Competitors begin staging in Dana Point Harbor prior to the start of the 2011 Dana Point to Avalon & Back Offshore Race.
What we have for you here might come as a bit of a surprise, but I promise you guys are going to dig it: PWC Off-Shore Racing. Yep, you heard me right, high speed jet-ski racing on the open ocean, with long distances from point-to-point in a good old fashioned man versus the elements competition. These crazy bastards are doing upwards of 70 mph for 60 consecutive miles on these aquatic courses without stopping, no re-fueling, no breaks, just bury the throttle to the stop and hang on to these burly behemoths as they wail through the water.
The ever-changing 35-60 mile courses are alive and pumping with a mix of wind and waves that can quickly turn a flat-out run across the glass into a battle of attrition over a 20-mile long whoops section. Hell, sometimes the waves are more like table tops but that’s what makes it so much damn fun. One mistake and you’re shark bait.
You're probably wondering what this has to do with motorcycles? Well we like to ride and if you didn’t notice, we’ll ride anything we can get our hands on: Bikes, quads, skis, you name it, we will ride it.
Gasoline and adrenaline pumps through our veins and just because it doesn’t have wheels doesn’t mean it’s not a hell of a lot of fun. I know you guys all dig that. Maybe we don’t all enjoy the prices we pay (physically and financially) for these machines so the core of it all has to be that endless quest for personal pleasure and excitement that drives us to do this stuff. Instead of finishing mid-pack in the old guy class at some desert race we are going to take you on a ride with a podium in mind.
Honda made a departure from the PWC market in 2010 which leaves Yamaha, Kawasaki
and Sea-Doo to battle for class supremacy these days. In a recent test of the 2011 Kawasaki Ultra 300, my trusty sidekick Adam Waheed Esquire got to play splashy-face with his fellow journalists in the Bahamas. We tried to get an Ultra 300X for this race but it never came to pass – but that is another story.
We were forced to saddle up our trusty Yamaha FX SHO (Super High Output) sit-down for a go at the Dana Point to Catalina Island
race. The FX features a 1.8 liter intercooled supercharged engine that propels this 829lb 3-seater from 0-60 mph in under five seconds which is about the same pace as an R1.
Your first thought may be, wow 829lbs?! Yes, today’s big sit-down skis are packed with both monster power and weight. But before you start making fun of the SHO for its heavy weight, you should know that the Kawasaki Ultra 300X weighs in at a claimed 1,048 lbs. Yamaha was able to achieve this reduced weight when it introduced its “NanoXcel” hull technology back in 2008. The weight of Yamaha hulls and decks could be engineered 25% lighter than they had in the past and as anyone will tell you, lighter is always better. That’s the quick run-down on the latest water toys, so let’s talk about off-shore PWC racing!
The sports biggest supporter and Veteran racer Mark Gerner on his PWCOFFSHORE.com backed Kawasaki Ultra 300X.
Last July I stumbled across the www.pwcoffshore.com
website which is owned and operated by Mark Gerner, who himself is a top PWC racer. It turns out the site was promoting an ocean racing series here in Southern California called The Triple Crown of Offshore. Upon investigating the site I was stoked to see the wide range of classes they offered. They ranged from beginners and bone stockers all the way up to the big boy’s in the Pro Open class with $30,000+ factory backed boats that are kept under cover until race day.
Once I figured out I could race my FX in the Manufacturer Stock class, which allows absolutely no modifications, I was in. This is rider vs. rider and who’s got the talent when racing on near equal machines. With the necessary safety gear and $175 entry fee submitted, I hit the docks expecting at the very least to attract the attention of some Baywatch beauties while I waxed my ski on the beach alongside the other hundred dudes probably thinking the exact same thing.
This was the start of the APBA (American Power Boat Association), RPM Racing Enterprise, Long Beach to Catalina and Back National Championship, better known in the PWC community as the LB2CAT. I actually had one goal, which was also shared by my dear mother: Just finish the race safe.
How ironic is the No Ho hangover defense sponsorship BuuS landed for DP2AV? Very...
When that green flag dropped along with my jaw at the start, I was hooked. This is the gnarliest thing I had done in a long time. I reached the finish with a huge smile on my face and felt that warm fuzzy feeling of kicking ass that I had been missing in my life the past few years. So gnarly, so fun, so inexpensive and the jetty was packed with babes snapping pics and smiling at me as if I was somebody special. “Haahaaahaaa I laughed, this is rad!”
The day then got even better when another competitor pulled up to me and asked if I had gone around the turn boat at Catalina Island? I assured him that I even slowed a bit and got really close so they saw my number plate from the officials boat.
“Holy crap’ dude, I think you got third place,” he proclaimed. I was shocked. I’m thinking this guy must’ve inhaled too much salt water.
Turns out it wasn’t the saltwater because I actually placed third overall. I got the full-meal deal with celebrations, award ceremony, trophies, my pick of the trophy girls, the whole kit and kaboodle. I went from sitting on the couch to earning a bad-ass bald eagle trophy in less than two weeks. Needless to say I was tripping harder than a hippie on the corner of Haight-Ashbury Street in ’69. And that’s why I was back the next year for another go at this open Ocean race. This time it was the DP2AV.
Fast forward to March 27, 2011. The season opener for the Triple Crown of Offshore was at Dana Point Harbor with a host of racers chomping at the bit to hit the open Ocean race course. A few things I learned with offshore racing are that your arms and legs are the first parts to start feeling that burn, and fatigue. Riding a ski for 60-miles in wicked crossed-up chop and huge swells at race pace is no easy task. Dirt bikes
have suspension but a PWC does not. You are probably thinking it's on water so how hard can the impacts be?
The start of an offshore PWC race is a pretty
exciting event. While the Ultra 300X grabbed
the holeshot, our Waverunner FX held its own
and had us in a great position early on.
Well, let me be the first to explain that your body takes a pretty good pounding. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to be some gym freak or triathlon athlete to finish. I’m a fairly active guy but I decided to cut back on the Ben & Jerry’s for a few weeks running up to the race. The 2011 event would be a 56-mile course starting just outside the Harbor at Dana Point with the officials turn boat anchored near Avalon on Catalina Island.
With carbs locked n’ loaded it was show time. I arrived at Dana Point Harbor at 7am on race day for Tech/Safety Inspection from the Official Aaron Cress. I was entered into Manufacturer Stock class and tech inspection was a breeze. The safety inspection and aspect is a bit more detailed and paramount in this scene. The required safety goodies may seem excessive but remember, at certain points on the course you will not see land in any direction, so there is a bit of a Bear Grylls survival feeling that comes along with it.
I got the all clear to race. “Let’s do this!” Now comes the jitters and butterfly’s in the stomach. It’s what I came for, what I trained for (not really, but sounds cool), and shed tears for as I tossed that Cookie Dough ice cream into the trash some untold weeks prior.
We were all gathered by the start line, motors warmed-up, my GoPro recording and my GPS waypoints set for the 29-mile run to Catalina Island.
The five-minute horn sounded from the official flag boat bobbing in the choppy water off in the distance. All eyes were on Ross Wallach, race Coordinator/Official and owner of rpmracingent.com as he stood with the yellow flag high in the air, waiting tolerantly for all the racers to form a uniform line. He dropped yellow and waved green and we were off in a thunderous roar.
My FX and I were near the front of the other 40 racers as we made our way off shore with the hammer down. It was like a scene from Water World as we all tore past the flag boat with water roosting and bow spray raining down from every angle.
A big part of offshore racing is navigation. Whether you go by instinct, compass or GPS, this is a key make or break aspect to a good result. I’m no Magellan but straying a few degrees off of your heading can put you well off your target so I was constantly glancing down at the GPS. I wanted this race bad and could see about four skis out in front of me. They were pulling an ever and ever bigger gap so I assumed they were the Pro Open boats.
A quick look behind only resulted in a whiplashed neck so I decided to keep focus on the water ahead of me. With my full attention forward I was smashing along at just over 60mph as indicated on my GPS. I just needed to maintain this pace for another 40-minutes for a chance at another podium finish. Things were looking good. Then I noticed something wasn’t quite right.
The FX started to lose speed. My GPS was showing 50-mph and slowly fading from there. This was not good but it was hard to tell if it was due to spending so much time in the air because of the choppy conditions or if I was getting tired already. It wasn’t anything that simple though. About 15 miles from the turn boat at Catalina, my ‘ol 139 hour old FX dropped down to a lack luster indicated speed of 28-mph. What the $#&$$@% was going on is what I screamed under my helmet.
There were no warning lights on the dash, no engine misfire or sputtering. She was purring away at a snail’s pace even though the throttle was held to the stop. I tried everything under the sun to figure it out. I fiddled with the throttle cable, wacked the steering from stop to stop, checked to see if the L-Mode (Learner’s Mode- Yamaha’s less power setting) had somehow taken over, then I shut off and re-started her, all to no avail.
Then I thought maybe I had sucked kelp or something into the pump so I dove into the icy blue water and shoved my hand into the intake grate, fishing around for anything: Kelp, maybe pieces of my hull, a baby dolphin...for the sake of god what happened! I came up empty handed and scrambled back onto the seat to give it one more shot. Nothing…
That could've been me! That's what was going on under that
sexy TLD helmet as the leaders passed back by on their return
run from Catalina. As with any form of racing you simply cannot
expect to finish well if your machine lets you down. or did we let
our machine down? Either way we failed miserably and it hurts.
I sat there bobbing up and down in the Pacific, drifting further away from shore. I was confused about what to do next. Should I continue on at low speed and just finish or turn around and head back? I changed my mind so many times I forgot what my choices were. I thought, screw it, I will just finish no matter what. But what if I do more damage to whatever is broken? Yep, I better save the ski in case something is really wrong. Wait, screw it, there is no funny metal to metal sounds so I’m going to finish so nobody can say I quit. What should I do? I was going crazy and I had only been stopped for maybe five minutes. Ultimately, I decided to park it and hopefully catch some footage of the other racers once they rounded the turn boat and headed for the finish.
All in all it still turned out to be a nice day even though I would have sold my soul for a fully functional ski. There is a certain mystique and attraction to be all alone out in the middle of the big blue Ocean and once I came to term with my situation I was able to laugh at my predicament. I sat in solitude after the other riders went past only to be joined by a pod of dolphins that came to check on me. Cool stuff for sure. The dolphins wrapped up their meet and greet session and off they went. Judging by my distance and the clock, I knew the leaders would be flying by me soon so I set-up to capture some video from a vantage point few folks will ever get.
Back at the dock a few hours later the consensus among FX owners who came to gloat at my failure was that the supercharger clutch assembly had gone out. It turns out that Yamaha had issued an ‘Updated’ Supercharger Clutch Assembly Alert to all FX owners but I didn’t get the memo. Apparently, the manual calls for it to be changed every 80 hours but I didn’t read my manual so I didn’t know that either. Needless to say, my original clutch with nearly 140 hours had performed admirably so I cannot be upset about my luck. Poor maintenance on my behalf led to my DNF demise. I can tell you one thing for sure, we’ll get ‘em next time.
The next races are May 22, 2011 - Dana Point to Oceanside and Back & July 17, 2011 - Long Beach to Catalina and Back. Beginners and newcomers who have never raced are welcomed and encourage to sign-up. Details on those races and how to get started racing PWC's offshore can be found at PWCOffshore.com.