Offshore Powerboat Racing - A new formula!

A New Formula!

My thanks again to John Moore for his comments and support – and publishing these posts on his ‘Powerboat Racing World’ online magazine. There have been plenty of ‘Likes’, supportive comments and some great ‘Message’ communications and again, my thanks to all who have taken an interest, it’s very encouraging to know there are many in the offshore community who do ‘get it’!

A really interesting comment from my erstwhile acquaintance, good FB friend and highly respected marine architect, Adam Younger, hit the nail on the head with the suggestion that this should have been addressed decades ago. Adam suggested when the speeds topped out in the 100mph+ range, that was the time to stabilise both power and hull size – I’ll add, just as a professional motorsport would have done.

To quote Adam: “For me a lot that went wrong actually goes back to class 1 days - when things were good in the 90's and boats were say topping out at 100 to 115 mph. Probably was the best days and I think you will find many spectators, enthusiasts and actually competitors would agree. That was the time to start limiting cc / power and to have kept the sizes /speeds similar. Slightly more affordable and practical - boats that could still be raced at more venues etc. Instead we went to the 44' type cat with big power - and I don't think they were any more exciting to watch (actually less so) - and a class dominated by a few teams at best. Also we then lost the natural progression from class 2 to 1 - so perhaps one of the reasons that class 2 died. Really needed more planning and thought from the top down”.

We are certainly on the same page with those views! I have pondered the demise of the sport over the past few years and expressed my frustration many times through my previous ‘Sportscruiser Sport’ blog. Adam’s assessment goes a long way toward providing a really concise and valid theory.

I would also add – with the wisdom of 20/20 hindsight - when the rate of fatalities became alarming, that was the point where some serious decisions should have been made. The symptoms were being addressed (crew protection) while the cause (power and speed exceeding hull capabilities) was neglected. Equally, as the cat revolution matured, it should have been recognised that a totally different sport was evolving. Maybe it’s late, but now is the time to recognise that fact!

I just can’t help referencing some comments made by God himself, Carl Kiekhaefer, in the 1970’s. As many testified, Carl Kiekhaefer had a philosophical side to his character. At the same time as he was investing heavily in specific performance modifications and creating the most expensive but dominant offshore race engines in the world, the legend of maximum sea-power was quoted as saying: “All that drag stuff is going to discourage guys from racing…they take a great deal of time to install and more to keep them working. We are in danger of winding up with a sport too expensive for anybody but millionaires to enter”.

The oracle continues: “If we went back to stock engines there would be five times as many people in ocean racing and it would revive rivalry again between manufacturers”. I could hardly believe the next bit, where, after explaining some of the details on how he made the biggest big-blocks into growling monsters, he effectively called for a new era of: “smaller engines with 400hp tops” saying: “the speeds of today are too fast for both amateurs and pros alike”. Note that this was 1971!

I have to confess it’s pretty satisfying to know that the irrefutable legend of offshore race technology, was saying 47 years ago, essentially what I have been saying in these pages. It’s as if my sentiment is endorsed by the ‘God’ himself! However, at that time – and human nature being what it is - no-one listened to him, so he continued with his successful ‘maximum power’ business model. Why not?

A flawed paradigm:

While the same sentiment may be obvious today for anyone capable of seeing the big picture, the massive difference now is the ‘trivial’ issue of climate-change. But then again – human nature being what it is – many just don’t care and while they are in a position to pay, and ‘deny’ – and there are those happy to ‘continue with a successful ‘maximum power’ business model - why not?’ Sadly, this pretty much defines unfettered amateurism. 

I have the feeling Carl Kiekhaefer ‘the philosopher’, fully understood the flawed paradigm in which he was thriving. I also believe that if he lived in this era he may well have ‘drawn the line’ and invested in sophisticated 400hp small-blocks, rather than going down an obscene 1300+hp 9ltr blind alley!

(I would like to acknowledge and credit journalist, author and publisher, the late John O. Crouse, for the Carl Kiekhaefer quotes, used here.)

An Era of Conscience!

While I may have strong views on this, I certainly don’t ask you to believe me! What I will ask, again, is that you consider the view of one of the richest men in the UK, who engineered the biggest TV sport in the world. And I’ll repeat this for as long as it takes! Formula 1 reduced engine capacity: “In order to make Formula One more environmentally aware and to attract more commercial partners”.

Sports investment decisions rely on one overriding factor above all others. It is ‘Marketing Value’ that determines support or rejection. It’s how the sport is judged on presenting opportunity – and that judgement is simply a determination of its commercial image, exposure and PR value. Like it or not, motorsports need to understand that “environmentally aware” is now at the top of the list of corporate ‘image value’ criteria.

Offshore powerboat racing is easily identified as part of the problem, when in fact, it can be part of the solution. Get used to the idea of taking responsibility for what you are doing – and embrace some changes. Change presents opportunity. Change the paradigm and what it represents. Change the image, from ‘brute force and ignorance’ to sophistication, efficiency and ‘edge’ technology. Change the potential marketing partner and media image, from ‘Hell no’ to ‘We need to be there’! Change the public impression from ‘obscene indulgence’ to ‘these guys are cool’! Change the engagement impression from ‘minority sport indifference’ to ‘that could be me’ aspiration!

This really should be a moment of truth!

The next post considers steps toward creating ‘commercial value’ – watch this space!