Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Real invention with three wheels

Report on the news tonight about how we're lagging behind internationally these days on the patent application league table. Shocking! Resting on our laurels after coming up with the jet boat, disposable syringe, electric fence, bungy jump, split atom and so much else. Tch.

Though I was writing today about another Kiwi invention: Sealegs, amphibious craft like boats on wheels, that I first saw last year at the Onetangi Beach Races on Waiheke. It's a brilliant family day out, with pony races, tugs of war, sand sculpture competitions, decorated sunhats - and the world's first Sealegs race. Ten or so of them trundled along the beach in tortoise mode before heading into the waves, tucking their wheels away and roaring through the water in showers of spray. Very impressive - till they turned for land again and left their hare persona behind, labouring down to the finish line at a painful 10 km/h.

>>> Lining up at the western end of the beach, at the drop of the flag the horses hurtle along the wide stretch of hard sand left by the low tide between the spectators and the water. Crouched low over their horses’ necks, the riders urge them on, echoed by Waihekeans calling their names and visitors shouting their numbers. Sand flies up behind them, seagulls swoop overhead and beyond all this speed and frenzy the sea sparkles, moored boats bob on the blue and swimmers lift and fall on the lazy swells.

Lean, fit horses and their lean, fit riders are replaced by chubby ponies tittupping along the water’s edge pulling miniature sulkies, their drivers looking like giants crouched over the reins. Then blue and yellow striped barrels are rolled into place and the riders return, racing down the beach to spin around in a tight turn and a flurry of sand before powering back again, stirrup-leathers short and bottoms in the air.

Also leaning low to cut wind resistance are the tractor drivers, somewhat less dramatic as they putter along fiddling with their throttles to squeeze the last bit of oomph out of their engines. They look slightly embarrassed to be forcing these matronly machines into such unseemly haste — but there’s a $75 prize for the fastest on the beach, even though little of that would likely be left to make it home at the end of the night...

[Pub. Herald on Sunday 31/1/10]

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