A submarine that can leap like a whale
Meet the Seabreacher, the Orca-shaped watercraft best described as the love-child of a jet-ski and a submarine. Sally Dominguez takes the plunge and gets airtime at Lake Shasta in California
Is it a plane? Well, it steers like one. Is it a boat? Legally, yes. Is it a submarine? Kind of ... and then it leaps out of the water and breaches just like a whale.
The Seabreacher could be described as a fast-planing raceboat, or alternately as a fully sealed jet-ski-engined sea missile that can plunge two people under the water at 60km/h and then hurl them into the sky.
Liveried as a killer whale or in newer iterations as a metallic hammerhead or great white shark, it's a recreational showstopper that not only defies description, but also gravity and basic nautical conventions.
New Zealand-born, US-based designer Rob Innes describes the Seabreacher as a “custom-designed hot rod for the water”. To prove his point, he hauls himself into the killer whale-liveried "Y" model – dubbed Orca – with its 260 horsepower (194kW) supercharged engine, roars away, executes a dive, and leaps so high that for a majestic moment, no part of the 5.2-metre, 658kg craft is touching the lake.
Innes and business partner Dan Piazza are keenly involved in hot rods and performance boat racing, and the hand-crafted Seabreachers emerging from their Northern Californian headquarters show the meticulous attention to design detail and performance capability characteristic of their hot rodding brethren.
Each Seabreacher, custom-sculpted in fibreglass and Kevlar to the whim of the buyer and fitted with a pneumatically sealed fighter jet-style polycarbonate canopy, takes three months to build and costs upwards of $US65,000 ($71,850). Once driven, though, that price seems ludicrously reasonable.
It has three axes of control, like a plane. Yaw is controlled by the driver's legs, roll determined by hand levers, and pitch set by pointing or flexing feet held into bindings on the pedals. The Seabreacher is legally categorised as an inboard powerboat, albeit one Innes says “looks funny and has some unique moves”.
The Seabreacher draws air for its three-cylinder, 1500cc four-stroke Rotax jet-ski engine - and for its occupants - via a snorkel mounted behind the dorsal fin.
Positive buoyancy means no matter how you dive, roll or land – and Innes says he's done all that and more in testing – it will end upright. It has been “designed to be punished”, he claims, so there was only one thing left to do. Lake Shasta in northern California was the perfect venue to dive right in - pardon the pun.
I ride first as a rear-seat passenger with Innes to test the limits of my courage and claustrophobia. A moulded pillion seat is a snug fit and turns out to impressively absorb the impact of our huge jumps. We push off into the still waters, at first with the clear canopy stowed back behind my head. In this top-down mode we can roll up to 30 degrees side-to-side, or clip along at up to 88km/h. Closed and air-sealed, we could completely roll and – apparently – flip upright again. The clear polycarbonate hood places both driver and passenger squarely in the action, with water just centimetres away from your face.
After sealing the cockpit, we hum along at 75km/h, spray flying everywhere, before Innes accelerates then throws the pitch levers forward. We're suddenly underwater, air bubbles and green lake water rushing over the canopy; then abruptly we're ascending, smashing through the surface and airborne. Bam! We land with a jolt, and rip off across the lake again.
Innes reckons in salt water he can jump the nose of the Orca about six metres high; even in fresh water we get the tail of the 5.2-metre beast completely clear of the surface. It's high time for me to take a crack at this breaching business.
I slide into the driver's seat and my bare feet are strapped onto the pedals to give me constant contact for the back and forth and point/flex actions required to turn and dive. I'm gripping levers that control the side flippers, with trigger acceleration in my right hand and the air seal control button in my left. Innes's voice urges from behind my left ear: “Drive it like you stole it!” Well, OK then.
Kicking off for a test blat across the open water, we rise up onto the Seabreacher's plane in seconds and I have to point my toes to keep the nose down. The engine note is delightfully throaty, custom-tuned to aural perfection.
To dive, Innes instructs, I need to straighten up, throw the levers forward, blast the acceleration and point my toes. Once we are fully submerged, a decent jump results from keeping the levers thrust forward, which is counter-intuitive, and flexing both feet. If you pull the levers back it stalls face down, which is safe but disconcerting.
The key is to push deeper than you think – we could dive to over a metre before the snorkel would submerge and cut power to the engine – then maintain acceleration and aim for the sky. It's literally a leap of faith, and I finally nail a big jump in one of the most exhilarating moments I have experienced.
The Seabreacher is as sleek and fast as it is capable of jaw-dropping stunts, and will probably soon be seen hanging from the back of every superyacht.
Here in Australia, Seabreacher already has a Perth-based distributor, while New Zealand-based Hydroattack is also looking to make local inroads. The Seabreacher is certified by Maritime Australia as a recreational watercraft and requires a Recreational Skipper license to operate here, although NSW Roads and Maritime Services has deemed it an "unsafe vessel" and restricted its use in the state.
Pricing is expected to be around the $100,000 mark for Australian customers, depending on customisation required.
As 20th century philosopher and uber-cool kid Ferris Bueller once said: “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”