The mark came up quickly, very quickly, I eased the boat into the turn, "steady", said Peter McGrath through the intercom as he adjusted the throttles to accelerate out of the turn and we headed to the next mark. A huge rooster tail fanned out behind the big pink monster. I chanced a glance at the GPS, it showed we were charging across Geelong Harbour at 120 knots. For landlubbers that is 216kph. In a car that's fast, on water it's bloody fast.
This was no fantasy, I was strapped into the driver's seat of one of the fastest offshore racing power boats in the world, Stefan Akerie's distinctive pink Class One racer, Jager. Beside me was one of the best throttle men in the business, called 'Mudguard' by his friends. The story about how he got his nickname is for another day.
As the next mark came up, very quickly, I approached a little wider, "keep the speed up," said Mudguard. OK, I was starting to get the hang of this beast. This was real seat of the pants driving as we flew back to the first mark again. The twin turbo-charged diesels rumbling away at 3000rpm just centimetres behind my seat, literally vibrating through my body, and the chatter through the seat as the stepped hulls skipped over the small windchop on the harbour, left me in no doubt that this was a serious power boat.
Earlier, Paul Lingard, who drives Bill Barry-Cotter's Riviera, had taken a few minutes to explain the ins and outs of these Formula Ones of the power boat world. He explained that Jager was a little flatter in the stern than Riviera and it was easy to hang the back out in a turn, just like a racing car. This time I lined up the mark, turned the wheel, which has only a ten-to-two lock, and hung the back out as Mudguard worked the 1350 horses a side. A small correction back to the centre and the long hull came straight as we powered away. I could get to like this sport, I thought.
By now I was full of confidence and when Mudguard asked me if I wanted to go around again there was no hesitation. "You bet!" I must admit that at first, standing on the jetty on the Geelong waterfront watching the crane swing the huge machine off its transporter and set it gently in the water, there was some trepidation - what is this thing going to do? And will I make a fool of myself?
As the boat settled in the water the large crowd of spectators and rev-heads surged forward leaving me standing at the back. "Hey, excuse me guys, I'm the driver of this thing," well at least that was what the sign on the crash hat that Stefan had handed me said. After pushing my way to the front, I stepped aboard and dropped down through the cockpit hatch looking like I knew what I was doing.
Jager is Bill Barry-Cotter's former Shell Riviera Racing boat in which he won the 2000 Australian Powerboat Championships and was built by his Riviera Group in Queensland. As I settled into the seat willing hands come through the hatch and helped attach the six-point harness. I pulled the shoulder straps down hard, as it happened too hard. Nobody had told me that I was going to sit there for about 10 minutes as the crew adjusted the throttle settings on the port engine. This brought more rev-heads and by this time the crowd was about four-deep on the jetty. I sat in the cockpit as if I did it every day.
The delay gave me time to look around. First impressions came as a bit of a surprise. There is no luxury in here, the interior is purely functional. All that is in front the driver is the steering wheel and a compass. All the instruments are in front of the throttle man and are controlled from a panel on his left. The throttles, gear levers and engine stops are located in a centre console with the other necessary switches, like the engine start, intercom and engine bay fire extinguisher activators in an overhead panel.
In the middle of the cockpit floor was another hatch. This one was for getting out of the cockpit if the crew happened to flip the boat. Another handy safety feature was the small scuba tanks for the driver and throttle man for use if they find themselves in a position other than upright. A mental note was made of these and there was no doubt that if the thing flipped and, after listening to Bill relating the details of Riviera's accident at Marmaris in Turkey last year when it tripped and fell over after coming into a mark too fast, I made a mental not to be the last out.
There is no doubt that these boats are spectacular and for people who drive them fear is not in their vocabulary. The Riviera crew can lay claim to standing it on its end, spinning out and finishing backwards beside a wharf.
Manoeuvring these beasts at idle is difficult at the best of times, but to get them in and out of tight marinas is an art. Mudguard used the throttles to position the long bow, but it is not like a normal twin- engined craft. The gears cannot be moved from forward to astern with the engine running. The engines need to be shut down first, the lever moved forward or back and then restarted. The small rudder at idle is virtually useless.
Mudguard worked the boat through a 90-degree turn and we idled out into the open harbour. He pushed the throttles forward explaining that the idea was to let the turbochargers come to you rather than hitting the power hard at the start. The bow came up and the turbos started to wind up, and I had my first taste of the awesome power of the twin, 12 litre V8s.
The two Class One boats were competing in the Victorian rounds of the Union Steel Offshore Challenge. The previous weekend the racing was held off St Kilda. In Europe the UIM (Union International Motonautique) World Offshore Powerboat Racing series, rivals Formula One motor racing. Spectators in their hundreds of thousands regularly turn up to events in the Mediterranean and the television audiences are huge. At one race in Turkey last year it was estimated that some two million spectators lined the shore to watch the spectacular racing.
Bill Barry-Cotter, the founder of Riviera, has won three Australian Class One titles and two Trans-Tasman Championships and is a regular competitor overseas. He finished second at Trieste in Italy last year. Bill is keen to set up a circuit in Australia. But not with the hugely expensive Class One boats.
He sees a very competitive series being developed with the less expensive Class Two boats. They are about four feet shorter than the Class Ones, have half the engine capacity and half the weight. Cost-wise this makes them more competitive than the bigger boats. "I want to crank up the sport in Australia and set up a circuit," Bill told Club Marine. "If it is as good as I think it will be, we could get a very spectacular series out of it." The circuit travels to the Gold Coast on 14-15 July and Mooloolaba on 21 - 22 July.
|Fuel consumption:||200 litres per motor, per hour|
|Fuel capacity:||1000 litres|
|Type:||2 x Detroit 892nV8's|
|Horsepower:||1350hp (996kW) each|
|Drives:||BPM Arenson surface piercing|
|Propellers:||Rolla 5 blades|
|Top Speed:||150 knots (240kph) approx.|