SOUND WAVES New Zealand’s best known am­phibi­ous craft and Fu­sion are mak­ing sweet mu­sic in the new Sealegs.

Boating NZ - - Boat Review - Words by John Eichelsheim Photos by Gareth Cooke

In 2004, the first Sealegs emerged from the wa­ter and drove up a beach un­der its own power. They’ve come a long way since. This year the com­pany launches its 1000th boat, but the latest 7.1 and 6.1 RS (RIB Sport) mod­els share just one com­po­nent with the orig­i­nal Sealegs: the hy­draulic steer­ing ram on the front wheel.

Ev­ery other com­po­nent has been im­proved or strength­ened in the 10-year evo­lu­tion of Sealegs as the com­pany seeks to pro­duce the most durable, ca­pa­ble and re­li­able am­phibi­ous craft on the mar­ket – and its re­cent part­ner­ship with Fu­sion means it sounds as good as it looks.

FROM LAND TO SEA TO LAND

What sets any Sealegs apart from con­ven­tional RIBS is its abil­ity to tran­si­tion seam­lessly be­tween on-wa­ter and ter­res­trial op­er­a­tion. There’s more to pi­lot­ing a Sealegs than a con­ven­tional boat, but not a lot more, thanks to well de­vel­oped, log­i­cal con­trol sys­tems.

Mak­ing the tran­si­tion from land to wa­ter and vice versa is sim­ple. Start the Honda to power the hy­draulics, lower the wheels and you’re ready to drive bow-first into the wa­ter. The throt­tle lever sets the Honda en­gine’s rev­o­lu­tions while the joy­stick se­lects for­ward or re­verse and con­trols the ve­hi­cle’s speed by reg­u­lat­ing the flow of hy­draulic fluid to the wheels. AWD mod­els have a max­i­mum speed of 7kph on land.

With all three wheels driv­ing and the out­board at the top of its trim range, drive into the wa­ter un­til there’s suf­fi­cient depth to start the out­board and en­gage the pro­pel­ler. As soon as the pro­pel­ler takes over propul­sion du­ties, pull the joy­stick into neu­tral mode to stop drive to the wheels, then raise the legs us­ing the la­belled tog­gle switches: the Sealegs is now a reg­u­lar 7.1m RIB.

Ex­it­ing the wa­ter is sim­i­larly straight-for­ward. As you ap­proach the shore, start the Honda en­gine, raise the out­board to the top of its trim range, lower the legs and en­gage hy­draulic drive to the wheels. The bow cam­era is use­ful here, let­ting you see the po­si­tion of the front wheel, but buzzers let you know when the legs are low­ered and locked. As soon as all three wheels have trac­tion, kill the out­board and let the AWD sys­tems take you up the beach.

Ease of use ex­tends to get­ting on and off the boat, which can kneel or squat like a well-trained camel, low­er­ing the hull to the ground so it’s easy to climb in and out. Once ev­ery­one’s aboard, tog­gle switches ac­ti­vate the hy­draulics to lower the legs and lift the hull off the ground again, ready to drive away. Squat­ting

sold in white or light grey, but darker greys and blacks are pop­u­lar in Europe and USA. The dark colour scheme and black tubes cer­tainly give the boat pres­ence on and off the wa­ter.

IT’S GOT RHYTHM

Damon Jol­liffe, Sealegs’ sales man­ager, says the 7.1m hull is per­haps the sweet­est per­former in the Sealegs range. On the wa­ter it’s a plea­sure to helm, rid­ing level and of­fer­ing a com­fort­able and ac­com­plished ride.

RIBS sel­dom fail to im­press with their ride qual­ity, but some are def­i­nitely su­pe­rior to oth­ers. The Sealegs 7.1 RS rides and han­dles beau­ti­fully. It doesn’t feel slug­gish or over­weight de­spite the ex­tra weight of three wheels and hy­draulic mo­tors at the boat’s corners, a sec­ond en­gine and as­so­ci­ated hy­draulic pumps for the ter­res­trial propul­sion sys­tem and se­ri­ous struc­ture built into the alu­minium hull to sup­port the ves­sel on land.

Per­for­mance is brisk, thanks to the Ev­in­rude E-tec 150hp out­board, painted black by the fac­tory. We saw a top speed of 38 knots on a cold win­ter’s af­ter­noon with four adults on­board; hole shots are good, and the boat slides onto the plane easily. The boat rides nice and level, corners smoothly and was less af­fected by the wind chop than the smaller Sealegs we used as a photo boat.

The new Sealegs 7.1 RS is a sweet run­ner, rid­ing level and giv­ing a soft ride. It can seat up to eight.

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