SANDPOINT — It has been over 35 years since Mike Rafter called Priest River home.
This past weekend, however, Rafter returned to North Idaho — and he brought some Sealegs with him. While he does have sea legs from spending time on the West Coast waters, Sealegs refers to the amphibious boat that had people in Sandpoint, Priest Lake and Coeur d’Alene taking pictures and video as they watched the boat drive around on land, and straight into the water.
“Basically, this is the first time this has hit this area,” Rafter said of the amphibious craft.
Rafter lived in Priest River from the late ‘70s into the ‘80s, during which time he helped his uncle build the facility that now houses Les Schwab Tire Center, though he said it was originally built as a Goodyear dealership.
He later moved to the Olympia area, where he became good friends with Jay Coleman, who has been working with the West Coast Sealegs for some time. Rafter said he started doing the boat shows and such with Coleman, and with the Fourth of July holiday and the vast amount of rivers and lakes in North Idaho, he decided to bring Sealegs home for a visit — and of course to show it off.
“Just knowing the area, I thought this boat was perfect for it,” Rafter said.
They did just that, hitting the Fourth of July parade in Coeur d’Alene before heading to Sandpoint on Friday, and then up to Priest Lake on Saturday. With a number of onlookers at City Beach on Friday, they set off into Lake Pend Oreille.
“This is the coolest thing I have ever seen,” one of the beachgoers told Coleman as he watched the process.
While some people might spend an hour getting everything ready to go, Sealegs was in the water in minutes. With the motorized, steerable and retractable wheels down, Coleman drove the boat off the trailer, down to the launch and into the water — simple as that. As the wheels no longer touched the ramp, he lifted them out of the water with the push of a button.
“The beauty of this is it literally takes all of the work out of it,” Coleman said.
It is also unique in how people can get in and out of the craft. While on land, it can be lowered down to the ground and tilted to allow a passenger to step over the side, safely into the boat.
While the craft is not cheap, starting at around $130,000, there are more than 1,500 Sealegs spread across 55 countries, Coleman said. With the company based in Auckland, New Zealand, the first Sealegs came off the production line in 2004. Coleman said they average about 100 boats a year.
The model Rafter and Coleman were traveling with was a 6.1m Sport RIB, the smallest of Sealegs with a 22-horsepower inboard engine that allows it to travel at about 7.5 mph on land and an outboard motor that will take the craft up to 45 mph in the water. There are a number of different styles and sizes of the craft, however, from the Sport RIB to the 8.5m Alloy Cabin model. There is even an electric model available, which Coleman said is “super cool,” making no engine noise as it glides across the land and water.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.