Like driving an F1 Car over a Freshly Ploughed Field at Full Speed – My Powerboat Experience at Wyboston Lakes

The headline is a quote of three-time Formula One racing car world champion Niki Lauda after driving an F1 powerboat. Powerboats are vicious.. and also enormous fun!!

Ms B and I decided that it was time for a weekend of speed. We hired a 460hp 5l V8 Ford Mustang GT from Hertz at St Pancras yesterday morning and drove up to RideLeisure at Wyboston Lakes near Cambridge for a powerboat experience we had booked with Gordon Cook.

  

Driving an American muscle car is something I had always wanted to do and boy was it fun. I never got to put my foot down, never came near, not even for a split second during take-off or something, just too much raw power. You’d immediately lose grip and crash the beauty. But driving fairly carefully was huge fun too. I would have preferred manual drive, but even the ten-gear automatic gives you a very real sportscar experience. At roughly 7,000 RPM (more than most cars allow you to do), the motor reaches its maximum power. It takes less than 4 seconds to reach 100km/h.. oh.. and the sound of the engine! Like a Metallica song from their black album.

  

It was nice to return to Wyboston Lakes (I had recently been there for my Jetlev ride). The boats were already doing their rounds on the lake, but luckily there were only two people ahead of us in the queue, a 30yo dude and his father.

  

  

It was a bit disappointing to find out that the two-seater F1 powerboat I had booked was in actual fact a two-seater F2 powerboat. There is a massive difference between absolutely mental F1 powerboats and crazy-fast F2 powerboats: an F1 powerboat weighs under 400kg (incl. 118kg of engine; I guess you could allow a bit more for a two-seater, which is not an official category), has 400hp and accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in well under 2 seconds (by comparison: the fastest Formula One racing cars take roughly 2.2 seconds, many of them take more like 2.5 seconds). It reaches top speeds of 250km/h and only decelerates to 140km/h before doing needle pin turns, exposing its drivers to 6.5 Gs and more. During full speed the only thing touching the water is the lower half of the off-board propeller.

As soon as I found out about the F2 powerboat specs, my disappointment was reined in, these boats are still very badass and as it happened, I had no intention of getting myself killed on the day, anyway. They look exactly the same (the same hulls are used for both categories), they weigh slightly more (at least 513kg according to regulations, including the driver), and they use different engines from their F1 cousins. Topping at 200km/h, they reach 100km/h in 5 seconds and produce G forces of 4.5 G.

The deal I had booked involved a few rounds as passenger in the “F1”/F2 at maximum speed with full G forces and a self-drive (also at full speed, if you got the balls respectively lady balls) of an F4 powerboat (60hp, max 115km/h, 350kg incl. driver).

The experience starts with a short safety briefing (including sitting down in a detached driver cabin) and then the ride with the F2 powerboat. I’m a big boy, so Ms B and other onlookers on the lakeside seemed to find it hugely and increasingly entertaining to watch me take 8 or 9 attempts to squeeze into the tiny cabin next to Gordon. My legs are too long for a normal seating position, so I had to bend them all the way with my knees between my face and the instrument panel. When the roof hatch was gently closed above our helmets, it pressed my head into an awkward, slightly downward looking position, but hey, I wasn’t in it for comfort, so this was all fine with me.

It is 100% pure fun to ride this rocket. The acceleration. The G-force around the corners. It feels like it’s going to rip your head off clean. The straight lines are less bumpy than it looks, you’re literally flying above the water. A couple of times we had to swerve around some swans. These birds are not used to objects flying at them at 200km/h, so they just sit there on the water and watch you head straight towards them until you see them.

At times we stopped right next to the race course to discuss driving techniques and next steps (the idea being that you’re being taught how to drive an F4 powerboat while you’re a passenger in the F2 powerboat). Knowing that there was a complete novice doing his rounds in a very fast boat on the course while we were speaking, I probably would have preferred if we’d have stopped our boat a bit further away from the course during those occasions, but never mind. Gordon is without doubt very experienced and apparently he’s never lost anyone.

The basic technique is very simple. There are no gears, there are no brakes. Just the gas pedal, which you keep pushed down at absolutely all times (I believe ‘absolutely all times’ was referring to the F4, certainly not any F1), including 90 degree turns around the buoys. The difference between a good race driver and a mediocre one is mainly how expertly you manage to use the flaps on your steering wheel that determine the angle your boat has over the water. When accelerating out of turns you want to get close to maximum upward angle (but usually not all the way, as that could lead to your boat going upwards in a vertical angle) because that gets your boat out of the water, reduces friction, and ensures maximum acceleration. Before the turns you want the boat to sit steady on the water (not fly above it), so you change the angle of the off-board motor so that it presses the boat back onto the water.

I was really thrilled to get to experience the self-drive on an F4. You get several rounds on your own around the lake. Then a briefing where you’re being given some hints as to what was good and what to improve on and how. Then another few rounds. I was all fired up.

  

Then I realised that F4 powerboats are not built for large people. I tried for about ten minutes to fit my big ass into the small seat, finally succeeded, but then it became clear that there was no way I’d manage to squeeze my legs under the panel with enough space to use the gas pedal. Pity, but I guess I’ll get over it. It would perhaps have been nice if the webpage would tell you about weight and height limitations before you’re booking, but all forgiven. I had a great twenty minutes on the water with Gordon and his team refunded me the cost of the F4 experience (£169 for the combined F1&F4 minus £99 for F1 only = £70 refund).  He also offered that Ms B could get a free ride on the F2 in turn for the F4 self-drive experience I missed out on. Ms B gracefully declined (“hell no, thanks”).

If this review were to be based simply on how much fun I had then this would be a clear 5 out of 5. However, considering the mislabelling (F1 vs. F2) and the missing max weight and height restrictions on the website, this will have to be a 3.5 out of 5.

There were also a few hick-ups in communication before my initial ride was rescheduled because of storm warnings. It is very hard to reach Gordon and don’t expect him to proactively keep you updated well ahead of the scheduled time.

Looking for more fun experiences? Check out our posts about skydiving, a desert camp in the Sahara, rock-climbing and off-roading in Portugal, and our ride in a very fast rubber boat near the North Pole.

For restaurant reviews, you might want to eyeball our posts on Aquavit, Benares, and Coco Momo in London, Ekeberg in Oslo, and The Fig in Chipping Campden.

Thanks for having stopped by.

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