This true dual-sport RV — recreation vehicle/vessel — is creating waves as both a motorhome and a watercraft.
By Lazelle Jones
An amphibious motorhome? You bet. Debuted on "Good Morning, America" in July 2003, the Terra Wind serves a dual purpose for those enthused about motorhoming and boating. John Giljam, owner and president of Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International LLC (C.A.M.I. LLC), designer and builder of the Terra Wind, has taken the concept of a water-navigable motorhome and made it a reality. He and his wife, Julie, operate manufacturing facilities in New York and South Carolina.
The 102-inch-wide coach is offered with two slideouts and in lengths up to 45 feet. The amazing thing about the Terra Wind is that you can drive to most any marina, down the landing or ramp, and right into the water. With a suggested retail price beginning at around $800,000, this most unusual RV offers the coach aficionado who is ready for the next major evolution in technology a truly unique opportunity.
The mystery that initially surrounded the Terra Wind began to dissipate rapidly in my mind as I talked with John Giljam. For years his company has been building a state-of-the-art amphibious craft called the Hydra-Terra, which is in use around the world. A 49-passenger amphibious bus, the Hydra-Terra is utilized by tour companies both on land and water. It also is used extensively for search-and-rescue operations. Take the Hydra-Terra one step further and couple it with the fact that John is a licensed master sea captain who loves both the water and the motorhome lifestyle, and you get the Terra Wind.
The Giljams are not new to bringing their innovative ideas to fruition. They also have produced a luxury amphibious sport utility vehicle. In addition, they are hard at work developing an all-new amphibious high-performance car, which they expect will achieve speeds of 150 mph on land and more than 55 mph on water. And the Giljams plan to expand their product line to include custom non-amphibious motorhomes, such as the Terrage, a mid-engine, rear-garage coach that is capable of carrying a full-size S-Class Mercedes automobile.
Though the Terra Wind looks like a diesel pusher, drives like a diesel pusher, and supplies all the luxury and creature comforts that any other high-end coach provides, it also incorporates a 3/16-inch-thick aluminum boat hull that measures 42 feet 6 inches long. It draws 42 inches of water, meaning that when launched, the hull submerges to a depth of 42 inches. The diesel engine sits in the rear just like a typical pusher coach, but it is positioned in one of the three completely sealed, watertight individual compartments that make up the hull. The company offers any engine the customer wishes in the Caterpillar or Cummins lines. Each of the three compartments has a bilge pump, but John explained that before any one of the automatic bilge pumps ever turned on, other safety alarm systems would indicate to the driver/pilot/captain that water had entered a compartment.
Rear of the Terra Wind amphibious motorhomeThe Terra Wind includes a fully automatic Allison 3000MH six-speed transmission. The axle housing penetrates the hull through watertight seals to deliver torque to the rear wheels. It is vented to the inside of the hull to allow the bleed-off of any pressure difference that may develop in the axle housing as a result of temperature differences when the hot axle meets the cool water during a launch. All of the wheels on the coach are submerged in the water when the coach has been launched. The front steering gearbox mechanism is located inside the front compartment in the hull, with the linkage penetrating the aluminum hull. A double bellows is installed with two fail-safe safety seals; this prevents water from entering through this location. The front axles are the same as would be found on any other diesel pusher coach; CAMI uses the fully independent Reyco/Granning suspension series, with front axle capacities to 14,600 pounds.
To use the diesel engine as the source of power when the coach is in the marine mode, a power takeoff that bypasses the Allison transmission is engaged and provides power to an auxiliary crankshaft. This is similar to a transfer case on a four-wheel-drive truck, but in this case the torque from the diesel engine is transferred from the Allison transmission to a marine transmission that drives two marine bronze propellers; the propellers are visible as one screw on each side of the hull, at the rear of the craft. To launch the Terra Wind, simply drive it into the water. Once the rear wheels have cleared the launch ramp, the driver (now a sea captain) puts the marine power takeoff into gear. Power is now delivered to the propellers.
The propeller screws are tucked up under the rear of the coach so that even if the rear underside of the coach is bumped, the two propellers are protected. The Allison transmission and the marine transmission can be operated simultaneously, both during launch and during landing (takeout evolutions). But once in the water, the marine transmission becomes the motive source for the Terra Wind. John noted that some customers have asked for more horsepower and independent engine(s) to power the two propellers. So, a 500-horsepower Caterpillar engine is now available, as well as either one or two marine diesel engines to drive the propellers.
A rudder system at the rear of the hull is controlled by the captain from a joystick-type device that is mounted on the dash in the driver's area. The two rudders, one behind each propeller, can be seen when the coach is out of the water. While in the water, the conventional steering wheel becomes a retired feature and remains so until the craft is taken out of the water and returned to the launch ramp.
To stabilize the Terra Wind in the water, two large sponsons (pontoon-type devices), each 14 feet long, pivot and extend 4 feet out from hidden compartments on each side of the coach/watercraft. Again, these are not visible when the Terra Wind is on land. This effectively makes the Terra Wind almost 17 feet wide in the water. Once the sponsons are extended, a control in the cockpit inflates them to create an outrigger type of configuration. At that point the slideouts can be extended. The first Terra Wind to be built incorporated inflatable sponsons. John noted that the company has since eliminated the use of the inflatables, as they take a few minutes to deploy. The coaches will now be built with all-aluminum sponsons, which are touch control-activated from the cockpit. A hydraulic system slides them out approximately 4 feet outside of the regular body line. Full use of the slideouts is achieved even with the sponsons out.
According to John, the Terra Wind is capable of navigating at 6 to 7 knots (7 to 8 mph) in seas with swells up to 3 feet. Think about that. Three-foot swells could be considered fairly rough water, with whitecaps, etc.
Because of the fluid characteristics of water and because balance is even more important to a watercraft than it is to a motorhome, the Terra Wind must be carefully balanced to make it seaworthy. To ensure perfect balance, John developed computer software that he uses to position every piece of equipment and component that goes into each individual Terra Wind at precisely the "sweet spot" for best balance.
John explained that launching the Terra Wind is an incredibly simple evolution. A minimum of 3 feet 6 inches of water is needed at the end of the ramp. With less than this amount, the front bumper could hit the shore or the landing instead of the front wheels touching first. The front wheels need to touch and roll up the ramp first in order for the craft to rise out of the water onto dry ground. This caveat is offered because some ramps are not properly installed or a launch ramp may be subject to tidal changes, where the water level differs throughout the day. In waters affected by the tide, if you launch at high tide you may not be able to use the same ramp to take the unit out later that day. In lakes this is typically not a problem. So after verifying that the water level is adequate, the only other item on the launch checklist is to ensure that the drain plugs are installed in the hull of the Terra Wind, just as you would with any watercraft.
Interior of the Terra Wind amphibious motorhomeLike any other luxury motor coach, the Terra Wind features a full complement of amenities. The interior décor can include custom teak cabinetry, leather upholstery, granite countertops, marble floors, residential appliances, and an eight-jet 60-inch whirlpool tub and shower combination. Exterior paint and graphics are all custom-designed to the tastes of the client. On the long list of other available amenities are a padded leather dash resembling an aircraft cockpit; a computer docking station with Internet access; global positioning system (GPS) maps and navigational charts; an in-motion digital satellite receiver; a six-channel, 600-watt stereo digital surround-sound system; and a 42-inch plasma television. The coach is equipped with two slideouts: a 20-inch-deep living area/dinette slide and a 30-inch-deep bedroom slide that houses the head of a queen-size bed and nightstands.
Wall construction is unique in the motorhome industry, with the walls and roof sections being built from a composite material. This is a multilayered product that starts on the exterior with a layer of gel-coat fiberglass that is pressure-laminated to a sheet of marine-grade plywood. Inside the structure is an entire network of wooden stiffeners in a honeycomb configuration. This is filled with foam insulation. Marine-grade plywood and composite laminates go on the interior side. There is no metal frame. John explained that this type of construction yields considerable lateral and torsional strength and produces a wall with a thermal rating of R-13 and a roof that is rated at R-38. Roof or basement air conditioners, a hydronic heating system, an 18-kw diesel generator, and large holding and fuel tanks are all part of the unit.
And should the question arise, "Do you register this as a watercraft or a motorhome?" John said, "It depends on the laws of your state of residency. You may have to register it as both a boat and a land vehicle. I live in South Carolina, and we cannot register one vehicle as two different things."
Company literature includes an intriguing slogan to promote the Terra Wind: "The Land. The Lake. The Luxury." For RVers who enjoy motorhoming and yachting with equal intensity, this coach may be worth investigating.
Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International LLC, 31 Hawkes Road, P.O. Box 1703, Bluffton, SC 29910; (888) 926-6553, (843) 757-4133; fax: 843-757-6774; www.terrawind.com.