Confederation Marine Modellers
There are two basic engine types used in offshore racing, piston (the most common) and turbine (rare). Both are internal combustion engines, but they make their power in very different ways. Piston engines are the kind you find in most cars. Turbine engines are the kind you’ll find on most commercial aircraft. Avoid the rookie mistake of confusing turbine and jet. Turbines are, as noted above, engines. Jets are propulsion systems that create thrust to move things forward.
At present, there are just two turbine-powered boats, both catamarans, in offshore racing. The history of turbine-class racing is such that it’s about as likely to find two on the same course as it is to see Haley’s Comet. So take them for what they are—spectacular aquatic machines capable of speeds of more than 200 mph, depending on the power output of their engines.
As you might have guessed, the racecourse is the marked area or “track”—but don’t call it that if you want to sound cool—on which the boats run their laps. Most offshore racecourses aren’t particularly far “offshore.” In fact, if you called it “near-shore powerboat racing” you wouldn’t be too far off.
This drives offshore racing purists nuts, because in the early days of the sport, men were men and the boats raced so far offshore that no one could see them. Fans of “true” offshore racing will invariably invoke the name of Don Aronow, the founder of the iconic Cigarette brand of go-fast boats, in their rant on how near-courses have ruined the sport . Don’t worry about it—just commit Aronow’s name to memory. It will come in handy later.
Now, for better or worse, offshore powerboat races are run close enough to the shore so that people can actually see them.
Depending on their class, the category in which they race that is determined by hull type and size and total horsepower (while there single-engine offshore raceboats, most have two engines), the boats must complete eight to twelve laps on the course. Generally speaking, slower classes have to complete fewer laps than the faster ones.
The American Power Boat Association (APBA) Offshore is the sanctioning body for powerboat racing in the United States. It was founded in 1903, and celebrates a phenomenal 114 years of organized boat racing competitions. Whatever your need for speed, APBA is sure to have a place just for you. Competition, thrills, victory and honor can be found in all 13 of APBA's racing categories, comprising a broad selection of inboard and outboard engines and countless hull configurations. From Offshore powerboats and Unlimited Hydroplanes to smaller Junior class hydroplanes, APBA is the place to be. The APBA is the only recognized authority for boat racing in the United States representing the worldwide sanctioning body the Union of International Motonautique.
In 1998 Michael Allweiss took over as Chairman of the APBA, Offshore Racing Division. "These boats don't just go on the water," Allweiss said, "they attack it. It's unlike any other form of motorsports competition because the offshore racer matches himself and his or her equipment not only against other competitors, but also against the unforgiving water, which is as hard as a brick at 140 miles an hour. To the uninitiated, it looks like a simple matter of raw speed, but it's considerably more than speed to knowledgeable spectators. It's an artful blending of human skill with precision, high-performance machinery in grueling competition under extreme circumstances."
It is the most dangerous of all motorsports: "Like other motorsports, powerboat racing has tragically lost some racers in competition over the years, including six racers in Key West alone in one period of 16 years. It takes courage and a cool hand to run with these people."
And when accidents do happen, spectators get an eyeful. Safety and medical helicopters spew jump paramedics onto the scene. Safety boats race to the site and divers go overboard to release racers trapped in their boats. When the yellow flag goes up, the boats fall into line awaiting the green flag. The rescue is often one of the most dramatic and exciting parts of a race.
Beyond the competition, however, is another extremely valuable dimension to offshore racing. No laboratory can duplicate the endless stress, impact, vibration and strain, which the crucible of offshore racing provides. Boat manufacturers use racing as a test bed and many key improvements in construction, engines and equipment for today's pleasure and commercial boats have come from the offshore racing experience. In this regard, Allweiss tells us, the boatbuilders are very similar to automobile manufacturers.
"Offshore," says Allweiss, "has always been the proving ground for hulls, engines and racers--not necessarily in that order."
Importantly, Offshore has been restructured from long-distance racing with the boats out of sight more than half the time, to the newly introduced stadium-style racing with short 5- or 6-mile courses. The boats have to round those shorter courses more times to go the required distances, but that means the spectators see more action on the curves and more passing on the straightaways as the boats rev up to speed--sometimes as fast as 140 miles an hour. "Ever see boats trade paint at 140 miles an hour?" Allweiss asks. "It's awesome and scary and exciting. It's also pretty dangerous and even though we drill our drivers on safety, crashes happen.
Finally, Offshore has introduced the entertainment/celebrity component. Twenty-two year-old Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys owned a race team this year and may well be in a race boat himself by next spring. He and his younger brother Aaron have taken turns singing the national anthem at races this year--and signing autographs thereafter. More marquee entertainers are coming aboard because they see a market emerging. "What has happened," Allweiss said, "Is that kids are dragging their parents to the races to see the stars. We're raising a whole new generation of race fans."
Information from: www.faireyowenresclub.co.uk, superboats.com, www.boats.com, www.popularmechanics.com, www.boatmad.com