to be as good as we possibly can in every aspect of our operation.”