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“Drive it like you stole it,” says Rob Innes. “You can’t break it.”
We are skimming across the smooth blue surface of California’s largest reservoir in something that feels like the inside of a fighter jet, and Innes should know about its capabilities – he designed it.
Obediently, I pull very hard on one of the two vertical levers in my hands, push on the other, and we switch instantly from a 80-plus knots per hour straight line to a carving, steep turn to the left. Keeping my right index finger tight on the trigger throttle, I reverse the positions of the levers and we are thrown into a tight right curve, banked so far over that water breaks over the transparent bubble canopy above our heads. This is the remarkable Seabreacher. Innes and Dan Piazza, co-founders of Innespace Productions, call it a submersible watercraft. What onlookers see is something resembling a dolphin or shark cavorting on – and under – the water.
Innes, a boatbuilder in his native New Zealand before he moved to the US, teamed up with machinist Piazza to build a boat that moved through the water with the grace and playfulness of an aquatic mammal. What they came up with is a watercraft that now has three versions, shaped like a dolphin, shark or killer whale.
Powered by a supercharged marine engine of up to 260hp, the boats can zip along on the surface at nearly 100kph. Lateral midship fins, controlled by the pilot’s levers, allow it to skim the surface at high speed – and dig in for tight turns.
Innes is talking me through how to coax the best out of the machine as we float, engine off, on Shasta Lake, near Redding in northern California where the company is based. It is a hot early summer day, and the snow cap of Mount Shasta looks even more tantalising when I close the canopy and inflate the pneumatic seals of the two-seat cabin. This early boat, in for the team to upgrade to the latest specification, has no air-conditioning.
The engine powers a rear-mounted waterjet that can turn from side to side, like a conventional jetboat or jet ski, but can also tilt up and down, all controlled by the pilot’s feet. Also controlled by the feet are fins at the rear that function like elevators on an airplane, altering the angle of attack of the Seabreacher relative to the water.
All that sounds complicated, but Innespace has worked hard, not only to produce the instant feedback that makes using the controls fairly intuitive but also to cut down the effort required to operate them.
I take a few minutes to dial my responses in, but it is not long before I am, indeed, driving it like I stole it. Like any waterjet boat, it handles best when the throttle is fully open – and the nimble manoeuvrability of this machine is exhilarating. But the best is yet to come.
Rushing forward, planing on the lateral fins, I push the two levers forward and a wall of water rises swiftly up and over the canopy until the Seabreacher is underwater. All that remains above the surface is the midship-mounted vertical fin, which contains a snorkel for the engine air intake, slicing through the water at up to 40kph.
The Seabreacher is not intended for long periods underwater – hence the “submersible” tag rather than “submarine”. But diving and running it briefly as deep as two metres under the surface allows for spectacular leaps into the air when the downward pressure on the levers is reversed. The strength of the thick glass fibre construction shows its worth here – the hull can withstand falling back on its tail after leaping vertically clear of the water.
The water-sealed cabin and built-in buoyancy, along with the ample power, mean the boat can also cope with almost any sea state or waves, says Innes, although he says he would not recommend going out in a hurricane without having spent time getting to know how to handle the machine.
That ability to keep its occupants dry and composed, whatever the weather and sea state, has made the Seabreacher a natural choice for superyacht owners who want something more exciting than a speedboat to get ashore when they anchor. Indeed, a new version with a folding vertical fin will provide more options to store the Seabreacher in the jet ski locker of a yacht – as well as allowing for spectacular barrel rolls in the water.
If just 65 sales so far do not make the boat exclusive enough, the variety of paint jobs might – a couple of fighter planes, a tiger and a spaceship add to the more usual variations on dolphins, sharks and whales. Buyers – who range from crown princes to celebrities and ordinary boat enthusiasts – of the roughly $85,000 Seabreacher are told firmly that Innespace will not build two identical ones.
I feel I have only dipped into this watercraft’s potential. Swimming with the dolphins may be the dream of many. Being one is, for me, better still.