Getting your Sealegs
Darryl Hitchen tries out a boat you can simply drive into the water – the remarkable Stabicraft 2100 Supercab ST.
I distinctly remember seeing a boat literally ‘drive’ out of the water onto dry land for the first time some years ago. We were sitting on the grassy banks of the Swan River on Australia Day when a rigid hull inflatable (RIB) simply cruised into the shallows, lowered its hydraulic wheels, and continued to drive up the riverbank and across the road onto the owner's driveway. It was like something out of a James Bond movie!
Unbeknownst to me at the time, we'd actually witnessed one of the early model Sealegs amphibious boats doing its thing. These unique craft feature retractable hydraulic tyres, have the ability to travel across land, across sand, and then across the water. The first Sealegs rolled off the shores of New Zealand into the ocean over 10 years ago, and were originally fitted to a range of RIBs.
Recently, two of the Kiwi's most innovative and respected boat builders, Sealegs and Stabicraft, joined forces to produce the extraordinary Stabicraft 2100 Supercab ST.
Stabicraft has been building rigid-hulled aluminium chambered boats in NZ since 1987, and were the first boat builder to introduce positive buoyancy life-ring protection. Essentially it means that even if one of the boat’s chambers is pierced, the other separate water-tight chambers combine to make the Stabicraft virtually unsinkable.
Over the years Stabicraft has forged a world-wide reputation for the quality of its boats. This includes superior rough water performance, dryness of ride, exceptional stability under power or at rest, and renowned toughness and durability. And you'd have to think that the company's motto “Adventure with Confidence” has only been enhanced with its involvement with Sealegs technology.
FIRST IMPRESSIONSI must admit I was a little excited with the thought of testing something so different in the boating world as I headed down to the Woodman Point boat ramp for my early morning rendezvous with Mark Mawby from Sirocco Marine. My first surprise was finding Mark and the big Stabicraft waiting for me in the top carpark about 200 metres from the boat ramp. The Supercraft ST was sitting atop its custom made BG boat trailer, from which the boat is simply driven off, across the car park, down the ramp, and into the water!
The impressive rig is based upon the tried-and-tested Stabicraft 2100 hull, although it's been heavily customised to take the Sealegs configuration. As Mark pointed out, both Stabicraft and Sealegs engineers worked closely together to ensure a highly professional integration of the two quality products. Some of the modifications include an extended bowsprit to accommodate the front wheel, a beefed-up keel plate, changes to the transom, and the addition of an engine box to house the 24-horsepower Honda power plant used to drive the hydraulic system.
LAUNCHING AND RETRIEVAL
After having a close look at the boat on the trailer, Mark proceeded to engage the Sealegs system and simply ‘lifted’ the Stabicraft off the trailer before reversing it away under its own steam. Then, once away from the trailer, he lowered the boat again until it was almost touching the ground, and I easily climbed aboard.
There were certainly some interested onlookers at the boat ramp as we headed the big ali' down towards the water. One of the best features was that there was no reversing required at all, as we simply drove the Stabicraft bow-first down the boat ramp and into the water! Then after taking the boat for a test run both on the water and up the beach, we simply drove it up the boat ramp again. At which time I was feeling a little like Daniel Craig!
The Stabicraft 2100 ST boasts a generous forward cabin which provides both great protection from the elements and generous storage. The cabin also can double as a comfortable overnighter with the addition of the in-fill cushion between the two bunks. There's a large hatch for easy access to the bow of the boat and the anchor winch that's fitted as standard. The helm offers a comfortable driving position with fantastic visibility due to its extra-large all-round windows.
The test boat featured a reasonable amount of deck space although you do lose some room due to the engine box that houses the Honda motor. On each side of the engine box are handy fold-down seats, although Mark explained there's also the option of having a customised seat and bait board built over the engine box to make better use of the available space.
The transom of the boat has been altered from its original design to accommodate the rear wheels of the Sealegs system. But despite this, there's still easy access to the stern of the boat. There’s a non-skid checkerplate floor and plenty of rod holders along the gunwales and in the overhead rocket launcher.
Stabicraft boats have an enviable reputation as tough, capable craft which are used by commercial fisherman, rescue groups and keen fisherman throughout New Zealand and Australia. The conventional 2100 hull has a very good pedigree, and if anything the addition of the Sealegs only enhances its performance due to the extra weight it carries. As anyone who’s owned an ali’ boat over the years will tell you, they ride the best when they’re carrying a decent payload.
Powered by a lightweight 200hp Yamaha four-stroke which boasts an electronic throttle, the boat offered both tremendous power and fantastic handling. Steering was very responsive as Mark threw the Stabi’ into a series of tight turns, explaining how the Seastar steering pump is also used to manoeuvre the front wheels on dry land. Stability both underway and at rest were exceptional, as you would expect from a boat called a Stabicraft. Taking a turn in the driver’s seat myself, I eased the Stabicraft up onto the plane at 15 knots as we reached around 3000RPM on the digital gauges. Cruising speed was a respectable 22 knots at 3500 revs, which had the Yammie four-stroke using 21 litres of fuel per hour, giving the boat a very respectable cruising range of some 210 nautical miles from the standard 200-litre fuel tank. Top speed was a tad under 40 knots at 6000 revs.
As well as the usual helm controls, there’s also a joystick that regulates the flow of hydraulic fluid to the all-wheel-drive system when you’re operating on dry land, a throttle control for the Honda engine, and switches to raise or lower the wheels. It’s a bit like driving a boat and four-wheel-drive at the same time!
The Stabicraft/Sealegs marriage has produced an incredibly unique and exciting amphibious water craft, but what uses does it really have in the ‘real’ boating world? According to Mark, it’s already found a niche market around the globe, including various government agencies, the military and some sea rescue groups. In fact Broome Sea Rescue are looking at purchasing one of the boats so that they can launch it off Cable Beach no matter the state of the tide.
The boats also have obvious appeal to people with waterfront properties that don’t want to leave their boat on a mooring. It couldn’t get any easier than loading up your boat on the driveway, heading across your front lawn and driving your rig straight into the water! From a fishing perspective for the hard-core fisherman, imagine the untouched grounds which you could access where there’s no boat ramp within 100 miles or more. Remote beaches around the state where you could launch the Stabicraft, head offshore and fish the unfishable. Or a trip to the Mackerel Islands where at the end of the day you simply drive your boat up the beach to make camp for the night. The mind simply boggles!
FACTS AND FIGURES
- Length overall: 7.75 metres
- Length on trailer: 9m
- Max. beam: 2.3m
- Towing weight: 2800kg
- Displacement: 1950kg
- Fuel capacity: 200 litres
- Deadrise at transom: 20 degrees
- Hull thickness: 5mm
- SEALEGS SYSTEM
- Brakes: Hydostatic
- Power: Honda 24hp four-stroke
- Drive: All-wheel-drive with diff locks
- Tyres: 25x12 all-terrain six-ply
- Run time: 30 minutes continuous on dry land
- Price as tested: $220,000
- Amphibious capabilities.
- Quality of product.
- Stabicraft reputation.
- Great fishing platform.
- Potential to fish remote areas.
- Makes you feel like James Bond!
- Sealegs a little cumbersome.
- People think you are James Bond!