It’s a self-righting jet boat equipped with harnesses, racing seats, and reinforced Israeli glass – and it’s spent the last 15 years in a shed. Michael Andrew investigates the origins of Wave Attack, the prototype that never got its debut.
Imagine driving an immensely powerful sea craft that appears, to the awestruck onlooker, to be part speedboat and part submarine? Driving it at 35 knots straight into an oncoming wave, barrel rolling under the surface and then popping back up again with both you and the vessel upright and unscathed? Well, now you might be able to do just that with the Wave Attack self-righting jet boat officially on sale.
Built and designed in 2005 by the former world jet boat racing champion Bill Roberts, the one-of-a-kind prototype was intended to fulfil many lofty purposes, most notably as a surf lifesaving craft and a military vessel for elite marine units to engage pirates and smugglers. Sadly, due to a cancer diagnosis that led to Roberts’ passing in 2017, the remarkable piece of engineering never got to fulfil its destiny, and for the past 15 years Wave Attack has been sitting idle in a Whakatāne shed.
Roberts’ daughter Melanie Roberts says Wave Attack was something of a dream project for her father, a boating genius who was New Zealand’s four-time jet boat racing champion. Parting with the boat was a difficult decision for her family to make, she says.
“We weren’t in a hurry to sell the boat because of the sentimental value. But it’s come to a time when it either sits in the shed as an ornament, or someone else does something with it and has a bit of fun.”
As the main boat driver of the Whakatāne family’s business, Kiwi Jet Boat Tours, Melanie inherited her father’s passion for river jet boating and the stunning natural places she finds when taking guests up the Rangitaiki River. However, she admits she’s never taken the enigmatic Wave Attack out for a spin herself which is more suited to waters outside her domain.
“I’m not a sea girl,” she says. “I’m a freshwater girl, I’m on the river. So no, I’ve never put myself in that position of the driver seat.”
With its impressive specs including 6mm reinforced glass, Wave Attack has already received considerable interest despite its $60,000 price tag which Melanie says is far below its actual value.
“For jet boaters, it’s quite an unreal concept and I guess it takes a unique sort of person to understand what it is and what it’s capable of,” she says.
“Even though it was designed in the early 2000s it was just so well ahead of its time. Dad was the type person who always looked into the future and he designed things for the future. What he put in was top of the line at the time; even now there’s probably not much he would change. And I think if you’re using it for its actual purpose, you do want that reinforced glass.”
But despite its 90s arcade name and cool bumblebee paint job, does Wave Attack actually do what it’s supposed to? According to a 15-year-old YouTube video of the boat thrashing about in the fierce Bay of Plenty surf, it certainly appears to be the case.
Tony Ward, the man who built Wave Attack’s aluminium hull and a good friend of Bill Roberts, can also attest to the boat’s credentials. “Before they actually ran it, they got a digger down by the local Whakatāne River and hung the boat upside down and dropped it into the water just to make sure it would self-right. And it did,” Ward says.
“The motor is an old school small block chevy engine that’s dry-sumped and fuel-injected, so it’s designed to keep running when it gets tipped over in the surf.”
An accomplished jet boater himself, Ward now owns Attack Marine, the business that once belonged to Roberts. While he never fully understood the point of Wave Attack or just what Roberts intended to do with it, he was privy to the many ideas and dreams that were broached over the years.
“He had this idea to take people out in the surf and roll the boat over,” he says. “It’s got proper race seats in it with all the safety equipment and harnesses. But there was a guy in the South Island who’d talked to Red Bull about it. Red bull was going to sponsor us, and we were going to pick it up by helicopter and put it into the water above the Huka falls in Taupō and run it over the waterfalls.
“Obviously that never happened, but it was almost at the stage where they were going to do it with or without permission.”
While Ward never went out on the Wave Attack himself, he says he was happy to help build the boat, which was ultimately a creation consistent with Roberts’ tinkering nature and prodigious boating skill.
“Bill was quite a character in his day. He was a very good operator behind the wheel of a jet boat. He won against all comers, against V8s, and he only had a little five-litre chevy. He was pretty darn quick, super reliable and a very good boater.”
With the listing attracting over 10,000 views on Trade Me, both Ward and Melanie Roberts are confident the Wave Attack will be bought in the coming weeks with the boat’s novelty and its creator’s legacy helping to stoke interest.
“Dad certainly made his mark, that’s for sure,” says Roberts. “He had a great idea about what he wanted and he brought it to life, but it never got its debut.”
“I think it would be great to see it out there, doing what it’s designed for, especially if its surf lifesaving. I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world to be fair. It’s a one-of-a-kind.”
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