One of the joys of life is sitting by a tranquil waterway on a delightfully sunny spring day, where you can truly forget about the cares of the world on a grassy bank under a shady tree. The birds are singing as they flit through the air, the water softly murmurs as it laps the shoreline, there’s a gentle ‘plop’ as a hopeful angler casts a line, and in the background is the laughter of youngsters as they play at the water’s edge. It’s all so beautifully peaceful.
Then again, every once in a while at least, there’s nothing quite like the feeling when your heart accelerates as you feel the impact of a thunderous roar, while a fleet of raceboats streaks down the river. Drivers unleash a combined 7000hp or more to propel their aquatic missiles to speeds approaching 240km/h. The sights and sounds are simply awesome.
Powerboat racing is a surprisingly popular sport here in Australia and, although it is very professional in organisation and attention to safety, it retains a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere that’s very welcoming. The boats range from social ski craft to engineering masterpieces the equal of any in the world, often bedecked with eye-candy paint schemes in dazzling colours highlighted by artistic, air-brushed murals.
The vast majority of drivers own the boats they race, and crews are almost universally made up of friends and family. The organisation behind the racing is a tribute to the many volunteers, who work hard to complete the countless details required for each race meeting.
To be successful, an event has to appeal not only to the competitors, but to the spectators too, who expect near-constant action. That’s not easy to achieve when all the boats have to be launched and retrieved between races, as well as needing time to sort themselves into order and accelerate line-abreast alongside the start boat to get each race underway.
The investment of time and funds that goes into the race boats can be significant, but the results are impressive. Owners and crews spend countless hours building their boats and preparing them for each race meeting, and they continue to improve and tune them for the best possible performance. It’s not only the boat’s engineering that is creditworthy, the paint work and finish can be equally amazing. It’s no wonder that everyone involved gains a wonderful feeling of achievement and satisfaction from the sport.
SPECTACULAR BY NAME …
In early spring each year, the Upper Hawkesbury Power Boat Club (UHPBC) stages a race ‘Spectacular’ on the Hawkesbury River at Windsor on Sydney’s northwestern outskirts. The clubhouse is ideally sited in Governor Phillip Park, which offers acres of grassy banks and an excellent multi-lane ramp into the river. A large carpark allows racers to set up pit areas for their boats, and the sloping banks down to the river offer superb views for spectators.
Easy parking, trade displays, helicopter rides, plenty of food and beverage outlets plus jumping castles and other attractions for the kids round out a near-perfect venue for the Spectacular.
Boats race in classes that cater for outboard and inboard engines ranging from Sports Mono, in which a social ski boat could compete, through to Unlimited classes, with supercharged 1100hpplus engines. In between are categories for 5-6lt engines and ‘Prostock’ boats, so there’s a class to suit just about anyone.
Commendably, there is also a strong, nationwide emphasis on ‘Formula Future’, which offers youngsters from eight to 16 the chance to try their hand at boat racing. Typically with strong family support and with excellent guidance, advice and tutoring from experienced race drivers, the young ones learn the ropes in a safe environment and often travel all around the country to compete for points in seasonal trophies.
Check out the sidebar (P158) for more details on this junior racing class.
You don’t need a special or expensive boat to give circuit racing a try. A social ski boat or runabout can be a perfect starting point, and most racing-oriented boat clubs will be more than happy to provide advice and assistance.
Doug Smith did exactly that and took his Bullet 1750 along to the St George Aquatic Club in Sydney. “Anyone interested can just go to a club such as St George and be helped to set up the boat,” he says. “You will need a helmet and a proper race lifejacket, and if something else is needed, typically others will chip in. Just bring your boat down – the more the merrier!”
Doug tried a few social race days at St George and found that the fun and excitement of the sport appealed, so he set up another Bullet 1750 with a single central seat which he campaigns in the Outboard Mono class. “This boat can do 170km/h (106mph) trimmed out a bit,” he says. “It’s surprisingly stable, but very easily unsettled at that speed – it’s going a bit faster than it was originally designed to!”
HISTORY OF HORSEPOWER
The UHPBC was established in 1938. As well as circuit racing, the club is famous for its annual Bridge-to-Bridge powerboat race along the length of the Hawkesbury River from Brooklyn to Windsor. This race actually pre-dates the founding of the club. As well as circuit racing and Spectactulars that attract boats from far and wide, there are club race days for members whose ages range from eight to over 70 years. For more information on the UHPBC, visit www.uhpbc.net.
The governing body for the sport is the Australian Power Boat Association (APBA) and affiliated clubs, such as the UHPBC, hold race days and weekend Spectaculars all around the country. For details on clubs, venues, events and racing regulations, visit www.ausapba.com.au. Alternatively, to find out more about any aspect of powerboat racing, including advice on how to try it out, you can contact the APBA President, Glenn Banks, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on Formula Future or outboard racing classes, contact the NSW Vice President for those categories, Nicole Kirkwood, by email at nicole. email@example.com.
NO LIMITS – UNLIMITED RACING
At the top of the circuit-racing tree are the mighty Unlimited boats; with their supercharged, alcoholfuelled V8s, these craft can run past 240km/h. With drivers enclosed in protective safety cells complete with oxygen supply, these raceboats display remarkable engineering and typically have an outstanding presentation.
Chris Edmunds of Toxic Motorsports races a Childsplay 18ft 6in (5.64m) hull fitted with a Dean Borg safety cell from Adelaide. The boat was built for Chris in 2006 and he’s been progressively developing it since then. “I wouldn’t go anything less than a Childsplay, that’s for sure,” says Chris. “It’s a dream to drive and I’m very happy with it. My first run with the cell was at Deepwater and I absolutely loved it. I was always a bit sceptical about driving in the open even before the cells came in, so I think they are a good thing; it’s great that we’ve got oxygen and seat-belts for added safety,” he says.
Chris built the engine himself. It’s a small-block Chev that uses alcohol fuel pumped by a 6-71 supercharger, and it recently achieved 1115hp on the dyno. Pat Purcell helped out with the cylinder heads and set-ups for the engine. The boat is capable of 210km/h, although Chris is trying to crack past that “if they drop the flag a bit earlier!” Chris has a pit team of eight and Toxic Motorsports has over 700 followers on Facebook, with anywhere between 40 and 50 supporters attending on race days. Chris races the boat in the Blown Lite and Unlimited Displacement classes.
Sure, while boating is for some all about time out from the hustle and bustle, for some the hustle is the prime focus. And as any powerboat racer will tell you, chasing speed and horsepower on the water is a thrilling but incurable pursuit
With races staged around the country especially for youngsters, Formula Future has been set up to give kids aged from eight to 16 the chance to try powerboat racing in a supportive and friendly atmosphere. Three sub-classes cater for different ages and allow the drivers to progress as they gain experience.
The J1 class is for drivers aged between eight and 16 with no limit on the size of boat but with power restricted to stock 6hp outboards; J2 is for ages 10 to 16 with boats a minimum of 2.5m long and with outboards up to 10hp; J3 is for drivers aged between 12 and 16 also with boats at least 2.5m long but with outboards up to 15hp.
Some clubs such as the UHPBC provide a boat for kids to have a go at racing. A new Formula Future boat can cost up to $4000 including the trailer, engine and safety gear, but many are put together for less than that. The youngster has to obtain an APBA race licence, which is a straightforward procedure. (Check local regulations for the minimum age a child needs to be to obtain a suitable licence.) They also need their own approved helmet and race suit.
Before any racing though, each newcomer is checked out in a boat to ensure they know how to handle it safely, and all the young racers are advised and monitored for good driving techniques and race procedures. Any mistakes are quickly corrected, and the whole objective is for the kids to have fun.
Nicole Kirkwood is the APBA NSW Vice President of Formula Future, and she takes a very close interest in all “her kids”. She doesn’t hesitate to tell a youngster if they’ve done something wrong, and she’s even quicker to commend them on their good driving and to encourage them at every opportunity. “We keep a very close eye on them,” Nicole says.
Blake Sherry is a nine-year-old competitor in the J1 class who has been racing for a year or so at venues such as Deepwater and at Windsor. Although a newcomer, Blake is doing extremely well and is already leading this season’s trophy point score. “It’s exciting and fun, and good competition,” he says.
His boat Little Ziffel, powered by a stock 6hp Mercury, was generously loaned by Stephen Andrews for Blake to get started after it had been used by Stephen’s family and many other kids to experience the thrills of racing. The real thing is so much better than pressing buttons in a computer game!
Blake’s mum, Nicole, says she loves the powerboat scene. “It’s a great family sport,” she says. “You meet good people in a tight-knit community. Everyone is helpful, although once they’re on the water it’s a different story – then it’s genuine competition!”
In the J2 class, 12-year-old Peter Lumtin has been competing for around four years in a 3.5m Tennessee lightweight hull that his dad Mick set up and powered with a 9.9hp Tohatsu outboard. “There’s fair bit of go-cart gear in it, but due to the size of the boat you have to make up all different parts to fit,” says Mick.
“Peter loves the Dukes of Hazzard TV show, so we called the boat Hazzard Racing and had it all air-brushed. There’s support from everyone in the sport – it’s second to none. There are great people in the club and, as well as Pete making good friends, we have too.”
Pete’s mum, Diane, also gives the sport a big thumbs up. “I love it; I think it’s a great family sport,” she says. “It’s a bit different from going to a footy match or anything else, but all the families get together and clap the kids on; if there’s a drama, everyone is there to help out.”
Now in the top Formula Future category, J3, teenager Briney Rigby has been competing for nearly three years. Mostly that was in her own raceboat, but for the last six months she has been racing a custom-designed-and-built boat by Paul Madill.
Briney’s background in the sport goes back far longer, however, as she explains. “I grew up with racing all around me. My grandparents and parents were involved so they brought me up to it,” she says. “I’ve raced all around Australia at Bundaberg, Mildura, Taree, Deepwater, Dargle and here at Windsor. I like the atmosphere of boat racing and the people in it – it’s like family. The driving is thrilling, every race is different.”
Boat designer/builder Paul Madill, himself a very experienced race driver, had two of his Formula Future boats beautifully presented on a trailer. “These are carbonfibre boats we designed and built ourselves after a lot of development,” he says. “Briney drives one and my son drives the other. The engine is a 15hp Mercury; we use stock engines although we can try different propellers and nosecones. The boat can do about 77km/h (48mph).”