Waterborne Ferraris :Thundercat racing, Hartlepool Marina
PUBLISHED: 11:47 12 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:58 20 February 2013
They look like dinghies but have a power to weight ratio that exceeds a Ferrari. Karen Bowerman realised she should never trust appearances when she tried Thundercat racing at Hartlepool Marina...
They look like dinghies but have a power to weight ratio that exceeds a Ferrari. Karen Bowerman realised she should never trust appearances when she tried Thundercat racing at Hartlepool Marina.
There was a Thundercat, Id been told, heading to Hartlepool marina. The harbour master, his binoculars strung round his neck, said it was due at the pontoon any minute. He spoke of it with excitement and pride, his sentences littered with superlatives, then warned that appearances can be deceptive.
Moments later he pointed across the water.
There she is! He exclaimed, See?
A small, catamaran-style inflatable appeared from behind a row of enormous, glittering, white yachts. It chugged towards us, engulfed by its surroundings. Its occupants, father and son Adam and Allan Henderson, wave.
So that was a Thundercat?
A craft capable of reaching 80mph?
A boat with a power to weight ratio that exceeded a Ferrari?
Just as well appearances were deceptive.
Thundercat racing is relatively new in Britain but has been popular in South Africa for years. The sport has three disciplines. You can speed through the surf (which is how it all began), compete in 100 mile endurance events, or pit yourself against the clock in circuit races - which judging from the buoys arranged in Jacksons Dock, was what had been lined up for me.
I was to be Adams co-pilot. Hed take control of the supercharged outboard while I sat, my feet strapped into stirrups, in the stern. Adam was to power, what I was to weight.
Yes, my job was to be ballast: a role Adam sold with diplomacy. He showed me how to position myself across the width of the dinghy, then handed me a rope and advised I should hold on tight if I didnt want to fall in. Great.
Basically, every time we turned I had to throw myself forwards by curling over my knees or, depending on our direction, fling my weight back by bracing my thighs and raising my backside into the air.
When youre leaning back, its best if you throw yourself over the side, so your shoulders are parallel with the water and the back of your helmet almost touches it, Allan added, That way you really go fast!
It sounded just fine.
The circuit, about 400 square metres, was laid out like five dots on a dice, with buoys of various sizes and colours. We were to complete ten circuits, taking in the middle buoy (via a series of sharp turns) at the end of each lap. Luckily there was a trial run.
Adam started the outboard; the force of the engine kicked in. We careered down the first straight. A buoy came from nowhere. We spun round it, hit a second, swerved past a third and fourth and were heading for the fifth before Id even got my bearings.
It was like being on a theme park ride, when youre flung about so violently you fear your heads going to catapult off your shoulders.
Moments later we were competing for real. The Thundercat shot through the water, hitting speeds of 60 miles an hour. Spray smashed against the hull; the marina whizzed by; the quay was a blur. Within minutes Id lost track of what lap we were on.
Adam revved the engine harder and harder. We took the corners tighter and tighter. We shot towards a buoy then whoosh we turned, a few seconds later, whoosh, we spun again. I threw myself forward then back, forward then back partly enthusiastically, partly because the force gave me little choice. My knees ached, my eyes stung and the rope rubbed warm in my hands.
Then suddenly, instead of struggling, I felt the craft surrender (or maybe I did to her?) in the same way you suddenly realise youre finally in control of the car youre learning to drive. Suddenly, I was part of a team: the Thundercat, Adam and I were racing to the finish. We spun round the buoys faster and faster, the wind whipping against my cheeks.
And then, it was over, as quickly as it had begun. But I knew as we chugged leisurely towards the pontoon that Id be back for more.
Hartlepool Marina Ltd, Lock Office, Slake Terrace, Hartlepool, TS24 ORU tel:01429 865 744
Prices: 45 pp for 45 minutes (for 2); 30pp for 60 mins (for 4)