By George Ierodiaconou
this: you’re travelling at 250km/h in the fastest automotive powered
boat in the world, then a gust of wind picks the boat up and flips the
vessel. You and the vessel are flying through the air, cart wheeling and
then crashing back into the surface of the water. When you finally
stop, water trickles into the cockpit you’re harnessed into, “am I
going to drown?” goes through your mind but then you remember you are
wearing a breathing apparatus. You are alive, breathing underwater and
ready to do it all again.
Welcome to the world of the GP Hydroplane, the fastest automotive powered type of vessel on the water today.
This is a high-tech, adrenalin-thumping world where speed can be determined by the depth of your pockets. They are the ultimate boys toys and at $50,000 to get into the sport and up to $285,000 for the latest carbon composite GP hydroplane. The engine is another $80,000 + trailer and spares can push the price towards $500,000. It is the king of water sports. On land, a Formula One car is it’s only equivalent.
Here’s why. The hulls are constructed with the same material used to
construct Formula One cars, a composite of Carbon Fibre and Kevlar. The
craft are propelled by 510ci supercharged engines producing
approximately 1600hp and rev to 8,500 rpm.
A hydroplane driver is called a pilot and like all pilots they operate their craft from a cockpit. The cockpit of a Hydroplane is similar to an F-16 fighter jet. It is fitted with a roll cage and a bottom hatch, which allows the driver to escape if the boat is caught by a gust of wind and dramatically back flips. The pilot then breathes through a modified military air-force mask while he makes his escape or he can wait until he is rescued.
The great Victorian drought, which broke last year, had a terrible
effect on these magnificent men and their machines. Their watery
racetracks such as Lake Eppalock and Pykes Creek didn’t have enough
water. Not anymore, they are now full and just in time for AFL Grand
Final equivalent in the motorboat world, The 100th year running of the
E. C Griffith Cup on Anzac Day long weekend at Pykes Creek which is just
10 minutes passed Bacchus Marsh on the way to Ballarat.
Thousands of spectators will be able to see hydroplanes in their own backyard. Never before has en event of this calibre been held at a venue so close to Melbourne.
New Zealand born and now Melbourne based powerboat racer, boat builder and designer Grant Rollason said his addiction to motor boating began as a child.
A crash in an open hull several years ago couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the sport.
“I was involved in an incident in which I was thrown out of an open style boat and landed still holding the steering wheel, “I had bent the wheel” hanging on he said.
“I didn’t know it at the time but I tore all the muscles in my chest and back. I had ongoing pain and rehabilitation for six months but I was lucky.
“The consequences from an incident like that could result in far worse injuries and sometimes death from a crash like that. Men in the sport have been thrown out of their boats and broken their necks.
“But things have changed in motor boating and for the better.”
Union of International Motor boating safety commissioner Robert Wartinger travels the world to educate drivers on safety.
The former Boeing Executive is in charge of setting safety rules in 60 countries.
“Safety is dependant on education, enforcement and technology,” he said.
“In 2009 I began travelling the world to spread this message to improve safety and the sport is changing for the better.”
Wartinger, from Seattle, 67, still holds the world record for Outboard Hydroplanes at 284km/h.
“Racing is a virus, it keeps coming back and there is no escaping,” he said.
“The key to racing better in many ways is feeling like you are safer in the environment that you are in.
“If I talk about safety you get a bunch of glum guys sitting there with their arms crossed. They have spent a lot of money to buy boats and they don’t like being told what to do.
“On the other hand if you tell them that they are going to go faster then you have them.
“Once open hull powerboats were the norm, since cockpits have been introduced it has drastically reduced the amount of fatalities in the sport.
“It is human nature to push the boundaries and go faster, our job is to stay one step ahead and ensure it is done safely.”
Scott Lambert handles videography and photography for gphydro.com and has been involved in the sport or 30 years.
“On race day you feel sick in the stomach, you are so nervous and that’s without even stepping into the cockpit,” he said. It is the same feeling many drivers go through just before stepping into their race boat, but that all goes away as soon as you push the starter button.