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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.
Racing, On Paper
In the morning, our 22-member class convened for classroom work. On hand were Dan Kanfoush and Chris Fairchild, accomplished drivers with world-class experience in the 5-liter Hydroplane and OPC categories; Wolf also was there, as was Mark Weber, a renowned third-generation racer, his wife, Lori, and Adam Allen, OPC class chairman. First lesson: understanding the ride.
A tunnel boat’s hull has two sponsons that form a sort of über-funnel, allowing the boat to skim across the water on a cushion of air. And Outboard Performance Craft pack more air than hydroplanes. They can go from zero to 100 miles per hour in six seconds and whip through a precise 180-degree turn at high speeds.
How can a boat corner like this on rails? A tunnel boat has trim tabs, which allow the driver to trim up for blazing straightaways and trim down for almost impossibly tight turns. Hit the down button so the gear box bites into the water, and get ready for those instantaneous G’s.
Tunnel boats are susceptible to strong winds and seas. You can catch too much air, which Fairfield emphasized is not a good thing.
“If the horizon disappears,” Fairchild advised, “hit the ‘down’ button and get the air out of the tunnel. And never, ever trim up while you’re turning.
“But if you do wreck,” he added brightly, “enjoy the ride!”
After class, we headed to Dayton’s Eastwood MetroPark, where a variety of racing craft were already tearing up a 1.25-mile inboard course. We tried on multiple-layer racing suits and Snell-approved helmets and then wandered over to the pit. I couldn’t take my eyes off our tunnel boat, a red and white, 12-foot-long SST45.
Known as a Formula Light, the SST45 is part of a highly competitive class that spars nationwide. Drivers consider it to be a great step up from outboard kneel-down categories and a solid training ground for larger V-6 tunnel boats. An ideal student boat, the SST45’s range is 60 to 70 miles per hour with an OMC 740 cc two-cylinder engine. It pulls about 1.5 G’s in a tight turn.
My turn arrived in the late afternoon. Suiting up on this unseasonable 90-degree day, I could feel rivulets of sweat trickling down my neck and back. Wolf helped me clamber into the cockpit, which seemed even smaller now that I resembled a balloon animal. Sweltering, I tried to avoid hyperventilating as Wolf winched me into the safety harness.
My hands could grasp the wheel, my thumbs could reach the trim tabs from the 10-and-2 positions, and my right foot could find the gas pedal. Then the hatch came down, enclosing me in a breathless space that was better suited to a Star Wars movie than a sunny springtime lake. Warp speed ahead.