When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came to visit New Zealand, Sealegs treated them to a VIP ride in a very special boat. Kate and William got to drive the Smuggler Strata 770 Amphibious RIB on their trip from Auckland’s Viaduct harbour, to Westpark Marina.
The Sealegs-Smuggler deal has been a year in gestation – the latter is now a Sealegs licensee – and this vessel is the first off the production line. For a ‘prototype’, I have to say it’s a remarkable achievement; it looks and feels like an intrinsic design and it’s definitely not a patched-on afterthought. It’s effectively a standard Smuggler Strata 750 RIB with structural modifications to bow and transom for the three hydraulic legs. These changes have slightly lengthened the hull (hence the 770 billing), though it actually measures 8.3m overall with the legs retracted. The helm seat structure, with reversible backrest, has also been lengthened to accommodate the 24hp Honda V-twin four stroke engine that is used to power the hydraulic legs and drive the vessel on land. Smuggler has also taken the opportunity to introduce a few alterations compared to the standard 750. A key one is a through-hull anchor system with an electric windlass that makes anchoring an automatic, fuss-free affair, a much improved situation compared with the manual anchor handling system used on most RIBs. What is unchanged is the quality of workmanship and finish. The new RIB carries all the conventional Smuggler characteristics: strength, panache and great attention to detail. With its new amphibious ability, the RIB’s versatility has been given a massive boost, and this feature will make it a very attractive proposition for action-oriented families. In addition to being a general-purpose cruiser, dive boat, ski pony or fishing platform, you can now drive onto isolated, secluded beaches which in my book means exclusive beach picnics, far from the maIt’s a little heavier than the standard
Strata 750 RIB. The Sealegs kit adds around 380kg to the package, but even so its total weight is a relatively trim 1650kg, well within the towing capabilities of the average family sedan, although depending on where you keep it, a trailer may not be necessary. The RIB should serve well as a
fishing platform. It has a seemingly endless supply of conveniently-located rod holders: forward on the pontoons, on the helm seat’s backrest, aft, on the bait board. When you’re tired of fishing, swap the bait board for a ski-pole. The Strata has a well-established reputation as a dive boat. Rolling backwards off the pontoons is the preferred method of entry for divers, but on the port side you’ll find a customized boarding ladder. There are also plenty of stowage lockers for bottles, wet suits and
associated dive gear. The 770 has a reinforced bow for the front leg, so there are six buoyancy compartments in the tubes (manufactured in heavy-duty Hypalon) rather than the five found on the Strata 750. It’s a wonderfully spacious vessel, with plenty of room for its rating of up to 12 passengers. Pride of place is the expansive lounge area up front with its U-shaped settee. Complementing this is another seat just forward of the centre console, making for a large, inclusive entertainment area. Speakers driven by a high-spec Fusion stereo are mounted nearby, and the extra seat conceals a conveniently-located chilly bin so the wine and ham rolls are within arm’s reach. Two more seats are mounted either side of the transom, and with the helm seat’s reversible backrest it means adults can congregate aft in their own ‘lounge’. The boat is even equipped with an electric toilet families – tucked under the helm station; getting in and out may test your agility and dexterity, but if you’ve gotta go, at least it’s there. The finishing touch is the standard Smuggler decor: stylish, two-tone vinyl upholstery, removable grey carpeting (great for cleaning), teak trimming and the flowing stainless steel structure (full marks to Manta Marine Stainless for the workmanship). I really like the recessed ‘head lights’ in the hull, and given the vessel’s applications, it’s a sensible feature, removing the guesswork from low-light steering so dawn departures and dusk returns won’t be quite as daunting. The RIB is fitted with LED lights throughout, including ambient mood lighting mounted down near the cockpit sole. Driving the RIB is a simple affair. As you approach the beach, you start the little Honda (it draws its fuel from the main, 320-litre underfloor fuel tank) and lower the legs. Tilt the outboard up, and when the wheels touch, kill the main engine and tilt it up fully. The helm also steers the front wheel.
The Sealegs’ system can be used as either two-wheel or all-wheel drive. The latter gives your better off-road capability for beaches with more awkward access, while the two-wheel drive is faster. She’s a tough baby. The fiberglass hull (that carries a five-year warranty) comprises seven layers of chop-strand mat, with two layers of 810 tri-axial cloth, increased to three layers through the centre of the vessel. Four bearers run fore and aft, and extra knees have been added to the transom to accommodate the hydraulic legs. It’s all finished off by a brass keel strip. For me, however, it’s the RIB’s on-the-water performance that makes it shine. Performance There’s a hint of the hull’s agility before you even start. The helm is a small, very sexy Italian-designed racing number by Isotta and its beautifully light. The power steering really allows you push the boat – and your stomach– to the limit. Smuggler managing director David Pringle likes to promote his hulls as “designed to perform… and which allow you to go hard and fast, no matter what the conditions.” In the interests of accurate, balanced journalism, we had to go hard – didn’t we? The standard Strata 750 RIB has a deep V (27°) hull with pronounced strakes, a recipe that delivers a soft ride and cat-like grip in high-speed cornering. The same DNA has been carried into the 770, and there’s only one word for its sea-keeping characteristics: superb. We ventured out in a freezing 30-knot southerly with roiling white caps as far as the eye could see. In a relatively calm, protected part of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour we pushed the Evinrude 250’s throttle as far as it would go and clocked 45 knots (5600rpm), but the hull’s sure-footedness was best illustrated by running back into the teeth of the southerly at 34.5 knots, more a case of skimming across the waves than anything else. It was a truly exceptional, exhilarating ride, even if somewhat white-knuckled. Now pass the barf bag.
Boating’s verdict the addition of the Sealegs technology means Smuggler has added another dimension to its product. This is a fabulous vessel with a great finish and exceptional performance, and it’s one that is easily adapted to your specific sport/lifestyle/hobby. Best savoured by adventurous families
Taken From an Article in Boating New Zealand
Words Lawrence Schäffler Photos Gareth Cooke