Toward the end, the river narrowed and the Nyungwe Forest thickened. The haggard crew was forced to leave the Zap Cats and continue on foot for a 50-mile hike up East Africa's largest mountain rainforest - to the end.
The final measured length of the Nile turned out to be 4,197 miles, some 66 miles longer than previously thought. The team actually covered much more than that due to wrong turns and exploratory trips into lakes and minor tributaries. It took the three men 80 days to complete the voyage. Apart from the final walk to the source, and a few portages, it was all by water. In the end, what was accomplished was the longest river journey possible by boat. At around 7,800 feet in the Nyungwe Forest of Rwanda is a plaque with the coordinates 2°16'55.92" S; 29°19'52.32" E, next to what McGrigor describes as "a muddy hole." It's on that spot that an age-old question was answered, once and for all.
You can't buy a Zap Cat, the boat that conquered the Nile, in the United States, but there are clones. One is the Aquarius Aqua-Cat Race Boat. "Race Boat" because that's what this type of craft is primarily used for - racing, not exploring. In fact, the American Powerboat Association (www.apba-racing.com) has a dedicated class for them: Superlight Tunnel Boats.
As with all boats of this type, the 175-pound, 13'-by-6'10" Aqua-Cat features parallel, asymmetric neoprene tubes, with two chambers each for redundancy. Smaller, more rigidly inflated tubes run the length of each hull. Connecting the hulls is a fiberglass wing with a stainless-steel transom made from 2"-square tubing. The vinyl-covered plywood floor panels are removable, as on your average RIB, allowing the whole boat to fit in the trunk of a car. It takes two to get the most from these boats. The driver handles the tiller of a 30- to 50-hp outboard, and the copilot uses his weight to keep the boat balanced. With my crewman hanging over the port side, I cranked a tight right turn that compressed my body into the side of the port tube. Turn radius is 10' at most, before you find yourself hauling butt 180 degrees in the opposite direction, giggling uncontrollably. With the crew far aft, the bow lifts for maximum acceleration. A Yamaha 40 got me into the 50-mph range, and the record is 66 mph. Fast, durable, and stable, these boats are an adventure. For more information, contact: Outboards Unlimited at 954/861-1611.