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Become a Better Boater at Boat Racing School
Outboard Performance Craft (OPC) are capable of speeds in excess of 140 mph, and can pull 5 G's in the turns.
So You Wanna Go to Racing School
This was my dramatic introduction to the American Power Boat Association’s (APBA) Driving School, held in Dayton, Ohio. As soon as I landed, I was dashing off to a 6 p.m. appointment at the Wright State University Student Union swimming pool for capsule training.
I had no idea what to expect. When I was growing up, my father raced vintage cars and attended the esteemed Skip Barber Racing School in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He always said that learning how to drive a race car made him a better driver, period. So I was curious: If I learned to drive a racing boat, would that affect my performance at the helm of a recreational powerboat?
The perfect opportunity presented itself courtesy of Tammy Wolf, one of the top female powerboat racers in the United States. I’d mentioned to her that I was fascinated by the boats she drives; Outboard Performance Craft (OPC) are capable of speeds faster than 140 miles per hour and can pull 5 G’s in the turns. Wolf told me to go to Dayton.
Founded in 1903, the APBA is the U.S. sanctioning authority for the Union Internationale Motonautique, the world-governing body for powerboat racing. It’s based near Detroit and sanctions races in 14 categories, which include Unlimited Hydroplanes, Inboards, Stock Outboards and OPC. The organization started offering its driving school in 2010; all experience levels are welcome, so off I went. Into the training capsule.
The capsule is little more than a seat with extra flotation, but it mirrors the cockpit of a real racer. And boats do occasionally capsize, so a driver needs to know how to self-rescue: Pop off the wheel, release the safety harness, and then swim out and up to safety.
Our capsule resembled that of a 5-liter hydroplane, which most of the students would be driving. Because those cockpits are open-air, the helmets have built-in regulators. So, in capsule training, we each used a scuba regulator that would allow us to continue breathing while extricating ourselves.
In contrast, an OPC cockpit is enclosed, so there is no compressed air for the driver. Instead, he or she must wait for the cockpit to partially fill with water to depressurize the space, then unlatch the hatch cover and pop it open.
“Now remember,” one of the coaches said, “just hang there for a few seconds. Slow down; breathe. Don’t panic. You have plenty of air and plenty of time.”
I put one hand over my dive mask and the reg, and then everything went blue. I sat briefly, focusing on the wheel before I popped it off its pedestal. I grasped the tab to release the safety harness, and then I was free. The entire process took about 28 seconds.
I received my capsule training certificate and soggily made my way back to the locker rooms, stomach lurching as I considered the real race day to come. But first we had to go to class.