Wet,wet, wet


Rough and tumble

“It’s like driving a Formula One car across a ploughed field.”

Those were the words of Nicki Lauda having experienced first hand the extremes of powerboat racing. Not surprising really when you consider Formula One powerboats comprise of a 400hp two-stroke engine, propelling a tunnel boat catamaran weighing 400kgs, at speeds of up to 140mph. More sobering still is that the boat is balanced on on cushion of air with less than 5% of the hull in contact with the water at any time.

The expression “riding on thin air” could well have been coined with these racers in mind

Using the same principle as an aircraft wing, when power is applied the hulls lift out of the water. That then creates a cushion of air that is trapped in the tunnel between the hulls and the boat rides on this cushion. Trimmed correctly only the propeller and a few centimetres of the hulls touch the water at full speed.

Seebold at speed

Come to a corner, it’s off the power a little, re-trim the balance via an underwater section of the engine with a button on the steering wheel, turn the wheel hard, back on the power while trimming the propeller out. The bad news is too much trim out and the front of the boat lifts and can flip over, too far trimmed in and speed is reduced dramatically.

With such a tenuous grip on stability, its no surprise that accidents are commonplace which makes it all the more remarkable that one Missouri family has survived to spawn not one, but three long lived generations of championship winning racers. Legends in their own lifetimes is another expression that could have been coined to describe the Seebold racing dynasty.

Bill Seebold is probably the most famous of all having won over 900 races and 69 world and national titles in a career spanning 46-year years. He was an eight-time world champion, seven-time winner of the St. Louis Grand Prix, which is considered to be the “Indy 500” of powerboat racing. In fact such was his renown, that a personal equerry of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother traveled to St. Louis to convey her congratulations to him after he won his fifth Duke of York Trophy in 1983!

Before him, his father Bill Senior had started racing in 1941 and was a national champion in his own right in 1957.

At this level of racing these powerboats have always represented a real challenge to the drivers.

Believe it or not at one point they even drove them kneeling down! At 95mph!

Imagine the pounding the knees took as they bounced from wave to wave. But these racers are made of the right stuff, a fact born out by Bill Junior who claimed more titles and crowns after passing forty than in his younger days!

Like its grand prix counterpart, Formula One Powerboats has long been an international series. Whether it was Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, or England; Seebold battled and quite often won.

“One of the toughest races I’ve ever run was in Bristol, England. There were seven foot seawalls on both sides.”

So a little less forgiving than the barriers to be found at Silverstone…

F1 racers

But back to today. Like land born Formula One, these racers too have fully embraced new technology in their quest for speed. Carbon fibre is de-rigeur. Propeller design is key to them extracting maximum performance. Safety cells help protect the drivers from the dangers of high speed back flips and barrel roles. As do air bags which automatically right the boats should they land upside down.


But racing in close company at high speed, on a surface which is far from billiard table smooth (especially after the wakes of the competitors have churned the surface), accidents are frequent and violent. Remember there are no brakes to slow you down when things go pear shaped. Just hard, unforgiving water rather than deformable crash barriers as the incident below demonstrates…

This year Tim just missed out on clinching another World Title after a close fought fight with arch rival Terry Rinker. A “DNF” in the race, coupled with an engine fire to his primary powerplant during the meet, put paid to his challenge.

But as you will have gathered these Seebold’s never give up so doubtless be back next year to add to the family silver. And hopefully he’ll be looking a little happier than his gramps!




Published on 14th August 2014