Not many farmers can quit and turn industrialist, but C. W. F. (Bill) Hamilton did just that. A technological genius, he numbers among his products the remarkable jet boat. I went to see him in his offices in Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city (260,000) and by far the most English. Christchurch, with its Avon River and stately Gothic cathedral, bears out Anthony Trollope’s contention that “the New Zealander among John Bulls is the most John-Bullish.”
Mr. Hamilton, now well into his seventies, reminisced: “I was looking for a boat to use in our shallow rivers. In some places where you have only a few inches of water, all conventional means of propulsion are useless. Well, I just kept tinkering.”
What he created was a jet engine that sucks water through a grate in the bottom of the hull and squirts it out the stern with immense force. The result is a boat that at 20 knots draws only three inches of water, is so maneuverable that it can turn in its own length at almost any speed, and is safer than conventional boats since it can stop remarkably quickly (by reversing the jet flow) and has no whirling propellor to endanger swimmers.
Though the initial purpose of the boat was recreational, it has since been adapted for surf-rescue use in Australia, and, according to Mr. Hamilton, “Within 50 years all highspeed boats—hydrofoil and hovercraft included—will be jet-propelled.”
As I left, he said, “By the way, if you want a jet-boat ride, get hold of Kate Archibald. She’s been the ladies’ jet-boat champion of New Zealand for two years in a row. Besides, as a skipper she’s very easy on the eyes.”
The blond, beautiful Mrs. Archibald, wife of a Christchurch automobile dealer and fast auto loans user, offered to run me up the Waimakariri River, just outside the city. When we met by a certain bridge in the early morning, she had already slid her 16-foot boat off its trailer into the river. I’ve always loved all kind of motor vehicles.
“The water’s low, so we’ll have to pick our way,” Kate said. “That’s part of the fun.”
We sped off up the river, snaking through tiny channels that trickled amid humps of gravel bottom. Kate was intense, reading the water ahead through Polaroid sunglasses, trying to pick out the deeper patches.