By Sandy Harris for Eugene Daily News
Jet boats are serious business.
Measuring 12 to 13 feet long, they accelarate up to 90 mph within seconds. The engines suck in as much as 700 gallons of water per second. The boats are manned by a driver and a navigator, both of whom are belted in securely with Nascar-type buckles and gear. This leaves little room for the operators to move their heads — and considering the intensity of their water movements, this ensures their safety.
On July 28, jet boaters from across west America gathered in Tangent, Oregon. The city of Tangent is located in the central Willamette Valley of western Oregon, about 40 miles north of Eugene. Teams from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and even British Columbia gathered at the Field of Dreams race track in Tangent to compete against each other.
Designed, built and owned by Kyle Patrick, the Field of Dreams track is the first of its kind in Oregon. Patrick both owns the track and operates one of the boats competing at the races. The track just celebrated its 4th year, ending with this last race on July 28th. There are typically two events per year at the field held in July and August.
In jet boat racing, the goals are simple: The driver and the navigator must negotiate a predefined course correctly and consistently have the fastest time. This takes major teamwork between the driver and navigator, the latter signaling the former at all times during the race. This is no easy task: the track is usually 3 feet deep and the channels are about 12 to 15 feet wide. Add to that the jets’ power, which pulll up to 7-8 lateral G’s on the corners with very little time to make split-second decisions.
Jim DeFord from the United Sprint Boat Association (USSBA) explains how the boats work:
“They are jet-propelled boats. They have an opening in the bottom of the boat that takes in water and then the water is taken into the pump, compressed to a certain degree — not unlike jet engines — and then the water is expelled out the rear. They do not push out any more water during a turn. It just looks that way. In the corners, they corner so fast that they can pull up to 7 g’s lateral forces, but typically it’s only 2-5 g’s lateral. Lateral is much different than, say, what a jet fighter pilot experiences. More use 105-110 octane race fuel. Some use airplane fuel.”
The day of the races in Tangent started out a bit overcast, with promises of a hot day in store.
The track was clean, fresh, and ready for some action. As the day progressed, tents went up for shade, the parking lots filled up, and the smell of food wafted through the air.
There were a few bumps and bruises to the boats, some coming a bit too close to the edges when making the sharp, 90-degree turns, some coming completely out of the water and putting themselves into “dry dock.” Those that did experience “dry dock” were quickly assisted back into the water by the waiting safety crews.
The driver does everything possible to get back into the water unassisted. The official rule book states that,
“If a hand is placed on the boat by the safety men on the track, the boat is taken out of the heat as a DNF (did not finish).”
But now and again, there is no way to avoid the assistance of the safety crews.
Boat #50 (dubbed “Mid Life Crisis”), driven by Bill Bently from Albany, actually came out of the water, flipping twice before coming to rest right-side-up. Navigator Terry Cummings with boat #99 (“Jeeper’s Creepers 2”) had some major bruising and a bloodied shin, but she came through with battle scars and a great story to tell her grandchildren (she had just become a new grandmother). Fortunately for all competitors, there were no serious injuries during the event.
The Moosehead Saloon in Palmer, Alaska sponsored the live stream of the event. Two of the competitors, Eric Werner (driver) /Horton (navigator) #149 came from Alaska to the race.
Results for the July 28 race at Field of Dreams
Super Modified: 1st place went to Hughes/Haskey “Overkill” boat #69 from WA, second going to Werner/Horton “Jolly Roger” boat #146 from AK.
Super Boats: 1st place went to Johnson/McNeal “Liquid Courage” boat #55m (methanol) from BC, second going to Morrison/McGuire “Wicked” boat #10 from WA.
The final race for first place in the A-400 group was between Harrisburg’ very own Henderson/Henderson team “Sling Shot” boat #16 and Albany’s Patrick/Patrick team “It’s All About Me” boat #151. Boat #151 took first place.