Allow me to set the scene. Sometimes this job takes me to exotic places where the weather’s warm, the beer’s cold and the girls are beautiful. At other times I’m stuck on a boat next to a mountain of a man for hours on end when it’s bitterly cold, blowing its arse off and starting to hail. Unfortunately this is one such occasion. I’m on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand, testing a range of products from Evinrude/BRP, and it’s 5?C (closer to -5?C taking into consideration the wind-chill factor) with small rocks of ice tumbling from the sky. Sometimes, yes, life really is tough, despite what people tell me.
Pleasant, however, is the view of this amphibious boat – what Kiwi boating journalists either side of me are calling “sea legs”. I waddle past them to the pier where it’s docked and somehow talk its handler into allowing me to take it for a spin.
Sealegs (I’m told it’s actually one word) make their boats in Auckland and are actually the world’s leading manufacturer of amphibious boats. This one, in particular, I’m told is the 7.1m Rescue RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat, the test vessel of inflated tubes made of 828 grade Hypalon) model – and doesn’t it look powerful! Sort of like the humble surf lifesaver’s rubber ducky on steroids.
First impressions last – and the first impression I had inside the Sealegs is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. This test starts out completely differently to any others I’ve done before. Rather than heading for deep water and taking her for a spin, we head for relatively dry land. (I say relatively cause it’s been pouring all morning and the hail’s now turned to sleet.) Then we hit the ground running. Yup, this boat has legs, and they’re made for moving. Just a few metres from shallow water, a flick of the switch to ‘DOWN’ has motorised, retractable and steerable wheels in place and ready to roll.
We land on the beach and keep going, past the sand and well beyond. Into the shrub, over rocks and into the tree
line. This boat, I’ve since discovered, is unlike anything I’ve ever tested before. Sealegs has designed this boat to take the hassle out of launch and retrieve. No powerful 4WD to tow a boat? No worries… and there’s no need for the trailer, either.
The Sealegs system works by having powerful motorised wheels which give a user variable speed of 0-10km/h (forward and reverse) powered by an on-board 24hp motor driven hydraulic power-pack. (A new option available on these boats is AWD – All Wheel Drive. The AWD option adds an additional wheel motor to the front wheel of the boat. This assists in additional traction and significant increases to terrain capability when encountering beach inclines of soft sand, shell, shingle and/or pebbles.)
This boat can do it all, conveniently. There’s certainly no need to get wet in a boat (if that’s what you’re into) again. It’s perfect for those boaties in the northern parts of Australia where stingers, crocs and tidal forces pose problems. It’s a simple, fast and one-person-manageable way of hitting the water – and potentially ideal for those younger or older boaties who mightn’t be able to handle getting a vessel in the water on their own. Sealegs are used by various military, rescue and emergency response teams around the world for this reason.
Once back in the soup (it’s getting choppier by the minute), the 7.1m model feels as comfortable as a couch and as safe as a house. There’s no banging across the waves in this baby – this Sealegs carves through the growing swell and lands softly on impact. And boy, we tested her out! Powered by an Evinrude ETEC 150, the Sealegs sprung to life in seconds. At the helm, the engine’s responsiveness was instantaneous. Even in difficult conditions, the engine performed powerfully and faultlessly. It’s one of the reasons Sealegs and Evinrude have teamed up – they’re both technology-driven companies with a focus on delivering results with minimum service demands.
“As a truly international company, Sealegs chose Evinrude engines for a variety of reasons, particularly because of their worldwide warranty. Then there’s the fact E-Tecs are very lightweight, much more so than the average four-stroke, and that’s important as Sealegs have extra weight in the wheels and associated hydraulics,” Neil Webster, Director of Sirocco Marine, Australia’s master Sealegs dealer, says. “And all Sealegs boats are highly customisable – the price list is two and-a-half pages long!”
On that price list is a whole host of options that’ll make this boat suitable for your needs – from bait boards, boarding ladders, sun lounges and bimini canopies/ covers to the latest and greatest iPodfunctional stereos.
Hull Length: 7.1m
Weight: 1220kg with 150 ETEC + 80L fuel
Hull Deadrise: 21 degrees
Rec HP: 150hp
Fuel Tank Capacity: 80L +
Max Persons: 8
Price as tested: From $120,000