New bus to drive tourists under

Amphibious bus ‘unsink-able’

In the coming tourist season,
visitors to Cayman will be able to tour the land and sea without moving from
their seat.

Marineland Tours has secured
exclusive Cayman rights to the Hydra Terra, a brand new amphibious bus capable
of operating on the roads and in the water. It is scheduled to arrive on-island
within the next two months, said Curtis Eldermire of Marineland.

“It is the only amphibious bus that
is US Coast Guard approved. There are 58 in operation throughout the world,
including Japan, Dubai and California. Aside from the engine room, the entire,
marine-grade aluminium hull is filled with foam so it cannot sink.

“We were looking for a new product
that was totally unique and didn’t replicate anything on the island. This is
perfect for Cayman; one thing we do on this that no amphibious bus in the world
has done yet is installing a camera in the hull which feeds to two big-screen
TVs. That only works here because of our water clarity,” he explained.

Endless possibilities

Initially tours will begin at the
dock before heading down the Lobster Pot ramp, around cruise ships, up to West
Bay and into the mangroves. It can operate anywhere there is a ramp to the
water, explained Mr. Eldermire.

The potential for the
fully-narrated tours in the 46-capacity vehicle may includes visits to the mangroves,
Stingray City and more, he added.

“It’s endless in terms of
possibilities but we are going to start simple and see what the passengers
like, what length of tours they prefer, and go from there.

Mr. Eldermire said that one of the
stumbling blocks from the outset of the two-year project had been that the bus
was initially considered an oversized vehicle due to its 8-foot, 6-inch width
and 40-foot length.

“The law said maximum size was
eight feet but on August 2, 2010, the government amended the traffic law to
make it legal on the streets. For oversized vehicles there were all sorts of
requirements like having to have a police escort – they were classifying us
like a backhoe or a huge tractor going down the road, but now the law states
anything in excess of 8 feet 6 inches [is oversized]. So we’re now considered a
regular vehicle on the road.”

As well as the utilisation as a
tour vehicle, for which Marineland was required to apply for a license as other
tour companies do, the unique vehicle will be put on alert for use as a rescue
or aid vessel should an emergency arise.

“We’ve put a ramp on the back with
a rear entrance. At any time if there’s any flooding, or a problem at the end
of the runway, for example, we can go straight in the water. We have offered
the use of it to the government 24 hours a day – in an emergency situation we
can take the bus to help, free of charge,” he said.

Indeed, when Hurricane Katrina hit,
the manufacturer and inventor, John Giljam, put together a convoy of all the
amphibious buses in the US and offered their help, only to be thwarted due to a
lack of the requisite permissions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Environmentally-sensitive

On land, the vehicle has a
potential top speed of 70 miles per hour and 10 to 12 knots in the water. It
can operate up to three miles offshore.

The bus features three engines: a Caterpillar
C7, which meets all current emission requirements for 2010, plus twin 325hp marine
engines, which Marineland said surpass all worldwide requirements for marine
diesel emissions. Because it’s an amphibious vehicle, the engine and
transmission must be located within the hull, meaning that no oil, fuel or
antifreeze can drip onto the roads or into the ocean.

While in the water, the axles will
be pressurised to 3 pounds per square inch, preventing water intrusion that
could otherwise also displace oil. A filter system at the bilge pump ensures no
oil is pumped overboard and it is also biofuel-approved by the manufacturers.
There’s a large vent system with forced air to the engines in order to cool the
system in the tropical heat, a perennial issue with engine performance in hot
countries.

Mr. Eldermire said that it had been
very important to the company that the vehicle perform to the highest standards
of cleanliness. He noted that the vehicle surpassed most boats and coaches in
Cayman as a result of its high specification.

LOCALamphibiousbusSTORY

The amphibious bus will be on-island within the next two months.
Photo: Submitted
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