British Powerboat Racing - Cowes Classic 2012
What has 28,000 horsepower and 48 propellers?
The answer is 'The Cowes Classic 2012' which is about to be unleashed on the Solent on Sunday, 26 August as part of the British Powerboat Festival held each August Bank Holiday weekend.
The Cowes Classic is one of the oldest and most famous offshore powerboat races in the world and teams come from all over the world to take part. Recognized as one of the most physically demanding and dangerous races in the international powerboating calendar, the teams take on the elements with no outside help available if they run into trouble miles from land. While the crews work hard to ensure every boat is performing at it's peak, the weather, tide, wind and sea state can create treacherous conditions and many a boat has come to grief in the formidable waters between Cowes and Torquay.
The boats race over two courses:
The Cowes - Torquay - Cowes race covers a distance of 182 nautical miles and the record of two hours, 18 minutes and five seconds was set in 2008 by Fabio Buzzi, Simon Powell and Rafael Del Pino from Italy in the boat Red FPT at an average speed of 91.1 mph.
The Cowes - Poole - Cowes race covers a distance of 59.48 nautical miles and the record of 31 minutes and 41 seconds was set in 2008 by Daniel Cramphorn and Kim Collins from the UK in the boat Team Konrad at an average speed of 79.38 mph.
This year the Powerboat P1 Superstock boats will also race a shortened version of the Cowes - Poole - Cowes course over 34.24 nautical miles.
Cowes provides the perfect backdrop for this historical event, and while better known for the many beautiful yachts that sail there, Cowes is also recognized as the birthplace of international powerboat racing. It is therefore fitting that every year some of the biggest, brightest, loudest and most powerful boats in the world assemble to re-enact the famous race from Cowes to Torquay and back. Cowes hosted the first race in 1961 and this year will celebrate 52 years of racing with a fleet of over 40 boats taking part.
For one weekend every year the Cowes Yacht Haven becomes the Powerboat Haven, and it is well worth a visit to experience the excitement for yourself. It isn't often you get to see this much horsepower in one place, and unlike the land equivalent of Formula One, the public are able to gain access to the pit area, talk to the crew and drivers, see these mighty machines up close and listen (probably with hands clasped firmly over your ears) to the roar of the engines. This is an experience that tantalizes all of the senses. The sight of so many colourful and powerful boats, the feel of their sleek streamlined hulls, the sound of the engines, the smell of the exhaust, and the taste of excitement filling the air.
Red Funnel Red Jet start boat
Not only can you see these amazing boats up close but a limited number of places are available to follow the boats as they leave the marina, make their way out to the start line off Hurst Castle and watch the race start from the Red Funnel Red Jet Ferry. These boats do a rolling start spread out behind the Red Funnel Red Jet, and with these boats capable of speeds in excess of 100 km per hour, the Red Funnel Red Jet is one of the few vessels big enough to be seen by all the competitors, and fast enough to get the boats up to speed and send them on their way.
The Race pits
If you have an interest in motorsport, adventure and extreme challenges then Cowes is the place to be. Boats will be on display from Saturday morning as they are craned into the water and crews work to fine tune the vessels in preparation for the race. Last minute weather conditions can see teams scrambling to change propellers to deal with the sea state, as the wrong prop can slow down even the fastest boat in the wrong conditions.
Once started these boats are on their own. With the boats divided up into ten classes dependent on length and engine power, it isn't long before the fleet is spread over a wide area so once the spray clears at the start of the race it isn't unusual to lose sight of your opponents until you're back on the dock. Each boat is fitted with a Yellowbrick tracking device so that their progress can be monitored online and to ensure that each boat follows the correct course. There are no support boats, no helicopter crews, and while the rules of racing expect you to stop and assist another boat in difficulty, the crew are really reliant only on themselves if trouble arises. Safety is obviously paramount in an extreme challenge such as this and as well as the customary lifejackets, flares and communication equipment, all boats must carry a liferaft in case they find themselves literally in dire straits. All equipment must be accounted for at the end of the race to ensure that no one has taken a risk by lightening their load, and at least one boat has lost their place on the podium from losing their liferaft overboard while leaping across the waves.
The boats have a crew of at least two, and all have a lot to do during the race. The driver is behind the wheel and concentrates on looking ahead to the next mark and ensuring the boat runs the straightest line and thus covers the least possible distance between two points. The throttleman concentrates on what is directly ahead of the boat and must control the acceleration to deal with the next wave so that the boat is not overpowered and flies skyward. A fast boat is a flat boat, so time spent hanging in mid air after leaping off a wave, and then crashing down in a spray smashing landing not only slows the boat, but can incur serious injury. While spectacular to view, like a high diver that tries to enter the water with the least possible splash, these boats are most efficient when trimmed correctly for the sea state.
As you can imagine, these boats have plenty of horsepower and range in power from 350hp up to 4000hp, some with a single engine, while others have two or more. The noise when they start up has to be heard, to be believed, and the sight of so many boats making their way out of the marina toward the start line is a rare sight.
Make sure you take the time to visit Cowes and watch the action.
Boats will be arriving in the Yacht Haven Marina from Friday evening.
Aqua X - Superpole, freestyle and circuit racing competition on Saturday, 25 August at Egypt Point -1130 to 1630
Cowes - Torquay - Cowes race on Sunday, 26 August. Boats depart the Marina at 0915. Race starts at 1000.
Cowes - Poole - Cowes race on Sunday, 26 August. Boats depart the Marina at 0915. Race starts at 1030.
Images by Chris Davies - powerboatpix.co.uk
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