On the last Sunday in February, New Zealand’s Waiheke Island reverberated to the sound of Sealegs amphibious vessels racing around Onetangi beach.
The island’s local community, which has the most number of Sealegs per capita in the world with more than 60 of the vessels in use, has been running races on the beach for the last 100 years with the Sealegs race a popular addition in recent years.
The biggest amphibious race in the world, it’s sponsored by ATEED, (Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development) and Sealegs, and ably demonstrates the power and performance of the unique vessels.
Honda-powered hydraulic wheels retract in the water where the boats display their bullish abilities, while on land the motorised, steerable system allows the boat to be move seamlessly from land to water.
With two wheel drive and four wheel drive Sealegs tenders entered, coupled with a range of engine sizes and some fiercely competitive teams, the race was anyone’s. As the race officer briefed all teams just before the 12:15pm start time and a growing crowd looked on, the rules were firmly laid out: no tube riding, stay within the boundaries and all rules of the sea apply.
Then, with a firm admonition not to cheat, the officer sent teams on their way.
The Le Mans start saw team USA lead the quick sprint up the beach to the line up of craft. Springing aboard, runners threw the keys to the drivers and then it was a dash for the water line. With a top speed of 10kms on land, the craft jostled for the line as their outboards descending while driving into the water.
Spectators roared as the first vessels to take off spouted jets of water over the followers, and then it was an all out sprint for the first buoy. Big Evinrude engines powered the entrants around the marker, and into a long straight where the craft were able to show their power.
Capable of speeds of up to 80kmh on water, the fleet flew around the second buoy - where one team member jumped overboard, and was quickly recovered - and headed for the beach.
Wheels descending, the fleet pushed right up to the water’s edge and drove onto the beach, rounding the marker to head down the back stretch in front of a cheering crowd.
Into the second lap and a clear leader became evident. Simon Harding, two time winner of the race, threw his vessel into battle and the effort paid off as he emerged from the water a second time with a good lead on the soaking pack following in his wake.
As he crossed the line, the crowd cheered for the local taking out his third title, while the other competitors, including international Sealegs distributors, chased for second and third.
Waiheke residents were the winners on the day though, with Scott Unsworth taking second place and the Edmonds family following him in third.
New Zealand classical singers Sol3 Mio were on hand to present the winners with the trophies for first second and third, before competitors retired to a hospitality tent to talk winners, stratagems and next year’s tactics.