Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in late September that an electric pickup truck called Cybertruck, scheduled to begin sales in 2023, “will be waterproof enough to serve briefly as a boat, so it can cross rivers, lakes and even seas that aren’t too choppy.”
Not so fast, said the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, which tweeted a photo of a sinking four-door sedan and warned: “Our derelict vessel crews are begging you to understand that anything that ‘serves briefly as a boat’ should not be used as a boat.”
The tweet-for-tat came at an interesting time in the world of recreational cruising, where shape-shifting designs are no longer the stuff of fantasy. Real, operable amphibious vehicles are now regularly on display at major boat shows, and even the makers of submersibles are touting transformative characteristics that change undersea watercraft into on-the-surface yachts.
If history is any guide, then some of these ideas will fly (perhaps literally) while others definitely will not. The concept of an amphibious vehicle is not new. It’s been around for a century. There were early attempts to create amphibious vehicles before then, but the technological capabilities really took off around the 1920s. The “duck boat” that’s now a daily hit with tourists in places like Boston Harbor and Miami’s Biscayne Bay dates to World War II, when the U.S. military used a six-wheel amphibious design called a DUKW to move ammunition and equipment from supply ships to fighting units on the beach.
More contemporary takes on the amphibious vehicles are now showing up at major boat shows, complete with hull designs and creature comforts that can compete side by side with sleek center consoles.
Iguana Yachts, a French boatbuilder, was at the Cannes Yachting Festival in September with one of its amphibious boats displayed not in a slip, but instead on the beach, showing off the vessel’s ability to climb right up onto the sand and park. Showgoers who meandered over to take a peek learned all about the new Iguana Foiler, a 32-foot vessel that’s being marketed as the first fully electric amphibious boat in the world—“the boat that sails, flies and goes on land,” the company says.
It’s not a pie-in-the-sky vision. Iguana Yachts has been in business since 2008 and has delivered dozens of amphibious vessels, with commuter, sport, limo and other models now also available as part of its lineup.
Later in September, at the Monaco Yacht Show, U-Boat Worx in the Netherlands unveiled its plans to create the Nautilus underwater superyacht. The company, a premier builder of personal submersibles, says its 123-foot design will have a sundeck that sports a freshwater pool, bar and dining area—all of which will retract before the submersible slips below sea level and descends to depths that can surpass 650 feet.
“Since Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea came out in 1870, people have been dreaming of a luxury yacht with dive capabilities,” the company announced. “U-Boat Worx has now finally succeeded in engineering a realistic combination of luxury and safety in a fully certified private submersible.”
They’re not kidding either. U-BWorx was established in 2005 and delivered its first model just one year later. The company now says it can build the Nautilus within 30 months of a contract being signed and claims the eventual owner of Hull No. 1 will be able to cruise at a surface speed of about 9 knots, or at an underwater speed of 4 knots for six hours.
That’s not nearly as fast as Tesla says the Cybertruck will be able to go, of course; it’s promising acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds, with up to 500 miles of range. Then again, those figures are primarily for Cybertruck’s use outside of water. There also are concept designs out there for the Cybercat and Cybercat Foiler, which would be created by Cybertruck owners adding aftermarket pontoons and hydrofoils to the original Tesla design. The pontoons would be folding and inflatable, which means that they—along with the outboard motors and hydrofoils—would fold down once the vehicle hits the water.
“In shallow water or around docks, Cybercat can precisely maneuver propelled by the wheel rotation of the Cybertruck,” inventor Anthony Diamond claims. Adding the other components, he says, would allow for an estimated top speed on the water of more than 35 knots, with a projected range of more than 65 nautical miles at 22 knots.
The very first question on his website’s FAQ section is: “What is this? Are you serious?”
Indeed, he is: “Yes. We are both serious and excited about this concept and intend to work with OEMs to bring these watercraft to market.”
No matter whether any of these particular ideas work out, it’s looking more and more as if the over/under on Jules Verne being right was about 150 years. Real-life technology is now catching up to, and in some ways surpassing, fictional visions that have long captured the imaginations of inventors, captains and dreamers. We’ll all just have to wait and see what the Washington State
Department of Natural Resources has to say about that.
This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue.