Day of the Iguana

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT SURF AND TURF WAS A RESTAURANTONLY THING, ALONG COMES A STYLISH, TOP-SHELF SPEED­BOAT WITH A SET OF RUB­BER, TERRA-FIRMA-TRAV­ELIN’ TRACKS. BY CAPT. BILL PIKE

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE -

What has a plumb bow and two sets of cater­pil­lar treads? The cat­e­gory-break­ing Iguana Com­muter Sport Ex­clu­sive.

II’ve sea tri­aled thou­sands of boats over my ever-lovin’, 31-year, ma­rine-mag ca­reer, but this baby—ar­guably the most un­usual, in­ter­est-gen­er­at­ing en­try at last year’s Cannes boat show—had to be an ab­so­lute first. In­deed, as Edi­tor-in-Chief Dan Hard­ing and I strolled down the steeply slop­ing beach just off the show’s en­trance we were con­strained to stop for a mo­ment and just stare. I mean, the sleek, plumb-bowed, post-mod­ernisti­cally styled, me­tal­lic-grey Iguana Com­muter Sport Ex­clu­sive con­sti­tuted a sort of vi­sion out there on the sand, fairly glis­ten­ing in the French Riv­iera’s sun­shine, stur­dily sup­ported upon two sets of cater­pil­lar-type tracks. “Dan,” I said ap­pre­cia­tively, “I’ve never seen any­thing like it.” “Nope—nei­ther have I, Capt. Bill,” he replied as we re­sumed walk­ing, ul­ti­mately draw­ing close enough to care­fully ex­am­ine the Com­muter’s two, me­tal­lic-grey, color-matched, 200-hp Mer­cury V6 3.4L four-stroke out­boards, her an­gu­lar Euro-tran­som and her rak­ish, tem­pered-glass wind­shield (topped off with what ap­peared to be an up-and-down ad­justable hard­top). As­sorted clumps of wet sand clung to her rub­ber tracks, a sure­fire in­di­ca­tor of sea tri­als in the off­ing, ours in­cluded. Steve Hup­pert of Iguana Yachts In­ter­na­tional met us on the beach.

In short or­der, he ex­plained that the Com­muter—one of sev­eral mod­els from Iguana (in­clud­ing a nifty yacht ten­der)—was de­signed by Nor­mandy-based in­ven­tor An­toine Brugi­dou to be a rel­a­tively fast, dry, sta­ble, su­per-han­dling car­bon-fiber speed­boat. But in ad­di­tion, Brugi­dou had given the craft an elec­tric-mo­tor-en­er­gized “Ground Mobil­ity Drive” (GMD) that fa­cil­i­tates com­ing ashore, cater­pil­lar-style, and then mov­ing about, for­ward, back­wards, left or right, over fairly rough ter­rain at speeds in the 4- to 5-mph range.

“For at least some peo­ple who live on the wa­ter,” he said, “it does away with hav­ing to have a dock. And imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties a boat like this of­fers as a megay­acht ten­der.”

The GMD’s ba­sic tech­nol­ogy was im­pres­sive. The tracks de­ploy hy­drauli­cally and, be­cause of the con­sid­er­able draft they ul­ti­mately pro­duce, safely take the ground well be­fore the skegs of the out­boards. In seago­ing mode, the tracks re­tract into molded de­pres­sions in the hull­sides, above the chine line, so they cre­ate no per­for­mance di­min­ish­ing drag or han­dling is­sues, even in sharp turns. More­over, when re­tracted, they keep the boat’s ver­ti­cal cen­ter of grav­ity low, a fea­ture that both tight­ens and flat­tens corner­ing at speed.

Dan and I were equally im­pressed with the finer points of the GMD’s en­gi­neer­ing. The drive wheels for the tracks, for ex­am­ple, can be dy­nam­i­cally ten­sioned to soften both ride and foot­print— tighter for rocky sur­faces and looser for sandy beaches. All of the com­po­nents are made of gal­van­i­cally iso­lated alu­minum and high­grade stain­less steel. And, ac­cord­ing to Hup­pert, the sys­tem is ca­pa­ble of slowly but surely climb­ing a chal­leng­ing 30-per­cent grade.

The Com­muter oc­cu­pies the high end of Iguana’s prod­uct line, by the way—she costs $693,000 with a sin­gle 350-hp Merc and $784,400 with twin 200-hp Mercs. So, in keep­ing with these lofty fig­ures, I was not sur­prised when our pe­rusal of the cock­pit and in­te­rior turned up some truly fancy elec­tri­cally ad­justable, shock-ab­sorbent helm seats (with au­to­mo­tive-style mem­ory) and a swim plat­form lad­der that went up and down with the push of a but­ton. Other noteworthy fea­tures in­cluded top-stitched, leather-up­hol­stered lounge seat­ing abaft the helm, a cuddy for­ward with a V-berth and por­ta­ble head and a self-cool­ing, en­ergy-dense Kreisel lithium-ion bat­tery pack belowdecks.

In or­der to sea trial our Com­muter we had to ma­nip­u­late the two, dash­board-mounted, side-by-side levers that ac­tu­ate the GMD, an ex­er­cise best ac­com­plished (if for­ward mo­tion is de­sired) by lay­ing the thumb across both levers and ap­ply­ing gen­tle pres­sure ei­ther right, left or straight ahead. For grins, Hup­pert en­cour­aged me to si­mul­ta­ne­ously push one lever ahead and pull the other aft, thereby gen­er­at­ing a sort of twin-screw ro­ta­tion. Back­ing up en­tailed sim­ply ap­ply­ing the for­ward-mo­tion prin­ci­ples in re­verse.

All this sounds sim­ple enough, I sup­pose. But I found it quite chal­leng­ing, not least of all be­cause I oc­ca­sion­ally got a tad con­fused, at­tempt­ing to ex­ert con­trol us­ing the bin­na­cle’s throt­tle and shift levers with my right hand (like we were al­ready rid­ing the waves) in­stead of the levers of the beach-cruis­ing GMD with my left hand.

“I’d need a lit­tle prac­tice to get the hang of this,” I told Hup­pert as we me­an­dered em­bar­rass­ingly to­wards the wa­ter. Once afloat, I was in my el­e­ment, how­ever. I sim­ply low­ered the Mercs un­til their pick­ups were sub­merged, cranked ‘ em up and then con­tin­ued sea­ward un­til we were ob­vi­ously in deep wa­ter, at which time I re­tracted the tracks. “Okay,” urged Hup­pert, “you’re ready to go.” And in­deed we were. While I’d been count­ing on slow-pokey per­for­mance, what ma­te­ri­al­ized was any­thing but. Ar­row-straight, one-way speeds, as shown on our Garmin MFD, hov­ered in the 36-knot vicin­ity and corner­ing had a race boat feel, with no ap­pre­cia­ble slide or blowout. Had I had some ex­tra time to play with the drive trim, I might have got­ten even more speed out of our rous­ing rep­tile atop the 2-to-3-foot­ers of Cannes Bay.

Dan drove back to the beach—and hey, the guy was a freakin’ nat­u­ral! Once the Com­muter’s tracks were de­ployed and touch­ing bot­tom, he deftly cut the Mercs, raised them and bee­lined straight ashore at a top speed of 4.5 mph, thereby demon­strat­ing an im­me­di­ate grasp of proper terra-firma tech­nique.

“Dang, Dan,” I ob­served en­vi­ously, “you got this Iguana thing down!”

“Well, thank you, I ap­pre­ci­ate that,” he re­sponded with a grin. “My mom used to say all those years of play­ing PlaySta­tion would rot my brain—well, mom, who’s laugh­ing now?”

In spite of her land­ing-craft ca­pa­bil­i­ties, she’s more speed­boat than Jeep.

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